Monday, September 30, 2013

Where the Wild Things are: The WHAT and WHY of Doing Right

Doing what is good and right sounds appropriate no matter one's worldview, but in the craziness of our culture, sometimes it is not so clear what that is...or why we should be doing it.

And while ethics might sound like something restricted to the philosophy curriculum of a college, confined to notes and mid-term exams, ethics makes the headlines everyday.  Albert Camus once said, "A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon the world."  We live with such tragedy.

The subject of ethics may sound dry and lifeless to you.  But ethics is simply knowing the good and right thing to do...and doing it.

Each night this week --starting TONIGHT Monday, September 30 -- presents an incredible FREE learning opportunity, featuring five top leaders in the field of ethics, speaking livestream at major universities from coast to coast.   Each evening addresses a different topic, so feel free to jump in when you can.

This is not just something to fill your evenings this week -- there is never any need for something else to do.  But it may help dust off your moral compass.  Right and wrong don't just exist.  There is a reason for it.

Please feel free to forward this link to family and friends, youth or adults,  no matter their belief system.  Everyone has a worldview.  This presentation just may help in refining it.   Check it out.

Love to hear about what you learn.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Just show the way

The traffic was a bit slow, but when I came to the exit, the ramp was full, even backing up onto the highway.  I knew that to the east on this chosen road, there was a bit of construction, the congestion intensified by a brilliant Saturday morning.  Everyone was out and about.

The cars were not moving at all.  When the traffic light turned green, there was simply no movement, no place for the cars to go.  And so, we sat.

Then quite suddenly, a vehicle sped past the entire line of cars.  He drove in a lane that not one of us knew was there.  He possessed a freedom we didn't know existed.  There was another way after all.  We didn't HAVE to turn right into the traffic.  We could turn left at the light and and completely avoid the traffic tie-up.  We didn't have to go that way.

It didn't even occur to me that there was another path, a better route to travel.  We were all lined up with no place to go.  It didn't have to be that way.

As soon as that first car zipped past the line, cars began pulling out and choosing to go this other way.  It was not until I saw that other guy that I actually thought about how else I could navigate this dilemma.  We all had brains.  They just were stuck in the "following" mode.

That first driver did not stop his vehicle and shout at us how stupid we were.  He just led by example.  The way he drove revealed to us that it didn't have to be this way.  There is another way to handle this.

And as Christians, we have a responsibility to do the same:  to live a life worthy of the LORD, to love counterculturally, and to be a witness to the grace of God by how we live.  

Does anyone see anything different in me?  

Sometimes people just don't realize that there is something more than the narrow limits this culture insists upon.  Live it hilariously with great love.

You are the light of the world.

                      Matthew 5.14

Friday, September 27, 2013

Things that go thump in the night

Up and down the stairs I went that evening so many years ago.  Our youngest daughter woke up several times with bad dreams.  Finally, I just lay down on the floor next to her little twin bed and covered myself with a doll blanket to stay warm on that frigid Iowa night.

Again, she woke up and called out.  Wearily, I reached up and patted her on the back.  "Oh, Mama," she said, surprised.  "If I knew that you were here, I wouldn't have been afraid."

I thought of that this week as I laid down next to Maggie when she called out into the night.  I assured her of my presence and covered her with a blanket and a prayer.  She went right back to sleep, hardly missing a beat.

And in my own life, O LORD, if I only realized Your Presence with me, I would not be afraid.

And God assures me in the Bible,
His Word to us,
           "I am here.
             I am in this.
            Do not be afraid."

 That is all I need to know.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,
who abides in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD,
    "My refuge and my fortress,
      my God, in whom I trust."
...You will not fear the terror of the night...
...for He will give His angels charge of you
          to guard you in all your ways.

                              Psalm 91. 1, 5, 11

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Looking for Directions

The console of my car is now filled with sticky notes from my visit with my daughter's family.  How to get from the house to pre-school.  How to get to the library for story time.  How to get to the park to a) run, b) play at the playground, and c) feed the ducks.  How to get from the pre-school to Panera for lunch.

Turn right out of the neighborhood.  Turn left at the blinking yellow light. 

But the favorite parts of my week have been here, sitting on the bed reading stories to my grand daughter, playing with cars and trucks with my grand son, helping out in the kitchen, running around in the backyard, and sitting on the floor in the early morning light playing pop-beads with the children before breakfast.

Why is it when we are seeking God's guidance we think it always means going somewhere?  What about where I am?  Not what's always next, but now

Send me where You want me to go.
Or keep me where I need to be.
Help me, O LORD, seek Your purposes
     in that which is obvious all around me.

I am the LORD your God,
    who teaches you to profit,
who leads you in the way you should go.

                           Isaiah 48.17

And sometimes that means right where you are.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Forks and Other Confusions

I ran today through a chorus of rejoicing trees which stood tall against a September sky of incredible blue.  "Oh, wow," I kept saying around every bend, the scenery taking my breath away.  If this is only an unpaved nature trail in a city park in the middle of Ohio, how much more awesome will heaven be?

People ask me, "Why do you run?"  Well, for one, I can't get enough of creation like this.

The path today was not very familiar to me.  Last week when I ran it, the trail split at one unmarked junction.  I followed it to the left about a quarter of a mile until it suddenly dead-ended in a grassy field.  I had to backtrack to get to the loop around the small lake.  At another split last week, I saw other runners and knew to follow them.

Early this morning, chilly with the very beginnings of autumn, there were only a few people at the park.  But I noticed as I ran, a few arrows spray-painted on the dirt path, left over from a cross country meet yesterday afternoon. There are not always people available to direct the runners, nor is the way obvious in unfamiliar surroundings.  The arrows were for these high school runners to guide them on the course.  Even rough places and roots that threatened to trip the runners were spray painted bright orange as a warning.

And at a critical fork in the trail, there was a painted neon arrow in the dirt and leaves.  Without words or dramatic display, it made the way obvious.  Turn right.

Whether navigating a new trail or launching into a new day, there will be forks in the road and confusing places along the way, usually at unexpected moments. 

But a day started with Scripture grounds me.  God's Word directs me into the day, impacting not just my heart, but my eyes and my thoughts.  "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (Psalm 119.105).   At the onset of the day, I pray, "O LORD, please guide me through YOUR day for me."  And because it is His day, not mine, there are no interruptions, detours or surprises.  All in His hands.  All for His purposes.

And those inevitable forks in the road?  The Bible says, "blessed are all those who wait for Him" (Isaiah 30.18).  Waiting doesn't mean sitting around, watching for the Fed Ex truck with a nicely wrapped decision.  Waiting implies momentum, remaining in expectation without running ahead of God.  "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left." (Isaiah 30.21).  And sometimes it literally means wait.

There will be forks in the road.  Be ready for them.  The best means is daily and consistent entrenching in God's Word.   I can't tell you how many times in the middle of a tense moment or narrow squeak, a verse that I have read that morning comes to mind to help me navigate a tough situation.  God may (or may not) send you a "telegram" of what to do.  But when you wait on the LORD, seek Him, and listen, He will guide your steps, even when you don't understand.  All for His glory.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Simple Stuff

And in the end, it is not the big stuff that counts
          so much in the mind of a child,
but the every days,
when God transforms the ordinary
              into the extraordinary.
I spent another day with our grand kids
       playing race cars,
    and reading library books,
baking some rather odd-shaped pretzels,

and enjoying them as an afternoon treat,

finishing up the day at the playground,
watching a cross country race
    that just happened to be there at the same time,
climbing on every piece of playground equipment
                  in the park,

   before supper,
and Bible stories.
I did not run today,
I did not write,
I didn't even sit down much,
but I invested an ordinary day
             for eternity.
And in this quiet house
  of children finally sleeping,
     I can still hear their laughter
                 in my heart.

Despise not
    the day of small things.

                 Zechariah 4.10

Monday, September 23, 2013


 I love being with these little ones.  Yesterday as they dashed down the sidewalk after church, a woman remarked, "My, where did they get all that energy?"

I replied, "They drained it from us!"

This morning as the children ate their breakfast, two-year-old Howie looked up at me and said, "I'm so glad you are here!!!!"

That comment and the joy on his face filled my heart all the way up.  It was not for what I was doing for him, but just being here.

And it made me wonder how often I thank God and acknowledge His Presence, not for this and that, but because He is.  I am so glad You are here.

And while, I am sure, it delights God's heart to hear those words.  That delight fills me as well.

In Your presence,
    there is fullness of joy.

                 Psalm 16.11

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Take my hand

I am spending the week with two of our grand children, a time of great delight and utter exhaustion. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of taking them for the afternoon to the library and out for an ice cream treat.

We parked in the busy library lot.  "Please stay by me," I said to four year old Maggie as I pulled her two-and-a-half year old brother Howie out of his car seat.  I had a huge bag of books to return to the library, two children, and the dilemma of every young mom, not enough hands.  Maggie "helped" me carry the load of books by holding onto one of the handles of the big canvas bag.  With my other hand, I held onto Howie, he who is oblivious to every present danger.  He LOVES cars, but at his age, he has no conception of the danger in running out in front of one.  "Just hold my hand, sweetie," I tell him.  He has no idea of the danger, just the excitement of being alive.  Everything is an adventure to him.

In the library itself, the kids RUN to the children's room where they enjoy a bit of "freedom" exploring the toys and computers, puzzles and books.  Even there, among what is age-appropriate, I sit nearby, watching them, playing with them, occasionally guiding them when they call for help, and  navigating them through the stacks of books.

They know there is a certain freedom in playing "in the lines," so to speak, that which is good and right.  There is tremendous liberty not in focusing on the rules that are designed to protect them, but living within them.  Selfishness, shouting, and throwing take away that freedom.  They would lose out by having to leave.

 Disobeying is not just about bearing the consequences.  Sin means "missing out" on the blessings.  

Good behavior and obeying with happy hearts did not just mean getting to play longer at the library, or even having an ice cream treat afterwards, but the deepening of our relationship, the "just being" together.  We had FUN.

And so, why do I squirm and wiggle when God says "take My hand" in this place of danger of which I am unaware, or "follow Me" through this strange situation, or "please help Me carry this bag?"  Sure, I could "do it myself," MY way, but just as I am unaware of the dangers, I am even more unaware of what could be.

For I, the LORD your God,
         hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you,
   "Fear not,
           I will help you."

                      Isaiah 40.13

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Thoughts on a run

Forbidden fruit always tastes sweet,
and then,
        it chokes you.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Many Layered Cake

Maggie asked for a rainbow cake for her fourth birthday.

She went about her birthday week, doing ordinary things.   She didn't see anything being done about a cake at all, no clues, no whispers, not even a glimpse of a cake mix box in the pantry.

Nothing at all appeared to be happening.

Meanwhile, 387 miles away, I googled "rainbow birthday cake."  Up popped several recipes, accompanied by full-color pictures of startlingly neon layers of cake, air brushed photographs, of that I am sure.

There were a lot of steps to construct this cake.  First, groceries were gathered.   Then, I had to carefully assemble the ingredients in order, and mix the batter. The oven needed to be preheated.  The cake pans were greased and lined with hand-cut circles of parchment paper.

For this particular cake, the batter needed to be evenly divided into six different bowls.  Food coloring had to be added, drip by drip, and stirred until the six vibrant colors were blended.

Brightly colored batter was spooned into three prepared cake pans and baked.  When those were done, the layers were taken out of the pans, cooled on a rack, and the pans were re-greased and re-lined for the last three layers.

The layers had to be cooled completely before frosting was spread, and the layers were stacked one upon the next in a spectrum of colors.  And then, the entire cake was frosted in white.  It appeared to be a very ordinary white cake and, well, a little on the tall side.

The next day, I transported it six hours by car to their house.  After supper, we sang Happy Birthday, and Maggie blew out the big number 4 candle.

When the cake was cut, SURPRISE, it was a rainbow after all.

And those prayers of mine, O LORD,
       I don't seem to see anything happening.
And it appears like it is taking
                  or not at all.

Maybe, just maybe,
     the answer is a long time in coming
because You have a lot of steps to prepare
       and assemble
          an incredible response for
                       a many layered prayer.
Maybe it's not time yet for the party.
Maybe the answer isn't ready yet.
And maybe,
                  my heart isn't either.

Be still before the LORD,
and wait patiently for Him...

                      Psalm 37.7

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A few thoughts on a long drive

My apologies for a late blog posting today.  I was up before dawn and out the door early for a long six hour drive "over the river and through the woods" to the grand children's house I go.

Today is our grand daughter's fourth birthday.

And so, today, I just have time to add a few leftover thoughts from yesterday regarding attitude.

A good attitude is not denying reality,
but is a means of getting a strong grip
      on the way things really are
                      and how to handle it.

A good attitude opens doors for the unexpected
        and sets the table
                         for conversation.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

YOU decide

When our oldest daughter Beth was in high school and our second daughter Kat was in junior high, they clashed on a regular basis.  You couldn't put them in the same room with each other.  When Kat was about to enter high school, I had a little talk with Beth. 

"You have a big decision to make," I said.. "Kat will soon be at the same school as you.  You can either be fiercest enemies battling it out, or you can be friends and a great support to each other.  You choose."

We do not always have the power to change our situation, but we can change how we approach it.  And that can make a significant difference.

The real problem might not be your job, location, or your annoying co-worker, spouse, or little sister, but YOUR attitude towards it.

As I told Beth, decide what you want this to look like.  Not I have to, but I get to.

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.  It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a company...a church...a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have,, and that is our attitude...I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.  And so it is with you...we are in charge of our attitudes."

                                     --Charles Swindoll renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new nature...
                                        Ephesians 4.23

What are you wearing today?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Something different is going on here

I was dwelling at the university, in a foreign land of sorts, among strangers to my faith.  I just kept on keeping on, setting my mind not on well-scripted words or outward appearances, but just focusing on my own relationship with God.  Each day, I prayed, O LORD, open my eyes and heart.  It was neither the time nor place for lofty words, but a living among.  Love God, love others hilariously, and He will take care of the rest. 

There was a rowdy group of girls who lived one floor up.  One afternoon in a lonely hallway when others were sleeping or in class, I was washing my hands as one of my upstairs neighbors was passing through.  I knew her from one of my classes, although not well.  We greeted each other.  As she continued on her way, she turned to me quite suddenly and said, "We know you are a Christian, and we are watching you."

I had no idea.

A friend of ours is in a tough situation at work right now with all manner of pressures upon him.  And in some ways, the company appears to be taking advantage of his strong work ethic by adding temporarily to his workload the responsibilities of another.  "Temporary" has now been stretched into its fourth month with promises of "just a little longer." But in spite of all this, our friend still seeks to do what is good and right, working without complaining and doing his best in all he does.  He is well-respected and liked by his co-workers at that place of employment.

Our friend is a believer, and he often laments to us about not speaking verbally of his faith to others at work. Oh, I want to tell him, you are bearing witness every day by how you treat others and doing your best, no matter the extenuating circumstances, not in a fake martyr kind of way "look at poor me," not even just taking the high road, but dwelling in a higher place and dancing, so to speak, to a different tune, that points not to oneself but to the One who is at the core of who you are.

"The life that is rightly related to God is as natural as breathing wherever it goes," said Oswald Chambers.

And whatever you do,
       in word or deed,
do everything
in the name of the Lord Jesus...
                     Colossians 3.17

One of the most significant things you can do is "being faithfully present in a particular place and time," says Dr. Tom Nelson in his book Work Matters.  "As God's redeemed people, we are called to live ordinary lives in ordinary places as bold and credible witnesses of the transforming power of the gospel."

That is your job description:  do all things with excellence, exhibit a faithful presence, and manifest His transforming work in you and through you.

Others can't help but know something different is going on here.

Blessed are the men
        whose strength is in You,
in whose heart
        are the highways to Zion.
                       Psalm 84.5

"We are watching you." After so many years, I can still hear that girl's words and see her face.

The people around you
     are always watching you
 to see if you are for real
                     and God is true.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Working my way through in little bites

I went to bed Friday night, not in anticipation of the weekend, but with dread of Saturday morning.  I was faced with doing a twenty mile training run for the marathon.  And yes, even the thought was overwhelming.  The temperature was in the mid-40s when I arose, FIFTY degrees cooler than Wednesday afternoon last week.  I could think of a dozen really good reasons not to do this monumental task.  But I knew if I am going to be ready for the marathon four weeks from now, there was no way around it.

For the moment
     all discipline seems painful
                    rather than pleasant;
   it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who have been trained by it.

                   Hebrews 12.11

None of us like the painful stuff, but 
that training will give me the strength
                  I will desperately need.

I  stuffed a handful of bite-size Snickers into the teeny pocket of my running shorts, prayed for strength, and headed out the door.  As I ran the first two miles, I had to decide what route to choose.  There is a long path that runs ten miles in a straight unbearable line to the interstate and back.  Or I could choose to head in the opposite direction and cobble together some shorter links -- to the railroad bridge, up another arm of the trail to the farm park, back to the railroad bridge, through a neighboring town to the farmers' market, hopping from one operable water fountain to the next, and then back home.   It would still add up to twenty miles, but in bite-size pieces.

I chose the a la carte route and thought of it as a series of shorter runs, a lot easier to wrap my mind around.   It was not so bad at all when I looked at it that way, basically broken down into three mile bites with a little leftover.

My grandmother was born in the 1880s on a farm in Kentucky.  She once told me when you have a huge pile of logs to split, while you are working, face the pile you have finished. Watch it grow.  It doesn't change the amount of work, just your perception of it.

I am currently reading the unabridged version of Les Miserables, a huge undertaking at 1500 pages. I have wanted to read it for years but just couldn't bring myself to do it.   So now, I am reading it over the course of this whole year, chapter by chapter, a few pages at a time in a waiting room or in the evening, here and there.  As of today, I am on page 615, having already slogged through extended chapters about the Battle of Waterloo, but loving the depth of the characters and the book's incredible story of God's grace.

Little bites.  What else do I need to nibble on?

And you?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Based on a true story

Last weekend, my husband and I saw the movie The Butler, a powerful chronicle of the struggle for civil rights in this country.  For me, it was like reliving the current events of my life, as it spanned the years, like watching news clips, one after another, things that I remember hearing, situations I recall seeing on television, and experiences I actually lived.

What transformed that movie into such a strong statement are the words that appeared right before the movie itself began, "Based on a true story."  Our hearts are moved by works of fiction, but there is something astonishing about what is true.  And we don't have to add anything to make it better.

There are those who would like to ban truth and just rewrite what happens for their own advantage.  But when God deals with our past, He does not rewrite out the bad parts or inflate what we consider good.

He redeems.  

And so, when God makes all things new, He means all things.  He redeems all things.  He turns it all right side up.  And even that is your story, the significance of His redeeming.

For the LORD will comfort Zion,
He will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert
       like the garden of the LORD,
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.

                                   Isaiah 51.3

Saturday, September 14, 2013

If I knew what was going to hit so early, I wouldn't have slept so well

Before I go to bed at night, I get the coffee pot ready, loaded with grounds in a little white paper filter, and place a mug on the counter, so that in my early morning stupor, all I have to do is "just add water."  I also set out my Bible, pen and notebook next to the little red chair in the living room.  I am like a fireman preparing his equipment right by the fire truck.

I know in the morning, there is not time for me to bumble about, or I will lose that precious pocket of time. I have learned through the years to read God's Word first. Above anything, that makes the most significant difference in my day. Even as the night owl that I am, I have never regretted getting up those few minutes early to get it done. But I have regretted those times when I haven't.  I read with a pen in hand, to underline, to jot down notes in the margins, and to write down verses that God impresses on my heart for the day, one verse of which I share on my other blog

When I finish, I feel oriented and focused for the day.  Yesterday, it was like getting equipped for a marathon.  No sooner did I finish my reading than my cell phone rang with calls from two of our daughters who were already panicked by what they were facing so early in the morning.  I hung up the phone from each call, still in my pajamas and 500 miles away.  And I knew exactly what to do.

I prayed.  And as I prayed our girls through these crises in real time, what permeated powerfully into my prayers were the words that I had just read, scripture passages that I had written down in my journal.  I found myself praying verses that I had read just a few minutes before.  God's Word hit their situations spot on.

Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust,
     and will not be afraid,
for the LORD GOD is my strength
      and my song...
                         Isaiah 12.2

Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
           for great in our midst
is the Holy One of Israel.
                         Isaiah 12.6

I cry to God Most High,
to God
       who fulfills His purpose for me.
                         Psalm 57.2

I spoke to one of the girls a few hours later, crisis resolved and anxiety nowhere to be found.

When I was a young mom with three daughters ages three and under, a wise old Southern woman Val Curlin came up to me in the church lobby and said, "Make the Bible first.  Don't read anything until you read the Bible.  Not your mail, not a catalog, not anything else.  Make the Bible first."   In those days, my nights of erratic sleep blended seamlessly with little girls wide awake before dawn, one child in need or another.  But if I sought God in it, He would provide me with a pocket of time at some point in the day.  I pounced on it.

That was thirty years ago.  It alone has made the biggest difference in who I am, what I have done, how I have loved my husband and family, and how I have grown.

It matters.  It matters a lot.  I could have slept in a little longer. But God's Word changes my day.  God's Word changes my heart.  And it impacts everyone around me.

We never really know what we are going to face in a day.
But God does.
And He gives us His Word on that.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Coming home different

I had been trudging.  That's for sure.  I was getting slower and slower, slogging through my training schedule. My energy was leaking out like air from an old tire.

"Well, what are you listening to?"  my husband asked.  "That makes a big difference to me."

I hesitated and thought about it.  I don't know, I guess the same old loop of songs, over and over, sometimes a downloaded talk or two, but it is mostly all background noise to me. "That's the problem," he said.  He is an avid cyclist, aware not only of the sound but the cadence in his ears that travels all the way down his legs.

What he listens to impacts his entire ride.

"Try this," he said.  He selected a different playlist for me on Pandora, the Matt Redman channel, an unending strand of upbeat praise.

And then that morning, before I headed out, I changed shoes.  I took off my old clunkers with holes in the toes, and I laced on my light minimalist shoes.  I was afraid to leave behind those super-cushioned support shoes.  I need those, I thought. In my effort to do something different, I exchanged my go-to shoes for those that are like wearing nothing on my feet.  My right foot can't hurt any more than it already does, I justified.  When I put on the light shoes, they felt a little too comfortable on my feet.  "That can't be a good sign,"  I thought.  I half-expected to get to the end of the driveway and have to turn around, limping and defeated.

I started out with praise music pumping in my ears and my feet feeling surprisingly unburdened. "I shouldn't even be able to run in these shoes," I thought outloud.  I ran down the street and turned my usual corner at the little red house.  Instead of vegging out into my thoughts, I ran to the beat and the words of praise to God, one song of joy after another.  And my feet, well, that is what it feels like to be forgiven.  The lighter shoes actually changed my stride and all-but-eliminated my foot pain.  I had been holding onto something that only brought me down.

I came back different from that run, drenched in what praising God can do.  And I learned what makes the difference is not just what I'm listening to...but what song I'm singing inside.

O sing to the LORD
            a new song.

                 Psalm 98.1

For you shall go out in joy,
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
      shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field
                 shall clap their hands.

                  Isaiah 55.12

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Construction Zone

Up until now, the vacant lot behind us has been a haven for birds, squirrels, and an occasional urban coyote.  Last week, I could hear trees being slayed, underbrush conquered, and chipping machines grinding up the branches.  Yesterday, the earth-moving machinery began pushing a lot of dirt around.

I walked around the corner this morning to take a peek.   It looked like a scene from the 1939 children's book  Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. There are a number of machines digging, but so far, I can see no rhyme nor reason to what they are doing. 

As much as it appears, somehow I don't think they are just grown men playing with really big toys.  There is purpose in their efforts, even in what I cannot comprehend.  A huge mound of dirt is situated in the back near the tree line, a large front loader is working on the side of the lot today, and a few small triangular flags mark some kind of boundaries, the driveway, perhaps, or the water main. 

I cannot figure out what they are doing over there.  It looks like a big mess to me.  But I know there is a master plan behind all that chaos.

God places elements of change in all our lives that sometimes just don't make sense to us.  What are you doing, God?  Why did this happen?  Why am I here?  And, excuse me, but what is THAT?

And all along, God says, "Trust Me."   He is busy doing something new in our lives.  We have only to follow Him into it.  And then, someday we will stand amazed at His extraordinary purposes which, sometimes, take awhile to become obvious to our near-sighted hearts. 

...that men may see and know,
may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the LORD has done this,
the Holy One of Israel created it.

                          Isaiah 41.20


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Long Slow Distance in the Crisp September Blue

Marathoners know that it is not the short bursts of speed and occasional sprints that bring them to the finish line.  It is months of faithful and consistent training.  Part of that training is known as the long slow distance, which typically manifests itself in a weekly long run.  Those runs are not to the swift.  The whole point is the perseverance, no matter the pace.  It is in the enduring that strength is built...and oddly enough, the development of fast-twitch muscles.  So as counterintuitive as it seems, going long and slow actually makes one faster.  It is building strength in me.

In spiritual matters, it is also in the dailyness of reading God's Word and praying that builds endurance in us -- not for an event but for life.  Yet it is not my strength that is being built, but His strength in me.  So a daily workout, of sorts, actually becomes a working in.  "...that the power of Christ may rest upon me...For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12. 9-10)  It is not me becoming stronger, but God building His strength in me.

And someday, in some way, His strength is revealed.

It was the most ordinary of days.  I read the Bible that morning and a short devotional, got the older girls off to school and my youngest on the bus, and headed out on a glorious run.  It was a beautiful day.  I felt like I could have run forever that morning in the crisp September blue.

I returned to the phone ringing, my mother's frantic voice with the news we now know as 9/11.

It was only later that the words of that little devotional book came to mind and deepened in meaning.  The reading for September 11 in Oswald Chamber's book My Utmost for His Highest concluded with these words:

"If we do not do the running steadily in the little ways,
we shall do nothing in the crisis."

It is in the long slow distance, the abiding, the dailyness in our walk with Him and in the running hard, that His strength is worked in, for that which we cannot know.

O LORD, make me faithful.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"And on Sundays, we go to Target"

By all appearances yesterday, I was tackling a huge Monday morning mound of wash, sweat-soaked running and cycling clothing, sheets, towels, and all the rest that needed laundering.  But what I was really doing was just taking back the Sabbath.

I thought about easily lightening the pile by throwing in a load or two on Sunday afternoon, but over the past year or so, I have begun to view Sundays in a different light.   The rest of our culture recognizes Sunday as a "day off," when all the while, God always intended it to be a "day of rest."  Our culture sees Sunday as the last day of the weekend.  God intended  it to be the first day of the week.

And our culture does not see anything different in us.

A "day off" mentality crowds a Sunday with leftovers from the week.  Those little items inflate in importance, expanding to fill every nook and cranny like trying to pack up the kids and their stuff in the car for a road trip.  And the "day of rest" that God designed is transformed into a thesaurus definition for the word "haste:"  urgency, acceleration, rush, dash, velocity, impetuosity, hurry, scurry, scramble, push, hustle, bustle, fuss and flurry.  We don't have time for God.  We don't have time to spend with each other. 

And we wake up already worn out on Monday morning and wonder, "What happened to our weekend?"

In the 2012 movie Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, the two main British characters watch as the people around them in this Middle Eastern land observe religious rituals.  "I don't know anyone who even goes to church anymore," one character says to the other.  "On Sundays, we go to Target," the other replies.

And our culture does not see anything different in us.  Because we are right behind them in line at the cashier.

Don't blame "culture" for secularizing Sunday.  We have done it ourselves.

Until I read their life stories, I didn't realize how countercultural Ruth Graham and Elisabeth Elliot were as young women at Wheaton College.  Both women had been raised to keep the Sabbath by getting all of their studying done in six days and basking in the freedom of a day of rest on Sundays.  Elisabeth Elliot mentions in her book The Shaping of A Christian Family (1992), the "guilt" she felt on Sunday afternoons, resting, relaxing, going for walks, having a leisurely cup of tea, all while her classmates were feverishly studying for a new week of classes.  Ruth's and Elisabeth's intentional efforts to get all of their homework done ahead of time was sweetened by the anticipation of having a weekly holiday and starting each week refreshed.  And throughout their incredible lives, what would they have done without His strength woven weekly into their hearts?

My oven has a "Sabbath mode."  My heart needs one too..

I have begun taking back the Sabbath, one step at a time.  I plan throughout the week what needs to get done -- errands, cleaning chores, grocery shopping, and yes, the laundry. And I pause and double-check on Saturdays. It has nothing to do with keeping rules, but keeping sacred what God has designed.  He has a reason for it.  A couple of years ago, I even began an "internet sabbath" on Sundays which I still keep to a certain extent, bypassing the extreme feeling of "urgency" to check emails and other enslaving tyrants of my time. (It is, by the way, radically liberating.)   Glitches still happen on Sundays from time to time, but even Jesus recognized the need to pull your sheep out of a ditch or help a neighbor with his.  ("So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."  Matthew 12.12)

And so, last Sunday morning, when a pastor asked my husband and me, "So what else do you have going on this busy Sunday?"  We just looked at each other and smiled.

Remember the Sabbath day
         and keep it holy.
Six days you shall labor,
         and do all your work,
but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.
On it you shall not do any work,
you, or your son, or your daughter,
your male servant, or your female servant,
or your livestock,
or the sojourner who is within your gates.
For in six days
     the LORD made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
and rested on the seventh day.
Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day
           and made it holy.

                             Exodus 20. 8-11

Monday, September 9, 2013

Waiting for a delivery

I ordered some flag buntings online a few weeks ago to decorate our front porch next Fourth of July.  They were on sale with "just $5 shipping."   While I was filling out the order form, I realized I needed two packages, oh well, one for each side of the front door.  It was then I discovered each package was $5 shipping.  My enthusiasm began to wane as the cost kept adding up.  And that old deceitful voice inside me urged me on, "Oh, it will be so worth it."

The package arrived, and it was not.  In an effort to fake-antique the material, it appeared that the items had been left soaking a bit too long in dark roasted coffee, stained into a muddy lack of color. They were also smaller than what showed in the picture.  I felt duped.  I ended up returning them.  Again, shipping was on me, seven dollars more.  So, for $17, I ended up with nothing but buyer's remorse.

I think sometimes we view God's deliverance like my package --order, wait a few days, and expect it just to be dropped on our front doorstep, free and easy.  More often than not, in the process, we appear not to be waiting on the LORD, but some kind of cosmic Fed Ex truck with just what we ordered.  The object becomes exactly that -- an object -- and nothing to do with God or a deepening of our relationship with Him. The Bible calls for us to wait upon the LORD and to seek His deliverance.

God's deliverance is rarely a plucking out of a miry bog or the wilderness, but a strength and wisdom to move through our situation.  "LORD, show me how to navigate this dilemma."  It is not that we need to earn His deliverance by working for it, but trust Him in it and start moving through.  He works His purposes even in this, His hand upon us powerfully.  His deliverance usually comes in ways we never expect.

For what am I praying?  For what am I waiting?

God does not intend for us to be hanging out on the front porch, scanning the street for a familiar truck to bring it to us.  That is not God's kind of waiting.  For any of us who have ever worked in a restaurant or other service venue, we see "waiting" in a different light.  Think about the meaning of the word "waiting" as "waiting tables" or "waiting on customers."  And so, as we wait on God for His purposes and perfect timing, consider how to serve Him in it.

When we are in the waiting room, God doesn't give us a recliner to waste away the hours.  He always gives us something to do to prepare us for the delivery, or to work our way toward it.

It is not if it works out, but how God works it.

He will bring me forth to the light;
I shall behold His deliverance.

                        Micah 7.9

Sunday, September 8, 2013

And if we knew, then what?

If I knew the outcome in all of this,
I would worry less,
but also probably cease to pray
       and trust God not at all.
It has less to do with the finish,
    but everything to do
    with my relationship with Him.

But I am like an olive tree
     in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
     for ever and ever.

                        Psalm 52.8

   bearing fruit,
no matter what.)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Not just that You would, but that You are

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving...

                                        Psalm 50.14

For years, I couldn't quite understand the phrase "sacrifice of thanksgiving."  If one is thankful for something, how can that be a sacrifice?  Surely praise is a more appropriate response for what we are thankful.

And then in the midst of a desperate situation, I found myself praying, "O LORD, that You would do this... that You would make that to happen."  I stopped mid-sentence.  How would a thankful heart pray?  "Thank you that You are doing this...or that."

A sacrifice of thanksgiving is not after the "answer" has arrived on our doorstep, but in the midst of God's working, thanking Him for what He is doing now.  Even when I don't understand.  And in the process, I am not telling God what to do and how to do it, but trusting Him and thanking Him for what He is doing.  It is praying from a stance of thankfulness, not placing before Him praise for what we consider good, but trusting God in what we cannot see yet, trusting Him in what we cannot possibly know, giving God the elbow room to work things out His way and in His great timing, and thanking Him even before we know the outcome.  In a sacrifice of thanksgiving, our focus is not just on the object of our prayer, but on Him.  Thanking Him not just for the doing, but Who He is.

And so I pray, not "O God, that You would provide him an apartment," but "Thank you that You are providing him with a place to live and guiding him to it."  Not, "O LORD, that You would change her heart," but "Thank You that You are changing her heart."

And somehow in the process, He changes mine.

He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice
                      honors Me,
to him who orders his way aright
I will show the salvation of God.

                                Psalm 50.23

Friday, September 6, 2013

If you see something, say something

As we walked into Kroger last week, my husband grabbed a grocery cart as I pulled out my list.  We just needed a few items for a meal for some last minute guests -- a couple of tomatoes, another package of hamburger buns, an extra can of baked beans, and a bag of chips.

When I looked up, there was a woman placing a bag of lettuce into her cart in the produce aisle.  As she turned, I saw a large black mark on her neck.  A red flag waved in my thoughts.  Has someone hurt this woman?  I wondered.  By then, she had moved into a different section of the store.

Just a few minutes later, our cart inadvertently collided with hers in the bread aisle.  "Oh, I'm sorry," Bill said. "No, no, no, it was MY fault," the woman said. "I am to blame. It was MY fault.  I am to blame," she repeated.  It was a bit of an overreaction to a very slight incident.  And at that point, I also noticed that she was wearing sunglasses inside the store.

As the carts were untangled and we moved on, I kept thinking, "dark glasses, a large bruise, my fault, my fault, my fault."  These elements fit together into a picture of some type of abuse.

And I had no idea what to say.

Everyone of us is surrounded by a great variety of suffering that others face.  It doesn't have to be abuse, but even the overbearing weight of loneliness or depression, overwhelming family conflicts or the desperation of unemployment.  As a friend of mine told me, "If you have the eyes of God, you will run into people with need."

What could I say that would be helpful?  What could I do that would show I care?  I do not think quickly on my feet.  But I want to know how to respond, so I asked several professionals.

*One counselor told me to make a personal connection with the person, giving them the opportunity to respond without being threatened.  "Phew, it's such a hot day.  Hope you are doing OK."  Any kind of personal attention provides the opportunity to open up conversation.  "Even if they don't respond, they won't forget it" the counselor said.  "It plants a seed that there are people who care and can help."

*Carry cards from local ministries who help people in need.  Offer to place a call.

*One friend also carries a little bit of cash, not for a hand out, but to transport the person in need to those who can help.  In one instance, she said to a homeless woman who was being harassed on the street, "I would like to pay for a cab for you to go to a safe place," she told the woman. "May I do that?"  She had the addresses of several help ministries.  And the desperate woman took her up on it.

*I once knew a woman who kept her minivan stocked with bags of snacks to provide a ready response to someone who just might need something to eat.

*Even a kind word in the midst of desperation may plant hope in a person's heart.  "You may be the only one to intercept," a physician told me.  Ask them, "Are you OK?  Is there anything I can do for you?"  Call the police if they are in imminent danger.

When our girls were younger, we used to "play-act" difficult situations with them, so that when a situation would arise, they would know exactly what to do and say.  I think that we need to do the same, knowing, preparing, thinking through what to do when God places on our path the opportunity to help someone.

If you see something, know what to say.  It may make all the difference in someone's life.  I think of those young girls in Cleveland who were locked away for a decade.  How many opportunities were missed to intervene and help them?

In God's eyes, there are no strangers.  Love God.  Love others.  There is no seam in-between.

"Which of these three, do you think,
proved neighbor to the man
who fell among the robbers?"
He said, "The one who showed mercy on him."
And Jesus said to him,
         "Go and do likewise."

                   Luke 10. 36-37

I'd love to hear how you have responded in situations.  It would be a great help to all of us.  Please click "comments."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dancing a Jig Over the News

It was a long time in the making, a steady pace in the praying, but suddenly last week, a huge answer to prayer came strolling in the front door.

And the sound of rejoicing was heard from afar.  A precious friend texted me this morning, “Just dancing a jig over all the good news.”

At the very first meeting of a Bible study two years ago, amidst a group of women I did not know, I raised my hand in the back of the room when prayer requests were being taken.  “Please pray for my daughter who is looking for full time work,” I said.  Women jotted it down in their notebooks.   I wondered at the time how many of them actually prayed.  And now, I wish I could tell them.

God always answers prayer, sometimes in ways we cannot ever expect.  When our oldest daughter was still just a little girl, she told us, when we pray, God answers our prayers like a traffic light.  Sometimes God says “stop,” sometimes He says “go,” and sometimes He says, “wait a minute.”

Just after our youngest daughter graduated from college and moved to a new city, she plunged into a job market that had deflated like an old inner tube, limp and lifeless.  And so in the midst of that stagnant economy, while seeking a full time job, she set about learning everything she could about her field by working as an independent contractor, freelancing as a production assistant for commercials, television, movies, and music videos. She faithfully worked hard, learning her trade from the bottom up.  It meant sometimes twenty hour days that included everything from the mundane to the absurd.   She worked with excellence in everything she did, and, more often than not, without thanks or recognition.   And our family’s DNA of stubbornness, once again, transferred itself into perseverance.

A couple of weeks ago, she heard word from a friend about an opening.  A few days later, she was offered a full time job in her field, building on those skills that she had learned over the course of two years.  It happened that fast.  She started last week.

Waiting in our culture implies that someone is late.  But God’s timing is always perfect.  His timing is not our own.   Sometimes, admittedly, our hearts aren’t quite ready for the answer.  We aren’t equipped yet for our next assignment.  We haven’t completed basic training.

And quite frankly, it is in the waiting that we finally recognize the hand of God.  Whatever is quick and easy tends to fuel our own pride.  “Look what I have done, look how good I am.”  And in the waiting, there is great learning, strengthening, turning and realizing God is really the One in charge here.  When it came down to it in my daughter’s situation, there was no question in anyone’s mind Who provided her job.  Even in the waiting, it is not a matter of IF God will answer our prayers, but HOW He will do it.

There is always tremendous purpose in the waiting. 

Never stop praying.  There are always deeper dimensions to prayer than an “answer.”  And through the process and the provision, God makes evident to you and to everyone around you what hope in Him looks like.

For not by their own sword
           did they win the land,
nor did their own arm give them victory,
but Your right hand,
and Your arm,
and the light of Your countenance,
              for You delighted in them.
                           Psalm 44.3

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Not Quite Fully

My culinary adventures continue, somewhat side-railed this summer by the vast amounts of fresh cold watermelon we have been consuming.

Last week one of my daughters was visiting for the day.  Whenever we are together and time has allowed, our motto has always been, "Let's make something," which was quickly amended that day by "Let's make something with chocolate chips."  As she had a large amount of work to accomplish, the actual making fell to me.

On the Ghirardelli chocolate website, I found a recipe for chocolate truffle cookies.  I had all the ingredients in the pantry, except for the Ghirardelli 60 percent cacao chips that the recipe called for.  I had a bag of Hershey dark chocolate chips instead..

"Oh, those will do."  That comment should have sent up red flags waving.  That is where we trip up in our obeying.  I have often said, "Satan's greatest deceit is always 'It won't matter.'"

I followed the recipe carefully, knowing very well that my daughter -- the appointed family BAKER-- was in the next room.  I measured precisely, stirred rigorously, and baked them to the minute.  But even as they emerged from the hot oven, I could tell something was wrong.  "These don't look like the picture in the recipe," I said.  Instead of puffy morsels with a crackling across the top, my cookies were flat and appeared to have just melted onto the parchment paper.  They just weren't the same.

And so in our lives.  Obedience to God is not an adherence to a set of rules, it is an attitude. It is trusting Him all the way.  It is realizing that God knows what He is doing.  And when I question Him -- or insert my own ingredients into the mix -- well, the outcome is never quite the same.  There is a reason for it, whether I understand it at the time or not. 

What went wrong?  It was not a matter of following a formula, but following Him.

Has the LORD as great delight
    in burnt offerentings 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 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Little Tweaking

September is a month of new beginnings.  I have always considered it the start of the new year.  Schedules resume, classes commence, and activities change along with the season.  And while resolutions are usually saved for January, a little tweaking in September can go a long way.

At the beginning of each school year, our family tried to troubleshoot the problems we faced the previous year.  With four school-aged daughters, we found school mornings bordering on the hectic and not a great way to start the day.  A little tweaking took care of some of the wrinkles.  Shoes, jackets and backpacks were lined up by the door.  Homework was completed, books tucked inside the backpacks, and permission slips signed and ready to go.  Lunches were made the night before, ready to grab.  Those little tweaks avoided a lot of angst in the morning.  It didn’t solve all our early morning glitches, but it helped us to avoid the obvious potholes.

I thought about tweaking this morning when my husband told me about his buddy Byron who owns a local fishing shop.  When Byron traveled this summer, he carefully observed what other fishing stores were doing well and what worked for them.  When he returned to his own shop, he made one singular change.  He moved the fishing rods from the loft to the main floor.  With that one little tweaking, his shop just had its biggest month ever.

What single little tweak do I need to make this fall? 

Most of the elements we need to make our lives more fruitful are within our reach.  We just need to make them more accessible, like Byron’s fishing rods.  If we need to eat healthier, keep a bowl of fruit on the counter.  If we want to read more (or our kids to read more), keep a basket of library books current and right by the couch.  It is not that we necessarily need to eliminate things, or jam even more into an already tight schedule, but make our priorities easier to grasp.

Make first things first.  And remember, anxiety is not one of them.

What does God's Word have to say about it?

Seek first His kingdom
        and His righteousness,
and all these things shall be yours as well.
                           Matthew 6.23