Saturday, November 30, 2013

Filed away

"But she hurt my feelings."  "She owes me."  "He let me down."  We seem to keep an active file of others' imperfections and transgressions against us, organized, alphabetized, and never forgiven.  That file cabinet is too heavy to lift and takes up an awful lot of room in our hearts.

But biggest file of all, the toughest stain, may be my own lack of forgiveness, a nastiness that I just don't want to let go, harboring, and filed away for so long that sometimes even the actual crime has been forgotten, but not the resentment.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  One incident of unforgiveness leads to another.  But one act of grace changes the world in incredible ways.

May we not just sing about peace on earth this year, but leave behind the debts, offenses, scripts of judgment written and re-written, and even those "punishments" envisioned for that imperfect person.  You are not hurting them back, but allowing your own wounds to fester. Instead, let it go. And as my father's 1931 dictionary states, "restore him to an unresentful place in your affections." That is what forgiveness does.

And as Jesus would say, "What debt?"  

Then Peter came up and said to Him,
"Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me,
          and I forgive him?
     As many as seven times?"
Jesus said to him,
"I do not say to you seven times,
but seventy times seven."

                           Matthew 18. 21-22

God is not counting.
Neither should we.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Don't forget to have fun out there!

The pictures sit on the shelves, the mantle, and the desk as visual reminders of times we have had together as a family, the kindness of a stranger to take a shot, a slice of our lives printed on paper.  Some of the most endearing images are those taken on a whim, a chronicle of life unposed.

But I remember all too often in the midst of those times being a Martha, so occupied by the dailyness of what needed to be done as if that was more important than the relationships.   God calls us to train up our children, but first and foremost to see them as the blessings from Him that they are -- to enjoy them.

Singer and songwriter Gloria Gaither once told a story about doing dishes after a family supper together, stewing inside that she was stuck with the task.  Her youngest son ran in the back door and called out to her, "Come, Mom.  Come quick.  You are going to miss it."

She had no idea what "it" was, but to a young boy what was urgent could be just about anything.  She was sure it could wait until she finished her work.  "I can't," she replied.  "You can see I have a lot to do."

"Mom, you are going to miss it!" he repeated as he dashed out the door in a little boy kind of way.

Gloria humphed, and put down the dishcloth.  She stepped out onto the back deck, her little boy's eyes glistening with excitement that she had come out to share this with him.  For just ready to dip below the horizon was the most magnificent sunset she had ever seen.  She stood there, drinking it in, side by side, holding close her little boy, realizing humbly that just a few moments more and she would have missed, not just this golden sunset but an unforgettable experience with her son.

We can't go back, rewind and relive those times together with the family.   But God has given us today.

Go out there and have some fun.  This time is precious and so are they.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Essential ingredients

The store yesterday was packed with harried shoppers gathering ingredients for their Thanksgiving dinner, carefully examining the produce, weighing each item, and crossing off items on their shopping lists, one by one with great intention.  A sense of purpose and a bit of urgency pervaded the aisles.  My shopping cart was pushed aside several times as I tried to navigate the shopping turmoil while reading my own list, a task almost as dangerous as texting while driving.

The recipe called for one-quarter cup safflower oil.  No big deal.  With such a small amount, I decided to skip that item.  I have oil at home.  "It is not going to make a difference," I determined.

One of our daughters is "chef" this year.  Yesterday, I was the lowly concierge, purchasing the ingredients that she had designated.  She is an incredible cook.  I have tremendous respect for her efforts and the amazing results she produces.  I can follow the same recipe, and it doesn't look or even taste the same.

The difference lies in the details and in the very careful following of the recipe.  There is a reason for every ingredient, even if it doesn't make sense to me and even if I don't think it makes a difference.  Exhibit #1:  my cooking versus hers.

This week I was reading in the book of Ezekiel the careful dimensions of the altar, precisely measured.  It is always easy to skip over those allotments, measurements and restrictions.  Did it really matter then?  Does it matter to me now?

But in Scripture, there is always a reason for details.  In the margin of Ezekiel 48, I had written years ago:

In each of our lives, there are lines and boundaries, not to restrict or limit us, but that we may focus on and maximize what we have been given.  And yet, in our natures, it always seems greener elsewhere.

I may think that I know better than Julia Child or James Beard, but I don't know better than God.  Following Him, obeying what He says, makes a significant difference in my life and in the lives of everyone God places on my path.

Needless to say, rather ashamed by my arrogance, I am running to the store to get that little bottle of oil today.    Consider it submission, obedience, or just following the instructions. But in our lives, somehow even in the willingness to follow, God makes a difference in us.

You shall walk in all the way
which the LORD your God has commanded you,
that you may live,
and that it may go well with you,
and that you may live long in the land
which you shall possess.
                           Deuteronomy 5.33

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tough skin, Norman Rockwell, and a big serving of poisonous darts

Little do these happy people realize, but that turkey is about to explode.

Feelings are about to get hurt.  A well-meaning remark is ready to be taken the wrong way.  An entire bottle of vintage bitterness just got knocked over.  Watch out, someone is already reaching for caustic words that he has prepared since the last time you were together.  And don't forget the side dishes of petty jealousies (mom always gave you the biggest cookie), resentments from birth, and zingers designed to maim.

What's packed in your suitcase or stuffed in your pockets for when -- not if -- the opportunity arises this holiday season?

Ironically, it is the one with the tough skin who is typically most sensitive to carefully-crafted poisonous darts, aimed for the jugular.  But a tender heart is the one whose feelings are not easily hurt.  A tender heart comes prepared with grace and healing, not insensitive to stress but gracious in it.  A tender heart initiates a conversation instead of a confrontation.  A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15.1)

As most siblings growing up, our daughters knew what their sisters' hot buttons were.  On many occasions, particularly on road trips, I would pull aside one of the girls and say, "Let's play,  You can't make me mad."  For the next hour without the "attacker" knowing, the object of the "game" was to rise above the fray, divert the fiery darts, respond graciously, try to distract, and sometimes flat out ignore actions which were designed to create an uprising.  With this response, it doesn't take long for the attacker to tire, feel rather ridiculous, and move on to another recreational sport.

Family competition?  Outdo one another in showing honor.(Romans 12.10)  Try "playing" that one.

Your clearest presentation of the Gospel
       is not a memorized script,
but sitting where no one else wants to sit,
listening compassionately to that old grumpy uncle,
and doing what needs to be done
                    without being asked
                    without recognition
       diapers, dishes, and other nasty stuff
          that no one wants to do.

Don't just say grace at the table,
                               live it.
Don't just ask His blessing,
                               be it.
That is why God has you there.

Jesus does not make me love others.
He empowers me not just to love,
                            but to love more,
   beyond what I can do myself,
   beyond what
         would even occur to me to do.

Sometimes it just takes one word to set ablaze
           a family gathering.
But often it just takes
                     one act of grace
       to diffuse the flame.

Above all
     hold unfailing your love for one another,
since love covers a multitude of sins.
                               1 Peter 4.8

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Get back on the bike

The course was muddy, full of dips, holes, rocks, and steep ascents that reduced many racers almost to a crawl. Tough conditions?  No, perfect for cyclocross, a sport that could have been invented by Tide detergent.  The muddier the course, the better the race.

Two weeks ago, my husband was right in the thick of it, living out his motto, "Never act your age."

He went down three times, once in a gully where he cracked his helmet, and twice falling as he was going UP a muddy knoll.  Having raced on roads for thirty years, this was his first cyclocross race.   He was discouraged just long enough to realize that everybody falls down, the novices for sure and even the pro's. 

But it is what you do THEN that makes the difference.

The first time he went down, it was in a gravel-strewn gully about a half-mile into the race without spectators around. When he fell, he cracked his helmet. The other cyclists zipped past him, relegating him from middle of the pack to almost dead last.  He scrambled up, pushed his helmet back together, and got back on his bike.

The biggest crowds had gathered on the muddiest hill, watching the cyclists navigate the slippery slope.  Bill made it about halfway up when, along with a few other riders, his wheel slipped in a muddy rut, and down he went.  The crowd did not scorn these fallen riders-- they cheered them on.  "Go, Bill!" I heard several spectators shout out encouragements to him.  And yea, there were hecklers -- there are always hecklers -- but then again, they are not the ones out there racing.  Covered in mud, Bill got back on his bike.

The second time he ascended the hill, he went down again.

The third time, he jumped off his bike and ran, carrying it up the hill, and then hopping back on at the top.

He did not dwell in the mire.  He got back on his bike. Bill learned something from it, how to navigate, how to hang in there.  And he finished the race, muddy and smiling.

Jesus approached a lame man who had been sitting for decades by a healing pool.  Jesus did not commiserate with him, but held out to him extreme compassion, a compassion so deep that He said to the man, "Do you want to be healed?"

And in spite of the man's litany of excuses, 
Jesus said to him,
take up your pallet,
           and walk."
                              John 5.8

We all fall down, sometimes in the deepest mire. Everyone struggles with something, dealing with scars and wounds and imperfections.  But it is what we do then that makes the difference.  Are we willing to let God redeem those things?  Just as He empowered the man who had grown comfortable in his crippling circumstances, Jesus says, "Get up."

Jesus heals and redeems in the most extraordinary ways.

Redeem it, O LORD,
    turn it inside out
            and make it a strength
 to bring glory to You.

We all fall.
We all get muddy.
Let it go
         and get back on your bike.
For in our weakness,
            His strength is revealed.

...though he fall,
        he shall not be cast headlong,
for the LORD is the stay of his hand.
                                Psalm 37.24

The LORD lifts up the downtrodden...
                               Psalm 147.6

 ...for a righteous man falls seven times,
                  and rises again...
                               Proverbs 24.16

But He said to me,
"My grace is sufficient for you,
for My power is made perfect in weakness."
                                2 Corinthians 12. 9

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Dirty diapers, graham crackers, and what I missed

Vacation Bible School had been planned for months.  The curriculum had been purchased, crafts ready to assemble, snacks arranged, music rehearsed, and teachers assigned.  In other churches, I had found a place to serve by taking pictures of the children for a slideshow in  the final program at end of the week.  The children's director gave me the thumbs up, and I prepared my camera and purchased several rolls of slide film.  I was excited to be able to serve this way.

When I arrived early that first morning and began to get set up, the director came up to me, "I need you to..." he began.  I awaited instructions, perhaps, on which classes to focus.  "I really need you to...," he started again, " for just a few minutes with the toddlers until the teacher can get here."

It was not what I had in mind, nor my area of giftedness, but sure, no problem.  I entered the small windowless room already crowded with 12 to 18 month olds crawling, climbing, and chewing on each other's pacifiers. There was just one woman in the room supervising, who immediately handed me her very snotty-nosed baby and DASHED out of the room.  "Ahhhh," I began to say, "sick children are not allowed to stay."

"I have to get to my class," she replied.  "I am a teacher," she said with authority.  "It's just allergies," she called down the hall as she disappeared out of sight.

I turned around and closed the door, goop running out of this baby's nose and the now closed-in space growing incredibly claustrophobic.  The number of children increased in the next few minutes from four to six to eight.  Just a few minutes more, I convinced myself.  The teacher will arrive any time now.

But she didn't.

She didn't show up for the whole week.

I was totally out of my element.  What am I doing here?  I wiped noses and bottoms and handed out graham crackers.  I carried around crying babies, two at a time, waiting as the time crawled by, literally minute by minute.  This was not what I had in mind.  I was not at all excited to serve in that capacity.

I survived.  But what needed changing more than diapers was my attitude.  I knew there was a reason for this alteration of plans, but somehow I had ranked what service was more significant than another.  I was so caught up in the "why am I doing this?" that I totally missed out on "what, LORD?"  My eyes were so focused on my grumbling that I was the one who missed out.  It is only when we trust God in the act of obedience that God can enlarge our hearts to His purposes.  Sometimes those will be revealed.  And sometimes that is when faith kicks in and that is enough.

Was I filling in for someone who reneged her own responsibility? Doesn't matter.  God will use it.  Was someone taking advantage of me?  Doesn't matter.  God will use it.  My own grumbling blocked out any glimmer of His vision, visible or invisible.

Why do I feel like I have to understand God's purposes for there to be a reason for it?

And if I knew the eternal implications, wouldn't I leap at the opportunity before me -- whatever that may be?  Wouldn't I do it just for Him? Just because He asked?  And in the process I learned it is not a matter of "doing for God," but an act of worship.

And what if, that week, now more than fifteen years ago, what if  that young mom with the snotty-nosed kid (who then passed on to me a summer-long cold), what if she had led a child to know Jesus that week? What if?  Would I see then what is sacred a little differently?

I did not miss an opportunity to take pictures that week, but to worship a little deeper the purposes of God.

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

                        Matthew 25.40

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Run swiftly and watch for fallen runners

It has been seven weeks now since the marathon.  My wounded foot is still in a mending mode.  Healing takes time.

Many have asked about my race.  And what I share, what stands out so vividly to me, is not about finishing, not so much the running or crowds, not so much my tripping and falling on the cracked broken pavement in the shadows.  But what I remember the most are the three runners who stopped immediately and picked me up.  It was so quick that it was almost like they were waiting for that opportunity, their eyes and hearts watching, not knowing who, not even knowing me, but rushing forth to help a stranger with a need.  I was touched by their kindness.

"Why did they do that?"  a friend asked me.    They stopped running.  They threw off their pace.  They took the time to extend an unexpected compassion to me.  And then they ran on, I hope a little stronger, a little bit faster, empowered by God for what they did.

And though I don't know who they are, we are forever linked by the kindness and the grace shown to me.  We were all changed by it.  We are always changed by unexpected love, that which we don't deserve, that which surprises us. ,Kindness is never random.  It is always intentional, it is always a choice, and it always costs something.

It made all the difference to me.  I will always speak in remembrance of those three runners who I cannot even thank, whose names I don't even know.

And when those three runners are asked about their marathon, the perennial question, "How did you do?"  I hope they comprehend that what mattered most was "What did you do?"

Who has God placed on my path today?

May I live in such a way that it causes others to ask why
and reveals a little more to this world,
         what the grace of God is like.

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,
             and do likewise."

                              Luke 10.36-37

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Beginning of the Real Story

It was an unseasonably warm November day.  I was ten years old, sitting in a crowded fifth grade classroom with scuffed linoleum floors and black boards lining the walls.  I watched the back of the science teacher as she wrote out in loopy script letters the homework assignment for the weekend.  It was a few minutes after 1.30, and the Friday afternoon countdown had begun.  Just two classes left until the bell rang, and we would board the buses for home. 

Home, at the time for my family, was a cramped two-bedroom unit on the eleventh floor of an apartment building in suburban New Jersey where we had just moved halfway across the country, the night before school started.  There were seven of us living in that space, my mom and dad, arthritic grandmother, three lively brothers, myself, and our dog. We were all homesick for what had been and what could be, out of our comfort zone like clarinets in a flute section, and our dog was crazy too.

Suddenly, that Friday afternoon, a voice on the loud speaker in the corner of the room, interrupted the lesson with the words, "President Kennedy has been shot.  I repeat, the President has been shot."  Fifty years later, I can still hear that voice crackling over the speaker. The teacher dropped her chalk on the floor.  No one knew what to say.  It was the first Presidential assassination since 1901.

Today, I watched that old television footage of the assassination.  I remember that film clip played in the following days, over and over again.  Nothing else seemed to matter.

And yet, on the very same day, fifty years ago, as seems to be the habit of the humble, a saint slipped away to the other side of life without any recognition at all.  Few were even aware he was gone, no dramatic announcements, no breaking news, but a grand Homecoming, nonetheless.  A curious little boy with a great imagination had grown up into C. S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia and other endearing tales.  Lewis passed away on that very same day as Kennedy, the news of his passing largely ignored.

I first read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was a graduate student, living in a small cell-like room in the YWCA in downtown Washington D. C.  I dove in headfirst and read all seven books in less than a week.

Some twenty years later, my husband and I read the Chronicles to our youngest daughter, starting when she was in kindergarten, every night a few chapters, drawn so deeply into them, we all couldn't wait for bedtime to come.   Jesus portrayed great spiritual truth in parables that people could understand.  Lewis did the same, clearly depicting the Gospel through the story of four children and a crowd of talking animals. "Aslan is just like Jesus," our young daughter whispered out loud one night.

And when Aslan was killed and the White Witch celebrated, I stopped reading in the middle of a sentence, realizing for the first time in my life that when Jesus was crucified, Satan thought he had won.

In 1973, a woman at a yard sale near London, purchased a large piece of furniture and donated it to Wheaton College near Chicago.  It is the very same old wardrobe in which Lewis played as a child and memorialized in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  The first time I saw that immense wooden wardrobe with its heavy dark doors, I was mesmerized.  "Go on," said the library clerk. "Open it."

The heavy door squeaked a bit on its old hinges.  Inside, hung old wool and fur coats, just like the ones the children wore in the Chronicles.  And then, I saw a typewritten index card, yellowed with age, attached to the inside of the door.

"Enter at your own risk."

I am sure that it was meant to elicit a chuckle.  But I reached far into the ancient wardrobe.  The pungent musty smell of old coats seemed to pull me in.  And I wondered, for a moment, if there was a back to the wardrobe after all.

That is what great literature can do to a child or adult -- to be embraced by truth and the desire for the story to never end.  And so, on this day, we can rejoice for this esteemed professor at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities who left behind children's stories that still resonate the truth profoundly fifty years later. 

It was just like this humble man to slip off, I am sure, chuckling on his way out, the whole world unaware, knowing that there is something more, as he wrote in the last book of the Chronicles:

"All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on for ever; in which every chapter is better than the one before."

He knew the pain of death, having lost his wife Joy, the love of his life.  But having become a follower of Jesus Christ at the age of 32, he also knew that death is unnatural, not what God intended, and on the day of cruxifiction, the evil one did not win after all.
"We know that we were not made for it;  we know how it crept into our destiny as an intruder; and we know Who has defeated it.  Because Our Lord is risen we know that on one level it is an enemy already disarmed..." 

Once crossing a busy street in Oxford where he was an esteemed professor and close buddy of J. R. R. Tolkien, he called out to a friend:

 "Christians don't say good bye.  They just say see you later."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Burnt rolls and a sacrifice of praise

My mother had a culinary tradition at Thanksgiving.  She burnt the dinner rolls.  Every year, like a burnt sacrifice on the altar, not toasted brown, but charred.  I can still smell that familiar aroma.

With our own family, we had culinary favorites that we made each year:  turkey, cornbread stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole.  Every year, I purchased a can of jelled cranberry sauce.  And every year, about four weeks later, I realized that no one, after all, was going to eat it.

In the past few years, our grown daughters have trekked outside the limitations of tradition, and we have tried new recipes, thinking a little differently about our offerings for this holiday.

I thought this morning about the menu for next Thursday.  How best to prepare?  And I wondered, what am I really bringing to the table this year?  The same old list of thanks?  A litany of repeated gratitude, ordinary and overcooked like the beans?

Or a whole new menu of praise? 

Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
         and His courts with praise!
Give thanks to Him,
                          bless His name.

                        Psalm 100.4

It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to Your name, O Most High,
to declare Your steadfast love in the morning,
and Your faithfulness by night...

                         Psalm 92.1-2

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

And what do I see?

The weather forecast was enough to make me want to get back in bed -- considerable cloudiness, 60 percent chance of rain, and 20 mile per hour winds.  I looked for my black sweater to wear in order to grieve properly.  Winter has come.

But when my husband was leaving for work and the sky was just beginning to brighten, I looked up and saw a clear blue sky with a pink blush.  And the bare trees cast their crazy black lace across the sky.

Even in winter
    and what looks so bleak and barren,
 the trees rejoice.

It is not that we should begrudgingly
 "look on the bright side of life"
       like someone a little too artificially cheerful in the morning,
but dwell on,
             abide in,
and grasp fully
                      the reality of Who God is.

O give thanks to the LORD,
               for He is good;
for His steadfast love endures forever.
                                  Psalm 118. 29

How I view God
         invades how I see everything.

This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice
           and be glad in it.

                             Psalm 118.24

Even if it rains.
Even in this.
     help me to follow You
into Your day for me.
And know Your joy
     even in the midst
                     of the impossible.
Your deliverance
          may be right through this mess
that I would know You more,
    and that others would see You,
not what appears a dismal day
     even the trees pointing to You.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This is your brain on God

When our first baby was four months old, I began to read to her.  At first, she just sat on my lap, watched intently the pictures on each page, and listened to a few words mumbled.  Even before she could speak, she began waving to the birds on the last page of a certain book when I said, "Good-bye, birdies.  Enjoy your dinner."

Her first word was "book."  Her second word was "again."

She soon realized those lines on a page had meaning,and somehow knew, at the most inconvenient times, that her very tired mama was skipping parts of the story. 

One connection led to another.  She progressed to the ABC song and then played with magnetic letters on our old refrigerator door.  Each letter had a sound.  I watched her sound out a word one day, ccccc---aaaaaa---ttttt.  CAT! she exclaimed.  A deep and enduring connection was created.

She got it.  A new pathway in her brain was paved.  We could see it in her excitement.  We could see it in how she read and in how she learned.

Now, thanks to advances in imaging technology, those newly sprouted connections can be physically observed in the human brain.  Neural pathways can be visually documented and observed on an imaging device, physical changes which are manifested in what we think, do and even decide.

It has also been scientifically observed how a nurturing positive environment -- or even mood -- allows the brain to come up with new solutions to problems.  Researchers can visually see those connections "sprout" between neurons, as if a different and better road suddenly appears on the map, so to speak.  The brain physically changes as we think.  

Neural imaging actually observes how different areas of the brain "light up" when they make connections, according to researchers at Northwestern University's Cognitive Neuroscience Program.

And so, if I understand that correctly, when the Bible speaks of making all things new, of putting a new and right spirit in me, or "when anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation," that spiritual transformation is actually a physical change in my heart and mind, visible both on the inside and out.  Prayer does change you.  And imagine the long-term impact daily reading of God's Word can do, not just creating a change of spiritual mindset, but also a literal change of mind and heart, how I see things and how I respond.  It does matter.  It matters a lot. I may never view those changes on an imaging device, but I have experienced them in my life. God changes us.

And we all,
     with unveiled face,
beholding the glory of the LORD,
are being transformed into the same image
from one degree of glory
                             to another.

                            2 Corinthians 3.18

Monday, November 18, 2013

It doesn't have to be that way

The shoes were stained by some adventure (or forgotten misadventure) that made them look scruffy, neglected, and no longer appropriate for most occasions.  The shoes looked really bad. They resided in that ruined state under the shelf in the mud room for months where their presence could be ignored.  That's just the way they're going to look from now on, I surmised.  I mentally relegated them to lawn duty and rainy Saturday morning errands.

One day as I was soaking other stained items in Oxyclean, I gave those shoes one last shot.  I wet the stained part, made a paste of the cleaning powder, and let it sit for several hours.  When I finally rinsed them, my other soaking items came clean, but the shoes looked no different.  Well, at least, I tried.  That's just the way they are going to look from now on.

Lately, I have been faced with a difficult situation without a clear solution.  I have prayed about it, but find myself still in God's waiting room about it.  Maybe, perhaps, that is just the way it is, a difficult situation I need to live with.  But in the past few weeks, I have felt God urging me, yes, to continue waiting on Him, but to also apply a wild imagination to it -- not in a fear kind of way, but in faith.

And in the process, God has helped me to seek His vision about it, to pursue every dimension, to pray it through from completely different angles, and to see it from His grace.  No quick answers have arrived on my doorstep from Federal Express, but each day a new way emerges of seeing and praying.  His waiting room is not a passive place of complacence, but a living and active listening, watching and obeying which invades everything I do and think and say.  Solutions are not often just one time events, but found in a faithful following as God makes all things new.

On my way downstairs one morning last week, I set those stained shoes down on the laundry room counter as I loaded the washing machine.  And there on the counter, right next to those shoes, was a bottle of Dawn detergent.  A new idea hit me pointblank in the head.  Could those stains actually be some kind of grease, impervious to Oxyclean, the king of laundry battles, but a perfect fit for Dawn?  Dawn is known for tackling tough grease so gently it is even used on small birds caught in oil spills. My skepticism tried to close that door, trying to persuade me, "Nothing is going to clean those shoes.  You are wasting your time.  Gentleness is not going to work."

And my wild imagination said, "It can't hurt."

I dripped the blue liquid onto the stains and scrubbed it into the shoes with a brush.  It was not until later that day when I transferred the wet clothes to the dryer that I noticed the shoes.  I rinsed away the detergent.  And the shoes were clean, no stains in sight.  They didn't have to be that way after all. 

It just took another approach.

Show me, LORD,
    how to pray differently
even in the midst of the impossible
         even in my everydays
and apply Your grace to it.

Come now,
let us reason together,
          says the LORD;
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

                        Isaiah 1.18

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Know the nearest tree

Out in the empty field next door, something moved.  On such a dismal grey morning, it was almost imperceptible.  At first, it appeared to be only tall grasses blowing in the wind or leaves chasing each other like eight year old boys when school is out.  Silence and stillness followed, and then seconds later, another movement.  What was that?  I watched from the window on our landing, trying to discern what I saw over by the tree line.

And then, it moved again.  A large coyote, conveniently camouflaged the same color as the field, carried his latest trophy in his mouth, a limp squirrel.  I followed his trek to the back of the vacant lot where, under the almost bare osage orange tree, the coyote buried his prey, saving it for a snack later on.

He snuck stealthily along the back of the lots toward our house.  As he entered our small backyard, he crouched down low and crawled like a commando, barely moving, his eyes locked on a squirrel playing under our bird feeder.  Earlier in the morning, a party of birds had converged, spreading a mess of seeds under the feeder which the squirrel was now feasting on.

The coyote lunged forward, almost snatching the surprised squirrel whose life hung in the milliseconds of his response.  The squirrel had appeared totally oblivious to any kind of danger, but he was aware enough to leap to the large silver maple tree just a few feet away and scurry out of reach of those jaws.

The squirrel was doing nothing wrong, just going about his business of gathering for winter.  And that is usually when adversaries attack, when we are nice and cozy and feeling, perhaps, a bit invincible.

But the squirrel already knew where to leap.

Airline attendants instruct before every flight, "know your nearest exit." You may never need it, but in a crisis, you do not have time to casually browse the safety card in the seat pocket in front of you.  You need to move NOW.  When moments make the critical difference, know exactly what to do.

God's Word acts the same.  Through it, God makes us aware of what can bring us down.  He sharpens our vision.  He engraves His truth in our hearts that we might not sin against Him.  (Psalm 119. 11) God shields us from fiery darts even in the most impossible places and on the most ordinary of days.   And He surrounds us as we move naively among the wild beasts of this world.  Temptations and assaults come in not so obvious times or places, sometimes in ways we may not even know to fear.

Be ready with God's Word laid up in your heart -- read daily, absorbed, studied, and memorized.  His Word abides in us.  And when --not if-- the crisis hits, Scripture passages literally rise up like an army on a rescue mission.

Live freely and graciously in the midst of your world, prepared, equipped, and aware.

And know your nearest tree.

He is a shield
             for all those
   who take refuge in Him.

                       Psalm 18.30

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Name that tune

There was always music playing in the background of the home I grew up in, music of the masters coming from classical radio, the turntable, and any stringed instrument my mom could get her hands on.  To this day, so many decades later, when I catch even a phrase of certain symphonies or concertos, even if I cannot nail down the composer, the music is like an old familiar friend coming in the back door.

Those pathways were engraved in my mind over many years, each time those musical impressions going a little deeper into my heart.

We learn by repeating, and then even deeper by using our five senses God gave us to increase the dimensions of what we know.  And so, what we learn by sight can be multiplied by touch, hearing, smell, and taste. That is why, for example, a small child learns his ABC's by singing the little tune, a deeper learning, a deeper engraving.

In my oldest daughter's van, filled with car seats, music plays not just in the background, but on the lips of our grandkids.  These little children are not just listening to tunes.  They are learning Scripture verses set to music, and God's truth is engraved in their hearts a little deeper each time a song rolls around.  (The grownups, too!) The CD series, which my daughter listens uses, is offering a free download until Thanksgiving. Click here, if you are interested.

A couple of days ago, the children called me on FaceTime to show me what they had learned the previous day.  They were both outfitted with large plastic mixing bowls, Maggie with wooden spoons and Howie with two whisks.  They recited a verse for me, and then, they sang a little song that was related to it, accompanied by the joyful banging of kitchen utensils.  Later, they abandoned the instruments and danced rather dramatically while singing the words, sweet worship in the eyes of our God.

Just a short time later, as I was going about my early morning tasks, our daughter who is living here for a couple months called out, "What are you humming, mom?"  Of course, I was humming the song the children had sung earlier.  I wasn't even aware that she could hear me.

We are never really aware of how others perceive us.  What do they see and hear?  Hopefully a life transformed, so radically changed that others actually hear a different song -- a soundtrack of grace -- coming forth from a new heart.

We can claim things as our own, but a hum comes from within, that which is engraved and not forgotten.

What am I listening to?  What am I humming?  The Word of God emerges in all that I say and do and think.  And He changes me through it.

Sing to Him a new song,
play skillfully on the strings,
with loud shouts.

                             Psalm 33.3

...for God had made them
                rejoice with great joy;
the women and children also rejoiced.
And the joy of Jerusalem
             was heard afar off.

                             Nehemiah 12.43

Friday, November 15, 2013

Out of a clear blue sky

It is at that point of IMPOSSIBLE
that God doesn't just show up,
but stands there holding open the door,
          arms out wide,
          delight on His face
                 when WE show up,
     when we finally seek His presence,
             His wisdom,
             His leading,
             His path
                   and not our own.
God does not say,
        "Well, it took you long enough,"
     "Oh, I am so glad you are here."
I remembered this morning when one of our daughters
                frantically needed a place to live,
       her first choice having fallen through mere days
                                before she started her residency
                                in a city she did not know.
      God provided a temporary room with a cousin.
And then,
          when it was time to move on
                 and everything else had already been rented,
           nothing available,
                        panic prevailing,
          God directed her eyes to an apartment
                    less than a mile from her work
              on a pleasant street with bike lanes,
not just available at a future date,
                              but ready to move in.
I remember her phone calls of desperation.
I remember that particular call of delight.
God provided.
Provision literally means
                "for the vision."
It is not that God has to get things ready,
         but He already has the details designed in full.
It is not if things work out,
             but how He works it out.
Seek Him first
         and He will bring about the answer,
maybe something not even on your radar,
but always,
               always that we would know Him more.
The world describes the unexplainable
       as suddenly emerging out of nothing,
                   out of a clear blue sky.
But when we look up
         and view that incredible expanse of blue,
  we recognize that it did not randomly happen either.
                                God created it.
It is not just a clear blue sky above us,
not just an answer arriving by chance,
not a perfectly timed coincidence,
                     but all the fulness of God.

For Your steadfast love
          is great above the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

                       Psalm 108.4

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Secrets of Slow Cooking

Yesterday I pulled together the ingredients for White Chili, a thick chicken soup that has been a family favorite through the years.  We are hosting a small group of friends for supper tonight, and there is nothing better than a bowl of hot soup on a chilly November evening to encourage fellowship.

Some of the components rested in the pantry, ready in anticipation of this recipe --cloves of garlic, cans of great northern beans, olive oil, and containers of chicken stock.  Frozen chicken breasts waited in the freezer, purchased previously for such a time as this. The necessary spices were lined up in rows in the drawer like a classroom of students with arms raised, "pick me!"  A quick run to the grocery completed the list, adding to the assemblage a bag of onions and cute little cans of diced green chilis. The ingredients stood on the counter, each ready to contribute its part.

But the best element to the success of this recipe is making it ahead of time.  In the past, the first serving of the soup was good.  But, oh, the leftovers were even better.  This recipe needs time, slow cooking as one cookbook suggests, for the flavors to "get married."   The ingredients need the time to get to know each other, hold hands, get engaged, and make a commitment.

"Why are you making it today?" a family member asked last night.

"Because it makes the soup so much better," I responded.  "And besides, then it's ready."  And so am I, prepared for the glitches that always seem to arrive at the most inconvenient times.

I have never regretted
        doing something ahead of time,
but too many times
         I have regretted that I didn't.

The making of soup reminds me of so many occasions I have asked God, "And why exactly am I doing this?"  The result may not be readily apparent, but God's purposes always arrive right on His timing.  What I am doing today may have nothing at all to do about this particular day, but preparing for a time I cannot yet know, a preparation of ingredients, an assembling of components, and a melding of flavors.  Sometimes a recipe -- or what God is doing in my life -- just needs slow cooking, a long time in the making, and the outcome turns out not our work at all, but His, that which only God can do.

For we are His workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand,
that we should walk in them.
                           Ephesians 2. 10

I do not need to know "why,"
   to know that God has a reason.
I cannot fully know for what I am training,
or for "what God has up His sleeve,"
but I can be faithful and obedient,
     those essential elements that abide
             even in the mystery,
      even in the assembling of what is not related,
                       and even in the simmering.
Because God will use it all
           for His great purposes
           and for His glory.

White Chili

3 cans great northern beans, drained and rinsed
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
2 medium onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 - four once cans diced mild green chilis
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried crumbled oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon Mazola chicken bouillon powder
6 cups chicken stock or broth

Drain and rinse the great northern beans in a colander.

Place chicken breasts in a large saucepan, add just enough water to cover, bring to a boil, turn off heat, cover, and let sit for 15 minutes.  Remove from water, with tongs, cut into cubes.

In another pan, saute diced onions and minced garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil, just until onions are tender. (If using a soup pot instead of a slow cooker, saute onions and garlic in the soup pot first, add other ingredients to that same pot).

Add all ingredients and spices in the slow cooker. Slow cook for 3-6 hours.  If made ahead of time, cover and refrigerate, and when ready, simmer before serving.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed.

Serve with shredded Monterrey Jack cheese, sour cream, salsa and cilantro.  Corn bread is a nice side, as are corn tortilla strips (slice corn tortillas into narrow strips with a pizza cutter, bake in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes until crisp).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Beeps in the middle of the night

The beeps began about two o'clock in the morning, plaintively chirping, about every thirty seconds.  I know, because I timed it.  After emerging from a deep sleep, I wanted to make sure it was not a fabrication of my dreams.  My husband slumbered on, unawares.

I waited in the darkness, contemplating what to do, as if it were the whimper of a baby in the night.  "Go back to sleep," I hoped at first.  It continued for about twenty minutes before silence covered me up again.  And then 45 minutes later, it started again.  I got up in the chilled night air and wandered through the house, listening for the culprit, the thief of my sleep.  It was a smoke detector, letting me know with its nagging insistence, that its battery was retiring from active duty.

Were these devices programmed to go on alert in the middle of the night?

It was not in our room, nor in the hallway.  I crept around in stocking feet, trying hard not to wake the others who were sleeping.  I moved toward the sound, calling to me every half-minute, closer and closer, as if playing a childhood game of Marco Polo.  And then, walking past the spare room, I identified the source.  I stood under it as it beeped one last time as if it sensed my presence. "Ok, you caught me." And then, silence.

Ahh.  I went back to bed.  And 45 minutes later, it chirped again.

This morning, after a strong cup of coffee, I pulled a desk chair under the culprit, and changed the battery.  It took less than two minutes.  I regret not taking care of it at 2 a.m.

And what else wakes me in the middle of the night?  Something that I need to take care of?  A fear of what may happen, a lack of trust in what God is doing, panic over what is unfolding around me, a forgiveness that I've ignored -- beep, beep, beep -- an ungracious heart within me?

It doesn't go away by itself. 

And as I found,
               the battery was already there,
    the reality of His redeeming.

O LORD, You have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path
               and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.

                                 Psalm 139. 1-3

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It was not so bad from where I stood

As I answered the phone for the third time by eight o'clock this morning, I walked into the kitchen to heat up the coffee I had been drinking in stops and starts since 5.30.  The inside of the microwave door had a few drips on it, and as I leaned down to place my cup within, I saw that the glass turntable plate needed wiping as well.

I continued to talk with our oldest daughter while I retrieved a fresh dish rag from the drawer.  The microwave door wiped clean in two swipes of the wet rag.  The plate was removed, needing just a little rinsing off.

But when I put the plate back on its track, oh, there were a few more red marks, those that had exceeded the definition of drips and could be classified more as "splotches."  Leaning down was not going to reach them.  And so,  I kneeled.

It had not appeared so bad from where I stood, but when I got down on my knees, I saw something quite different indeed.  It took a new perspective to grasp the extent of the explosion within.  I rinsed the rag, and as I chatted on the phone and simultaneously wiped the interior of the microwave, I realized that the debris wasn't just wiping off.  It gave every indication of having been transformed into some kind of super glue.

Quite frankly, I didn't want to get into this.  Just back off and no one will know you saw it, a little voice whispered in my ear -- I am sure the same little voice that whispered to whoever did it in the first place.  If it had been wiped up immediately -- "made right" when it first happened --those drippings would not have grown roots.  It would have not developed into a confrontation at all.

I stayed on my knees where I could see it fully and held that wet rag against each one of the minor explosions to soften what had blown up.  It was not going to go away on its own.  The soft wet rag accomplished what seemed impossible a few minutes before, just holding and applying it to each transgression.

O, that we would first seek to apply grace to those difficult situations and impossible relationships before they harden.  Placing blame, pointing fingers, accusing or wallowing in the mire only hardens it more.  Change only happens when we approach with healing in our hands and words and actions.  As a dear wise friend once told me when I was a teenager, "You cannot change others.  You can only change yourself."  And that would be Jesus Who does exactly that.  He changes my heart.

...and it takes getting on my knees to change my vision to what He sees and how He sees it.

Jesus did not walk away from my mess.
           He held out His nail-scarred hands
     not with a list of my iniquities
but with healing in His wings
                         and visible grace.

May we do the same - forgiven, changed and bearing grace in incredible places.  And so, we kneel.

But for you
    who fear My name
the sun of righteousness shall rise,
with healing in its wings.

                         Malachi 4.2

Monday, November 11, 2013

Not Dead Yet

In a single blustery day, the trees in front of our house went from a blaze of glory to looking like they were on life support.  For the next six months, the trees will appear stark like black lace across the sky.

But contrary to what is presented before us, the trees are not dead yet, but instead, abiding in an essential season.  There are things not obvious to my eyes, deeper factors than I can know, and an incredible mystery beyond my comprehension.

And while the tree is not displaying leaves or visible growth, it is getting ready for it.  It is a necessary time of change.  There is a reason for it, even if I cannot fully understand what happens.

In the winter,  far below the surface and round about as wide as the tree is tall,  the root system acts as a storehouse for essential food reserves that will be needed for the tree to produce spring foliage.  Water and minerals stock up the roots for the spring extravaganza of growth.

And amazingly enough, the best way for trees to obtain that water is through snow, which allows the water to soak into the soil slowly. Clever that God designed to nourish His creation that way.  It is the winter hibernation of trees that allows them to show off in the spring, grow throughout the summer, and bear fruit in the fall, the seeds of which bear even more trees.  Incredible how it works.  You would think that Someone designed it that way.  Winter is vital for those things to happen.  Trees are not just taking time off.

And for us, it is in those silent moments, that daily soaking in His Word that builds us up.  There are seasons when personal growth is revealed and fruit is apparent to the eye, but it is in those steady quiet days of deep rooting when God's strength is built up for the seasons ahead.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
      whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
      that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
      for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
      for it does not cease to bear fruit.

                             Jeremiah 17. 7-8

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Price tags and what has been paid

I was invited by a dear friend the other day  to a home show where a woman displayed and sold clothing.  There was a variety of individual items which coordinated into countless outfits.  As she spoke about how to make the elements of your closet work together, the women attending the event  noticed that a price tag was hanging from the sleeve of the jacket the saleswoman was wearing.  She was totally oblivious to it until someone pointed it out.

A price tag cannot be hidden, nor what is in the heart. all your doings your sins appear... Ezekiel 21.24

We all have price tags hanging from our sleeves.  And it impacts all we do and infuses every relationship.

But the opposite is also true.  In all our doings, God's forgiveness is revealed.  When your debt has been paid, when you accept what Christ has already done for you, it cannot be hidden.  God changes your heart, your eyes, your work, your attitudes, your mindset.

When you are forgiven, you live by a different operating system with God's grace at the core.

A forgiven heart, emptied of its debt,
          is then filled with grace instead.
That kind of transformation
                 not only cannot be hidden,
it gets all over everyone else.
That giant SELF no longer commands the heart
            -- that price tag hanging from the sleeve.
Instead, grace flows from within
    because it is now who you are,
     God's love emerges
                     and radiates all around.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

What it is and what it's not

     is not thinking less of yourself,
but thinking less about yourself.

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit,
but in humility
       count others better than yourselves.
Let each of you
   look not only to his own interests,
but also to the interests of others.
    Have this mind among yourselves
     which is yours in Christ Jesus...

                        Philippians 2. 3-5

Friday, November 8, 2013

Assignment for today

         O LORD,
     this very day
my eyes,
and thoughts
        to Your purposes
                         deeply designed,
 to Your vision
     so much bigger than my own,
and to Your divine encounters
              timed so perfectly,
     coming not out of nowhere
     but from Your glory
                      and the beginning of time itself.
Keep me on Your path
to walk securely
         in what is good and right
  and loving.

What does kindness 
           look like today?

Do not withhold good
       from those to whom it is due,
             when it it in your power
                                      to do it.

                             Proverbs 3.27

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bases Loaded

     You load all my bases,
reveal door handles just waiting to be tried,
provisions stacked in place,
angel assignments handed out.
I may never understand the answers,
    but even if I don't know
   where this road is taking me,
             I know You cover all the questions
         and why,
      deep in Your eternal purposes,
not that "there is a reason for it,"
           but You have a reason.
For Your glory.
For Your glory,
We don't know what to do,
           but our eyes are on You.
                        2 Chronicles 20.12
Out of the night,
out of the blue,
vision is given,
         sometimes just enough light
   for one teeny baby step,
a change of direction,
         a turning around,
seeing the familiar through new eyes,
        what I could never imagine on my own,
even at times,
     drawing me to what makes no sense at all,
                                     if it were not for You.
Even without a trail,
                   You direct me,
    "Over here!"
        building up layer by layer
      until I am ready.
No wandering after all,
       running before,
             walking ahead,
         coming behind me.
             God has my back.

No fear,
no matter what happens,
no matter how He leads,
       God has me covered.

It is the LORD who goes before you.
He will be with you;
He will not leave you
             or forsake you.
Do not fear or be dismayed.
                          Deuteronomy 31.8            

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Boots are in style, but not this one

I waited a week, and then another.  Just a few more days, I thought.  My foot is feeling much better, I surmised.  No problem, I thought, as I limped across the Target parking lot.  Finally, I asked others to pray for my foot to heal.  I could see unspoken words streaming across their thoughts like the banner on the tv screen while the broadcaster is talking about something else.  "Pray for healing?  You did this to yourself!"

The doctor is not going to tell me anything new, my stubborn heart determined.  I just need to rest my foot. It will get better on its own.  I stopped running.  I ceased even going for casual walks.  I wore shoes with laces.

And still, it hurt.

Yet, I refused to pick up the phone to make a doctor's appointment, a waste of time and money, I justified.

Four weeks crawled by.  I limped across the family room on Sunday evening.

If I want things to be different, something has to change.

Perhaps I just need to be willing
           to try something else,
to open my stubborn heart
       to Your quiet voice
that leads me by still waters
and makes me to lie down in green pastures
         where it may make no sense at all to me.
It is not so much that my options are bleak,
but I have closed off my heart
            to Your possibilities, O LORD.
You lead me to my own personal Red Sea,
           waves lapping around my ankles.
Am I willing to follow You
    even through a valley of deep darkness,
    even through a place where
                    my feet don't touch bottom?
            Even there, O LORD?
And in this impossible
                       and very improbable situation,
     You heal my wounded places,
             hurts that I didn't even know.
You pinpoint the pain.
It is not my foot,
            but a heart condition.
The diagnosis:
       an aggravated case of stubbornness.
And everything else aligns from that.
I seek You for one little pain,
     and a thousand others take that opportunity
                to line up too,
      a queue for triage,
            knowing now my need
            not for surgery
                      but a fresh anointing.
I focus on the symptoms.
           But God heals my heart.
I place my problem
                      my pain
       even my stubbornness before Him.
Am I as willing to press
                    the "submit" button?
I recognize my pride
      in whatever clever disguise it has taken now,
and let the healing begin.
There is no fracture, the doctor diagnosed,
       but a peroneal tendon strain,
         just an overuse injury.
And yet, I also receive a deeper diagnosis of pride,
    trying to do life without God's help.
           "Oh, I've got this under control,"
        when I have no idea what to do,
 not letting God in on this pain,
    when He has been waiting all along to heal.
And now,
        I am wearing a boot of another color,
     clomping around like a noisy pirate,
          eating a big slice of humble pie.

If I want things to be different,
       something has to change.

And that would be my heart.

If My people
      who are called by My name
humble themselves,
and pray
and seek My face,
and turn from their wicked ways,
    I will hear from heaven,
and will forgive their sin
             and heal their land.

                     2 Chronicles 7.14

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Imperfect solutions to technical glitches

Our internet was not working this morning.  A dead-end message appeared on every try:  "Your device is not connected."  That was obvious.  The solution was not.

Instantly, I blamed the service provider, dreading the thought of being "on hold," waiting for an internet technician to even pick up the phone. The last time the internet went down, it took two long phone conversations, a wrong diagnosis, and a house call to determine that someone a mile away had snipped the wrong wire. 

Technical glitches are not my strong suit. All of my mechanical DNA went to one of my brothers who, according to family legend, fixed our black and white television when he was three years old.

An engineering brain was not granted to me.  But one thing I have learned from my husband is that when something ceases to operate and the usual solutions do not work, shut the device all the way down and start over from the beginning.  He is so right. Nine times out of ten, all that is needed is a reset.  Back to business.

It is not that anyone is at fault, but there is a reason.

Those technical glitches are not too different from relational ones.  It is not a matter of  "What is wrong with you?" or "What have you done?"  but "How can I handle this differently?  LORD, what is the most gracious way in this?"   Again, not approaching from a mindset of  "fault," or blame, but just knowing there is a reason that probably is not so obvious, that which lies underneath.

When the usual relational remedies don't work, back out and start through again, resuming on a different path, a different heart-set, even a different tone of voice.  Because in resetting the relationship, I see the other person differently and in the process, I see myself as I really am.  Am I being heavy-handed with a "I will win this battle" attitude, or am I more concerned with what is good and right and kind?  What am I modeling?  The role of a tyrant?   Or "Let's see how we can work this out." 

When a system or relationship is not working,
                     ignoring it,
   are not part of the solution.
        and begin again.
      by step.

It just may be
          an opportunity for grace
    in disguise.

And we all,
    with unveiled face,
beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being changed into His likeness
              from one degree of glory to another.

                                  2 Corinthians 3.18

Monday, November 4, 2013

Not so ordinary at all

It is the most ordinary of Mondays, catching up from the weekend, launching into the new week, trying to get a handle on new projects and tying up ones with loose ends.

By my calculations, it is not a big day.

But in God's eyes, every day is significant.

I can look at my schedule but never really determine what is on my plate today.  While there are appointments to be kept, assignments to complete, all manner of stuff that needs to be finished, there is always something more going on, far beneath the surface, deeper still.

It is the ordinary days when extraordinary things arrive on my doorstep, unannounced and unexpected.  And the most extraordinary of all may not even appear that way at first glance:  a fresh and crazy idea, a divine encounter in the check-out line, a sudden kindness, or faithfulness in everyday tasks.  On the most ordinary days, God's grace seeps in our hearts a little deeper.  On ordinary days, the training takes root.  On ordinary days, quite suddenly, God changes my vision just a little more in not so little ways.

What you do matters greatly to God, even if no one else ever notices.

There is always so much more going on behind the scenes, things that God is doing that I cannot possibly comprehend.  I will never underestimate, nor underappreciate, events that I attend, now that we have celebrated two weddings in our family.  I know the hard work, the difficult decisions, the glaring glitches, that long and rocky road that goes with it, always more than I ever imagined.

Today is one of those "behind the scenes" days of living out the hope within me, seizing opportunities for grace that present themselves as interruptions, just being faithful because I can never know how God will bear fruit through the common things that are not so common at all.

God multiplies a million different ways
                  a simple kindness
                         an act of forgiveness
                 an intentional deed of goodness to another
     His Glory all over it
                          in monumental ways.
We have only to be faithful
      in what He has set before us.
 It is God who fills those everydays
                                  with great significance,
                even in that we don't even recognize.
Every day is precious in His sight.
How do I know?
      The Bible is full of extraordinary things
                     on the most ordinary days.

It is not that we fit Him into our plans,
         but that we follow God into
                     His day for us.

Even today.

For God is not so unjust
     as to overlook your work
     and the love you showed
                  for His sake
in serving the saints as you still do.

                          Hebrews 6.10

So also good deeds are conspicuous,
and even when they are not,
             they cannot remain hidden.

                            1 Timothy 5.25


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bold presence in small delights

The bold colors of autumn explode across a backdrop of deep blue, with all the markings of a masterpiece, careful and creative. It initiates a visual siege of grace, penetrating and persuading even the hardest of hearts to declare, "Wow!"  

Nature at its best? Or supernatural all in a day's work?  An incredible day? Or quite credible, indeed, in what only God can do, the awesomeness of God in a single spectacular leaf, a virtual party in a tree.

We look forward to autumn coming, the crisp days, the colors beyond description, the annual display so precise, the seasons can be counted on, written in indelible ink on our calendars.  The very moment of sunrise and sunset can be calculated mathematically for all of time, right to the minute, even before there were clocks, measured with precision centuries past and yet to come.  Even those who claim no God expect the dawn to emerge from the darkest night. And then rise again tomorrow.  Who do we think sets that perpetual alarm clock?  That which bursts forth every day?

It doesn't just happen.   God brings it.  We don't have to prove anything about His existence. We have only to wake up in awe every morning and praise Him as the evening comes. Right on time every day, just as God created it.  Man did not make up the seasons, naming them like federally-established holidays, or cause the sun to rise and set like a commuter train schedule.  God created the morning and seasons, revealing just another dimension of who He is and how God can transform for His glory a tree ...or me.

You have made the moon
           to mark the seasons,
the sun knows its time for setting.
...O LORD,
how manifold are Your works.
In wisdom have You made them all.

                              Psalm 104. 19, 24

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bike locks, the barking of dogs, and the fine art of temptation

"There is no such thing as an undefeatable lock," stated a rather revealing article on bicycle security.

One of the authors even posed as a thief on a busy Manhattan street, using a cordless power grinder to slice through a titanium lock and steal his own bike.  Crowds of pedestrians passed by, not stopping to notice nor even looking up from their cell phones.

What protects is not so much the strength of the lock, nor where you choose to park, or even the value of the bike.  But the most significant deterrent is simply time.  The longer it takes to steal a bike, the greater the discouragement factor.  All you have to do is slow down the thieves just long enough for them  to get discouraged and move onto easier prey.

And that is also the game changer when it comes to the personal temptations which we all have.  Our weakness is not so much in the monumental temptation before us, but in our unwillingness to do something different.  And like bike locks, none of us are invincible.  We just think we are.

We may devise shields against obvious marauders,,
but we conveniently forget that our personal "bike thieves,"
  (that which we don't recognize as temptation)
     -- a familiar fear
             a dissatisfied longing
       a repeated wound
          a resentment
              an attractive discontent
      a handy default --
may very well disguise themselves
                as old friends,
      "Let me help you with that."

And so, we live defeated lives, comforted by those thieves, those temptations that rob us blind.

Put hesitation between you and "your villain," whatever that may be.  It is not so much the temptation itself as the easy opportunity to do it.  Narrow the potential.  I can't stand on the Interstate and not expect to get hit.

A game changer requires changing the game.  Do something different.  An FBI agent once told me that the greatest residential security system is based on simple ten-dollar motion detectors and a dog.  A light suddenly switching on puts just enough doubt in an intruder's mind to move onto easier prey.  And no thief wants to mess with a big loud dog.

A friend told me that one time when she was walking up an office stairwell, she suddenly thought, "you could smoke here, and no one would know it." Immediately, she was filled with an overwhelming appetite for a cigarette.  She hadn't smoked in almost forty years, yet justifications filled her thoughts. What kept her from it? The fear of getting caught, the impact it would have on her high school daughters, and the lack of cigarettes in her purse.  It would have taken TIME, she didn't have, to indulge.  She hesitated just long enough for discernment to rush in and wave a red flag.

The truth is:  If you want something bad enough, nothing will stand in your way.  Nothing.  And in that truth also stands the victory, knowing that any safeguard can be broken  BUT any temptation can be interrupted long enough to walk past it.

All it may take is a barking dog to distract you.

No temptation has overtaken you
that is not common to man.
God is faithful,
and He will not let you be tempted
                 beyond your strength,
but with the temptation will also provide
                                   a way of escape,
       that you may be able
to endure it

                              1 Corinthians 10.13