Monday, March 31, 2014

A gentle engraving

Memorizing always came as such a dread to me.  Most specifically, it required my standing, terrified and small, in front of my seventh grade English class every Friday morning and reciting an assigned poem.  I don't remember any of the poems, but I vividly recall the sleepless Thursday nights, knowing what was ahead in the coming day.  I knew the words by rote,  the rhythms, the rhymes that held them together but it is tough to recite anything when invisible hands grip one around the throat.  Every week, I would squeek out the stanzas from my brain without any inflection in my words, my voice wobbling like a broken wheel on a grocery cart.  And always, the teacher would remark, "Please speak louder."  I didn't dare.

But I have found memorizing Scripture not as the rote memorization of a class assignment, but like a gentle engraving.   Over and over, the words, the phrases, the profound meaning work their way through, until God's Words make a secure mark in my thoughts.  I often read verses, remember and recite to myself on a long run, or as in the case of this winter, the long enduring of a treadmill.  Again the rhythms of God's words and the repetition of phrases wash over me.  This is no mental exercise, but the beginnings, the breaking through of something deeper, not just the remembering of words on a page, but the very Words of God, that which changes, forms and reforms, and continues to bear fruit. 

In his new book Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions, Timothy Keller relates an incident in which he was instructed to write down at least 30 things that he observed about a certain verse of Scripture.  Five, ten, twenty, twenty-five minutes passed by.  The students in that class discovered their most profound insights into the verse did not occur until the last few minutes of the exercise.  They read the verse, they thought about the verse, they sat quietly with the verse, and the words began to penetrate their hearts.

This morning, a verse caught my eye.  "Do you not know that you are God's temple and God's Spirit dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3.16).   I began memorizing it.  It is short and fairly self-explanatory.  But then, I thought about Tim Keller's experience.

And I mused, "How does this verse affect me today?"

It impacts how I see myself,
how I see God,
how I view what I am doing,
how I realize what God is doing in me,
how I embrace the unfolding of my situation,
how I trust my circumstances under His control,
how  I am sensitive to everyone around me,
how God is changing me.

Do I not know?
I am God's temple in this place.
God's Spirit dwells in me.

These are not just words that I can recite.
They are words that I can live.

Sit with a verse awhile, walk with a verse a couple miles,
                             and listen.

I once heard the late Reverend E. V. Hill preach,
             "Learn to read the Bible slowly."
To that I would add,
             "Learn to memorize Scripture slowly."
What do these words mean?
What is God saying to me?

His Word will engrave grace
                   into your very being.
God's Word is not fettered by time.
His truth only grows stronger.
And by it, He will change your life.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
     and a light to my path.

                      Psalm 119. 109

Sunday, March 30, 2014

March Madness

In game after game in this crazy college basketball season, the winning score always seems to come down to a point or two in the last mega-seconds of the game.  The outcome of the entire bracket depends on a missed free throw, a three-pointer that bounces out, or a strategic pass.

And in those last nail-biting seconds, these young men draw on everything they have learned and practiced, having trusted in what the coach says, and done it.  Over and over again.  Day after day.  Week after week.  Every hour of their training manifests itself in the crisis.  It doesn't matter that they have won 28 games in a row.  What matters is what they do right now when the national championship is at stake.  There is no time to learn that play now.

The ultimate victory always comes down to the dailyness of training.

And that is why the dailyness of studying God's Word, learning to pray and listen to God, worshiping God in all that we do, serving and fellowshipping with other believers comes to fruition.  It does matter.

Because in the crisis, that is when one most realizes the strength and grace He has worked into our hearts and minds and souls.

The "someday when I'll need it" is today.  Increasing in knowledge and relationship with Him is not a minimum daily requirement, nor something I can attend to when I suddenly have a lot of time and nothing to do.

Every day you are standing on the free throw line, your friends are watching, your family is depending, indeed, it impacts those you don't even know.  It is not a matter of winning a game, but living a faithful life.

The very last line of an entry in My Utmost for His Highest, a daily devotional by Oswald Chambers, reads:

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

That quote, quite ironically, appears on the devotional reading for September 11, taken from a lecture by Chambers sometime between 1911-1917.

Faithfulness does not arrive in a Federal Express box,
but in the daily practice of His Word in our lives.

This book of the law
    shall not depart out of your mouth,
but you shall meditate on it,
                    day and night,
that you may be careful to do
     all that is written in it;
for then you shall
           make your way prosperous,
and then you shall have good success.
Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and of good courage;
be not frightened,
        neither be dismayed;
for the LORD your God
        is with you
                 wherever you go.

                      Joshua 1. 8-9

God's Word changes you forever.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dog-eared pages

"You can praise God by peeling a spud if you peel it to perfection. Don't compromise. Compromise is a language of the devil. Run in God's name and let the world stand back and in wonder."

Reverend J. D. Liddell
Chariots of Fire
1981 movie

Friday, March 28, 2014

A lens inside out

While attending a meeting several years ago, I struggled all morning with my right eye twitching.  It felt like something had landed on my contact lens, a particle of dust perhaps, or a fiber.  But no matter what I did, my eye became increasingly irritated.   As the morning progressed, it became much worse.   And my vision became blurry in that affected eye, preventing me from reading signs and recognizing people that I knew.  And after a while, I developed a headache from trying to view everything through my "good" eye.

I twitched and squinted and teared up and rubbed my eyes.  It was just the way it was going to be.  Get used to it.  There was nothing I could do about it.

A friend walked up to me after the meeting we were attending.  I tried my best to look normal, but I could still feel my eye trying to self-correct.  My friend took one look at me and said, "Your contact lens is inside out."

"What?  How do you know?"

"Because it has happened to me.  I know exactly how it feels."

I dismissed myself and went into the women's room.  I washed my hands and took out my contact.  There was no dust on the lens nor any fibers.  I held the tiny plastic orb up to the light.  When my contact is rightside up, there are three little numbers 123 that appear on the edge.  Sure enough, they read 321.

I couldn't see right because my lens was wrongside out.  And it didn't have to be that way.

Our relationship with God is much the same.  When we are living right with God, we actually see things differently because He changes our vision and changes our hearts.  And when the wrong worldview is put into place -- when everything is focused on myself or a homemade idol of sorts, or when I am believing what is not true, or when I don't want it to be true -- it always causes me to try to self-correct.  Something is not right and I am futilely trying to make up for it.

Just as with my rebellious contact lens, it is evident to me when something is not right in my heart.  I am distracted by everything around me.  But what recalibrates my mindset and my heartset is God's Word.  God turns everything rightside up.  I just need to listen to Him.

When the reality of the Gospel is at the core of who I am, it does not just increase my capacity to love God more.  It radically enlarges how I love others.

I see the world differently.

One thing I do know,
that though I was blind,
           now I see.

                   John 9.25

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spring on sale for $1.49

I dashed to Trader Joe's grocery store yesterday to pick up a few items that I needed in a hurry.  And there, by each register, was a basket of closed-up, rather limp looking stems with a sign that declared:  "Daffodils $1.49.  Just add water."

As it was barely 20 degrees outside and I had just brushed an additional half-inch of snow off the front walk, I was hungry for anything cheerful.   The cashier put one bunch of  limp stems in my cloth bag next to the other grocery items.

At home, I dropped the flowers into a simple glass of water and went about my day.  And then this morning, I was greeted by a bouquet of kindness on this cold and cloudy 18 degree day.

The sight both made me smile and wonder.  In my Bible reading this morning, I read about how Jesus saw the funeral procession of a young man, his weeping single mom following behind.  The text does not say that Jesus felt sorry for her.  It says, "And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her..." (Luke 7.13).  Jesus then touched the coffin and raised the young man from the dead.  Compassion is not a feeling, but an action.

God calls us to be sensitive to the needs of others, indeed to love them, not just to feel sorry for them or to be nice, but to exhibit compassion, grace, and love to those all around us.  I do not have the power to raise someone from the dead, but I can be kind in this cold hard world.  My words can be like those daffodils this morning.

God will surround you with opportunities to be kind today, some occasions that are obvious, and others a little harder to do.

But it may, it just may, touch someone deeper than you can realize,
that they may know that there is yet hope,
and grace in this world
and that would be God Himself.

A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

                         Proverbs 25.11

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

And what part isn't included?

One of the joys of hiking to me is the time to listen -- to hear every bird sing its own special music, absorb the refreshing sound of the stream running over rocks beside me, and to listen to how God is moving my heart.

On a hike last week, I brought with me what felt like a heavy backpack of anxieties, all of course were things over which I have no control.  I prayed as I walked.  But then God laid on my heart what HE says about anxiety in His Word.  I began to recite Philippians 4. 6-7:

Have no anxiety about anything,
but in everything
by prayer and supplication
          with thanksgiving,
let your requests
          be made known to God.
And the peace of God
   which passes all understanding,
will keep your hearts and your minds
                      in Christ Jesus.

I no sooner recited the first phrase
    "Have no anxiety about anything,"
when it was as if God nudged me and said,
"What exactly does that NOT include?"
No anxiety about anything
     EXCEPT for _______ (fill in the blank).
It was not that God was excluding anything,
                                but I was,
and of course,
   it was all these things that are wearing me out.

But LORD, what can I do about these situations?
And there is the next part of the verse,
      "but in everything,
       with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving..."

The verse does not say,
        "but in everything, worry."
 That urge to worry
                 is just a reminder to pray.

And God impressed upon me,
           "Let Me."
Are you willing to let Me handle it?
And I was quick to respond,
Well, what if I manipulated this,
or changed that,
or asked my friend to tell her...
      "Let Me."

Pray not out of fear,
          but in trust.

I can assure you that anxiety
      has not done a thing for me yet,
except fill up my heart with even more fear,
      rob me of sleep at night
           as I compose scenes and dialogue
                       of a totally awful screenplay,
and distract me
                from what God can do.

My job is not just to ignore anxiety,
    but pray through it.
And when I pray,
          when I let God,
that is when God
    reveals not just what He can do,
but what I need to do.
                  Pray through it
                   and trust Him into it.

There may very well be something I can do,
but not when my ears are plugged up
with fear, worries and dismay.

Waiting on God
    is not the passive boredom of a doctor's office
but the active expectation
                     of listening not to fear
                     but to God.

No exceptions.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

And it was there when I needed it

The forest was still brown from the winter, the trees arching over the trail as if shivering from the chill of early spring.  Our path was muddy and long, but there was a profound beauty even in the solitude.

And then suddenly appearing alongside the path, a burst of wild daffodils cheered us on our journey, an impossible bouquet planted by God on the pale landscape.

That same day, I received a quick sweet email from an old friend.  She had no idea that how timely her encouragement, when I needed it most, like an unexpected fellowship of flowers on the side of my trail.

Encouragement is far too rare,
and a simple word of kindness
           spreads like wild flowers
    in unexpected places.

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

                       Isaiah 50.4

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What I Can See From Here

Sometimes the clearest direction
               is right through the fog,
the times when I can't see what is ahead.
Just take one step,
       and then another into God's revealing.
The density of the air restricts my vision,
     but it doesn't mean I am not being led,
     it doesn't mean I am walking into confusion,
                            or the unknown,
but the destination
         just hasn't been revealed
His purposes are deeper still
                even in the journey.
And I am reminded that
  God led His people with a cloud by day,
  not on a clear blue sky.

And they moved on from Succoth,
and encamped at Ethram,
      on the edge of the wilderness.
And the LORD went before them
by day in a pillar of cloud
         to lead them along the way...

                       Exodus 13. 20-21

Friday, March 21, 2014

Boy Calls Girl

It is in what looks like the most casual nudges of God
that He brings the extraordinary into our lives.
Boy calls girl.
"I am going to be out your way.
Would you like to go out to dinner?"

And in what seemed like a few moments later,
the waiter approached the table,
"I'm sorry to disturb,
      but the restaurant is closing for the evening."

Our unending conversation
 and our adventures together continue,
    today 34 years after that first date.

"How did you know?"
           I asked him years later.
And quoting a line
             from his grandfather,
 who was a carnival midway barker at heart,
Bill still states with a grin,
  "You buys your ticket,
     you takes your chances."

Follow God.
You never know what He has in mind.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The One That Didn't Get Away

My husband is learning to fly fish.  A couple of days ago, he pulled our truck to the gravel on the side of the road and fished for awhile in several timid pools along our way, dancing his line across the face of the water with a shallow hope and nothing visibly to show from his endeavors.  The learning curve for this sport is long, cold and wet, this teasing of trout to the surface.

But yesterday afternoon was a little bit different.  On our way to the hardware store, he brought along his pole and lures again, just in case he saw a promising niche of water by the side of the road.  The biggest difference was that he also brought along a plastic Target bag and a net.  Yesterday, he fished not just with a wild wishfulness but expectantly. 

Pray that way.  Pray expectantly, not if God will answer, but how He reveals Himself.  It is not always where we expect, when we want it, and what we think would be a great ending to the day.  But God answers with His sovereign purposes and in His perfect timing.

The biggest fish Bill ever caught took both of us by surprise.  On a long overnight hike in the wilderness, he cast his line into a creek, so inconsequential you could step across it without getting your feet wet.  He was just practicing his casting.  As I approached that slim ribbon of water, I saw him throw in his line and then pull it back immediately.  "Oh, it caught on a rock or tree branch," I surmised.  And on the end of his line were the glimmery watercolors of a brook trout, glistening in the waning sunlight like the grand prize.

Prayer is deeper than an answer, but letting His Presence wash over me.  "Getting" an answer fades in the reality of God Himself.  And in that, it is not catching what we consider the elusive perfect fish.  But it is catching a deeper vision, not just what is, but Who He is and what can be.

As we hiked back to the truck yesterday, through the glories of God's creation, we came across a young man wading on the edge of the water.  When we asked how he was doing, he said he had caught just two fish in the space of four hours, as if an apology.  But then, with a smile on his face, he raised his arm as if pulling back the winning curtain on a game show and said, "But oh, most of it is just being out here in this."

Make me to know Your ways, O LORD;
teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth, and teach me,
for You are the God of my salvation;
for You I wait all the day long.

                      Psalm 25.4

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dog-eared pages

"If you don't know you are the beloved, you will have to be the star of every story."

-- Jon Tyson,
    pastor, Trinity Grace Church,
    New York City

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Add 30 seconds

The other day in a conversation, a critical thought quickly formed itself into words.  I hesitated just a moment before the words could rush out of my mouth like a pack of wolves. I chose not to say anything at all.  No need to open that gate, I thought.  I was about 30 seconds away from regrets.

There is a button on most microwave ovens that enable one to “add 30 seconds.”  I wish I had such an indicator on my brain and heart.  In the heat of the moment, it takes just about that long to get grace into place.

All too often I have rushed into a critical moment without thinking it through.  My emotions and my ignorance take the helm.  And in the wake, there is not resolution but regrets.

When I was pregnant with our first child, our Sunday school teacher facilitated an exercise using 1 Corinthians 13.1.  The actual text says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  We were instructed to fill in the blanks, "If I _____, but I have not love, then I _____. "   One woman replied, “If I have perfectly obedient children, but I have not love, I am only a tyrant.”

And what if we added 30 seconds to our reaction time? Just long enough for love, kindness, mercy and self-control to hold back the tsunami of emotions.

First responders move towards a conflict, complication or crisis with a strong sense of urgency and purpose.  They do not react.  They have been trained to respond.  They assess the situation, put on their gear, and move strategically.  They are not energized by anger, but by appropriate response.

And we need to do the same.  The biggest difference between reaction and response is about 30 seconds.  Just long enough to “Put on the new nature.” (Ephesians 4.24)

Am I being prideful in this situation?
Am I being kind?
What point am I missing?

Grace does not ignore a volatile situation, tense relationships, or destructive behaviors, but grace pursues it with the precision and gentleness of a neurosurgeon, not the running of the bulls.

Am I approaching this situation with healing in my hands?  Or am I following the lead of Attila the Hun?

Let everyone be quick to hear,
slow to speak,
slow to anger,
for the anger of man does not work
              the righteous of God.
                        James 1. 19-20

The difference?
         Add 30 seconds to it
         to get grace into place.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dancing With Barbarians

I love reading old picture books and watching vintage movies with our grandchildren.  It allows them the opportunity to see things they do not know and understand, even that as mundane as explaining what a milkman did.  There were (and are) different ways to do things.  These tales do not just increase their knowledge but expand their imagination of what can be.

One of those movies was the classic Disney cartoon version of Robin Hood.  In a scene showing the cemetery surrounding Friar Tuck's church, our four-year-old granddaughter asked, "Why are all those rocks there?"

I realized that she was referring to the gravestones, an unfamiliar sight for any church built in the past fifty years.  I hesitated for a moment as I formulated my answer.

"Those are the faithful ones," I replied.  "The church is surrounded by God's faithful people."

Before I left for home a few days later, I said something about celebrating St. Patrick's Day.  "Who's dat?" asked our grandson.

And I realized that it is not that the stories of the faithful are few and far between, but remain untold.  These are real people.  Look how God used these ordinary people in extraordinary ways.  This is what being used by God looks like.

Tell these stories of God's faithfulness to your children and grandchildren that they may not fade into dust.

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark saysings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD,
                     and His might,
and the wonders which He has wrought.
                               Psalm 78. 2-4

Today is St. Patrick's Day, and while the rivers will be running green in Chicago, the true story of Patrick stands in sharp contrast to what is typically celebrated on this holiday.  The following post has appeared on this blog in previous years, but the story of Patrick is always a profound reminder to me of what God can do through His faithful ones.  Patrick did not flee from the barbarians, but allowed God's grace to transform a culture and literally change the world. 

We celebrate today not green beer and leprechauns, but one man’s radical obedience to God, through whom God used to change the course of history.

Patrick was born in 387 in Britain, which was part of the then-crumbling Roman Empire.  He came from a legacy of faith; his father and his grandfather were spiritual leaders in the early church and served as deacons.

When he was 16 years old, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders, taken to Ireland, and sold as a slave.  What seemed as a tragedy in a young man’s life, God used for tremendous good.  In the long hours slaving as a shepherd in the wilderness taking care of his master’s sheep, Patrick spent long hours in prayer and meditation.

In his own words:   “But after I reached Hibernia I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the Love of God, and my fear of Him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time".

Also in this time of exile, he learned the Celtic language and became well-versed in the pagan culture of Ireland, as his master was a high Druid, an important leader in Irish religion and culture.  All these things God fashioned into tools in Patrick’s life which later would be used for His Kingdom.

After six years of enslavement, being prompted in a dream that “Your ship is ready,”  Patrick escaped and fled on foot for 200 miles and found a ship, ready to sail.  He returned to Britain and studied to be a priest.  Nudged again by God in a vision, he returned to Ireland, the land of his captivity and a place of fierce opposition to the Gospel, to be a missionary to the Irish people.

After 30 years of evangelism, he died on March 17 in the year 461.  One of his tools of evangelism was the three-leafed shamrock, which he used to teach unbelievers about the Trinity.

But that is only the beginning of the story.  Patrick’s obedience to God then reverberated throughout the known world.  As chronicled in Thomas Cahill’s book How the Irish Saved Civilization, God used Patrick as a catalyst for literacy and learning in Ireland while Europe was being invaded and destroyed by barbarians in a period of time we know as the Dark Ages.

So wear the green proudly today in honor of what God can do through one man’s faithfulness to Him.  And as a challenge that we may live obediently for God.  Yes, it matters.  It matters a lot.  More than we can ever know.

I thank my God through Jesus Christ
for all of you,
because your faith is proclaimed
in all the world.
                                  Romans 1.8

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Into the Wildness

I am surrounded this morning by a congregation of trees which at times seem impenetrable.  It is dwelling in a wilderness of sorts.  What lurks in the darkness of this place, the silence pierced only by the sounds of animals I do not know, and the unknown around every bend? 

I grew up in a home where our research scientist father considered staying in a Holiday Inn about as wilderness as he would venture  into.  Our mother who was a musician regarded a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on our deck as an outdoor experience.  Once as an early teenager,  I remember her driving my brothers and me to a local ski place on a school night when we could ski all evening for two bucks.  In the course of the evening, I wondered where she was.  And I spotted her -- sitting in the car -- practicing her violin.

In the craziness of my parents' lives, their mantra appeared to be, "make life as safe as possible."

But as an adult, I have grown in my own experience in the wilderness.  Instead of regarding the unknown with fear, I see it differently now.  I see the beauty and wonder of the woods, the ever changing landscape, the movement of the seasons of life, and the presence of the Creator in every leaf and water spilling over rocks.

The wilderness is no longer a scary place,
but a place of wonder.

And as I walk through life right now,
the unknown is no longer a place of fear,
but a place of His abiding.

I walk into the wildness of His grace.

Remember not the former thiings,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth,
         do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
         and rivers in the desert.

                          Isaiah 43. 19-19

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Fellowship of Recipes

I have an entire binder filled with orphan magazine pages of beautiful untried recipes, enough to start a sorority, but as good looking as they appear, most are still waiting for a callback after all these years.  I have good intentions, but when comparing end-results of those I've tried, most often my attempts don't even resemble a distant cousin.  And some, of course, have been added over the years to my ever-growing list of culinary misadventures.

My go-to recipes for the most part are as reliable as the good friends who shared them with me. When a dish is worth second helpings, I never hesitate to ask for the recipe.  Many a friendship has been forged and nurtured that way.  Somehow the simple exchanging of a recipe creates a close bond with the other person, like a shared secret, or a weaving of lives.

Earlier this week, I was invited to a potluck coffee where all those who attended brought a different dish to share.  As I looked over the sign-up list, there were the usual egg casseroles, fruit salads, veggie plates and a variety of sweet rolls.  And of course, my friend Leah brought her signature fudge to keep things fun. As I scanned the sign-up list, I realized what was missing were the grits.

When our youngest daughter left Memphis to attend university in the cold North, she lamented early one morning that the cafeteria didn't serve grits.

"What's a grit?" her friend asked.

So, now that we are living in the frozen tundra of a northern state, it was a bold move to bring grits to a coffee brunch, perhaps even illegal by the regional culinary police, but a few of the women were polite and tasted them.  And then, they went back for more.  Now they are asking for the recipe which was handed down to me by a Memphis friend whose family settled there at the beginning of time.  I salute her even at the thought of this recipe.

We moved away from Memphis several years ago, but every time I make this recipe for special family occasions, there is a sense of fellowship among friends.  It almost makes me want to turn on a ceiling fan and sit on the rocker on the back porch.

There is nothing sweeter than a recipe shared with a friend, a richness that is like being there with y'all again. 

Smoked Gouda Cheese Grits

4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup uncooked grits
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
6-8 oz. hunk smoked Gouda cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt (more if desired)

Combine water and salt, bring to a boil, add grits, cover and cook slowly (about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add butter, cheeses and garlic salt.  Stir until cheese melts.  Pour into a greased casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. 
The quantity of the cheeses can be adjusted to taste.
My friend's mother adds 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce to hers, 
which is totally optional, good with or without.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Dog-eared pages

We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.
     If our lives are "truly hid with Christ in God," the astounding thing is that this hiddenness is revealed in all that we do and say and write.

                                      -- Madeleine L'Engle
                                         Walking on Water:  Reflections on 
                                                      Faith and Art, pages 140- 141

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bring as many with you as you can

I came away from a meeting on a recent Wednesday night and thought about how radically things have changed.  When I was a girl, churches all around town on Wednesday nights were packed, not with activities, but with prayer meetings.  It was a gathering to pray.  And while Aunt Marge with her heart condition was prayed for by these faithful ones -- and there were a lot of people who made it a top priority-- these faithful people prayed for things deeper and broader, unafraid to come before God, cry out to Him, and lay their burdens before the LORD.

They did not just seek the answers;
     they sought God Himself.

This week, I have had some hefty things to pray about.  And at first, I was reluctant to share with others -- friends, family, women in a Bible study I attend.  And in the course of my "keeping to myself," I realized that in asking others to pray, it increases God's glory, because it allows those pray-ers, not just to pray, but to see as first-hand witnesses of what God is doing.

It does not mean broadcasting my life to the world, but knowing those who truly pray and not just want to talk about it.

I came upon a study note in my Bible in the midst of Leviticus also this week.  It stated, "Especially in prayer may it be said that the power generated will be proportionately greater as more people pray.  Thus the more of God's people who work and pray together the more significant will be the results."

What I am going through, what happens with God's purposes, may not be about me after all.  But always and in all ways God works for His glory, and in eternal dimensions I cannot even fathom.

And that is not something I want to keep to myself at all.

God changes us all through prayer,
seeking Him with all our hearts
and seeing Him
                   before our very eyes.

It is not that we should have faith in prayer,
         but faith in God.

...and pray for one another,
         that you may be healed.
The prayer of a righteous man
   has great power in its effects.
                          James 5.16

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

You mean, there is more?

A few weeks ago when I was trying to help my pregnant daughter from going into premature labor, I took the kids one day to a local children's museum, so that she could get some well-needed rest. The kids had never been there, nor had I.  At almost-three and four years old, they had no idea such a place existed.  As we pulled into the small parking lot, the building itself looked rather dated and not too large.  "Well, it will give us something to do for an hour or two," I surmised.

The first thing that the kids saw upon entering was a large area filled with sand about 10-12 inches deep. There were trucks and buckets and shovels scattered around.  And about a dozen kids were playing.  I don't mean structured adult-driven planned activities, but playing.  Indeed, the adults stayed for the most part on the side deck, only looking up from time to time.

My grand kids couldn't take off their shoes fast enough.

Children came and went, but mine were content in filling up dump trucks, digging holes with big shovels, and playing on a pretend construction site.  And true to her Cleveland roots, when I asked my four-year-old granddaughter what she was doing, she replied, "Digging potholes!"

Even my plea to go eat the brown bag lunch we brought with us fell on reluctant ears.

Finally, I promised that we would return after we ate, if they wanted to.  "Oooooooo-kkkkkkkkkk," the little one said slowly, as if he was leaving the Promised Land.

We walked down a half flight of stairs to a small collection of tables where we could eat.  As I led him by the hand, Howie was most reluctant, shuffling his feet, until we arrived on the lower level, and there like a vision before him was a large platform with flowing water.  Children wearing raincoats were playing with boats and fishing poles with magnetic fish.

He couldn't eat fast enough.

After they had caught a variety of "sharks"and played in the streams cascading from one level to the next, their clothes were somewhat wet.  As it was a whopping 12 degrees outside, I knew that we were going to have to do something different for awhile until their clothes dried out a bit.

This time when I suggested we move on, their eyes grew even larger, "you mean, there is more?"

Another large area was set up as a play village.  There was a pretend bus to drive and ride, a kid-size car with seat belts, head lights, and even pretend "tools" to fix the "motor" under the hood. A small grocery store with empty boxes and plastic fruit and vegetables allowed the children to "shop" or imagine what it was like to be the cashier.  Another corner was set up as a hospital, complete with a row of large clear plastic boxes that looked incredibly like a newborn nursery.

It was like a whole new dimension of life had opened up before them.  The kids played for another two hours, moving from one delight to the next, deep in imagination.

And do I trust God enough
    to know
there is more?

How often do I acknowledge what God has done and then forget that He is still working.  Do I settle in one spot, neglecting what more God may be doing, unmindful of what more He can do?  Am I afraid to move on to something else?  Grumbling about where I am now?

Or follow God into yet another dimension of trusting Him?
Maybe even right where I am.

You mean, there is more?

Remember Who God is,
     Creator of heaven and earth,
     Master of the universe.

O LORD, open my eyes
         and open my heart
  to all that You have designed before me,
           all that You have placed around me.

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

                       Ephesians 3.20

We've seen nothing yet!

What no eye has seen,
nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man conceived,
what God has prepared
             for those who love Him.

                         1 Corinthians 2. 9

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stuck in my head

Last week, I watched the Walt Disney cartoon classic Robin Hood with our grandkids.  I hadn't seen it in years.  And in the progression of my week, the little tunes kept marching through my thoughts like a too-long Memorial Day parade.

But the "tune" I want to be repeating in a continual loop in my thoughts is that which impacts, enhances, and flavors not just my day, but my life.

What never ceases?

The steadfast love of the LORD
                     never ceases,
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.

                         Lamentations 3. 22-23

On what do I dwell,
     in Whom do I abide?
God changes everything about my day
    when I follow Him into it.

      God is my helper;
the LORD is the upholder of my life.

                              Psalm 54. 4

repeat on a continual loop.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Just getting to the good part

Several years ago, while reading Lauren Hillenbrand's book Unbroken, my husband sat on our porch, hoping to read a few pages while grilling some chicken.  I was busy inside getting together the rest of the meal, not paying attention to how many minutes had passed.  A short time later, Bill walked in the door with a plate of the charred remains of our meal.  He was so engrossed in the powerful story that he was unaware of the smoke billowing from the grill.  A friend of mine read the same book late one night, forcing herself to finally put it down unfinished at 1.30 in the morning.

Oh, just one more page, just one more chapter
                   energizes us.
           We want to know not just what happens next,
                               but what happens on the way.
And with all great stories,
                    both real and imagined,
      the tension builds the most
                  when we are getting to the good part.

Would we be so anxious about what is happening,
        even anxious at all about our own circumstances,
                                if we knew our next chapter?
God reveals,
     and leads page by page,
                     sentence by sentence,
                     word by word,
           sometimes by nudges in the right direction.
What will happen
                    I may not be ready for,
         nor has the narrative yet unfolded.

I thank You for the things
                 I may never understand,
    because there is incredible purpose
                                 embedded in mystery,
a timing,
a strategic positioning,
a great story
          and a bigger vision.

The biggest changes in my life
                       come in daily tweaks,
           just on the side of an ordinary page
                    the most extraordinary days.

Just because an outcome was not my idea
         nor what I prayed for,
it does not mean  that God was not
                     completely victorious in this.
I cannot change the situation,
nor manipulate the results,
       nor even manipulate God,
                 the Author of life,
but You, O LORD,
                 can change me in this.
I pray that You fulfill Your purposes,
     write the story
                even in language I don't yet understand,
  even in deepest mystery,
                            Your ways prevail.
What happens next?
                      God is still there.

My times are in Your hands...

                       Psalm 31. 15

...stewards of the mysteries of God.

                        1 Corinthians 4. 1

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Busy-ness and Being There

Today, I return home.

Almost three weeks ago, my phone rang on a frigid February afternoon.  It was our eldest daughter who was just barely in her last month of pregnancy with her third child.

It was what I call the 911-Mom call.  "Mom, I need you to come."  I literally dropped what I was doing, packed a bag, and jumped on the highway, heading east in sixty minutes.  Six hours later when I arrived at their home, she greeted me at the door, pale and exhausted.

She stayed in bed for the most part of the next three days.  Her early contractions eased off, color came back to her face, and I could visibly see her energy returning.

I traveled home when all was stabilized.  Just 48 hours later, the baby arrived.  And I came back.

In the course of my time here, I spent a lot of time with our precious grandchildren.  There was much to do, but I know from experience that it is even more important to "be there."  That is one aspect of parenting that I would love to re-do with grand parenting.  In whatever I am doing, engage.

And so, I entered and engaged in the children's world, and they joined me in mine.  I plunged into theirs, playing dolls and cars and trains and doctor's office.  And they entered my doings.  We cooked together.  We did laundry together.  We baked treats -- kind of like playing with Play-doh, but you get to eat the outcome:). We read together.  We went on "field trips" to Target.  In whatever we did, we found the fun in it.

It may have been quicker and a lot easier to do those things on my own, but then I would have been the biggest loser.  It is not the activity, it is not the checking off a to-do list, it is being there, developing and building relationships with those around me.

Every day is an opportunity,
    vast and precious,
bearing fruit
         to the furthest generation,
far more than any of us
                  can possibly realize.

Wherever you are,
              be there.

Let God fulfill His purposes
                         through you,
         even today,
         even in this.

...making the most of the time...

                     Ephesians 5.16

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Setting the tone

As I write this,
I am playing with my grandkids
   who are overflowing with imagination.
An empty plastic bin becomes
      a hospital bed for a newborn baby doll.
Two little chairs become a bus.

Their play is fluid.
The older of the two is well-skilled
  in adapting to the ever-changing ideas
  of her active almost-three-year-old brother.
When he wants the single chair
                        that she is using,
well, she drags up another chair or two
   and the hospital becomes a city bus.
She plays with the attitude of
      "What other way can I see this,
            how else can I play with this?"
What could be a conflict
                 morphs into resolution.
What happens that is not which
she originally intended
         emerges into another dimension,
         another opportunity to see differently.
"Pretend that this is...."
                         she says.
When one way doesn't work out,
        well, she works with what she has.
As a four year old, she doesn't understand
the concepts of conflict resolution and creavity,
     but she knows how to live it.

And as I sit here,
        surrounding by make-believe,
I realize it is not so much what I am facing today,
not so much the attitudes
        or even the actions of others
that sets the tone for the day
but my own heart condition.

There are some things I can change,
          some things I can't,
but I can always view things
                   with different eyes
                             and a gracious heart.
I can blame others,
            or I can influence the whole situation
           by practicing grace.
Not by pretending,
       but grasping the reality of God.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

                                   Psalm 51.10

God transforms every fiber of my being.
He changes everything about me.
How can I approach this situation
                       with a clean heart?
Not as much "what can I do different in this?"
              but how can I be different?
My heart
            focused on Him
      changes what I do.



Friday, March 7, 2014

No matter how deep

For the past two months, I have brushed off the complaints about the weather.  I have even tried to ignore the competition of winter woes -- the one-upmanship stories that "we had it worse than you."

Someday we, the then-old timers, may still be talking about the winter of '14, record breaking temperatures, snow fall, and icy roads.  But one thing is sure.  Winter will not last forever.

It is not that spring will come, but God will bring it.  Just as He always does.

God is Creator of the heavens and the earth,
          and the inventor of seasons,
      that come and go every year,
    no matter what man says about Him.

You have fixed all the bounds of the earth;
       You have made summer and winter.

                              Psalm 74.17

Through all the seasons of life
      -- a time of plenty,
                  a time of need --
God is still in control.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Spring Requiem

It is the beginning of March
when soft breezes
should be melting the harshness of the passing season
and yet,
      the tundra is as if frozen in time,
 a barren place so dreary,
a landscape dressed out of style
      in the same black and white outfit,
day after day,
like a worn out winter coat
    pleading to be put in the back of the closet,
and salt-caked boots begging to be forgotten.
But while it appears all life devoid,
    this long winter is where grace abounds,
no matter how it looks
or how bitterly the winds penetrate.
It is just the hard labor pains
of one season giving birth
                    to a favored child.
Hope is never bound by a season,
         only strengthened by the narrative,
a rhythm that rocks back and forth
     through the story God is writing
in individual lives irrevocably
                linked together by grace.
How long,
how much longer, O LORD?
The ice crunches underfoot,
and the forecast calls for three inches of more snow,
an ancient beckoning to trust
       in that one day closer,
              not just to spring
but to the promise of restoration
           and the dance of the redeemed.
Strength is knowing what is to come.
      this is the picture of God's faithfulness,
not in the tender green joy of spring finally come,
but when it is too cold to breathe,
                               even now,
         He is faithful,
         He is faithful,
fingers burning from frost,
hearts aching,
the earth groaning,
           yearning for when we all come home.
The remembrance of spring brings us through
             that which we cannot bear alone.

Dogeared pages

From I Love The Word Impossible by Ann Kiemel

people finding each other at right moments,
in unexplained, obscure places...
for God-ordained reasons.

(Ann Kiemel never met a person she didn't share the love of Jesus just by loving them.  She knew no strangers, whether a taxi cab driver, a convenience store clerk, or anyone else God placed on her path.
I enjoyed her simple books decades ago as a young woman. She passed away over the weekend.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Soundtrack of the Week

One of the incredible elements of participating in a weekly worship service is not just that we go to worship, but that it goes with us through the week. Worshipping God transforms my heart and impacts all that I do through the week, what I see, and how I respond.

But what also goes with me is the music. Those great songs of the faith and melodies of worship to God create a soundtrack for the week. I often find myself humming one of the tunes during the day, reminding me of His great love, grace and truth.

Yesterday morning, as I was doing something seemingly mundane as making beds, I found myself humming one of this week's worship songs "I have decided to follow Jesus." And immediately, I thought, "and what does that look like today? What choices do I make in my actions and attitudes?"

And the second phrase of the song "no turning back, no turning back" affirmed that it is not a matter of whether or not to follow Jesus into my day, but HOW do I follow Him?

What does that look like
      in all I do today?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

No cape necessary

I have just emerged from ten days
            of gramma bliss that included
     mac n' cheese,
             make believe,
   and a dozen games of Sneaky Snacky Squirrel.

And in the process, I learned a lot about super heroes.

It began early every morning when our two year old grandson
would get dressed, wearing his favorite Dusty t-shirt,
         Tow-Mater underwear,
         and Thomas the tank engine socks.

I am glad that his favorites are not necessarily
      those superheroes who rush in
      with celebrity headlines,
                     action figures
               and the spotlight,
but the faithful ones
who spot a problem or dilemma
and seek to do what is right
             and kind
                    and good.

     the old rusty tow truck,
           is faithful wherever he is,
   and in the face of trouble, he proclaims,
             "I'm here to help!"

Thomas the tank engine
        is known and well-loved
           as a Really Useful Engine.

Dusty, the little crop dusting plane,
    does his best in the midst of the impossible,
which also means not putting himself first
               before the needs of others.

It is not that these characters
work toward the common good,
           or even the greater good,
but are faithful to their utmost
                           for the highest good.

May we not be distracted
           from doing anything less.
As author Oswald Chambers once penned,
    "My utmost for His highest."

Being faithful to God
                is one's highest calling,
      no action is insignificant in His eyes.

In the words of Mother Teresa:
I"God does not call us to be successful,
         He calls us to be faithful."

...and He said to them,
"If any one would be first,
he must be last of all
         and servant of all."

                         Mark 9. 35

The world lauds first place or not at all,
     but God delights in faithfulness.