Friday, May 29, 2015

That of which we are unaware

Two hikers were near the end of the trail, about just a quarter mile from the parking lot, thinking perhaps about eating supper and taking off dusty hiking boots.  I came upon them as I was heading up the trail for an early evening run, looking forward to the familiar gravel path that meanders alongside a rocky stream.  I have learned that when I take the time and make the effort to let God lead me beside still waters, He restores my soul, both literally and figuratively.  (Psalm 23. 2-3)

He heals the broken places, He redeems the gaps, He reveals Himself to me.  There is no greater refreshment.

When I am sensitive to God moving and working within me, He changes my vision for what is all around me. And I realize what I have been missing, those wonders I have just scurried by, lost in my own imaginings, distracted and preoccupied by an unending list of cares.

As I came up the trail, the sound of rushing water surrounding me, that hiking couple was standing quietly just beyond a bend in the road. I slowed down to a walk and came up silently beside them.

They were observing a large black bear foraging on the hillside beside the trail, paying no attention to us, intent on gathering the young tender greens that surrounded her.

The woman whispered to me, "We almost missed it! We started to walk past without even noticing her.  We have been hiking our whole lives and have never seen a bear in the wild."  It was a majestic sight, but what could have been easily missed, focused on other things and minding our own business.

Instead, God gave each of us a new story for our day, a time of His great revealing.

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

                  Psalm 119.105

God's Word is not a list of impersonal directions,
do this, turn here, don't go there,
but an intimate "walk with Me,"
     that which enlarges my vision
                            and my heart.
I am no longer just concerned about my route
and my own doings,
    but aware of everything around me
    and everyone God has put on my path.

Even a bear.

That I might not just believe,
      but know that the LORD is God.

I don't want to miss
    even a bit of His goodness.
"Oh, did you see that?"

Help us, O LORD,
to not just scurry by Your wonders,
unaware of Your majesty,
Your goodness,
Your divine appointments,
              even in our wilderness,
              even in this,
for Your great glory
                     this very day.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Not so "off the grid" after all

When facing an impossible situation, I used to tell our girls when they were young, "There are some things in my control, but this is not one of them."

There are things that I can do, and there are many more things that I can't.  Sometimes distance prevents me from helping, sometimes it is far beyond what I am able. I am sorely limited.

Likewise, when we travel, we are often off the wifi grid, and the data we have is limited. Too much month is left at the end of our allotment.  But I have found, I can text all I want. No limits on that.

And while I may be limited in ability and even overwhelmed by the task at hand, I can do what I can, and PRAY all I want.

God never gets tired of hearing from us. Indeed, He awaits our calls for both His help and praise to Him.

Recently, I was faced with a circumstance in which I was unable to physically help in a situation. The only thing I could do was pray. It occurred to me that I was more help praying than anything else. That was exactly where God wanted me to be.

The only thing I can do? Never discount what God will do through prayer.

I may not be able to DO anything about a particular situation, but I can PRAY all I want.

The prayer of the righteous
has great power in its effects.
                      James 5. 16

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

That little hesitation

When our girls were young, there was often a bit of hesitation and sometimes a lot of reluctance in responding to us as parents.  I am sure that there were often great intentions in obeying, but just on their terms.  "I'll do it later."

And so, we used to say to them, "Delayed obedience is the same as disobedience."

Because in that little hesitation or even those good intentions, there is a lack of trust.  And while at times it does not matter if the item gets done that morning or the next day, more often than not, that intended obedience falls into the abyss of forgetfulness.

At the most crucial times, that hesitation is a matter of life and death.  We had a friend who had the ability to emit a great and sharp whistle from placing her fingers against her lips -- something I always wanted to be able to do.  When her son was about four years old and careening down the sidewalk as only an energetic four year old boy can do, right before the intersection, Mary whistled.  Her little boy literally stopped on a dime.  Every time.  No hesitation.  No arguing.  Just stopped.

Someday that immediate obedience would save his life.

We all fall into a complacence that this thing or that really doesn't matter.  And we develop patterns of behavior that make us sluggish and unresponsive to God.  If we listen for Him at all, we respond like a reluctant child, "I'll do it later."

But heeding when God calls always matters.  And it ALWAYS impacts not only me, but the lives of everyone around me.  I cannot foresee the outcome, and I cannot improve God's perfect timing.

I don't need to learn to whistle at all.
I need to learn to stop on a dime.
And not just hear God's voice in this,
           but heed Him in it.

When I think of Your ways,
I turn my feet to Your testimonies;
I hasten and do not delay
to keep Your commandments.

                           Psalm 119. 59-60

Monday, May 25, 2015

Strategic focus

... by this keeping heart and mind fixed on God, we shall bruise the head of the evil one, and beat down his weapons to the ground.
  --Brother Lawrence

Friday, May 22, 2015



God already has that covered.
God already has YOU covered.

Fear not, for I am with you; 
be not dismayed, 
for I am your God; 
I will strengthen you, 
I will help you, 
I will uphold you 
with My victorious right hand.  

Isaiah 41:10

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is it me?

I stood in a crowded airport in a line of people, the air close and warm.  As we stood there, waiting to board, I looked at my fellow passengers jostling in the queue, their occupations and personalities manifested by how they dressed and by what they carried with them.  I heard snippets of conversation as if I was searching for a radio station, the dial moving from one station to another, catching only a phrase or two.  And then, I was aware of the pungent smell of sweat.  No obvious suspect appeared in my field of vision.

Is it me?

I leaned my head down to my shoulder and sniffed.  I wanted to make sure. No problem.  I had already bathed early that morning.  But whoever it was, left behind a legacy that impacted everyone around him.

The Bible talks a lot about the senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and yes, even smell.

When Christ is at the core of who we are, He changes everything in us. He changes what we see and how we see it.  He sharpens our hearing.  He changes our desires and appetite. He alters how we respond with love, grace and kindness. He gives us a new nature to wear.  His indwelling impacts -- in many dimensions-- everyone around us.  Even how we smell.

Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus
and wiped His feet with her hair,
and the house was filled
   with the fragrance of the ointment.

                                          John 12.3

When we worship Jesus
                        in all that we say and do,
our lives are filled with the fragrance of Christ.
A noticeable aroma lingers in the air,
       not like a heavy perfume that masks an odor,
but a refreshing legacy,
           a life renewed,
           a heart supernaturally bathed in the Spirit,
so obvious that others can't help but sense
         "What is different here?"
that which smells incredibly like Jesus.

...and through us spreads the fragrance
of the knowledge of Him everywhere.
For we are the aroma of Christ...

                            2 Corinthians 2.14-15

Wherever we are today,
       at home, at work, at the market,
       in delightful relationships
               or sheer difficult ones,
what fragrance lingers?

Is it me?
Or is it Him?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

So That

"Watch for the "so thats," a Bible teacher once told me.  Look for the words "so that" when you are reading Scripture. Circle them. Ponder on them.  They are words not just of explanation, but of intent.

I may not understand a particular situation I am going through, an enduring hardship or an unexpected blessing, but I can know that God is in it.  Even in this.  How can God use this?  Just wait and watch.  God is working still.  God is on the move so that...

It is always humorous to me that even those who do not believe in God recognize the connections between events and the overall arc of a story, quickly attributing to luck or coincidence those things that God has intricately designed. Things do not just randomly happen. God has purpose in it. 

"So that" indicates not just a hope that things will work out. It is the recognition that God is already profoundly working.  It is the reality that God is. There is not just a reason behind it. There is a reason for it.

These words are sometimes translated as the phrase "in order to," or simply, "because."  Yes, there is order to it.  And yes, there "be a cause," as a dear friend used to say.  But so that covers so much more:  it paves the past leading up to it, it embraces what is going on now, and it owns the future.

"So that" reveals that this is not the end.  Stay tuned.  There is a lot more to the story.  There is a lot more to your story, far deeper than you can know, far beyond the confines of your own life.

I read this morning in John 11, the story of Lazarus, an account that appeared to go from a bad situation to worst case scenario. And even in the midst of apparent tragedy, Jesus says, "This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it." (John 11. 4, my italics)

"So that."  With those words, the story continues.

Hang onto those words today.  Put them in your pocket.  Write them on your heart.  And in the midst of travail or mystery, Jesus' words will rise up and wrap themselves around you.

Your story is still unfolding.  You haven't reached the good part of the story yet.  God's redeeming is being woven into the fabric of your life, so that God is glorified through you, not just someday in the future, but right where you are.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Pursuit of a Problem

One of the shows that our grandchildren enjoy is Peg plus Cat which is designed to teach mathematics as well as the fine art of problem solving.  When a difficulty presents itself, the characters don't just ignore the problem or throw up their hands and live with it.  Where would be the adventure in that?  This little girl and her cat seek creative ways not to endure the problem, but to solve it, coming at it from all different angles. They use math to find their way through to the solution.

The show always ends with the lyrics:

"Problem solved,
Problem solved,
We solved the problem,
Problem solved."

How often do I live with a difficult situation or relationship and just let it be?  "Well, I just guess that is how it is."

Pursue God in this.

If there is a problem, find the solution.  Come at it from every angle.  And that would start with prayer. Lay out the problem before the LORD, place it on the altar, verbalize the difficulty and frustration, and then listen and heed.

Why pray?  God already knows the full extent of the problem.  But until we verbalize it, until we come before Him with its bulkiness in our hands, we don't realize it yet.  Prayer is bringing it before God.

"Prayer is the way to experience a powerful confidence that God is handling our lives well, that our bad things will turn out for good, our good things cannot be taken from us, and the best things are yet to come," writes Timothy Keller in his book Prayer.

What God can do with it, I cannot foresee.  What God wants me to do in it, He will reveal step by step. How God wants to change me as a result will bear much fruit, far beyond my lifetime.

Because the outward resolution of this problem may not be as significant as the transformation of my heart in this.  When He changes me, God alters the landscape and thereby impacts everyone around me.

God will provide the resolution, God will redeem, but we must follow Him into it.  And just like on that children's show, when we start pursuing the problem, we discover deeper things than we could have imagined, not just a solution, not just an answer, but new dimensions of the God who loves us so much.

Hezekiah received the letter
from the hand of the messenger,
and read it;
and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD,
and spread it before the LORD.

                         2 Kings 19.14

Seek God in what is before you.
God resolves,
God redeems,
God will use it
             for His great glory.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The other side of the puzzle

One of the reasons we have a glass-topped coffee table was for function, not appearance.  When our girls were younger, our family enjoyed doing puzzles together.  We had acquired as a gift a couple of puzzles that needed another means of looking at them. Like all the others, these two particular puzzles formed a picture on one side.  But unlike most, the picture on the box did not directly look like the finished product, and all the pieces in these puzzles were cut exactly alike, adding substantially to the proverbial question, "How does this fit together?"

What may seem obvious and likely was often not the right choice, impacting not just that one piece but the outcome.  Because when one chosen piece was placed incorrectly, the others could not find their rightful place.  What appeared obvious was not always correct.  What was hurriedly placed led often to deep frustration and a lot of undoing.

The only way to determine correct placement was not by the picture, but by looking at the other side of the puzzle, hence the advantage of the glass top table.  On the other side of the pieces were words, such as "congratulations," that connected one piece to another.  When placed correctly, both sides of the puzzle worked together.  So when the girls were doing those puzzles, they continually checked both sides to get it right.  They crawled under the table and looked up, conferring with the other side of the puzzle.

Often, I find a selection of what looks like random puzzle pieces in front of me.  Which way do I go?  Which decision do I make?  What do I do with THIS?  Some things don't look like they fit at all, some pieces I just don't know what to do with, and some I don't think I want at all.

What will God make of this?

How do I know what to do and what piece to choose, so to speak, when I don't even know what picture is emerging or what is God's design in this, or even the outcome?

Look on the other side for it to say Soli Deo Gloria, written all over every thing I do and say, every piece, every decision, every direction "Glory to God Alone."  When I am focused on His glory, I cannot go wrong. I am no longer driven by the picture I might have in mind, but by what really matters.

How does this fit together?
       Glory to God Alone.

And with that decision, that which is far too big for me to comprehend or even imagine breaks into my picture, no longer a printed image on flat cardboard, but that which is eternally dimensional, wider, deeper, higher than I can know.

Then David inquired of the LORD again.
And the LORD answered him...

                          1 Samuel 23 .4

Am I seeking out God's glory in this?
And not just the answer?
Am I listening to Him?
Am I heeding His voice?
His path will be revealed,
   often in the most unexpected ways,
for His glory alone.

He is before all things,
   and in Him,
            all things hold together.

                Colossians 1.17

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Our Daily Grace

I just needed a pair of new running shoes.  Instead of buying online, I decided to purchase them at a non-franchised local running store.  The young man fitted me with what he thought best for my foot, although they did not have the width I usually wore.  "Give these a try," he said.  "If they don't work, you can bring them back."

After a few days of wearing them inside, the shoes still didn't feel right. I wanted to try a pair in my usual width.  I returned to the store.  An older salesman greeted me.  He did not have my size in the store, but he said he could order me a pair for an $8 shipping fee with a $20 non-refundable deposit.

I did the math. "So if you order me the other size and it does not fit, I would be out $28?" He just smiled and nodded his head. To make a long and difficult story short, after the owner came over, the clerk finally agreed to waive the extra fees and order the shoes.

As I exited the store, I felt uneasy.  That older clerk had been just plain ornery.  He made a simple purchase a lot harder than it needed to be.  He didn't treat me right. Just about all the way home, I justified my feelings, reciting every insult and injury.  And that bitter taste grew worse.

When I arrived home, I put on my OLD worn-out shoes and went for a run in the heat of the day. There is nothing like a good sweaty uphill run to calm the savage emotional beast in me.  Because on those runs, God meets me for a real workout.

Before the first bend in the road, I realized those nasty feelings were nothing other than sin. My sin, not the clerk's, not anyone else's but mine.  I have learned in the past that when a tsunami of justifications rise to the occasion, hmmmm, that would be my pride.  How do I know?  Grace responds.  Pride reacts. Insults, injury and injustice  just don't stick to grace.

Fill me, O LORD, with the grace needed for the task today.
Even in what appears the most ordinary errand of all.

I was hit out of the blue with an opportunity to practice grace in this, even in this. And I almost missed it.
I thought I just needed a pair of running shoes.
What I really needed was
                                    a new heart.

Give us this day
        our daily grace.

...desiring to act honorably
            in all things.

                 Hebrews 13.18

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The 20th Mile

Just a few days ago, I started back to running again.  Tendonitis in my foot derailed me for these past eighteen months. It was not physical therapy that cured it.  But like so many things in life, healing just took time.

I am starting from scratch.  Back to kindergarten, as if I had never run before.  And oh, those first steps are harder than I remembered.  Yesterday, as I sweated my way on the path, something in my efforts felt very familiar.  I had gone just the equivalent of several blocks, but it was exactly what the 20th mile in a marathon feels like, pushed to the limit with another 6.2 miles to go to the finish line.  "I can't do this."   But as I have found my strategy with any difficult endeavor, take just one step more and then another.

That is all it takes: one step and then another.

When I started running about fifteen years ago, one of our daughters set my watch to beep every two minutes.  I would run two minutes and then walk two minutes.  I couldn't think about actually running for twenty minutes, but two?  I could do two minutes.  That was all I had to think about.  Just get through two minutes.  That piece was within my realm of possibility. I would slug through two minutes, catch my breath by walking two minutes, and then try to run a little bit more.  No need for speed.  No need to calculate distance.  Just go two minutes.

At that time, I was encouraged by the story of another woman who started to run.  Embarrassed by her attempts, she headed out to run when there was no one around.  And if a car happened to approach, she would stop and look as if she was admiring someone's garden or a field of wildflowers.  Slowly, she continued to run a little further, a little faster, a little longer distance, despite her trepidations.  That woman was Joanie Benoit Samuelson, who won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, the first year the women's marathon was introduced.

Her story as a runner began by just getting out the door.

I no longer have the watch that beeps, indeed these days I am not even wearing a watch.  But I am taking it one step at a time and then another.  I don't have to go the whole route, but hey, I can make it to the next tree, or that light post, or another driveway or two, and then to the next bend in the road.  It may feel like a 20th mile, but it is still just one step followed by another.

And it may not be about running at all, but work, relationships, family, and life itself.

I don't know what "20th mile" impossible situation you are facing today, nor can I fully know what is coming down the pike in my day, but we can take one step into it, and then another.

Let's run, friend.

Monday, May 11, 2015

In the middle of the night

It could have been the sound of the air conditioner cycling on, or our next door neighbor's sprinkler clicking against the metal fence, or any number of barely imperceptible possibilities.  But quite suddenly last night in the darkness, I came up to the surface, no longer asleep.

I often wake before dawn and take advantage of the early morning quiet to read, think, and write. As I turned over to check the time, it was far too early even for that.  The numbers 2.42 am on the face of the digital clock just seemed to mock me. I turned over and attempted to go back to sleep to no avail. The minutes slugged by like so many tired runners at the back of a race.  I felt like one of them.  

I tried my trusty right side, I tried my left side, I snuggled on my stomach with my feet hanging off the end of the bed, that which is usually a sure-fire way to lull me back to sleepy-land.  Still the numbers on the clock flowed by like a lazy river.

I turned on my back and tried the covers on, and then, the covers off.  I even tried reciting Psalm 23 really really slowly.  I chuckled when I came to the part, "He makes me lie down in green pastures."  My brain was still on hyper-speed.  I was like a toddler with too much sugar in her system.

In the classic children's book Madeleine is one of my favorite lines, "And in the middle of the night, Miss Clavel turned on the light, and said, "Something is not right."

In past episodes of not sleeping, I have been distracted by anxieties and fears and the totally annoying impulse of how to fix a situation outside of my control.

But last night, there appeared a different urgency in my 3 am alertness. What was keeping me awake?  I did not turn on the light like Miss Clavel, but I listened.  For just a moment, I ceased my struggle to find the "just right" position to return to sleep, and I listened.  Not for the creaking of a dark and empty house, a possible intruder or an imaginary ravenous lion under my bed, but for God.  Not posing a desperate plea for sleep, but holding forth a question, "What, God?" Not "WHY AM I STILL AWAKE?" But, "What for?"

And slowly, the names of loved ones came into my mind, like a crowd already standing in line, people whom I had been praying for in desperate situations, sweet friends and acquaintances I hadn't thought about in a long time, fellow believers whom I do not know who are suffering persecution, and even those who are persecuting them that they would come to know God.

The names, the faces, the situations, scrolled through my thoughts like the credits at the end of a movie.  For some, I lingered a little longer, knowing that they are facing dismay in a hundred different sizes.  I must have hit the right name somewhere in the lineup, because at one point shortly after 4.44, I could feel sleep begin to cover me like a warm silent wave at the beach.

On mornings after a short night like that, I repeat the prayer of my sweet friend Nancy, "LORD, make it enough."

My first cup of coffee was still more than half-full when, during the course of a phone call, I heard about someone I had prayed for just a few hours prior.

"That is why I woke you up," I felt like God saying to me.  I needed to pray, right then and there.  If I had waited until morning, it probably would not have even occurred to me.

And oh, what I would have missed.  Not that things changed because I prayed, but God allowed me to join Him in whatever it is He is doing. It is not that God needs me, but I clearly need Him.

In his book Prayer, author and pastor Timothy Keller states, "Through prayer, which brings heaven into the ordinary, we see the world differently, even in the most menial and trivial daily tasks.  Prayer changes us."

...and one of His disciples said to Him,
        "Lord, teach us to pray."

                                Luke 11.1

Friday, May 8, 2015

The reality of it

It was a strange and lonely year.  With great excitement, all my friends had left to start their freshmen year in college.  I was living at home, attending classes at a community college, and working two part-time jobs to cover my expenses.

This was not what I would have chosen.  It was not at all what I wanted.  But this was what my reality looked like for this year.  There was no money for me to go away to school.  My dad, finding himself suddenly unemployed, had been trying for a couple of years now to cobble together a new business.  Mom was teaching violin lessons in our living room to keep things running.

But in this hard situation, I was not without choices.  God had given me this year for a reason.  What was I going to do with what I had?  I could not change my circumstances, but I could change my attitude towards them. 

With my jobs, classes and schoolwork, "busy" was an understatement.  Bored was not an issue.  It was not a matter of filling up this empty year, but letting God use it for His purposes, even that which I could not know.

Very clearly to me -- even now-- God's Word redeemed that time.  It increased my awareness, not just about Him, but everything around me.  He showed me not just to put up with what I couldn't control, but to live expectantly within it, letting Him fulfill my time right then and there, and actually equipping me for what was next.  God enlarged my vision as a result.  It changed what could have easily been a dismal year of  "God, why couldn't I have gone to college like everyone else?" to a year of listening and to a renewed sense of His Presence.

This morning, the words of Psalm 100 reminded me of His faithfulness that year.  I had a 45 minute drive each way to classes and sometimes a longer journey to my job in the urban core.  My car did not even have a radio.  And so, I memorized scripture on those commutes.  Psalm 100 was one of those passages.

When I began reading it this morning, the words of this Psalm --memorized so very long ago -- rose up and embraced me with sweet familiarity, not just words of rote, but words of reality.  It was the year when I moved from believing the LORD to knowing Him in a new dimension, a year redeemed, a heart changed.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD,
                               all the lands!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into His Presence with singing!
Know that the LORD is God!
It is He that made us, and we are His;
we are His people,
and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
       and His courts with praise!
Give thanks to Him,
                     bless His name!
For the LORD is good;
His steadfast love endures for ever,
and His faithfulness
                to all generations.

                    Psalm 100

Thursday, May 7, 2015

What comes up out of the ground

When we moved yet again last summer, one of the last deeds at our old house was the carrying out of a long-established family tradition.  It was not a formal ceremony, but a physical action to reflect an invisible grace.  We were moving on again.  Another family would live in this house.  There would be a new name on the mailbox, another entity in the neighborhood, a different presence on the block.  God led us here for His divine purposes for a season. And now, it was time to move on again.

Our tradition, which was established so many moves ago, was to dig up a portion of the irises that grew in our yard. We filled a discarded box with some of the gnarly dirt-encrusted bulbs.  And we left behind a perennial garden of purple and gold blooms in the spring.  The new homeowners will not realize these flowers have a story behind them, but just enjoy the beauty left behind.

The original bulbs were not even original themselves, but were transplanted into my grandmother's yard by an unnamed aunt, when my mom was just a ten-year-old girl back in 1929.  This aunt thought that she was just sharing bulbs from her own garden.  Little did she know that she was planting a visible faithfulness that bloomed through the decades. She could not have foreseen the deep hardships just around the corner, the onset of the Great Depression that started just months later, the early debilitation and demise of my mom's father when she was just a teenager, and the devastating news of my mom's first husband who disappeared on a mission over Nazi Germany.

And each spring, the flowers continued to emerge out of the dirt and bloom with glory year after year.

As a young war widow, my mother moved to New York to perform as a violinist on early television.  When she married my father, my widowed grandmother relocated from her home in Texas to New York to take care of the pack of grandchildren who soon followed.  And when my grandmother uprooted her own life, she also dug up a portion of those irises to plant where to her must have seemed a foreign land.

Each time the family moved, my grandmother not only transplanted those iris bulbs, she created a garden, no matter the soil, no matter the rocks, no matter that she hobbled with rheumatoid arthritis for nearly fifty years. She left behind beauty wherever she went....and a patch of purple and gold irises that still bloom.

When my mom and dad moved for a final time, my husband and I filled a box with those iris bulbs.  We have both planted and transplanted the irises, carrying them with us to each of our new locations, not just as a sign of moving on, not just as a legacy left behind, but an intentional rooting wherever God leads us.

This morning, the irises bloomed, a visible manifestation of the faithfulness of God wherever we have moved. When I saw them in the early light, it was as if God was saying, "Put down your roots.  Thrive here, no matter the soil, no matter if just a season or the rest of your life. Let Me use this place, this situation, in your life and the lives of everyone around you.  You are here for a reason."

You will never know the impact of God working through you.
Plant His faithfulness here.

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
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. 21-23