Monday, June 29, 2015

Not all who wander are lost

I went for a little run this morning, taking advantage of a cool breeze and a surprising lack of humidity.  On the tail of a longer run yesterday, I just wanted a short jog through the woods. I chose a new trail, basing my route on seeing a couple of runners ahead of me and a woman with an enormous dog. I would not be alone. It was a shaded crushed gravel pathway that traveled past the back of a high school, grazed along a greenbelt area, and headed toward the local nature center.

Where the trail went after that landmark, I was not quite sure, but I was not planning on going any further than that. 

I didn't have a map, but I knew the general direction.  No big deal.  I had observed runners on this stretch many times as I drove past on my way to Kroger.

As I headed out, I pushed my pace a bit as I was already running a little bit late in my morning schedule.  I jogged past the landmarks and fell into a comfortable stride.  It was a beautiful morning.  Wildflowers decorated both sides of the path.  A small brook meandered alongside the trail.  A man and his dog were running a little bit ahead of me.  I followed them toward an intersection, where I had decided to turn around.

But on the other side of that intersection, a path through an open field beckoned me.  A driver stopped to let me cross the road.  I felt obligated.  "Just a little bit further," I decided.  I should know by now that those are words of trouble.

I passed two separate groups of cross country runners on the ground stretching after their practice.  I followed the trail around a bend and saw a paved pedestrian road up ahead.  It appeared to be traveling back to where the runners were stretching.

As I started up that road, a verse came to the surface of my thoughts, "There is a way that seems right to a man..." (Proverbs 14.12)  And I knew where that verse was headed.  Never a good ending.  But I kept running. "I know where I am going," I lied to myself.  About a hundred feet ahead, that road in "the right direction" suddenly veered a sharp left, heading into unknown territory, definitely not where I wanted to be.

I remembered my friend Maria saying that she once hiked twelve miles before she found her way out of the maze of trails in this park.

I took the next available path to the right and hoped that it would come out in a familiar place.  I looked for indications of those who had gone before me, a groomed trail, a path worn in the grass, and today, the sound of cross country girls laughing up ahead.

Several detours later, a couple of other trails diverging, a signpost that made no sense at all, and I found my way back to my car.

In the Fellowship of the Ring, author J.R.R. Tolkien notes, "Not all who wander are lost."

But today, I was.  No doubt about it.

In my life, I have found myself many times in uncharted lands, in places of wilderness, and on paths that didn't quite turn out as I had thought.  But one thing I know, God goes with me, guiding my way, even into places I may never quite understand.

It is not that God calls me to a certain place,
        or to do a specific task,
but to be faithful.

I just need to follow God into His good purposes and into a closer fellowship with Him.

...that He may teach us His ways
     and we may walk in His paths.

                             Micah 4.2

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Who let the dogs out?

Somehow when I was growing up, our house became a refuge for orphaned dogs.  One by one, we seemed to accumulate beloved pets who were conveniently left behind, mostly by my brothers.  Temporary guests gradually evolved into permanent residents.  At one point, there were three dogs living at our house, who were like fun-loving fraternity brothers.

I vowed I would never have a dog.  But that is another story in itself.

Our fenced yard was viewed by those dogs not as a place of freedom to enjoy and frolic, but more like the walled yard of a penitentiary.  I was convinced that it was their mission in life to escape by any means possible.  Every time they were let out, they would literally browse the perimeters of the yard, pushing up against every picket to see if one was loose.  And then again, there was the gate, often inadvertently left open by one of my brothers mowing the yard or playing ball, always intending to come back, but somehow seldom remembering to return and close it.

And so, it became an unwritten rule in our house that whoever let the dogs out should first check the gate to make sure it was closed and fastened.  The consequences of an open gate impacted us and everyone around us. Three dogs on the loose defined the word "mayhem."  They scattered and ran away as fast as possible, scouring the neighborhood and looking for trouble. It was extreme havoc, multiplied by three.

This week, I had a proverbial pack of dogs of my own, waiting to get out by any means possible.  There was a huge opportunity -- a very open gate -- to speak ungraciously about someone.  And God reminded me about the consequences of letting those unruly dogs out.

Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD,
keep watch over the door of my lips.

                              Psalm 141. 3

As I entered the situation, as I opened the door, I was very conscious of making sure that gate was closed and secure, aware of unkind words, barking and straining at the leash.  I chose not to say anything.  And even before the situation was over, God had not just changed my words, He changed my heart.

Before a volatile situation, or even into the most ordinary day, secure that gate.  There is never a need to let out those misbehaving dogs and make a mess of everything.

Give me, O LORD,
words of kindness and grace,
              even in this.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Name that tune

When my mom was in her sixties, she followed God's leading into a new venture.  As a violinist, she had played before big audiences and small, both seeking and seizing every opportunity to engage in music. What appeared as her vocation was her calling.  It was all ministry to her.  It was how she translated God into languages others could understand.

She had been teaching violin students in our living room for more years than I care to remember.  My brothers and I woke every dawn to the screeching of beginning violinists.  And with each note, she loved on these kids.  Because we lived across from the high school, many came for more than violin instruction.  They hung out at our house, ate meals with us, and often I found in the morning, someone sleeping on the living room couch.

Mom's new venture began with a single invitation to play her violin at a retirement home.  And quite suddenly, she had a new stage and a new audience.  She began to play for women's luncheons, garden clubs, and once, as a strolling violinist at a wedding reception.  But her delight was playing for the elderly in nursing homes and retirement villages, those on the margins, largely lonely and forgotten.

Before each of these occasions, she carefully crafted her program for the event, thinking about the people, the place, their season in life, for a means of connecting with these individuals.  Melodies of romance were crafted for a Valentine's Day luncheon.  Tunes from the Big Band era were arranged for an evening with the elderly.  Patriotic songs were designated for the Veterans's Home.  Nurses in these places often noticed unresponsive patients tapping their feet in time with the music.

How shall we sing the LORD'S song
           in a foreign land?
                           Psalm 137. 4

Every which way I can.

God places each of us strategically
in exact time and place
to do that specifically
     through everything we do today,
songs of joy and hope and strength
            in a barren place.

Someone is always listening
      to what song you are singing,
      by what melody you are living,
to know if God is real.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Hallmark Dad

There were many things that my father was.  There were many things he was not.

And in my annual frustrating search for the perfect Father's Day card for him, I never found one that really fit.  He was not handy with tools.  He did not fish.  He tried golf, but that didn't last but a few weeks.

And I was so often overwhelmed by what he was not.

But on Father's Day, God continues to remind me:

Finally, brethren,
whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything
            worthy of praise,
think about these things.
What you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me,
and the God of peace
         will be with you.

                        Philippians 4. 8-9

Think about it,
anything and whatever.

My dad was not the perfect parent.
The reality is
              neither am I.

He has been gone now four and a half years.

And all along,
I just wanted a card that said,
                  "I love you."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rocks and other hard things

As I drove over to my daughter's house this morning to take care of two of our grand babies, I had no idea of what I would face today.  But as I wove along the country roads, I thought about one of the passages I read earlier this morning, and part of a verse that really stood out to me.

...and with the stones
    he built an altar
          in the name of the LORD.

                                     1 Kings 18. 32

No matter what I am appointed this day
           I can worship the LORD in it.

It is not significant what I do
with the big rocks
and the broken pieces.of life
               but how God uses them.

Two guarantees I can offer:
     1. There will be hard stuff,
            sometimes really really hard stuff.
     2. And God is both faithful and creative.

What can He do with this?

Even in what appears irrelevant,
     and doesn't fit by any sense of my imagination,
                                God redeems.
Propped against the back splash by my daughter's kitchen sink is a small wooden plaque
inscribed with Psalm 118. 1:


Not because things are going well,
or life is easy and comfortable,
not just when the dishes are done,
the house is clean
      and the children behave,
not just on the "good days,"
           but because
                          He is good.

Give thanks to the LORD
                      even in this mess,
                  even through this pain.
God enlarges our vision to see past what is hard
         to fulfill His purposes.

Don't just lay the difficulties before the LORD,
       make an altar out of them
                    to worship God.

Worship with those big rocks in every shape and form
     and give thanks to the LORD
     because praise is the glue
               that holds those stones together.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

a day in lower case

This day has no capital letters. All things today appear to be in lower case. No special events.  No crises expected.  I am taking care of two of our grandchildren today.  One is two years old, and one is ten months.  It is more than 95 degrees outside, so we are staying inside with the ceiling fans whirling.  Lego towers have been built and knocked down.  We have read a milliondy times Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  All three of us had peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.  I washed and folded two loads of towels, t-shirts, and little tiny sun suits.  Both kids are resting right now.  The baby is asleep.  The toddler is talking quietly to the stuffed animals in his crib.

Just a day of small things.

And yet, I have learned to not discount these quiet uneventful times.  It is on these days that our lives  are built, even those particular days we may not remember. Great things in our lives are based largely in how we perceive the ordinary days.  Do I embrace them or just plod through?

My grandmother came to live with my parents before I was born.  Because she suffered rheumatoid arthritis, she lived in a bedroom on the first floor of our house.  She cooked.  She did laundry.  She was somehow always there.  She lived without capital letters.  That is one of the things that I loved about her.

She had more influence on my spiritual life than any other person.  She lived out in the little days what faithfulness to God meant.  She always had time for me.  Even while she was cooking or sewing or folding clothes, she listened to me. How do I know?  Because she asked me questions.  And she let me ask her questions.  I remember once asking her a big question about why something happened.  "Well, sometimes you just have to trust God," she said. She knew God was faithful.  She had seen His hand in a lot of tough times.  That's all she needed.

She spoke those words many decades ago.  But they are still fresh in my heart.  I can still recall her voice.  I can even remember where I was sitting in her bedroom on that lazy afternoon when we were the only ones home. She never realized the impact of that conversation.  Indeed, we can never know when our words will stick.  We cannot know when we -- or someone else-- may brush up against His grace, and God opens up deeper dimensions of Himself.   Never underestimate the power of a day that the world would view as ordinary.

And so, I know that while today may be written in small letters, God is working in it in profound ways.  He always does.  Because someday strength and grace will rise up right out of the ground -- big trees with deep roots -- and where in the world did they come from?

God's powerful work
       on days in lower case.

For who has despised
    the day of small things?

            Zechariah 4.10

Friday, June 12, 2015

What happened inside this old Kentucky home

In this house once lived a woman nicknamed Scottie, whom I have never met.  There are very few things that I know about her.  She bore five children, the youngest of whom was my grandmother, born in 1888.  When my grandmother was still just a little girl in the mid-1890s, Scottie moved her family from their home in Kentucky to dry, hot West Texas for the health of her ailing husband. She was widowed twice.

And there is one more thing I know about her that changed the course of her life...and mine.

I have a copy of her old Bible.  Once when I cracked open its pages, I noticed pencil markings in the margin.  She did not just read her Bible so very long ago, but the Word of God impacted her daily life.  One of the inscriptions noted, "Praying for the generations to come."

I was awestruck.  It occurred that among others, she was also praying for me, a child she would never see or know, who is now even a grandmother.  Did she realize that?

Never think that your prayers don't matter.  Your prayers make a significant difference in your life, in the lives of everyone around you, and to the furthest generation.  God is faithful.

I am so thankful that she prayed.  I am so thankful for her faithfulness to the LORD.  It did not just have bearing on her life, but also a very real impact on mine.

And as for you,
     if you will walk before Me...

                         1 Kings 9. 4

The LORD will use you
       beyond your wildest dreams.
He will impact generations
                         long after you,
  even the children yet unborn. that they should
        set their hope in God...

                           Psalm 78. 6

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

And this is what it looks like

Forgiveness is a door to the daring.
Forgiveness is a rebellion against this fallen world.

And that's why Jesus came.
    Because we can't do it on our own.

I need not say more.

And this is what it looks like.
Click this link to read this incredible story now. God in Christ
      has forgiven you.

                  Ephesians 4. 32

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Limited Vision

I didn't see it coming.

When I ran yesterday, I decided on a whim to go a little further on the path, to go past the two familiar wooden posts where I always turn around.  I am new in this city. And I am newly back to running after an eighteen month hiatus to heal my foot.

And as in most things, I am almost always shy about pressing into unknown territory.  "What if's"  keep me tethered to what is safe and known.

But yesterday, I ventured another quarter mile in the same direction, daringly going past those sentry posts and into the wild.

The path wandered through tall prairie grass and wild flowers dancing to the music of a gentle breeze.  A chorus of birds cheered me onward.  I could see a highway bridge coming up ahead, a good landmark where to return to the familiar.

And suddenly, alongside the path was a sign warning, "Slow. Blind curve ahead."  I did not know where I was going, nor what was ahead, but I continued with caution.

Not stop, turn around, beware of danger!  Not headlong and heedless!  But slow, careful, and aware of what may be ahead.  And as God would encourage, "Trust Me into it."

Seek Him out,
follow Him in.

As it is, whether in a comfortable familiar place or one entirely foreign, there are blind curves in our day.  We cannot know what the day may bring, but we can know the God who brings us through it.

And how much do we miss out on because we are so intent in our fear?  How much do we miss knowing God more into those blind curves?

I intended all along to turn around at that bridge.  But I followed the path under the bridge with its cars rushing overhead and through to the other side of limited vision.

The significant difference is not the other side of my fear
but that God is with me through it.

What emerged before me
         was not suddenly safe and familiar
but a beautiful new terrain
                         of trusting God.

This morning,
     I will go even further
into that strength,
even into that which I do not know
                but God does.

...but God was with him...

                   Acts 7. 9

And that changes everything.
God changes my story
through blind curves and wilderness places
for His purposes
       and for His glory.
It is only my vision
              that is limited and small.

What is beyond that blind curve of mine?
        God is.

What I didn't see coming
 was not my need for Jesus to be with me,
    but for me to run with Him.

"Be not afraid."
Watch what God does 
when I leave my fear behind
for what is before me,
      curves blind only to me.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


As in any family, there are times when words come out a little harsher and a lot more hurtful than was intended.  As a mom, it was one of my jobs not just to keep the peace, but help our daughters know the impact of their words.

"They may not remember what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel," once wrote Christian theologian Carl W. Buechner.

Choose carefully. Words are not returnable. Final sale.

And so, in the midst of a harsh or hurtful situation, I would ask my young offender, "How differently could you say that?"

It helped them to think first about the impact not just of what they said, but more importantly, HOW they said it.

Our youngest daughter had Mrs. O as a first grade teacher, a gentle and tiny woman who had an incredibly well-behaved and happy classroom.  She had some very rambunctious students that year, but she never raised her voice.  The children not only heeded her direction, they absolutely adored her.

I asked her how she did it.  "Velvet over steel," she replied.  She was firm but radically kind.

Pleasant speech increases persuasiveness.
                                  Proverbs 16.21

Kind words are always appropriate, even more so when harshness is expected.

The words I utter do not just impact the hearer, they impact the outcome, they impact the relationship, and they impact my heart.

How is my heart reflected in those words?
How is my heart changed by those words?
            For better or for worse.

Words heal.  Or words wound.

You choose.

Pleasant words are like honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul
and health to the body.
                 Proverbs 16.24

How differently can I say this?

Choose wisely.
Choose kindly.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Am I forgetting something?

Before any trip or excursion -- or before the day at hand -- I say outloud, "What am I forgetting?" as I pack the car and peruse my appointments and errands.  A box to take, a bag to return, and my running shoes, in case there is time for a run.  There have been far too many occasions that I have found myself at the entrance of Kroger, wondering outloud, "what is it I need to get?" My list forgotten on the counter at home and my mind a blank.

But what is most significant of all is not a list, nor a bag, but a realization that I am not alone in this.  It is not that I leave God behind.  It is not that I forget to take God along, stuffed in my purse for a desperate moment.

It is that I simply forget God.  "I am with you," He reminds me throughout Scripture.  God is not along for the ride; He is navigating me through this -- through victory and defeat, through the mountains, through the miry bog, big decisions, and the daily choices that are even more life-changing.

God has not forgotten me, but quite the opposite.  I have forgotten Him.  It is not that God needs to show up. God does not suddenly appear when I call. He is there all along, waiting for me to realize that.

In the early darkness the day of a marathon a few years ago, I read my Scripture for the day, before I left for that daunting task.  And God highlighted a verse for me that morning that I carried with me all 26.2 miles and engraved in my heart for even bigger tasks.

Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

                          Psalm 124.8

God reminded me of that reality every mile of that journey.  The verse did not make the marathon suddenly shorter or less painful.  But it reminded me of His Presence.  And that made the significant difference. I wrote in the margin of my Bible right next to that verse:  "I need to say this ten times a day. And repeat as needed."

And so, as I head into this day, what am I forgetting?

I am not alone.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

And the joy was heard

I don't particularly like hockey. Indeed, I don't quite know what is going on. But this much I understand:  it is not all about ice and a puck.

Several years ago after my husband and I had moved back to Chicago, we were out for a walk on an early summer night after supper.  Block after block in our neighborhood, windows were wide open to let in the cool evening breezes.  As we walked through town, we also noticed a large number of televisions turned to high volume, surrounded by adults and even small children long after their bedtimes. We could see flickering lights on living room walls.  And that was when we first heard the roar.

I looked at my husband.  "What was that all about?"

He just smiled, "The Black Hawks just scored."

We didn't even have to turn on our television to know how the Black Hawks were doing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  We could hear the wild cheering from our neighbors' homes. There was the sound of great rejoicing, coursing down the streets.  And often after we had already retired for the night, about midnight or so, the sound of a firework or two would penetrate the darkness.

"Black Hawks must have won," we would recognize from our bed.

Our next door neighbor had Black Hawk jerseys of every size and style, hanging on her clothesline for weeks, like prayer flags blowing in the early summer breeze.

The Black Hawks won the playoffs in 2010, that first year we heard the roar, and then again in 2013.

We live in a different city now, so far away in distance and culture, and so much has transpired in our lives since that time.  But last evening as I worked on some correspondence, I felt compelled to turn on the television for the first game of  the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs.  It was not so much to watch the squirmishes on the ice, but to listen to that familiar roar of the crowd all the way from Chicago.

I needed that.

I could hear our neighbors once again, their thundering joy right through our windows.

And it made me smile from afar.

And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, 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)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Being all here

There is a strange restlessness that diminishes my sight,
      colors my day a putty-grey,
and tunes my eyes to somewhere
                    where I am not,
a place where nothing is hard,
everything would be right again,
          and there is no fear
          or potholes.

But I am here today.
And His Presence
  brings a significance I cannot grasp,
His purposes
  extend deeper than I can see,
  even in a million thankless tasks.
             nothing too small,
       a cup of cold water
            the highest ministry of saints.
God's subversive ways turn the world
                    right side up.
Nothing is lost,
no detail is wasted.

Help me, O LORD,
   not to be distracted by what appears an ordinary landscape,
nor hindered by the beckoning of a greener pasture
             nor even by the plaintive cry of "what's next?"
   but know You have placed me strategically 
                                        where I am this day,

Be Thou my vision.

Surely the LORD is in this place,
     and I did not know it.

                       Genesis 28. 16

Monday, June 1, 2015

A cool calm breeze

In these mornings before the heat and humidity take up their summer home, there is often a cool breeze in the early part of the day. By afternoon, the heat takes hold, but right now, before the day kicks in, I open up the back door and let the refreshing breeze swirl into our closed up spaces.  The coolness has a calming impact, the little birds chirp in the evergreen trees, even more birds join the chorus from our neighbors' trees.

The breeze flows through the house and starts the day on a different strength.  I have let in a changing  element.  As I feel the coolness surround me, changing the static air of a closed up dwelling, I am aware that in Scripture, the word for Spirit is the same Greek word for "wind."

God's Spirit blows into my life and changes things up.  His wind lets me breathe, even in impossible situations.  Indeed the word "inspire," means "God-breathed."

Fill my lungs, O LORD.  Fill my heart with Your cool calm breeze, no matter what the day may bring. Your peace takes over.  You start the day anew.

Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give to you;
not as the world gives
do I give to you.
Let not your hearts be troubled,
       neither let them be afraid.

                     John 14. 27

Breathe, my friend.