Thursday, August 27, 2015

What our four-year-old grandson taught me at the Nashville Zoo

Several weeks ago now, three of our grandchildren joined us for a week while our daughter and son-in-law packed for a big move.

We definitely got the best end of that bargain.

And when joined by our two in-town grandchildren, there was a rollicking crew.

On their last day here, we took the kids on that sweltering afternoon to the Nashville zoo.  Each of the children took turns riding in the stroller as we examined flamingos, observed the giraffes striding along on their graceful legs, and combed the goats fur with large plastic brushes.

As we passed the concession stand, strategically placed halfway through the zoo, the kids cried out, "We're hungry!" Out of my bag of tricks, I pulled out their water bottles, a sleeve of graham crackers, and some apple sauce pouches. Although we were surrounded by colorful signs advertising Slushies, popcorn and other such delights, the kids gladly consumed the snacks I brought with us. When I handed out the apple sauce pouches, our oldest granddaughter asked if she could have one too. I dug down to the bottom of the bag.  There was not another.  As I said, "I'm so sorry, sweetie," her four year old brother Howie turned and willingly shared his pouch with her.  As I was putting the baby back in the stroller, I looked up.  People were silently watching that unusual and deliberate act of kindness.

After the zoo, we traveled across town to their cousin's first birthday party.  On the way, my husband asked the kids about their favorite animal that afternoon.  At first, Howie said the giraffes, but then looked rather serious for a few minutes, as if he was contemplating another.

Suddenly from the back seat came his little voice, "I would have liked to have had some cotton candy," he stated, "but I am grateful that I will have cake at the party." 

My heart stopped at the profound words of this little child.  His heart's desire did not revolve on the elusive things he did not have, but the reality of what he did. It was not a resigning voice of "oh, well," but an all-strengthening voice of contentment.  Coveting is a revolving door that never stops.  Contentment redeems everything.

Not that I complain of want,
for I have learned,
in whatever state I am,
         to be content.

                   Philippians 4.11

He indeed had cake at the birthday party, a huge vanilla cupcake with sprinkles, but his spontaneous words in the car that afternoon kept reverberating in my thoughts in the days that followed.

When I had the opportunity, I asked our daughter Beth, "Who taught him that?" after I related the story to her.

"I don't know," Beth said. "He has been saying that a lot lately." 

Two days after they left, in my morning Bible reading, I read in the Scriptures a verse about the dangers of complaining.

 "...nor grumble,
as some of them did
and were destroyed by the Destroyer."     
                      1 Corinthians 10.10

And while I was running that morning, despite the warning of the verse, an unruly crowd of discontented  thoughts joined me on my run.  As my trail passed through fields and woods, it became obvious to me that grumbling is a certain destruction, a pattern of behavior that solves nothing and sure doesn't make you feel any better at all.

Quite suddenly, slicing through my thoughts came Howie's little voice piping up from the backseat.  I repeated them to myself.  "I would have liked to have had _______, but I am grateful for _______."

I filled in the blanks.  And God filled up my heart.

The antidote to discontentment
                     is not more dissatisfaction.
 The solution to grumbling
                     is not to complain even more.
But the pivotal point in turning away from any greed
is a grateful heart.

It changes how we see everything.

Sometimes we just need to fill in the blanks
                with a different heart.

I know how to be abased,
and I know how to abound,
in any and all circumstances
      I have learned
      the secret of facing plenty and hunger,
            abundance and want.
I can do all things in Him
      who strengthens me.

                        Philippians 4. 12-13

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

...because they weren't thinking about selfies

Three boyhood friends were traveling through Europe, taking a fast train from Amsterdam to Paris last Friday evening, when a man entered their train car with an AK 47 automatic rifle, a pistol, a box cutter and nine rounds of ammunition.  When they saw the man, one of the friends immediately tapped his seatmate's shoulder, as if to say, "Let's go."

They didn't hesitate at all.  One of them sprinted ten meters down the aisle of the train, and despite being slashed and facing quite literally the barrel of a gun, twenty-three year old Spencer Stone took down the suspected jihadist.

Within seconds, the gunman was tackled on the floor and disarmed.  An atrocity was averted.  And instead of a gunman's face and another violent account on the news, there were the pictures of three brave men who just did what they thought was the right thing to do.

To watch a video of the heroes, click here

What motivated these young men to respond so quickly? They weren't preoccupied with themselves. 

And nowadays, that may be the most countercultural mindset of all.

That was my last sentence in this blog posting, but I kept following a curious thread.

As I read more about these humble young men, it occurred to me that a radical awareness like that towards the good of others does not just suddenly come to the surface in a crisis, particularly when personal safety is concerned.  The various articles I read couldn't quite explain their actions, surmising they were just good men.

I suspected that there was more than that to the story.

And then, even after I had finished writing my posting, I read an article in Monday's Wall Street Journal, in which their personal sacrifice, their other-centeredness, their humble demeanor, suddenly made sense.  "The three Americans were childhood friends who attended the Freedom Christian School in Fair Oaks, Calif., near Sacramento," the article stated, a minor detail the other media coverage seemed to miss. It was a  "minor detail" that made all the difference.  These guys were Christ-followers.

That didn't surprise me a bit.  These young men were not out to make a name for themselves.  They just lived under a different banner.  Attending a Christian school does not a hero make, but a heart changed by Jesus will respond to life with more than a different worldview.

Their lives didn't have to be self-centered, because they are centered on Christ.  And that impacts everything about them -- even what they did on their summer vacation.

Be watchful,
stand firm in your faith,
be courageous,
be strong.
Let all that you do
           be done in love.

            1 Corinthians 16. 13


Monday, August 24, 2015

My grandmother's little secret that was no secret at all

No matter where we lived or where we moved when I was a child, a bedroom was carved out on the first floor for my grandmother. She lived with our family from before I was born, in spaces that had been designed for other purposes, in rooms that should have been used for something else.  She could not readily maneuver stairs, although that didn't seem to slow her down a bit.  She had rheumatoid arthritis since she was a young woman.  And her knees were the size of cauliflowers in a time before knee replacement surgery was invented.

She did not just do with what she had.  She abounded in it.

Her room was not just tucked in the available space.  Her life was  She demanded nothing, but creatively pursued whatever was placed before her.  She did not just keep our large family going -- cooking, laundry, cleaning, abiding over the general mayhem -- she brought joy to it.

By all appearances, her life was physically restricted and largely invisible.  But God redeemed her hidden efforts in immeasurable ways.  God wove His purposes seamlessly even through those things few ever acknowledged.  She never questioned what God had placed before her, no matter how difficult.  "Let's see what we can do with that," she would say about a scrap of material, some leftover chicken, or an impossible situation.

She derived great delight in those challenges as if playing an exciting game, discovering not if God could use it, but HOW God would use it.  "Nothing is for naught," she would say.  Nothing seemed to throw her.  And even in pain and deep mystery, she would say, "And sometimes, you just have to trust the Lord in it."

She was not a "look on the bright side" kind of person, but "look at the reality of God" pragmatist. She had seen too much,  She knew what God can do.

And so, she never faced a day burdened down with tiresome tasks or mundane chores, but with an excitement of what God would bring through it.  My grandmother's little secret was no secret to anyone around her.  She did not endure hardship; she found the Lord in it.  She did not drag herself through difficulty; she danced through it and invited everyone around to join her.

She did not just believe in the LORD.
She knew Him.

The word "abound "in the original Greek of the New Testament more accurately is translated "to exceed the ordinary."

Live that way. 

Because God always brings something unexpected to the table, something beyond measure, nothing ordinary here.

What's on your plate today?

Therefore, my beloved brethren,
be steadfast,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
knowing that in the Lord
     your labor is not in vain.

                    1 Corinthians 15. 58

No matter what you do today,
                            abound in it.
God is using you
      for His great purposes.
Even in what appears
most insignificant of all,
      God brings His glory to it.
Nothing is wasted in God's economy,
no effort for naught.

(This picture was taken Christmas 1955, four years before my youngest brother was born.  And yes, there was always that twinkle in her eye as if she knew something more.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

84% of the story has yet to be revealed - part 2

Last month, my husband and I had the privilege of attending the joyous wedding of a young man that we have known now for almost a decade.  His story is a remarkable redeeming of God.  As I watched him at the altar with his beautiful bride, I was awestruck by what God had done in this man's life.

God had a different story for him. 

There was a redeeming there.  He is now a pastor in the urban core.  He lives a life that would be impossible if not for God.

One of the great deceits that prevails in this world is that nothing is going to change, you cannot change, your future looks dismal, and you are plain stuck.

And like my father-in-law's novel in yesterday's posting, the outcome appears obvious and doesn't look so good.

But God isn't done yet.  This is not the end of the story.

One of the great realities about God is that He makes all things new. And so, that impossible situation doesn't have to remain that way. God may or may not change the circumstances, but He will change you in the midst.

God doesn't just have another ending for your story, but a profound journey along the way of knowing Him more, a tale of narrow squeaks, impossible victories, and His faithfulness.

And I am sure
that He who began a good work in you
       will bring it to completion
       at the day of Jesus Christ.

                            Philippians 1. 6

We can be fully assured when we follow Him, God will both guide and provide.  But we cannot dictate nor predict HOW.  Faith is recognizing that I do not control the outcome, yet knowing the Author does.

Don't limit your vision of what God can do.  He may surprise you. No, make that, He WILL surprise you.

You are still just in the middle of your own story. Give God the space and time to work. There is a long faithfulness here, that is not yet finished, an incredible daily story of His redeeming.

This is not the end of the story.
"Trust Me in it."

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

Monday, August 17, 2015

84% of the story has yet to be revealed - part 1

Once when my father-in-law visited a few years ago, he was reading a murder mystery novel on his Kindle reading device. After only a short time, he stated, "Well, there is no need to finish this book.  I already know who did it."

"How much have you read?" I asked.  "How far are you into the story?"

He looked down at the device.  "Sixteen percent.  But the ending is pretty obvious."

As a writer I know that appearances don't necessarily reflect what is really going on.  That is part of the intrigue of a great tale.  All of the divergent and seemingly unrelated threads come together in the course of an epic story.

"What happens is not always so evident ahead of time," I said.  

The reality was that he still had a LONG way to go in that story.  Things can change radically from one chapter to the next.  New information is discovered, another layer is revealed, and the truth somehow comes to the surface.

 "What if the policeman did it? Or what if the murderer is the policeman's SON?" I teased him with my own absurd imagination. 

I returned to making supper.

My father-in-law didn't budge from that chair for almost two days.  And when he did, he exclaimed, "How did you know it was his son?"

Good guess.

But this much I do understand:   When we are only in the middle of the story, we cannot know the outcome.

And because we have a long way to go in our own narrative, a lot of other things can enter the picture.  And most significantly, God redeems in incredible ways.

"The answers come every time, but not always in the way we expect," notes Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest.

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

                 Colossians 1. 17

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

How to get from here to there

Wait for the LORD;
be strong,
   and let your heart take courage;
     wait for the LORD!

                          Psalm 27. 14

Immediately when I got out of bed this morning, I was thinking about my agenda for the day.  I grabbed my coffee and abided with God's Word, my heart already racing for the next thing.

But something happened in reading Scripture.  No surprise there. Something always happens when God's Word is opened.  It changes me.

I was not distracted from reading God's Word by my pace and circumstances.  But God distracted me from my own agenda for the day.  He did not just slow me down.  He showed me something different.  Abiding with God in His Word always changes the course of my day.  Circumstances may or may not change, but my heart does.

O God, distract me to Your deeper design.

"The only thing harder than waiting on the LORD is not waiting on Him," says pastor, speaker and friend Crawford Loritts.  He nails it on the head.

How am I missing out because I don't wait on the LORD?

"Quiet my heart to Your purposes, O LORD."  The biggest obstacle to waiting is simply not wanting to.  Too much to do! I most urgently need to wait when I think, "No problem, God, I've got this."  When I think that, I know I don't. 

There is a reason for waiting. It is not that God is not ready, but my own lacking. God is always and in all ways fulfilling His purposes.

Yesterday, I sat in a doctor's waiting room, a little longer than expected.  But I knew that there were deep reasons for the delay beyond my own understanding, and far deeper than I could see in this room of chairs.

And instead of bemoaning the time, I relished it.  I pulled out my back pack and started to work.

Waiting is never passive, but actively seeking God in whatever the situation.

Why do I feel anxious?
Because I didn't wait first.

Wait, be still,
       and listen.

God may put something on my radar I never considered before.  God will always put something on my heart.

And that would be Him.