Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Traveling across town and other places I have not been before

I set out on Saturday morning for a holiday brunch with the small Bible study group I attend.  I was going to my new friend Christi's house, requiring me to travel into unknown territory on another side of town. For the navigationally-challenged like myself, that is always an adventure. She texted me her address. Thirty-three minutes.  Give or take.

But I still had no idea where I was going.

I entered her address onto the little screen.  And I proceeded to the first intersection.  "Turn right," the digital navigator told me.

I had no option, but to trust a voice that I did not know.

When the exits came quicker, and the turns more frequent, I knew I had to be getting close.

"In 500 feet, turn left," the digital voice directed.  I immediately moved into the turn lane at the light.  And I immediately realized that I had moved too soon. I was about to make a wrong turn. The intersection I needed was not at the traffic light, but indeed, a short distance ahead at the next side street which was not what I expected.

I pulled back into traffic and drove a short distance further.  As I waited to turn, I realized how often my anxious thoughts get in the way of how God is guiding me.  And how often as a result of trying to hurry things up, or make things right, or even trying to fix things that I have already messed up, I turn too soon. 

And in that turning too soon, well, I am glad that I know a God of not just a million second chances, but a God who encourages U-turns.  I have taken Him up on that, far too many times.  O LORD, have mercy on me a sinner.

I was going to a place I had not been before,
but I ended up in a place I've been too often:
    not listening to God's voice in unknown territory
and sometimes ignoring His direction
                     when I think that I've already got this.

It is all unknown territory,
                               but just to me.
God knows the way.
I just need to listen to His voice
            and not turn too soon.

I still have no idea where I am going.
               But I can trust Him.

Trust in the LORD
      with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make straight your paths.

                       Proverbs 3. 5-6


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A pothole of immeasurable proportions

At dusk, a few weeks ago now, I was driving home after spending the afternoon helping our daughter with her four little ones. Traffic at that hour is always a bit heavy, but that day, it was unusually light. I was zipping along, thinking about other things.

I didn't see it coming.

I slid into the right turn lane, taking care in the early darkness to watch out for cyclists, as the turn lane converges with the bicycle right of way.

And then, out of the blue, a huge CLUNK as my car slammed into a pothole of immeasurable proportions.  I thought the entire car was being swallowed alive, the end of life as I know it in one enormous gulp. 

I drove the rest of the way home, wondering what I had hit, what had hit me, and if suddenly, in that last mile home, whether the axle would fall off.

I didn't see it coming.  I did not dig that pothole, nor place it point blank on my path, but I absolutely drove right into that one, unaware and unexpected.  I took a direct hit as from a stealth missile of mass destruction, abruptly seeking its target on the fairest of days.  And that would be me.

We all have enormous craters and fissures all around us, just waiting for us to fall in, to trip us up, to put us out of commission, to seek to be victorious over us. Even those potholes of our own making.

But there is a God in heaven...
                             Daniel 2. 28

And that reality changes everything.

We are an imperfect people.  We sin.  Others sin. And we are all impacted by it, the reverberations that can dismantle a life. 

But there is a God in heaven
    Who makes all things new.
We are not stuck,
     not any one of us.
God never intends us to remain
     at the bottom of the miry bog.
God transforms.
God redeems.
God is already at work.

Cast all your anxieties on Him,
      for He cares for you.
Be sober, be watchful.
Your adversary the devil
prowls around
         like a roaring lion,
seeking someone to devour.
Resist him,
firm in your faith...
                  1 Peter 5. 7-9

God never promised that
     there wouldn't be potholes,
but He is there
                to redeem them.

But You are near, O LORD...

                  Psalm 119. 151

YOU are near.
You ARE near.
You are NEAR.

God is faithful.
     Even in this.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

There will be glitches

A dear friend of mine was married last weekend.  Early that morning, I encouraged her to rise above the glitches.  At the end of the day, no matter what "went wrong," they would be married.

There will be glitches.  It is just a matter of being ready for them.

Even today.  Even on Thanksgiving.

Do not venture into unknown territory on an empty tank. Do not walk into the perfect storm alone and unprepared.

Be ready to cover all things with grace, be kind in your doings, loving in your words, sensitive to feelings, imparting grace, pursuing peace, forgetting that which lies behind, encouraging, edifying, filling your hands with healing, infusing every word with unconditional love, making the most of this time, simply to love those around you.  Loosen it up today.

That is what the indwelling of the Holy Spirit does to a person.

The glitches become opportunities to love a little more, a little deeper, not with our own strength but His.  I am not letting go of anything but a deadlock grip on my self.

It is no longer I who live,
but Christ who lives in me.

                     Galatians 2. 20

What am I bringing to the table today?

The Bible often speaks of the sacrifice of thanksgiving.  Thanking God, even for this, even before I know the outcome.  And sacrificing myself to love someone else.  What is left on the altar is my pride, what is left behind is His grace.

At the end of the day,
      the sweet fragrance of Christ lingers.

At the feeding of the five thousand,
there was not just barely enough,
but people by name feeling fully loved
     with baskets of leftovers to take home.

Thanksgiving is not an annual holiday in the Bible,
but a daily offering to God.

Go forth with great joy today, my friend.

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

                      Psalm 107. 1

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The hopeful, the imperfect, and a time for what is yet undone

I am in the process of revising menus for the week, searching my file for new recipes and old,  and making a list of things that are yet undone.

Two days from now is Thanksgiving, a time for turkey and all of the trimmings.  Unfortunately, for some of us, those side dishes are the annual serving of roots of bitterness carefully stewed for a few years, wounds never healed, words still resounding, a continual platter of revenge, and words carefully scripted to win the battle this year.  And oh, by the way, throw in the divisive election, in case things get too quiet during dinner.

But what if I bring grace to the table, healing in my hands, peace in my words, kindness in my listening, a gentle response instead of a sharp reaction?

What am I bringing to the table?

Fruit salad is always appropriate.  "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,  self-control; against such there is no law."  Galatians 5. 22-23

What am I wearing?

The same old grudges? Or something new?  "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts...And be thankful."  Colossians 3.12-15

What words have I prepared?

Do I stir up past fights, childhood rivalries, parental wounds, the injustices of the world?  Or do I stir up love for one another and good works?  "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."  Philippians 4. 8

Underline those words, "if there be anything..."  Think about these things now.  And put them into words, carefully prepared in your pocket.  

Am I ready?  Have I given thought not to how to endure a few hours, or to serve something different? Unlike the famous Norman Rockwell painting, the dinner will not be perfect.  Because none of us are perfect.  There will be glitches -- guaranteed.

But I can avoid the obvious potholes.

And start a new tradition.

Repay no one evil for evil,
but take thought
   for what is noble in the sight of all.
If possible,
      so far as it depends upon you,
live peaceably with all.
...Do not be overcome by evil,
but overcome evil with good.

                      Romans 12. 17-18, 21

Monday, November 21, 2016

The things I learned in church

I have heard many sermons in my life.  I have learned about Scripture and doctrine and application from God's Word as a result.  Some sermons brought my attention to things I never knew. Others left me longing to know more about this personal God who loves us so much.

But some of the strongest things I remember from my time in church have been from God's people living out the truth.  This morning, as I read this verse, I remembered one such woman, Miss Edith.

The prayer of a righteous man
has great power in its effects.

                          James 5. 16

Back when I was a girl, we went to church on Sunday mornings and again for an evening service.  It was after one such uneventful evening service when I was in junior high school that I was standing with my dad in the vestibule, waiting to leave.  I was anxious to get home as I still had some homework to complete.

Miss Edith came up to my dad and greeted him.  After a few minutes of small talk, this little ancient woman looked up at my tall father and said point blank, "What can I be praying for you?"

"No need," my dad chuckled.

She insisted, not willing to be put off by this man who towered over her. "There is something you are concerned about," she said.

I saw my strong firm father waver just a moment.

"Well," he said, "we moved here six months ago, and our house in New Jersey still hasn't sold.  It is still on the market."

"Have you prayed about it, Bob?"  I can hear her words after all those years.

"That is not anything to bother God about," he replied.

I don't even think she said anything more, but I can remember her eyes twinkling as if to say, "we'll see about that."

She did not preach a three point sermon on the dynamics of prayer.  She just prayed dynamically and expectantly.  She did not just pray about anything. She sought God in everything. She did not present God with a "to do" list of requests.  She lived out a conversational relationship with Him.

Four days later out of a clear blue sky, the house sold.

Nothing is too small in His eyes to pray about,
nothing too big
    for Him to show Himself in it.
When we seek God,
       not just a particular answer,
God opens up the entire universe.
There may be something
         a lot deeper going on.
There most probably is.

God never works in singular outcomes. God did not just sell a house unexpectedly that week. He did not just touch my heart.  God revealed His heart to me.

Praying is not an intangible action
    but the reality of our relationship
with the Almighty God.

Miss Edith's words still resound in my heart:
"Have you prayed about it?"

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Morning After

I am writing this post while the crazy results from this election are pouring in.

Unlike last week when I stayed up until 1 a.m. with the nail-biter finish to the World Series, I am going to bed.

Because tomorrow morning, despite the post-election wreckage, one of the candidates will be the next President of the United States.

"O LORD, have mercy on us," we will pray.

And then, either way, it's time to trust God and get back to work.  As I quoted Chuck Colson in yesterday's blog, "Remain at your post and do your duty -- for the glory of God and His kingdom."

Nothing new.  Business as usual. Towels and basins, cups of cold water, and waist deep in the ministry of small things.

Christ followers will go back to serving the poor and homeless, helping the refugees, tutoring in the urban core, supporting women in crisis pregnancies, shoveling mud out of homes in Baton Rouge, and continuing to care for orphans, long before the crises, impervious to the headlines, and no matter who is in the White House.

How should we then live?

...to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

                        Micah 6. 8

Love God
    and love people.

At the end of the day...

We arrive at the day none of us has been waiting for, the most bizarre election in the history of this country.

Three things to keep in mind:

1. Vote.  We live in one of the few countries in the world where we can vote the type of government we prefer.  In this election, ignore the candidates and vote on the issues or platform.  Staying home is not an option.

2.  Pray for our leaders, not complain about them.  If we prayed more than we grumbled, we would live in a much different country.  God never intended waiting on Him to be an excuse for complacency.

And as Chuck Colson used to say, "Remain at your post and do your duty -- for the glory of God and His kingdom."

3.  At the end of the day, and at the end of this election, God is still God.  He is still in control.

The LORD sits enthroned as king for ever.

                                        Psalm 29. 10

Have I recognized His sovereignty
                   over this nation?
Have I recognized His sovereignty
                   in my heart?

As I was sitting in church on Sunday, the words of this old hymn washed over me.  I hope the tune and the words get stuck in your head as well.

This is my Father's world.
O let me ne'er forget,
That though the wrong
         seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father's world.
Why should my heart be sad?
The LORD is king,
        Let the heavens ring.
God reigns!
Let the earth be glad.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

An inspiring saga of unexpected heroes

Nearly 50 million people stayed up past midnight a few days ago to watch the final episode of the World Series, not another game among arrogant overpaid celebrities, but an inspiring saga of unexpected heroes.

You could not have made up a story line like this. But the lowly Chicago Cubs won the final game in overtime, clinching the World Series title for the first time in 108 years.

I watched the celebratory parade on television on Friday through the streets of Chicago. Fans stood tightly together, cheering at times a hundred people deep, a fractured city unified in its rejoicing.  I heard reports that nine million fans lined up along the five mile parade route.

My own experience with the Cubs goes back a long way. First starting at age 16, I worked long hours at Wrigley Field as an usher for $1.60 an hour, learning the grueling endurance of hard work and menial tasks.   Even in the summer heat, we were required to wear wool navy blue uniforms and heels.  There was something about being largely invisible, making sure my post was covered, and not reacting to beer spilled on me through so many seemingly endless innings. I owe a lot to the Cubs in learning how to navigate through life. 

And then, many years later, my mom took care of our oldest daughter as an infant while I worked.  Every afternoon, Mom turned on the television to WGN and parked the baby's car seat in front of the television screen. That entire summer, our baby -- only a few months old -- took her afternoon nap, watching baseball. When I questioned her wisdom in doing that, Mom replied, "But she LOVES the Cubs!"  I worried about the long-term impact on our baby's development, but looking back on it now, it was, in my mom's own profound way, how to love our baby by sharing what she herself loved.

After decades of moving around, my husband and I returned as empty-nesters to live in Chicago a number of years ago. From the window in our attic where I wrote, I could see into our neighbor's backyard.  On washday, she would hang Cubs t-shirts out to dry, hanging from their old swingset, looking like so many colorful prayer flags, fluttering in the wind, cheering on the Cubs from their own little place in the world.

In some ways, the wild celebration over the Cubs victory was not about baseball at all.  As a nation, we have been so overwhelmed by bad news. Sometimes we all  just need something to cheer for.

And there is nothing quite so compelling as when the underdog comes through as the victor.  We all love that kind of redeeming.

Because if the Cubs can make it,
   somehow maybe we can too.
We are going to be ok.

As a friend shared with me, "When it looks like there is no hope in life, God brings in the Cubs."

God is just not finished with any of us yet.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Off the grid and yet

We are out in the Smoky Mountains for a couple of days. Bill is fly fishing, and I am standing by the edge of the stream, surrounded by a blaze of autumn.  This is what a symphony must look like, the woods never silent, always moving, the colors, the smells, the layers of profound beauty, no matter the season.

Bill wades into the water. I am reading, listening and watching even more.  Sometimes I think it doesn't matter if he catches anything at all. Just standing in that rush of beauty is far beyond anything on the end of his line.  Fishing is just an excuse to dance in the wild. At the roadside, our old rusty suburban stands guard.

It is getting darker, the frogs louder, and the air deprived of the sun rays, brings a coolness out of nowhere.  The fish, not to be found, are out to dinner themselves, laughing at their waterfront tables, watching a man with voluminous waders looking for them. No fish today.  It's not about the fish anyway. Just an reason to be there and become fluent in a foreign language and somehow see a little deeper in the rush of what only appears as a mountain stream. One cannot depart unchanged by it.

None of us can, if we are only aware of what is around us.  Even here. Even in what only appears an ordinary day, the story of His faithfulness is written.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Dog-eared pages

Everybody thinks of changing humanity,
and nobody thinks
                    of changing himself.

                    --  author Leo Tolstoy

Friday, October 28, 2016

Because of forgiveness

I wrote about forgiveness yesterday.  And I was too ashamed to post it.  "How dare you? What do you know about forgiveness?"

I cannot know all of the atrocities that others face, the snarling beasts of experience, the hidden terrors that threaten to jump out at the most vulnerable moment, the unspeakable burdens too heavy to bear.  But I come to grips with the daily forgivenesses that are before me. There are no small forgivenesses.  Lives are always at stake. And not just my own.  There is always a glaring reason to not forgive.  There are always a million reasons to forgive.  Maybe more.

What do I know about forgiveness? 

Because of forgiveness,
   what has wounded you
               does not define you.

Because of forgiveness,
    God redeems every detail.

Because of forgiveness,
                 you can be healed.

Because of forgiveness,
      Christ bears the scars
                and you don't,
 forgiveness is why Jesus came.

But He was wounded
       for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
upon Him was the chastisement
            that made us whole,
and with His stripes we are healed.

                       Isaiah 53.5

Because of forgiveness,
    with what the adversary
     meant to destroy you,
                   God transforms.
Your weakness
               becomes His strength in you.

Because of forgiveness,
     it is not that you don't care anymore
           about the hurt,
     but you care even more about people.

Jesus says,
     "love even your enemies."
And that would pretty much be
              those who need forgiveness.

Everything in us says,
    "Someone has to pay for damages!"
Yes, indeed.
Jesus already died for that.
Even for that.

What does God want me to do?
       Forgive him?
Are you kidding me? I can't do that.
I don't have enough grace in me.

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

               2 Corinthians 12. 9

God always brings grace to the table.

A lack of forgiveness makes you tough and hard.
Forgiveness makes you stronger.
A lack of forgiveness plants a bitter root
                       in your heart.
Forgiveness produces incredible fruit.

What does God want me to do?
            Forgive him?
As a Christ-follower,
       there is no other option.
      as we have been forgiven

If we only realized
the catastrophic consequences
                   of not forgiving someone,
we would run as fast as we can toward it.
The lack of forgiveness
    passes on a deadly burden to your children,
your grandkids
                and beyond.
And they won't even know where it came from.

Because of forgiveness,
      God changes the course of your life,
everyone around you,
and even those you will never know.
God works that way.
         Because of His forgiveness.
         Because of Him.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The fine art of being distracted

In the past few weeks, my life has been full to overflowing, nonstop, lined up, go, go, go, and oops, I forgot to do that too. Not enough hours in a day. Young people sometimes ask me, "So like, what do you do all day?" Sometimes I have no idea.

Am I mastering the fine art of being distracted?  Even this morning, oh, I should do that...get that...check that...and what about...?

My mom was a professional violinist.  Music was integrated in all of her life, a calling but also a strong ministry in the lives of others.  I am convicted by her example, she whose kitchen counter tops were stacked with literally everything you can imagine crying for attention, waving their hands, "I am urgent!  I am important!"

And she would walk away from those distractions and time-sapping "urgencies" and go practice her violin.

Mom took it to extremes at times, but there is a reminder there.  Lately, I have been focused on everything else, and a day, and another day, and a week passes, and oh yea, no writing today. And again, I push aside that nudge inside of me.  So many things to do, but I hear His voice at the end of the day, "but did you write?" 

No doubt, God uses distractions sometimes to redirect our hearts and enlarge our vision.  More often, it is we who use distractions to make excuses to God, even in what appears as really admirable deeds, even in what is necessary, even in what we say we are doing for Him.  God does not work by a checklist, nor by gussied-up "sacrifices" to gain His approval.  If I dare think, "but look at all I'm doing,"  I know that I am on the wrong highway.

It may look like all good stuff, but may not be what God has in mind.

Has the LORD as great delight
    in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
    to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to hearken than the fat of rams.

                    1 Samuel 15. 22

What does God desire?  Just to listen to His still small Voice.  Hear and heed.  What changes the course of my life, what changes the course of history, what impacts everyone around me for generations, is my heart aligned to His. 

The most profound thing I can do today is to follow Him, not being distracted by what someone else may be doing or another person's calling, not even to focus on what is on my plate today, but what He places in my heart.  Being always impacts doing.

I can lay my day before the LORD,
but when I ask Him to lay His day before me,
there are no interruptions,
              but only His incredible purposes,
even in what I cannot yet see.

"You want me to do what?  Surely, O LORD, there is something better, more significant, more glorifying to You than that."

Somehow we don't get the interlocking connection between following Him fully, faithfulness, and fruitfulness.  We don't grasp the longevity of walking with Him and the unfathomable orthodoxy of the odd little details in His bigger narrative.

It is all ministry, even that which is not recognized as such.  The gospel is not just a kind word, a cup of cold water, the washing of feet, but a different heart. 

As for you...
     fulfill your ministry.
              2 Timothy 4. 5

And not be distracted,
                 even in this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The rims of what I cannot imagine

I have not written in weeks, at least in this blog or on the computer.  I have, however, been writing volumes in my thoughts, taking notes on my phone, scribbling on every scrap of paper, searching for a pencil at stop lights, trying to capture words to describe a hike two weeks ago that my husband and I took in the Grand Canyon.

Even now, I feel like a reluctant third-grader, sitting at the kitchen table with an assignment the night before it is due, a one-page composition to write, "What I did on my family vacation."  There is no first sentence, there is no final word.  And that which is most profound is not what we did, but how we are changed.

I struggle to write the words, not because it is hard to find them, but because there are so many.  I cannot wrap my mind around them or tie them neatly with a bow.  But this morning, the words pressed hard against me.  "Write something," a composer friend suggested over the weekend.  I cannot tell all, but I can begin, even though it feels like weakly whistling a tune from a resounding symphony.

We met the small group of people with whom we would hike over the next several days, rim to rim.  The seven of us would be bonded by doing life together for this very short time, moving from awkward strangers into the beginnings of friendship, the sharing of stories, the meshing together of our lives, and the glad fellowship of peanut M&M's.

The first day, we traveled for hours through scrub land and cactus.  A rare beauty emerged from what most would deem a wilderness.  And I was reminded as in so many places that Bill and I have lived and moved, unfamiliarity does not mean a wasteland but what has yet to be discovered. As the van followed the solitary pavement through flora foreign to my eyes, I felt like one of our toddler grandchildren, asking over and over, "What dat called?"

A splendor spread out before us, and we were drawn to it.

Suddenly and without explanation, the ground broke off --snapped like a saltine --and revealed what was below the surface, beyond our own vision to an awe that had no language. There was suddenly the canyon, a mile deep and ten miles wide, and a mighty river below, thick and red.  We stood silently.  No words could describe what lay before us, beneath us, over us, beyond what we have known or can ever know. If the road hadn't stopped, or if we had traveled hundreds of years ago, we would have driven right over the edge.  It came without warning.

It was not that there was a gradual sliding or even a suggestion of what was to come, but an abrupt vision, a breaking through, an acknowledgment of what is real and what is not, a strong intimacy in an unfamiliar place, and somehow, a recognized voice calling us home.

None of us could help but being changed by it. I wished for proficiency in a thousand languages to be able to describe "wow."

Early before dawn the next day, we arose in the darkness in great anticipation of the sunrise.  But we found already before us, crowds of tourists transformed into sojourners on a religious pilgrimage.  The same reluctant people who at home hit the snooze alarm every morning stood shivering in the darkness and expectant on the edge of the cliffs, waiting for the break of dawn, these pilgrims of the new day. The sun's brilliant rays inched up over the edge of the horizon, breaking forth and bathing the world in a different light,  right on time.  There is something more here.  Something much bigger beckoning in my life. 

There are always explanations for what cannot be explained, the movement of powerful waters, tectonic shifts of massive shelves, layers of rock, a careful arrangement of massive colors and textures, monumental walls, the mysteries of what unfolds before us.  There is no stirring of the human heart in a geology lecture or a rock collection.  But here, in this place and time, we were all in awe.  That which is beyond us is a presence that we miss in our tiny myopic worlds.

Later that night in the lodge, a seasoned and uniformed ranger presented his power point slides, his memorized script about how this came to be, a mantra repeated so many times it was devoid of life, no excitement, just words strung together to form complicated explanations of what happened, his charts of what "the experts" said could have happened, a particular ordering of events, myths that periodically shift trying desperately to account for what is ancient and true and unchanging, and theories taught as facts. We cannot help but know there is a reason why.  Nothing just happens.  And certainly nothing like this. 

As we exited that beautiful man-made lodge and wandered outside the lecture room, the cliffs were illumined by a billion stars that we rarely see because of our own limited vision.  We stood silent and amazed with our heads thrown back.  We swam in the universe with the stars, floated among familiar constellations, and were pulled under by the warm currents of the Milky Way, laughing because that was the closest emotion at hand.  I am aware that the immensity of stars surround us even when we do not see them.

But when we finally look up, what accounts for the wonder?

To whom then will you compare Me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
       who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
       calling them all by name;
by the greatness of His might,
and because He is strong in power
               not one is missing.

                        Isaiah 40. 25-26

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The odd, the awkward, and the redeemed

I found myself in an awkward situation yesterday. What helped me get a grip on it is realizing that it is not what I just happened to wander into.  It is not what is random at all. God fulfills His purposes even in that which I did not plan, nor even in what I cannot see coming, even in what may always remain a mystery to me.

It is not the unknown to God.  My part is to be faithful.

What have You put on my plate today? Make me faithful. What have You placed on my radar? Help me to be aware not of my line of vision but Yours.  How can I be mindful of You?

Even in this.

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

                      Colossians 1. 17

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Carrying a tune

Our three year old grandson reminds me of my mom.  There is not a moment in his waking day -- and maybe even as he sleeps -- that there is not a tune rambling around in his brain.  And consequently, those melodies cannot be hidden.  He hums that which I recognize and notes that seem to be connecting simultaneously as he hums them, not even aware of what he is doing.  This little fellow has about driven his parents crazy.

But I get it.  I grew up with that.  Our house was never silent, because music was the very air my mother breathed. There was always some form of music in the background or in the forefront.  I awoke to violin students taking lessons before school.  I could hear my mom practicing in the bathroom in the middle of the night, the notes working their way through the noise of the ventilation fan which she turned on to muffle the sound.  I would return from school and be greeted as I entered the house by a tsunami of sound -- a symphony or concerto turned to full volume on the stereo or radio.  I would discover mom in the living room on a folding chair, playing along on her violin as if she were in Carnegie Hall -- and perhaps that is exactly where she was.  I often expected to find mom swimming in those unfathomable depths and irresistible currents of sound.  She rarely saw my brothers or me come in the door.  She was miles away.

I learned to block out what I considered that "background noise."  I didn't hear it anymore.  But I didn't realize its deep engraving.  Even now, many decades later, I can hear a few bars of a melody and recognize it vividly.  I've heard those same pieces a lifetime ago, probably from even before I was born.

And I realize that those little tunes that Adri hums and sings and can't hold in are just a singular line of sounds often from a great symphony (which he hears on the television show Little Einsteins).  This one-dimensional collection of notes, a composer thought up, dreamed of, found himself humming, and then applied layer upon layer into something astonishing, the score for full orchestra, intricate in detail, bold in repeated themes, and after often hundreds of years, still leaving the audience breathless.

Last weekend, my husband and I attended a performance of Mahler's 2nd symphony, otherwise known as his Resurrection Symphony.

The notes, the melodies, the sheer force of every instrument and every voice came together so powerfully that when the conductor finally lowered his baton, the audience audibly gasped and rose to its feet.

I looked up the word "music" in my dad's old dictionary this morning.  I was amused.  It read:  "technically, the effect produced in the human mind when regular periodic vibrations from a sounding body reach the sensitive auditory nerve."

Is that how our culture explains the sacredness of the universe? The manifestation of beauty, the feeling of awe, or the presence of God?  Periodic vibrations? There is a lot more going on than that, a profound dimension unexplained.

And for what on the surface appears as unrelated experiences strung together, in and through those things that I cannot understand nor may never comprehend, I realize that God is building layer upon layer His purposes and His faithfulness.  I cannot even carry a tune for what God is doing in my life, full orchestration of what I can only hum a few bars, a redeeming sound that can't help but come to the surface.

I cannot manipulate.  I cannot orchestrate.
But God can do so much more.
That which is beyond my abilities,
far beyond my vision,
  and definitely beyond my control
is right in His hands.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Two pieces of stale bread, a couple of squash and a block of government cheese

My husband's grandmother lived most of her life on scrub land in southeast Alabama where gnats flourished, the summer heat was unbreathable, and where she was related to everyone around by blood, marriage or sharing.  Friendship was not based on social connections, but on sheer survival.

In her life, nothing was wasted, because there was nothing to waste.  She was the queen of recycling before it even had a name.  Everything was used and re-used, and when it was broken or worn out, well, she found another use for it.  There were two freezers side by side in her tiny dining room, one stocked with every imaginable vegetable frozen in reused Colonial bread plastic bags, her summer's work that would get her through the winter.  The other unit was deemed irrepairable twenty five years before, and was used as a cupboard, storing old platters, dishes, and tiny jars of homemade preserves, pear, plum, and whatever fruit a neighbor would leave on her doorstep.  The glass jars had the labels scrubbed off years ago, and were recycled and recycled again.

On the other side of the dining room was an old washing machine that someone had given her at some point.  A dryer was an unthinkable luxury.  Clothes fluttered dry on the outside line beneath the broad-limbed pecan tree, the only source of shade and respite from the blazing summer sun.  Her fingers were permanently scarred from shelling pecans which she picked off the ground by hand well into her 90's. The deep brown nuts were packed and stored in empty wax milk cartons that had been rinsed out and air-dried.

She knew hunger.  She knew hardship as a single mom raising two young daughters.  She fought the mice that invaded every crack in that tiny cottage.  Life was tough.  But she was tougher, a tiny woman who could have commanded an army.  Her fragile frame was deceiving.

She knew how to make something out of nothing, when nothing was all she had.  Which was -- pretty much -- all the time.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
"Be strong and fear not!"
...For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert...

                         Isaiah 35.  4, 6

Sometimes her hope in the LORD was all she had left.
And that was enough.
There were times she could not sleep for worry, times when she didn't know how to go on, but she personally knew God's faithfulness in a thousand different stories in her life.

I celebrated her creative spirit last Sunday by making her famous Squash Casserole, a blessing that emerged from a place of need.  She could have written three volumes of cookbooks on what she concocted out of her monthly allotment of government cheese, her widow's mite.

When she passed away, we found carefully ironed scraps of cloth ready to be made into yet another quilt, a thousand rubber bands saved for when she might need them, and a ramshackle cottage impossibly held together, full of life, pressed down, shaken together and spilling all over.

And so I salute the day when all she had was two pieces of stale bread, a few old saltines, a couple of squash in her garden out back, and that omnipresent block of government cheese. Because she made a party out of them.  

Oma's "Fear Not" Squash Casserole

2 heaping cups yellow summer squash, sliced into coins, cooked and drained
1 large onion sliced and cooked with the squash (or 2 tablespoons dehydrated onions)
2 eggs, stirred together
20 saltines, crumbled
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Buttered bread crumbs (2 slices of bread and a tablespoon of butter ground together in a food processor)

Cook the squash and onion in boiling water in a saucepan, until tender.  Drain.  Put squash and onions in a casserole dish.  Stir in 2 eggs, saltines, milk, and shredded cheese.  Top with buttered bread crumbs.

Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Paying it forward

Just wanted to share with you something I learned about forgiveness that hit me broadside just a couple of weeks ago.  An African believer was quoted in a random newsletter which had landed in my email and somehow survived deletion. It was, as if, the words were marked with a highlighter pen as I read them, the testimony of a believer in Monrovia, Liberia, a place where people have experienced great turmoil and suffering:

"True forgiveness is accepting the blood of Jesus as the full payment for what your offender did.  When you refuse to forgive, you become the one in bondage, not the offender."

So it is not me granting forgiveness, but accepting the payment of Jesus for it.

Full payment. Done.  Paid for.  I cannot add to it.  I cannot work for it.  I just need to accept it.

We ALL struggle with forgiveness in varying degrees in our relationships with other people and even for ourselves.  How can I make up for that?  How can I pay that debt?  How can I make it right again?

Jesus already has.  Am I willing to accept His currency?

Forgiveness is not condoning someone's transgression, nor excusing my own, but letting go of the bitterness and allowing God to heal the brokenness. Forgiveness unleashes the profound goodness of God in impossible places. God redeems in ways I can never comprehend, nor may ever see, too powerful to understand.

Out in east Tennessee, there was a historic community tucked in a basin of the mountains.  An early settler there in the early 1800's was John Oliver.  One of the few things that is remembered about him is that a neighbor in the valley once deliberately burned down John's barn and consequently killed his horse.  John never retaliated.  Just a few years later, the perpetrator passed away, and his family did not request the local pastor to speak at his funeral, but John Oliver himself.  Which he did. When I first heard that story, I thought, "this is what forgiveness looks like." That singular act of grace still changes the hearts of people two hundred years later.

Why is forgiveness so hard?
     Because I can't do it.
But Jesus can.
That is why He came.
          That is why He died.

When our church celebrates communion, I often visualize people dragging up to the altar invisible burdens too heavy to bear, and then leaving them there at the feet of Jesus.  But last night, I thought about the word "communion."  We are not leaving anything at all, but joining in with Jesus. A commitment, a conversation, a deeper intimacy.  Something very different going on.  All things new.  And that would be my heart.

But there is forgiveness with You...
For with the LORD
        there is steadfast love,
and with Him,
        plenteous redemption.

                     Psalm 130. 4, 7

And that is the whole message of the Bible,
the scarlet thread
                cover to cover.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Just looks like a big mess to me

It was a wild flower-strewn hill where the deer would roam in the early morning light.  And in the evenings, they would convene for appetizers before they would descend as a group to the all-you-can-eat  feast on our oak-leaf hydrangeas.  I loved watching for that tribe of deer, their sleek bodies blending among the the trees and flora on the hill.  "Oh, look, there's one, and another over there."  They moved silently and swiftly, appearing often like phantoms when we least expected them.

I went away for a couple of days, and all of that solitude and beauty disappeared, just that suddenly.  After more than ten years as an empty lot, there is suddenly a lot of activity.  And there is suddenly a lot of dirt.  A couple of skip loaders are moving things around, shaving down the hillside, uprooting trees and creating chaos.  It just looks like a big mess to me.  No obvious sense to me.  No evidence of design.  Just big men joyously living out the ambitions of five year old boys, playing in the dirt.

But there is not just a reason for it.
there is a purpose,
there is a plan,
there is a design,
     even if I cannot yet see it.
And the outcome
     the big picture,
          even the details,
 are not dependent
     on my own personal understanding.
It may not be about me after all.

What God is building into me,
what God is doing through me,
how God is working
      does not require a building permit signed by me,
      nor subject to getting my approval.
Despite what appears to be a mess on the surface,
God is working deeper still,
                  even in mystery.
That is what trust is all about.

If I don't understand,
      God's answer is still there.
Dig deeper,
     follow Me into it,
     trust Me anyway.
That is part of what worship is.

About one-third of the Psalms cry out,
"Where are You?"
"What are You up to?"
"We do not like what You are doing!"

And throughout the Psalms,
the answer is manifest:
                God is there.

But as for me,
     my prayer is to You, O LORD.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of Your steadfast love
                                 answer me.

                           Psalm 69. 13

The Psalms that start as a cry for help
    end up with praise to our God.
The refrain so often repeated in the Psalms
         "But God..."
 does not point out a different perspective,
      but marks the reality of His Presence.

 And the reason we don't understand
     the roadblocks,
     the hard places,
     the unexplainable "glitches,"
     and in what appears to be inconvenient timing,
is because God is God.
And we are not.

Today, it is a mountain of loose soil
              with no apparent purpose.
   well, let's see what amazing thing God does with it.

A sign should be posted:
                  God at work.

And remember once again,
that time in the past when God did the unexpected,
that it was the LORD who brought me through my own "Red Sea,"
        Who did not pluck me out of that impossible situation,
     but Who walked me through on dry ground,
spelling out another story
                        of His faithfulness.

It is not that God doesn't know what He is doing,
               but me.

What I view as dirt,
       God sees differently.
God redeems.

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

             Colossians 1. 17

Monday, September 12, 2016

Skid Marks to Remind Me

Summer seemed longer this year, more oppressive, the air too heavy to inhale, mid-90's no matter whether Nashville or New York.  We were all ready for fall by the end of July.  Will the heat ever end?

A week or so ago when I opened the back porch door at dawn, a cool breeze welcomed me to the day.  In the late night hours, September had crept in on its quiet little feet.  I could breathe again.

I celebrated the changing of the seasons by going for an early run, audibly grateful to God for the coolness of the morning.  Halfway through my run, I came to a section of  level trail where I felt like I didn't need to be quite so careful.  The path narrowed because of late summer foliage trespassing its boundaries.  I was praying for a friend in the hospital.  I was thinking about a million other things on my plate.  I ran around a man walking his two dogs.  I wasn't really paying attention, and that, my friend, is always a generous ingredient in the recipe for trouble. 

Whomp!  Down I went, skidding to a halt.  If I had been a cartoon character, I would have had x's for eyes and stars rotating around my head.  There was no one around.  I rolled over and pulled myself to my feet.  I couldn't just lay there, eating humble pie for breakfast. Nothing was obviously bruised but my pride, my clothes were covered in dust, and skid marks engraved both arms.  There was no evident cause for my fall but a few small rocks hiding in the dirt, a couple of shadows, and my own inattentiveness.

What brings us down are not the huge boulders in our lives,
those big sins that we know we should avoid,
     and watch out for,
but the slight crack in the pavement,
that bad attitude underlying my thoughts,
that lack of forgiveness I make excuses for,
that critical spirit that changes what I see,
those little innocent rocks
    that just add to the scenery
and reach out to grab your shoe as you pass by.

I have skid marks on each arm to remind me.

As a pastor once said years ago,
(and I wrote down in the margin of my Bible),
"We live in a world where
     careless Christians go under."

     gird up your minds...

            1 Peter 1. 13

I may not be able to prepare for all contingencies and hidden temptations, but I can avoid the obvious potholes.  When I align my heart to God's, He will not just bring me through, but even help me with what I never see coming. 

But as for me,
I will watch expectantly for the LORD,
I will wait for the God of my salvation.
My God will hear me.
Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy.
Though I fall, I will rise.
Though I dwell in darkness,
the LORD is a light for me.

                        Micah 7. 7-8

And though I fall, I will rise again,
 and a little more responsive to the path ahead of me.

I know that others are watching us,
to see how we respond in the hard places
                      when they come.
People are desperate to know
that this God that they have seen
       living out in the everydays
is real in the crisis. 

God did not say that the path will be easy,
       but He promises,
      "I am with you."

When he falls,
he will not be hurled headlong.
Because the LORD is the One
     who holds his hand.

                         Psalm 37. 24

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Because it looks different

The world watches the Olympics for more than the gold medals.  It is not just the back stories of defying the odds to get there, the long hard road these athletes have chosen, but something that looks very different.   Every four years, a situation transcends the races, the games, and the competition.  It is often called the "Olympic spirit," that which reveals what God's grace looks like, that which is honorable and kind and simply the right thing to do.

And like night lights in the darkness:

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

                      1 Timothy 5. 25 

In a qualifying heat of the women's 5k race, runner Abbey D'Agostino of Team USA and New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin collided on the course.  Both women fell.  And as she rose, Abbey leaned over and helped Nikki get to her feet and encouraged her to finish the race.

You can view it by clicking here.

What would I do?  

Be imitators of me,
    as I am of Christ.

           1 Corinthians 11. 1

Seek out godly people whom to emulate.  Watch them carefully, not that they are perfect, but transformed.  And realize, it is not just that they are "nice people," but this is what the indwelling of the Holy Spirit does to a person.
How they follow Jesus into their day?  Into their difficulties? What do they do?  How do they respond to need?  They don't just do different. They don't just look different. They are different.

How do they live out the gospel?

It is never the platform that we imagine
that God uses us the most.
And it is usually times we never expect,
      and may never know.

And suddenly, as in this preliminary heat,
    someone is watching you
--indeed the world may be watching--
to see the transformation
Jesus makes in you.

For who sees anything different in you?

                     1 Corinthians 3. 7

Looks a lot like Jesus to me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat

I have been catching snatches of the Olympics on television this past week, the amazing accumulation of years of training for races and efforts that endure for even a few seconds or minutes.

But it is not just the competition that I have been watching, but the reactions when these athletes both win and when they don't, the elation, the tears, and the pointing to God -- or pointing to self.

It is one thing to glorify God in securing first place.  But a greater victory is revealed in glorifying God when an athlete misses the mark by one hundredth of a point or second, or coming in last place.  How do they respond to those around them?  Happy for you!  Good job!  Great race!  Winning or losing with a sincere heart, or with an arrogance that shuts out everyone else? 

It is not the bowing down or pointing upwards, but do they -- do we? -- even acknowledge those around them?  Hugging the victor when your own heart is breaking, or as the winner, embracing those with compassion and good will those who missed the mark.

Excuse me, but you are on an international screen, your arrogance is showing...or your grace.  The world may or may not remember that tight competition or even your name, but they will always remember how you treated others.  People are watching.

On a screen or not, those around you are watching if this God of yours really makes any difference in your life, not just in the major events or unexpected crises, but in the everyday details of your life.

Outdo one another in showing honor.   Romans 12. 10

Beyond one's carefully honed abilities, how one responds in victory or defeat, tells everyone about Who is at the core of who you are.  Your sport, your achievements, your medals or not, do not define you.  But your identity is who you are in God's eyes. Precious in His sight.  He is at work in you, in whatever you do, winning or losing, bringing glory to Him.

Yes, my friend,
even in this hard place
or impossible situation,
no race at all,
    scaling a mountain
or walking through that valley.

The real gold is
not hanging around your neck,
  but visibly radiating from within.

Therefore, since we are surrounded
by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight
and sin which clings so closely,
and let us run with perseverance
the race that is set before us,
                looking to Jesus...

                    Hebrews 12. 1-2 

For each of us,
         a different course.

Monday, August 8, 2016

What happens doesn't just happen

I have had conversations with two different people this past week who are overwhelmed by the bizarre political situation facing this coming election.  One man started ranting about the candidates.  Another woman is not even watching the news anymore.  "Too depressing," she said.  "And what happens is just going to happen."

And what if we prayed about it?

What if we spent as much time praying for the political situation, for the candidates, for God's people to respond with grace and love, as we spend criticizing, analyzing, agonizing over the mess?

Satan loves to tell us, "You can't do anything about it.  You are already defeated!"

But God says:

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

           2 Chronicles 7. 14

What can I do?
I can pray.
I can pray all I want.
And God promises victory
    in ways I cannot even imagine.

When we bring it before the LORD,
      change comes in another door.

And that is not just limited to the election.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A great and mighty chorus of voices

Just seven days ago, that which started as a normal week took us by surprise.  And as I have seen over and over, what is not on my schedule is always the most profound of all.

Our seventh and eighth grandchildren arrived unexpectedly last Tuesday, tiny little twin boys far too early for their own birthday party.  And far too small.

When we realized what was about to happen, I texted a few people to pray.

And God's people rose up like a mighty army with vast connections invisible to the eye.  Entire networks of people prayed.  Someone would hear the need and call another.  People who didn't even know us, or our daughter and son-in-law, prayed fervently for the lives of these two very small babies and for our daughter.  I heard about a church in Nebraska rallying to the cry to pray, knitting ladies in North Carolina, chains of people linked together in workplaces far and wide, and somehow even a prayer circle of elderly women in a Catholic Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania, praying for the safe delivery of these tiny twins.  The faithful came to the plate.

It was as if people were ready and waiting to pray, taking great joy in laying this desperate need before our Heavenly Father, a great and mighty chorus of voices coming before His throne and bringing glory to God, even before His outcome, even as His power became manifest in ways we could not grasp.

When word spread out to pray, one of my dear prayer warriors who lives 500 miles away immediately texted me, "On this right now."  And later, even before we knew the outcome, she texted further, "It is a privilege to participate in what God is doing.  Thanks for including us!"

And as we all realized once again, the LORD is God.  He is neither a belief system nor a worldview.  God is alive and well and working supernaturally, far deeper than anyone of us can comprehend.  He never promised that life would be easy, but promised even better, "I am with you to the ends of the earth."  And that would be everywhere.

... even through the narrow squeaks and great crises.  Even through what appears is going to be an ordinary week.  With God, all things are extraordinary.

God's people sought Him.
And He answered their cries for help.

That is what I did last week.  I saw a mountain move.

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

                       James 5. 16

Friday, July 29, 2016

Push Back

Violence has become not that which is rare, but that which is daily unfolding somewhere in the world. It is no longer that shocking violence has been committed, but where today.

It is far too easy to be overwhelmed by all that is going on. We often feel helpless. What can I do about it? God's purpose for each of our lives is to work His redemption and restoration into this fallen world.  But the darkness seems to be all around and growing like a big scary storm cloud coming upon us.

But God does not forsake us in this.  God tells us to push back against the darkness.  Wherever there is evil, God grants an antidote.  And He uses His Spirit to bring transformation and His people to bring about change.

That is what the gospel-- literally "the good news" -- is all about. That there is something drastically wrong with the world we would all agree.  That is why Jesus came -- to show us the way through to His incredible forgiveness and to live out what God's love looks like.

"Overwhelmed" is not a foreign word in the Bible, nor in our own lives today.  But when God's people seek Him and follow Him into the struggle -- and everyone struggles with something --God changes that familiar phrase of despair to "overcome," a word of victory.  God's way is always so much different than we expect. Because it is not by our doing, but aligning our hearts to His.

And that solution and resolution is His love and grace in it, that which is most impossible of all, that which we cannot do on our own, but only what He can do through us.

So, whatever the difficult situation you face, the crisis, the hatred, the violence and injustice, the oppression of many people, God has given you something to do about it.  As I heard the late Chuck Colson once say, "You can't just sit there."

First response
        not last resort
is to turn to God.
Have you sunk into dismay
          or onto your knees?
Pray, listen, heed His voice in this.

And then,
follow His manual for life,
               God's Word in this.

What can I do about the hatred and violence?

Do not be overcome by evil,
but overcome evil
                      with good.

                        Romans 12. 21

Wherever He places me today,
however that looks today,
among all those whom
   God has strategically placed me.
God always works
     through personal relationships
     and divine appointments.

There are no insignificant acts
              of love and grace.
God changes the entire landscape
       by means of hearts
       transformed by Him.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Covered over completely

If I am going to be overwhelmed,
let me be overwhelmed
by the power and grace
               of God Almighty.

But now, thus says the LORD,
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel,
"Fear not,
      for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name,
                you are Mine.
When you pass through the waters
           I will be with you;
and through the rivers,
they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire
              you shall not be burned.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
                           your Savior.
...Because you are precious in My eyes
and honored
                 and I love you."

                           Isaiah 43. 1-4

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A different landscape we could not see

Twenty-three years ago, we moved to Kansas City into a newly built subdivision, the houses lined up like so many cookies cut from the same mold, one after another, the same neutral colors, the same sod struggling to take root, the same spindly trees that barely met the builder's shaky promise of "fully landscaped:" a single sapling in the same position out front and a few fledgling boxwood bushes.  All the same, house after house.

The most outstanding feature of our backyard was a large hill of dirt and rocks leftover from the foundations of the houses around us.  Behind that mountain was an empty unsold stretch of land, so dry and barren that even native prairie grass and weeds struggled to survive, as desperate and bleak as the lone Kansas frontier.

I was reluctant to sign the paperwork.  I didn't want to be here.  And at the closing, I felt like God was saying, "Trust Me in this."

From the front elevation and the back, our view was unobstructed from one end of the block to the other, largely devoid of vegetation. The small trees we planted were visible only by the stakes holding them up, casting nary a shadow and bearing but a few leaves at all, sad, forlorn and out of place as a new kid in a junior high school cafeteria. I could see from our backyard all the way up to the school, a dozen houses away.  In the eyes of the neighborhood children, this was a paradise with no visible boundaries.  They roamed and played in what they saw as one huge yard. 

We lived there for just three years and worked with what we had, planting a perennial garden by the garage, nurturing a thick row of hostas to outline the front bed, and coaxing the sod to take root in that arid soil.

We made friends, volunteered at the elementary school, became involved in a church plant that rented space in a local school, and we proactively planted more trees to replace those that looked like they were already on life-support.  

Then, like a nomadic tribe, we moved again to another state.

Now, suddenly as in a time warp, twenty years and five more locations have passed.

A few weeks ago, my husband Bill and I drove to Kansas City to attend the wedding of a sweet friend.  One evening while we were there, we intentionally headed to our old neighborhood. We turned onto our old street, counting down the houses. When we arrived at our old address, it was like seeing something vaguely familiar in a dream, the outlines the same, the colors unaltered, a season of our lives long past.

We slowly passed by the house, turned around, and inched past it again.  But then, we stopped the car suddenly in the middle of the street.  We caught a glimpse between the houses into the backyard. The view took my breath away.  A virtual canopy of green shaded the yard, not quite a forest yet, but a far different landscape that we could not have even imagined in our wildest dreams, a rich oasis in full color.

God redeems the hard places.  God gives the growth.

...and He will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the LORD.
                                              Isaiah 51. 3

Fruitfulness takes time.  Trust is what I cannot yet see.

You too may be wondering "What kind of wasteland is this?  What am I doing here?"  What we plant may not not be for us at all, but bearing fruit for people we may never even know.

I see a barren place.  God sees a forest.

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

                               Jeremiah 17. 7-8

God has placed you
   strategically for His Kingdom.
You may not be able to see it yet,
but you can know,
God is altering the landscape
                      even here,
                      even in this.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Grey is the color of the Fourth of July

It is the Fourth of July weekend, and I noticed a couple of days ago the lack of decorations as I drove around.  There were a few flags in the commercial district of a neighboring town, a couple of buntings at the entrance of a subdivision, but that was about it.  There was talk of fireworks, hot dogs, and a long weekend. But what exactly are we celebrating?

We took a few of our out of town family members this week to visit some new traveling exhibits at a local art museum, featuring a collection of post- World War 2 Italian sports cars, a gallery of fantastical contemporary paintings, and a children's art space which delighted our niece.

Back in the corner of the second floor was also an exhibit of Soviet photographs and film.  These framed and curated works were the visual propaganda tools designed to re-educate the masses who were largely at the time vulnerable and illiterate.  The basic idea was to use art as a means to depict an utopian society, united and strong, and to eliminate any dissent, mostly under Stalin's fierce rule.

Black and white pictures showed small children standing in rows, dressed exactly alike.  The men depicted were strong and athletic, the women cheerful in their identical peasant scarves, an image of happiness and equality.  But the harsh and stark reality of the totalitarian regime was what it really looked like. Not shown were those caught in the crossfire of the political power struggle,the millions starving or slaughtered just because they chose to differ, chose to speak out the truth against government oppression, or just because of rumor and prejudice.

I looked around the exhibit hall at the black and white photographs and huge colorful posters.  And at the same time, I was very conscious of the visitors in the gallery who were glancing at the images.  With few exceptions, no one there was old enough to even remember those decades of Soviet oppression.  The Soviet Union dissolved twenty-five years ago.  This is dusty curious history to them, two-dimensional artwork, an afternoon's entertainment, the stuff of boring history classes.  Let's move on to the speedy Italian racing cars.

They have no idea what any of this really meant.  Don't color outside the lines. You have no right to question. Nothing to discuss.  No disagreement allowed.  Conform to the prevailing mindset... or suffer for your dissent.  One stray word and you lose everything, your profession, your family, and all too often you were never seen again.

One of my favorite books is Grey is the Color of Hope by Irina Ratushinskaya who suffered unbearably in a remote Soviet prison, sentenced as a young woman to seven years in a labor camp for the crime of writing poetry.  Grey was the color of the ragged uniforms of the political prisoners in that dreadful confinement. But Ratushinskaya grasped the hope that as long as there were grey uniforms, there were still people willing to speak out for freedom.

Freedom means that everyone doesn't agree.  Our strength is not in being all the same.  We all have different opinions and traditions and beliefs.  And that is what liberty is all about.

On the Fourth of July, we come together not to celebrate our sameness, but the beauty of our differences and liberty for all.

Wear grey
and love your neighbors.

The Fourth of July was not designated as a long summer weekend, or to commemorate the end of a war, but to celebrate the Declaration of Independence that was signed on this day 240 years ago:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life,
and the pursuit of Happiness."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


When we moved in our house, now almost two years ago, there was a fledgling maple tree in the front yard, planted a couple of years prior.  It was a "builder" tree, you know, one of those weak excuses to compensate for "landscaping" in a builder's contract.

Among the other changes that we knew we would need to make to the house, the tree was near the top of the list.  It appeared that the tree was dying from the outside in. The main branch up through the middle of the tree was stark and bald, bearing no leaves at all, as if the top part of the tree was caught in leafless winter.  It was only a matter of time that the other branches would also lose their leaves, a slow gradual death, like an expiration date past due.  

When we added some bushes on the barren side of the yard and replaced an already dead-brown evergreen along the property line in the back, we planned for the tree guy to remove the maple on life support and replace it with a tree that would someday actually provide some shade.

We returned one day to find the new bushes and a live evergreen planted out back, but the dying tree in the front remained, mulched as if it was still part of the family.

"I think there is still some life in it," the tree guy said.  "Let's wait and see."

Knowing that a dead branch places a strain on the rest of the tree and limits its growth, my husband indulged in his favorite activity of pruning one afternoon, lopping off the dead part.  The dead branches now lay in a pile by the garage, waiting for a free ride to the county dump.

It already looks like a different tree. 

I thought about that tree, running through the forest in the park this morning.  I thought about the dead parts of our lives that we so desperately grasp, the bad attitudes, the well-worn patterns of behavior, the fears and anxieties that have dwelt so long with us they have a permanent address, the dead parts that sap our strength that we so little recognize... or want to acknowledge.

What impedes my spiritual growth?  What needs to go?  A fear, distraction, anxiety, criticism, or blaming of others.  Oh no, LORD, not that!  It's my favorite default, comfortable, convenient, and "not so bad."  But it is also that which keeps me from abiding in You.  Bring it to my attention.  O LORD, show me for what it really is, that which is so carefully disguised..

Only when I acknowledge what is the dead wood, then I can realize how much my heart has been distracted.

God prunes, God redeems, God brings the growth.  It already looks like a different heart.  And that transforms the entire landscape.

Every branch of Mine that bears no fruit,
He takes away,
and every branch that does bear fruit
        He prunes,
        that it may bear more fruit.

                      John 15. 2