Thursday, January 28, 2016

That which is not ordinary at all

In God's sight,
     in all of God's creation,
there are no ordinary days
   nor insignificant details.

This is the day
    which the LORD has made;
let us rejoice
          and be glad in it.

                 Psalm 118. 24

God is fulfilling His purposes.

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

                 Colossians 1. 17

All things.
Every day.
Even in ways invisible to us,
even in mystery,
    even in the dailyness.

Live that way.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The fourth plague of Pharoah and the worst run ever

I didn't see it coming.  It was an unseasonably warm late afternoon, a deep blue sky and all the trees of the forest still clung to the last leaves of the season.  I couldn't wait to run one of my all-time favorite routes.

My husband Bill dropped me off where the asphalt ended and the gravel road began, a way which meandered back to the trail head where he would be fishing and where we would meet up in a half hour or so.

That narrow primitive road trespasses through God's creation like a gallery of fine art, winding alongside a scenic mountain stream.  I rarely pay attention to the fact that it is a continual and gradual three miles uphill.  The ascent is negated by breathtaking views around every bend.

But this time, there was something else that was breathtaking in quite a different sense.

I had been running for maybe a mile, delighting in the warm air and the quietness of hearing only my shoes crunching the gravel underneath and the occasional song of a passing bird.  I felt something on my neck.  I brushed it away, not slackening my pace.  And then, I felt pinpricks on my upper left arm.  I turned to look, expecting to see the same pesky fly.  But I saw four creeping black flies, not just landing on my arm, but biting me.  I hit my arm with my other hand.  They fled.  Ewwwww, enough of that, I thought.

And then, I felt biting on my other arm.  Six attended a buffet there.  I looked down.  My running pants were crawling with flies.  My exposed lower legs had a party going on.  One buzzed my ear.  A fraternity had congregated on the brim of my cap.  I could see them lined up like a string of lights along the edge.

I slapped right and left.  For every one I hit, four took its place. Right arm, left arm, like an invasion. I ran faster, trying to outpace this cloud of flies.  I had no where to turn... or to turn back to.  There was nothing behind me for two miles.  There was no place to hide.  I had to run on. My arms were red from slapping at the flies.  My hands felt bruised.  And still, the siege continued.

And I thought, "This is what desperation looks like."  If the wildest-looking, weirdest stranger had come driving by, I would have jumped in his pick-up truck.  Desperate people do desperate things, I often say.  And I was living it.

This was no longer an idyllic place, but a nightmare happening in 3-D.  Run, run, run.  I focused on "God will get you through this."

And then when they began buzzing my ears and eyes, I repeated outloud, "The LORD will get you through this."

And for the last mile of that desperate run, as I drew closer to where our old truck was parked, God impressed on my heart, "I will get you through."

I rounded the last bend.  Our truck appeared, few other cars joined it in the primitive parking area.  Flies bombarded my legs like kamikaze pilots as I pulled out my heavy fleece shirt from the truck, something, anything to protect my arms.  I was sweating like a race horse, but my arms were covered.  I zipped it all the way up my neck.

I took off in a sprint, up the trail towards the fishing hole.  And by the time I reached my husband, there was nary a fly in sight.

He looked up, standing amidst an incredible place of beauty, water splashing over rocks in an idyllic mountain stream, an entirely different world than I had just experienced. 

 "How was your run?" he asked.

"Worst run ever," I cried out.

"Really?"  He raised one eyebrow.

Even worse than when you fell and had to get stitches in your knee?

Even worse than when you tripped, dislocated your finger and had to run 2 1/2 miles back to the car?

Even worse than when it was 36 degrees and sleeting and you had to run eight miles?

Yes, even worse than that.

And as I followed him downstream, greatly relieved that my plague of flies was over, I remembered that time in the sleet was when Bill most encouraged me, "If you can run in that, nothing in the marathon can throw you."
Everyone struggles with something in life.  Everyone.  There are tough places, there are hard places, there are dark places, there are biting flies, and all through the Bible, God says, "Look to Me.  Do not fear.  I am with you."

That is not positive thinking.  That is the reality of God.

What kept me going through that desperation
was realizing,
"There will be things in life
                         a lot harder than this."

And God says,
         "I will strengthen you in it, through it, from it."
Learn perseverance from this.

For runners who are training for a race, training programs include short sprints, long slow distance runs, days of rest or cross-training, and grueling hill workouts.

That, indeed, was one of those grueling hill workouts.

Whatever course you are on,
       keep running, my friend.
You are not running alone.

Things and circumstances may not be any different on the outside of what you face,  but the invisible made visible is the power of God.

...let us run with perseverance
the race that is set before us,
            looking to Jesus...

                 Hebrews 12. 1-2

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Not about me

This experience,
this opportunity,
this mystery,
this hard thing
     may be about me.
It may not be about me.
But it is always
      about the Gospel.

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

                Colossians 1.17

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A little nudge

I was working on the computer yesterday.  I intended to be writing, but that is usually when neglected tasks push their way to the head of the line.  As I was clearing out some old email correspondence, a thought made its way across my mind.  Great idea, I surmised.

As I composed the email, God checked my heart and stayed my hand.  "Don't go there," I felt like He was impressing on my heart.  "Let Me take care of it."

I know when I want to respond "but....." that I am not trusting God.  But what if I don't do this?  What if I do?

Trusting God is always somehow blessed.  Not trusting Him always results in a mess.

"The only thing harder than waiting on God
is wishing that you did," says author and pastor Crawford Loritts.

I cannot dictate the outcome
           or even the path,
      but I can seek God in it,
to follow God
     and not get ahead of Him.

And sometimes that guidance from Him
    is just a little nudge.
"Let Me do this."

I deleted that email immediately.
And I felt like He said,
       "Now watch this....."

And your ears shall hear a word behind you,
"This is the way, walk in it,"
when you turn to the right
or when you turn to the left.

                      Isaiah 30.21

Can I trust Him in this?

That is what His nudge is all about.

When I am most anxious to DO SOMETHING,
that something means
              trusting Him more.
It is not that I lay this thing before Him,
   but letting Him
            lay His way before me.

Is God checking your heart in something today?
Follow Him into it. 

The One who calls you is faithful,
     and He will do it.

                   1 Thessalonians 5. 24

Monday, January 18, 2016

A different language

Love is the only force
   capable of transforming an enemy
into a friend.

             --Martin Luther King Jr.

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

             -- Romans 12. 21

Friday, January 15, 2016

A little conversation about books

There is not a time that I can remember that I have not had a stack of books within reach, a volume slipped inside my purse, a few library books stashed in my car, or as a child, hidden under my bed.

One of my most powerful memories as a young girl was when I carefully printed my name on a single line in front of a kind-looking lady whom I recognized as the keeper of the books. I had practiced writing those letters over and over again to get my first public library card.

My extrovert musician mother who loved performing with her violin before crowds of people did not know what to do with a shy reader of books. She utilized every available moment to practice.  And I read.

Mom threatened me that I was going to ruin my eyes.  Indeed, I often hid under the covers to finish yet another chapter, running down the batteries in my big brother's Cub Scout flashlight, until I was caught red-handed one night.

A good story can still keep me up late.

2015 was a year of books that I always wanted to read (The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy), books that I plowed through (once was enough), and ahhh, the favorites I embraced like old friends (Danny, Champion of the World).

Again this year, I took the sage advice of C. S. Lewis who encouraged readers that for every newly-published book consumed, read an old one.

I hope this list encourages you.

          Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry (2000)
          Radical by David Platt (2010)
3          Things As They Are:  Mission Work in Southern India by Amy   Carmichael (1905)
       The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller (2012)
5          Mimosa by Amy Carmichael (1924)
            Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray (1895)
        The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (1971)
        Economic Shalom:  A Reformed Primer on Faith, Work, and   Human Flourishing by John Bolt (2013)
        A Christian’s Response to Islam by William M. Miller (1976)
1        The Rider by Tim Krabbe’ (1978)
1        Humility:  The Journey Toward Holiness  by Andrew Murray    (1828-1917)
1        God Guides by Mary Geegh (missionary to India 1924-1962)
1        Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism by Carl Medearis
1        God’s Joyful Runner  by Russell W. Ramsey (1987)
1        The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (1937)
1         Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee (written 1957, published   2015)
1        Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will   by Kevin DeYoung (2009)
1         Lord of the Rings:  Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien   (1954)
1         Whitefoot:  A Story from the Center of the World by Wendell Berry   (2009)
2        The Attentive Life:  Discerning God’s Presence in All Things by   Leighton Ford (2008)
2         Lord of the Rings:  The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien (1954)
2        Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien   (1955)
2        To Live is Christ, to Die is Gain by Matt Chandler (2014))
2        Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton (1908)
2       Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl (1975)
2       What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me?   By David   Platt (2013)
2        Be Resolute: Determining to go God’s Direction (book of Daniel)   by Warren Wiersbe (2008)
2        The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis (1943)
           My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues that Matter Most by   Charles Colson (2015)
          With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray   (1828-1917)
           Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God   by Dallas Willard (1984)
3        The Practice of the Presence of God  by Brother Lawrence (1691)   
        The Colson Way: Loving Your Neighbor and Living with Faith in a   Hostile World  by Owen Strachan    (2015)
3        A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an   Instant Society by Eugene H. Peterson (1980)
3         The Bible

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

It's all in how you spell it

Earlier this week, I posted a blog entry entitled "A Year of New Trails." And as the days of the new year come before me, I am making a conscious effort to choose the trail of trusting God.

Yesterday, as I copied that blog posting into my files, I quickly retyped the title onto the file folder.  Right before I filed it away into my archives, I noticed a huge typo.  Instead of typing, "A Year of New Trails," I had typed "A Year of New Trials."  And oh, what a difference not only in spelling, but in perspective.

My typo -- the mere accidental swapping of two letters -- changed the viewpoint entirely, transforming it from fresh beginnings to the miry bog of despair.

This year may not look like what we expect.  There WILL be hard places, no doubt.  But God will walk with me through them. God will use them incredibly. God is at work.  I can view them as trials.  Or I can trust God with these new trails.

Do I view this day, this difficulty, this mystery as a trial or as a trail?

While I run, there are flat courses, rolling hills, and wooded pathways to enjoy.  But as in life, sometimes there are steep ascents when I just need to put my head down, rely on God's strength and plow ahead.  The other day when I was out of town and running on an unfamiliar course through a wooded area, the trail headed up a long hill.  Halfway up the slope, I said out loud, "This is HARD!"  As I ran that uphill trail, tempted to slow down to a crawl, I began to pray for a friend who is starting a grueling cancer treatment.  He is navigating up a far tougher hill than this.  He has no choice to walk.  I prayed for him as I ran.  And then at the bottom, I ran it again, praying God's strength for him.

There are hard places in life, but that is when He strengthens me.  That is when I know that God is real.  

And that "trial" indeed becomes a "trail" after all.  God leads me to a new dimension, a renewed strength in Him, a fresh way of seeing, and sometimes a correction in how I am even spelling it.

"Let Me carry that for you," God says in His Word.

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

                         Philippians 4. 6-7

About anything,
           in everything.
It is all how you spell it.
And that would be
                   God's way.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Something old, something new

I have been helping one of our daughters as she attempts to do something new with something old.  We are cleaning closets and rearranging furniture in her home.  And so, while the square footage of her residence stays the same, the interior space is already looking and living differently.

More room was created for the children to play, just by moving a bed.  A new sitting area in her bedroom was made by adding a chair.  Her closet is a work in progress, being transformed by passing on what she no longer wears and reorganizing what she does need.  And there were some little delights in finding what she did not know she had, like discovering at the bottom of a drawer a well-loved sweater that has a lot of adventures attached to it.

At the end of the day, we stood amazed at how differently the same space looked and worked.

Particularly in the new year, we too often think of change as the coming of something new and extraordinary, when indeed we just need to be willing to follow God here.

"Follow Me" may mean moving to a different place, but sometimes "follow Me" means staying and being faithful to God right where you are.  God is doing something new right here that might not have anything to do with my circumstances, but in my heart.

God bears fruit in unexpected places.

All the direction I need for this day (or new year) is "Follow Me into it," even when I have no idea where He is going with this.

His purposes are deeper than we can see, not just sometimes, but always.

The new in this new year
     may just be my heart.

Direct our hearts, O LORD, our minds, our attentions, our affections, our actions, for Your purposes.  Keep us from those things which are not from You, those things that have taken up residence in our hearts that only serve to trip us up, distract us, and crowd You out.  Even on this cold ordinary January day, because You are in it, this day is extraordinary, full maybe not of surprises but of Your abiding Presence. You take our circumstances and orchestrate them into something new.

Help us not to miss it, O LORD.

...and called its name Rehoboth, saying,
"For now the LORD has made room for us,
and we shall be fruitful in the land."

                         Genesis 26. 22

And at the end of the day,
     or the end of the year,
we can stand amazed
not at what we have done,
   but how God has transformed our hearts
           from the inside out.

Follow Me into it.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Year of New Trails

One of my favorite trails begins at the far end of a mountain road.  It is beyond where the pavement disintegrates into a gravel lane which is rarely frequented by cars and barely passable when two vehicles meet one another.

At the trailhead, the main trail surges ahead to the left.  This trail is a popular, highlighted on maps as a favored destination for hikers.  The sign for it details the mileage to other adjoining trails.  One trail leads to another.  You know where you are going.  Running alongside a meandering stream, this familiar trail has been a place of enjoyment for me over the years..  "He leads me besides still waters; He restores my soul." (Psalm 23. 2-3)

To the right of the trail sign, a narrow pathway appears, unnamed and unmarked on any map.  It doesn't look like it heads anywhere at all, but just wanders a bit, perhaps only to a dead end, I surmised.  I had never gone that way before.

One day, while my husband Bill was fishing alongside the gravel road, I headed for a short hike on my favorite trail.  As I began, my eye spotted that overgrown unmarked path to the right.  "I wonder where it leads," I thought.  No harm in checking it out, no shame in finding it goes nowhere at all.  At least I would know then.

I took the unnamed fork in the trail, instead of the familiar one.

The trail was initially flat, and I ran the first quarter mile through a collection of trees and brush, not too sure that this was a good idea after all.  Had I taken a trail to nowhere?

About the time I was ready to return to more familiar terrain, a narrow footbridge appeared ahead of me.  It was not sixteen inches wide and spanned over a whitewater creek, splashing against huge boulders.  It was an unexpected place of beauty.

My dismal attitude of "what if it doesn't lead anywhere?" had become a joyous discovery of "what I have been missing all these years!"

I couldn't wait to bring Bill here to this secret spot, bypassed by the throngs of hikers, a perfect place for him to fish and for me to relish in its beauty.  When he came with me later that afternoon, we traversed the bridge and found that on the other side, the trail continued.  We hiked even further into the forest about another mile or so.  The trail finally ended at a rushing waterfall that looked like laughter pouring down a rocky slope.

I have been thinking about that fork on the trail at the beginning of this fresh new year.  This year, do I follow God on an unmarked passage, or just stick to the comfortable, convenient trail with no surprises?

And even if it doesn't appear to lead anywhere at all, God uses that too.

God grants me that choice every day and every new year, a trail that is not even on the map, or not even a consideration on my radar.  Sometimes that trail emerges not on a frontier, but right where I am.

Am I willing to trust Him even when I don't know where He is leading? 

Where is the adventure in that?

If I want things to be different, something has to change.  And that would be me.

How can this new year be different?  What if I laid this year (or even this day) before the LORD and see where He takes me in it?

And as I encounter old familiar speed bumps and impossible mountains, I can choose which trail to take:  trust God or wrestle with anxiety.  Which trail do I choose in this situation or relationship or problem?  Trust or fear?

What may look like a wilderness is really a place of His faithfulness, the beginning of astonishing things I never even knew existed before.

Therefore I tell you,
    do not be anxious about your life...

              Matthew 6. 25