Thursday, April 28, 2016

The God who is here

I was walking from the fridge to the kitchen table early this morning, from one task to another, the brightness of the day streaming through the back window.  And there on the counter top, which appeared to be clean, was the evidence of little visitors from two days ago.  With the new day's light shining on it and from this other angle, fingerprints covered one entire section of the surface.

On Monday, my husband and I enjoyed the day with two of our grandchildren, ages three and eighteen months. It didn't require Sherlock Holmes to reveal the proof.  Fingerprints revealed where our three year old grandson had eaten lunch, and later, a popcorn snack.  That evidence was not apparent to me until I saw it from a different perspective.

As I climbed the stairs to the playroom, I chuckled at the imprints on the carpet of what looked like a pace of sixty footprints an hour.  A stream of small toys were scattered in patterns across the room.  There was no question about who had been here

And I thought of God's designs even in this past week, so many ways that I have seen His hand on my life and in hearing the extraordinary stories of those around me.

God's fingerprints reveal His Presence.  His footprints show me the next right step. God is all over this.  And even though I might not realize it at the time, God is doing something incredibly good even in this.  I may not ever know the outcome, nor the end result, but I can know He is working.  God is not silent.  I am surrounded by His evidence and the reality of Who He is.

Things don't just happen in some kind of random lottery.
Things don't just happen for an aimless reason.
Things don't "just happen."
God brings His purposes with great design,
with intention,
     and always in His goodness,
no matter if we can see His purposes

And someday
      we may see these things from His perspective,
His fingerprints intersecting
                all over our lives,
His footprints like a network of paths
              all over our stories.
And sometimes we may never know
     until we get to the other side of life,
grasping not just the present,
but all that came before,
      and dimensions yet to come.

A friend just texted me to pray, "needing God to show Himself all over!"

Already a done deal.  God does not just exist.  God is.

His fingerprints are designed to show us that reality, not just the working out of a situation, answer to a question, or solution to a problem, but..."that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name." (Isaiah 45.3)

My daughter and son-in-law spark conversation at the supper table every evening by asking their young children three questions:  "What was good today?"  "What was hard (or bad)?"  And "how did you see God in your day?"

The children are ready with the stories of their day.  Because they are looking for Him and the evidence of His faithfulness, not just in the crises or "big events," but in the everydayness of life, personally inscribed with His name and theirs.  Look for His handiwork.  Watch for His footprints.

God grants great vision
         in the smallest details.
And even in mystery itself, 
  He allows His Presence to be known,
  in the substance of what is visible
and overwhelmingly by
         "the evidence of things not seen."
 (Hebrews 11.1)

Like so many little indications,
I can know the unmistakable evidence
                that yet He is here,
our mighty God at work.

Your way was through the sea,
Your path through the great waters,
yet Your footprints were unseen.

                          Psalm 77. 19

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Reluctant Camper

I rejoiced at every stoplight last Friday evening, because it was one more delay in getting there.  I was headed to a nearby YMCA camp for our church's women's retreat.  I didn't want to go.  Nothing new.  I had a history of not wanting to go on retreats.  And as usual, in anything I know I should do, I conjured up an impressive list of significant and pressing excuses to give me a valid reason why to not go.

Except this time, this year, not one of those very imaginative excuses held any water at all.

My husband encouraged me, my good friend signed me up for her cabin, there were no family emergencies, and the weekend was open.  Oh, nuts.

I pulled into the line of cars in the parking lot, prayed for guidance, and put on my big girl shoes.  As I carried my sleeping bag and duffel bag across the gravel, God impressed on my heart, "Did it occur to you that this may not be about you at all?"

Reluctance is not trusting God in this.

Obedience is never insignificant.  It spills out over everything and impacts everyone around you.  I just need to follow the next right step.

Indeed, to know the outcome just spoils the surprises God has designed.

The teaching of Scripture was deep, the fellowship rich, discussions triggered open new spaces in my heart, and I realized what I almost missed.

I lived out in the flesh what I tell our grandchildren, "When you disobey, you don't get your way, you are just the one who misses out."

At one point, I followed a new friend up the tower at the camp.  I was latched onto the zip line before I even really thought about it. Looking down to the ground below, every fear I have ever had was jeering at me.  "I can't do this," I said to this young woman.

"Yes, you can," she nodded.  "You are strapped on.  It will be fun. We'll race.  1 2 3... let's go!"

And I stepped off my insecurities into a new dimension of God's faithfulness. And on the ride, no fear at all, just the fresh breeze filling my heart.

I didn't die. I learned that is what trusting God is like.  In impossible places. In improbable ways.

And as God told timid Gideon, an unlikely candidate for a prophet, "But I will be with you." (Judges 6. 15-16)

It is not that I should trust God in this.  I CAN trust God in this.  He is faithful.  He is always faithful.

It is not what I took away from the weekend.
It is that God changed me through it.

Oh, what I would have missed.
And I have a feeling,
     I have seen nothing yet.

Monday, April 18, 2016

First things first

Trusting God
  does not get me out of the way
  of what God is doing.
It places me
  exactly where I need to be
  in the midst of His purposes.

First things first.
And that would be
    trusting Him into it.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Not one without the other

I woke up with an anxious heart this morning, not about the usual suspects as in a police lineup, but something I could not quite put my finger on.

And as what takes place most days in my reading God's Word, He prepares me for the day ahead. God hit the nail on the head once again this morning. 

Why am I troubled? I asked God. And then, I read this passage as if highlighted on the page.

And He told them
        a parable,
to the effect that they
ought always to pray
    and not lose heart.

                     Luke 18. 1

Praying and not losing heart
go together hand in hand.

Worry is just a reminder to pray.

When I worry, I travel on the fast lane to despair.  When instead I pray about the very same situation, I am aware of God doing something very different. I am sensitive to His leading and not just my own ideas about it. I see a different way over the impossible mountain, through the miry bog, and across my Red Sea.

When I seek Him first, following Him by even a slender crimson thread through the imperceptible, God brings me not just to an answer, but to a different place and a new intimacy with Him.

I have an amazingly puny scope of what God can do, a toddler's understanding of the workings of God's universe.

When we pray, we hear another Voice in the conversation. And that would be God.

Pray and not lose heart.
God is at work.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Quite literally, the first step

About a year ago now, some unseen tension caused a slow split in the trunk of an enormous oak tree in our yard.  And when that mighty oak fell to the ground, it splintered like gunshots in the middle of one night.  The mortally-wounded tree blazed a violent path and took down a half dozen other mature trees with it as well as part of our deck down by the creek. 

It was a mess.

But unbeknownst to us, it was about to become messier.  There is grace in what we do not know is coming.

We knew that these huge downed trees were more than we could handle. The next morning, we had a tree guy appointed to chop up the tree carcasses and haul them off.  And then, we waited.

After a span of several months and a laundry list of excuses, the tree guy finally showed up.  Instead of admitting that the task was beyond his expertise, he caused even deeper damage, taking down even more trees and foliage.  We finally employed another who cleaned up the big trees and left the rest to us.

We were stuck for months with a monumental task of restoration staring us in the face.  And I was reminded through so many times of being confronted and paralyzed by the enormity of a situation – those both real and imagined –the very first step is to lay it before the LORD. 

Hezekiah received the letter
 from the hand of the messengers, and read it; 
and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD,
                  and spread it before the LORD.  
And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD…   
                                      2 Kings 19. 14-15.

When the impossibility of a situation grabs me around the neck, I have two choices:  panic or pray.  “O LORD, give me Your peace or give me Your direction.”

In this past year, I have realized that anxiety is just my need for God coming to the surface.

When I lay a situation before the LORD, what does He lay before me?  Usually not a complete solution gift-wrapped and tied with a bow, not even a full set of directions, rarely the end of the story, but a single step on my radar.

The key to getting unstuck is to do something, no matter how insignificant it may appear.  Do something that God reveals to you.   God uses it to loosen things up in some way.

How in the world could we repair the deck?  The obvious first step was literally one step.  One of the bottom stair treads was demolished.  If we were to do anything, it would need to be fixed first.  We shuffled through salvaged wood, sawed off both ends of a plank, and nailed it into place.  A whole hour had gone by.  This is going to take forever, we thought.

But also in that literal first step, it was like the whole load shifted just a little bit.  We took one footstep of trust, and the next one was made obvious.  The reality is we can do this, not in one day, but one step at a time.   All those seemingly unrelated obediences are connected.

Naturalist John Muir once wrote, “When you tug at a single thing in the universe, you find it’s attached to everything else.”

It is not so much that the circumstances will change,
as much as God changes my heart and my vision
and replaces what is overwhelming
                                   with trust in Him.

 Pray first
         and follow Him into it.

…it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until  I went into the sanctuary of God.
                             Psalm 73. 16-17

Friday, April 8, 2016

An appointment on a bus

Today, I have a doctor's appointment at 12:15.  I know where I am going and why.  I have adjusted my schedule to get there on time.  Time and place are all arranged. The doctor will be there.  I will be there by specific design.

Earlier this week on Monday, I had an appointment of a different kind.  I thought it was just a flight home from La Guardia airport, a reservation made months ago. I already checked in on-line.  My boarding pass was inscribed on my phone.  The details were all settled.  I just needed to get there on time.

I had a couple of hours in my daughter's apartment before needing to catch the bus that would take me to the airport.  She had already left for work.  I dressed appropriately for the chilly 40 degrees and the forecasted rain.  I packed my suitcase, and I loaded my backpack with what I would need on the flight.

And then with plenty of time left, I heard the rain begin, little patterings against the window pane.  On the sidewalk five floors down, I could see umbrellas open up and people walking a little bit faster.  The weather front had arrived, promising heavy rain the rest of the day.  And it was only going to pour even harder. "Leave now," I thought.

I bumped my suitcase down the five flights of stairs, and then, scurried to the bus stop several blocks away, navigating around puddles and small rivers already coursing along the curbs.  The hood of my rain jacket was pulled up, but I could still feel drops on my face.  I zigzagged down the street, crossing over the busy avenues when the traffic light was with me.   I arrived at the bus stop just in time to get my ticket from the curbside machine as the bus pulled up.  It was an extended bus that looked like a huge animated caterpillar.  I entered quickly through the nearest door and sat sidesaddle on the first available seat, my suitcase wedged where my feet should have been. 

At every stop, people poured into the aisles.  A woman asked me if she could sit next to the window.  I moved over.

I thought that I was going to be early to the airport.  But as it turned out, I was right on time.  The woman beside me immediately engaged me in conversation, almost as if we were friends who had made an appointment to meet at that specific location, that exact time, that reserved seat.  It turned out we had many connections besides just traveling to the airport at the same time.  She even grew up in a small town in Ohio where we lived more than twenty years ago.  It was a delight to chat with her, and she helped me navigate the enormity of La Guardia.

I cannot know the significance of that particular conversation on that rain-soaked afternoon, but just that God arranged it. God is at work whether I know it or not.  That day, I caught a glimpse of one of those specifically designed details our stories are made of, that which we could not have possibly arranged on our own, those things we would not even know to arrange.

It was one of God's divinely placed appointments that I couldn't possibly see coming when I left the apartment and boarded that particular bus, out of all the hundreds of buses that would pass by that stop. I was there by specific arrangement.

"LORD, guide me into this day.  Show me where to turn, when to go, what to notice, even when I don't know what divine appointments You have ordained."

God guides us that profoundly, even in what we see as only the smallest details, even in what we may never comprehend. God invented time.  And He is not constrained by it.

But I trust in You, O LORD,
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in Your hands...

                    Psalm 31. 15

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Does praying make a difference?

If you don't pray
    you will never know.
If you don't pray,
    you don't expect anything different.

I woke this morning knowing
I can panic,
          or I can pray.
God changes my vision
   in profound and immeasurable ways.
God changes my heart.
God changes peopl's lives.

Is it a conflict before me,
an impossible day,
a rough and rocky trail
          or a landscape with a view?

When I pray,
       what do I see?
I see the Heavenly Father
          looking at me.

Your way was through the sea,
Your path through the great waters,
     Your footprints were unseen.

                         Psalm 77. 19