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

Friday, June 24, 2016

We're Not Dead Yet

A guest blog today by my husband Bill:

Our sixth grandchild was born a couple of weeks ago.  Beth and Gary welcomed baby George into the world the night Karen and I arrived in Boston for a weeklong stay that had been planned for months.  God’s timing was perfect, and it was a fun trip. 

We spent most of our time playing with the three older grandchildren, ages 6, 5 and 2.  We played on a variety of local playgrounds, built sandcastles at the beach, and read books.  I also played countless hours of tag and Frisbee golf with them in the backyard.  I came to the conclusion that playing like a 5 year old is much better for you than a gym membership. 

One afternoon, we went to a local bird sanctuary, hiking the trails and climbing the large rock formations in the area.  As we returned to the car on one of the tree-shaded trails, Howie and I got a bit ahead of the others.  We talked about birds and animals we had seen on the hike.  At one point, he looked up at me and said, for no apparent reason, “Papa, I was surprised when we played tag yesterday.  You’re pretty fast for an old guy.”  It appeared he had given this some serious thought.  “Thanks, Howie,” I laughed, though I’m still not at all sure he meant it as a compliment.

When we flew back to our own home, we got up early the next morning to get our own lives back in order and caught up.  Karen came in from getting the paper and said, “Did you see them on the roof?”  Not waiting for a reply, she continued, “Buzzards.  Six of them.  And they won’t leave.”  In the area where we live, buzzards congregate in large numbers on even a rumor of roadkill like so many church members gathering for a potluck supper.

I walked out on the driveway, and there they were, looking directly at me and very unconcerned with my presence.  I clapped my hands.  They sat there and preened.  I yelled at them.  They continued to sit.  At that point, Karen came back outside, looked up and quoted Monty Python, calling out to those large scavengers, “We’re not dead yet.”  We both laughed as they finally took flight.

 “They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”  Psalm 92:14-15

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A little bit of Dawn, a scrub brush and a soaking overnight

For supper last night, we ate the last vestiges of the macaroni and cheese that I had prepared as a side dish for Father's Day.  It was still good, made even better by sitting in the fridge a couple of days.  And in the reheating, it produced a yummy crunchy cheese layer on top...and a strong adhering of burnt-on sauce on the baking pan itself.

"This one is going to need soaking," Bill announced, as he finished the dishes.

Before we went to bed, I realized it would need an even longer soak.

This morning, it still took a scrub brush and a little elbow grease before it came clean.

Yesterday, as I returned from an early morning run, I felt compelled to fast and pray.  When the thought occurred to me, I dismissed it.  There was nothing obvious that I was seeking.  Not today.  But as I began to prepare a simple breakfast, I felt even more convicted.  I put down the strawberry I was slicing for my yogurt, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, put it in the fridge, and went about my day, waiting and listening for what to pray.  God placed different people and things on my radar throughout the day, but nothing extraordinary.  By the end of the day and the breaking of my fast, there still nothing evident to hang my prayers on.

But in the face of what appears insignificant and without obvious purpose, God is still working, sometimes I think more powerfully than when we think we see His hand.

Even while I was scrubbing the baking pan this morning, I was still mystified about the fast, "I wonder what that was all about?"

And in my thoughts, I heard Bill's voice from the evening before, "This one needs to soak."

I just needed to soak, not for a particular prescribed answer, not for an outcome I would want, or even to see God's hand on a specific situation, but to soak in Him, for the Holy Spirit to soften the crusty, stubborn, baked-on places in my heart and align my heart with His, not just cleaning it up, but getting ready for what is yet to come.

Fasting doesn't capture God's attention.  It draws ours to His.  The point is not in the fasting, not in seeking answers, but in seeking God Himself.

We don't always know.  No, we rarely have any idea what God is up to.  But He is working, stronger still.  We just need to follow Him into His leading, even when it does not appear to make sense.  Because it always does.  We just can't see it yet.

And He said to them,
"This kind cannot be driven out
by anything but prayer and fasting."

                                 Mark 9. 29

Monday, June 20, 2016

Background music

It was a chilly Friday evening in Midway airport in Chicago, pouring rain outside and thousands of people scurrying up and down the terminals.  The monitor blinked  like Christmas lights with red delayed flights flashing on the screen.  We were all soaked from the rain.  And many of us were stuck in these halls for hours.  Passengers milled about and mumbled.  There were too many flights delayed.  Customers complained in the turmoil, "Why mine?" Babies cried... and many adults wanted to do the same.

The truth was that we were all going to be late for something.  And there was nothing we could do about it.

I sat in the crowded terminal, waiting on my two-hour delayed flight.  At one point, the people from my flight were shuffled from gate to gate as if to give us something to do.  Flights landed.  Flights departed.  And our plane did not.

I read for a while, working my way through Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring.  At one chapter's end, I looked up from Middle Earth, realizing that I was surrounded not by irate passengers but by thousands of stories.  I watched.  I wondered about all these people and the tales they are living, going someplace or coming home.

And under the fray and the waves of crowd noise, bits of conversation floated on the surface and ebbed away like the ocean tide, pieces of words, a passage or two left behind like so many broken shells, the visible evidence of life, a woman talking on the phone to her elderly mom, another discussing what to do with a child in foster care, a man whose flight from Seattle was disrupted, an appointment missed, and a young woman facing the reality, "I won't be there now until 2 am."

And then, quite suddenly, a melody entered this disjointed drama.  Amidst the frustrated mosaic of faceless travelers, a man in tired-red shorts and an old blue t-shirt leaned down, took out a guitar and began strumming.  A strolling musician was in our midst.  People pretended not to look, but they did.  They appeared not to listen, but his notes were slowly changing the landscape.  The man passionately played his guitar, lost in his thoughts, lost in the music, lost in the wanderings of his songs.  People continued to talk on their phones, desk clerks dealt with irate customers, and the dull roar of a crowd subsided just a bit.

There was a rhythm.

I saw a few people take off their earphones, a two year old danced, and an old man patted his foot. The crowds swirled and surged around him.  And still he played.

No one was obviously listening to him.  And yet, we all were.  His tunes formed the background music, underlying both conversations and personal silences.  I found myself rereading the same paragraph, my attention compromised and drawn into another dimension.

I realized that he too was a weary traveler with a choice.

He was not performing before a willing audience, nor for personal gain.  It was as if he was practicing out loud what lived within, practicing over and over songs long engraved, whether anyone listened or not. His notes got all over everyone.  And with a joyful tune, he changed that dismal place...just a little bit.

Music does that.

Just like grace.

I will sing a new song
     to You, O God,
on a ten-stringed harp
     I will play to You.

                   Psalm 144. 9

No matter what,
no matter where,
practice grace
            in unlikely places,
sing a new song
          where no one expects it,
the distinctive sound of worship
        that changes life in more ways than we will ever know.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

What to do with an imperfect dad

There are no perfect dads,
      only forgiven ones.

The biggest problem is not in our dads' own foibles and transgressions, but that in their sinfulness, we recognize our own.  None of us are perfect, no, not one.

Forgiveness takes our pride out of the equation
and breaks the generational cycle
               of blame and bitterness.

My salvation does not lay
     in the perfection of my dad,
but in my Heavenly Father.

The greatest Father's Day gift
          is not what you bring,
but in what you let go.

What is loosed on earth,
      forgiven even on Father's Day,
will be loosed in heaven.
That is what releases
the power of forgiveness
                      and healing
       for generations to come.

Our Father
   Who art in heaven,
Holy is Your name.

               Matthew 6. 9

Friday, June 17, 2016

God does not show up

God does not just show up.
      He's already there.

It is just that we do not realize it
it is just that we don't live
   in the reality of His Presence.

God is faithful.

It is the LORD
   who goes before you;
He will be with you,
He will not fail you
           or forsake you;
do not fear
          or be dismayed.

            Deuteronomy 31. 8

We have a God Who is infinitely good and Who knows what He is doing.  He will come and deliver you from your present trouble in His perfect time and when you may least expect it.  Hope in Him more than ever.        
         -- Brother Lawrence
             The Practice of the Presence of God