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.