Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What is next stands on the shoulders of what has been

I have been through hard places
           and rugged terrain.
I found His strength.
I will find it again.
And because the ways I have traveled before,
      I can have no fear.
Even in the wilderness,
     I find His grace.
His faithfulness rises out of the very ground.
Not that "it will work out,"
             but God works it,
    that which He has already
                               intricately designed.
I have seen the impossible.
Guide me,
    O Thou great Jehovah.
We look back some day
                       and laugh.
We can look ahead even now
    and without even seeing the outcome,
delight in Him.
Heading straight into His glory,
   that point of letting go,
even on the most obscure street,
                       His way revealed,
His footprints yet unseen.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Not-So Mountaintop Experience ...and Yet

Image result for mt sterling trailhead imagesMy husband and I love to explore our favorite trails, over and over, where cathedrals of trees rise up around us, and rushing creeks sing endless ancient choruses. But even on those familiar trails, something new always emerges, the seniority of an old growth tree towering overhead, or suddenly, the sun's rays slicing through the thick canopy like a prophetic vision of God.  Always we return to civilization with a story or two, and sometimes the resounding silence of the woods even follows us inside.

But last week, we hiked a trail we did not know, realizing that the beginning of a familiar trail is in hiking a new one. Our now-preferred routes were once strangers too.

This trail was on our way to see some herds of elk, gathering at Cataloochee for a little autumn party. A little side hike was a welcome break after navigating fifteen miles of potholes on a lonely gravel road. 

The carved wooden sign at the trail head stated in bold print:  Mount Sterling Trail 2.3 miles, a morning's journey, not daunting at all. Another trail would intersect in a half mile.  All I knew from my limited experience was that when the trail name includes the word "mount," count on it being steep.

Immediately, the path started upward. We were on our way.  "Do I need a heavier long sleeve shirt?"  I asked Bill, as I shivered in the early morning coolness.  "Not likely," he said. I was still skeptical.

In the first quarter mile of the ascent, I was down to a tank top.

When we reached the other trail branching off, the sign repeated:  Mount Sterling Trail 2.3 miles.  The same as a half mile ago.  Hmmmm. Not what our map said.  What else don't we know?

The path became even steeper.  Sometimes a little ignorance is a grace, I justified. But the truth was  we hadn't read the guide book.  We hadn't asked anyone about it.  We didn't know the "story" about this trail. It was another mile longer than expected, not unbearably steep, but it was a continuous climb. Each switchback vaguely promised a break, but as we climbed and approached yet another turn, the path was relentless.  It will flatten out at the next bend, I lied to myself   But no rest area was to be found.

Just keep on, I said to myself. Think about the view from the top!  That is always worth it. The rocks and the roots threatened to trip me on every step, but gradually I began to see them as footholds, at times almost like steps carved into the side of the mountain. 

We came around yet another bend, and quite suddenly, that was it, the end of the trail.  We looked around us, and then, at each other.  There was no view.  There was nothing but some scrub trees and another trail sign that pointed down the mountain in two opposite directions.

A mountaintop experience without a view?  We climbed all this way, and there was nothing here.  "I can see why this is not a popular trail," I said to Bill.

"Well, it was a nice hike on a beautiful day," he said.  And indeed it was, view or not.

On the way down, back to the car, we passed quite a few hikers on the way up.  "Should I tell them there is nothing there?" I whispered to myself.  They looked so excited.  I hated to discourage them.

And of course, as I hiked down, my mind began to find a story in this journey.  Don't climb for just a view.  There may be some other purpose in it.  It may just be about the conversation, the being together, the just getting out and trying new paths in life.

That could have been the tale on this hike, the purpose for this trek.  But I should know better than to guess how the story turns out when I'm still in the middle of a saga.

A young high schooler was coming up the trail towards us, keeping quite a pace as she ascended.  She obviously didn't know about how her hike was going to end.  About twenty yards behind her was a man with two teenage boys, evidently her father and brothers.  As we passed them, the father asked us excitedly, "Was it so amazing at the top?"

Ummmm.  "Well," Bill said.  "There really wasn't anything there."

"Isn't this the Mt. Sterling Trail?"  Yes.

"There is an historic 60-foot fire tower at the top," the man said with great anticipation in his voice, sweeping his arm upward, "the tallest fire tower east of the Mississippi."  Like, didn't you see it? They proceeded in their excitement upward and onward.

We shook our heads. There was nothing there.  Boy, are they going to be disappointed.

But later,we discovered that indeed there is a 60-foot historic tower, standing tall less than a quarter mile from where we lingered at the top. If it had been alive, it would have bopped us on the head.  If we had read the guidebook, if we had explored the summit even a few dozen yards, if we had even looked up, we would have had a much different experience.  No doubt about it.  We missed out.

Image result for mt sterling fire tower

There was more than a view at the top, but a panorama. God designs the awe.  I can look at the images on my computer screen, but that is nothing compared to what is real.  We missed out on the poetic view.  We missed out on the wonder.
Image result for mt sterling fire tower

It was a gentle reminder that there is a incredibly strong connection between what I know and what I see, what I read and discover in God's Word, what I pray, and what I end up doing that day.  Over and over, Scripture profoundly influences my vision and orders my day-- what I see around me, who I notice, how I respond, and Who I'm walking with.  It matters.  It matters a lot.  Read the Guidebook.

What else don't I know?  That which God has placed right before me. 

God's faithfulness helps me know that the wilderness is a place of flourishing, not despair.  Silence is a place of His fathomless Presence, not His absence.  And that reality takes my breath away.

Same trail, different outcome. Ordinary day, extraordinary day.  His Word does not just influence my expectations, but helps me watch for the unexpected that God Almighty always brings.

I am yet in the middle of the story.

Thus says the LORD:
"Stand by the roads,
             and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is,
and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls."

                  Jeremiah 6. 16

Friday, October 6, 2017

There are no small things

"Never tire of doing even the smallest things for Him, because He isn't impressed so much with the dimensions of our work as with the love in which it is done."

--Brother Lawrence
   The Practice of the Presence of God (1691)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

How much we miss
because we are not even looking,
how much we miss
because we don't pray.

"If you don't pray,
you are not expecting
     anything different."
        -- James MacDonald

...it seemed to me
     a wearisome task,
until I went
   into the sanctuary of God.

                    Psalm 73. 16-17

Don't miss out
   on what God can do.
"Trust Me in this.
    Follow Me into it."

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The reality of it all

Circumstances are not
        out of control after all,
just out of my control.
Only in His.

... for God is
          at work in you.

          Philippians 2. 13

Monday, September 25, 2017

I had no idea where I was going

I headed out for an early run last weekend, as the forecast promised another day of August heat at the end of September.  I parked my car in its usual spot with every intention of doing my Saturday routine run along the river.  I started my run along the road, heading to a meandering asphalt path with a view of the lazy river.

But as I approached, I saw tents, cars and crowds.  There was a race in progress.  I immediately turned to the right and took another path that slipped along the back fence of the high school, and then another sharp right turn onto a familiar trail through the dense green of the woods.  I began to pay a bit more attention as this unimproved trail is "paved" with rocks, roots and the slippery places of life.

As I approached the end of this particular trail, I had the opportunity of crossing a busy road and continuing on the other side where I often see cross country runners practice in the green fields.  I have always wanted to run like that.   They appear to be merely floating and not sweating at all.

But on the other side of the road, I could see colorful triangular flags strung from tree to tree and hear the announcers for a cross country meet over to my left.  And so, I took another right, crossed a small wooden bridge, and continued to run on a trail through the woods that I didn't know.  I had no idea where I was going.  The trail was bordered by a late summer overgrowth of weeds, the deep green of a million leaves overhead.  But it was shady and silent.  I ran. 

When the trail turned, I turned.  I was in unfamiliar territory, not where I expected to be, not my usual.  But you know, God brings about the most unexpected blessings when I have no idea where I am, or where I am going.  He knows exactly where I need to be.

And it made me think of one of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, speaking through his character Jayber Crow:  "I have made plans enough, but I see now that I have never lived by plan... I don't feel that I ever have been quite sure what was going on.  Nearly everything that has happened to me has happened by surprise.  All the important things have happened by surprise."

After one big hill that stretched before me like a magnificent aisle in a cathedral of trees, I emerged from the woods and found a trailhead I didn't know before, a different parking lot, and a whole new place to run.  I suddenly knew where I was.

God did not spell out my route, my destination, time, pace, and space. He did not hand me a route to take, marching orders, or directions printed out in indelible ink.  But He brought me to someplace new and to a different way of thinking through the thicket.  I did not just get through it, but He infused it with the wonder that only He can bring.

Our stories would be pretty boring, if we were the ones writing them.  God brings the awe.

I may not know where I am going.  But He does.  God is the one bringing me there -- to a new dimension of knowing Him, a new way, a new awareness of His Presence, even here, even in this.

God always reveals Himself when we seek Him.  Start where is proximate and "follow Me into this." His way may not be obvious, each individual step may come to the surface one at a time, I may not understand -- indeed I probably won't -- but there is always His profound design to it with no detours, interruptions, or dead ends. There is not "a reason for it," but God's incredible purposes in it, His faithfulness too deep for me to know.

Why does God not reveal His path for me?  Does He not trust me enough?

No, because I do not trust Him enough.

Where is He taking me?

To Himself.

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

                     Isaiah 30. 21

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Press "reset"

Whenever I come to a stalemate with an electronic device, my husband advises me, "Back all the way out, and start again."  Whether faced with a frozen screen or an appliance that is not cooperating like a three year old child, I question the effectiveness of that process.

But it works.

A couple of months ago, an ordinary Monday was a reset to me.  As I rose in the morning, I needed to just to do something different to gain perspective, nothing catastrophic but simply to ease me out of a mindset that was stuck in a continual loop.   What could I do differently?  Back all the way out, and start again.

I felt God's nudge to fast for the day.  I have fasted before -- in seeking God for an answer, direction, solution, or purpose.  Or for His voice in a crazy situation.  Sometimes seeking God for loved ones, hard times, and impossible relationships.

When I started that specific day, I was not planning to fast.  But I did, just wanting to seek His Presence, just to hangout with God,  just because I could. 

Very early in the day, I questioned why anyone labeled this discipline as a "fast," because it is anything but that.  A fast is always slow.  Time does not drag, but it elongates.  I felt the moments come as in slow motion.  I prayed for others as I went about my day, while I worked, having to concentrate as if driving on the highway through a thick rain. I glanced at the clock.  It was only 8.30 in the morning, nothing more.

A little later in the day, I thought about how fasting prepares you for a hard time ahead, because through it, as hard as it is, you learn that you will not die. You will get through this difficulty. And God will change you by it.

I had no particular reason to fast that day.  Or so I thought.

Later on in the afternoon, little did I see it coming.  I ran full speed right into a perfect storm, an old problem.  Boom.  I was like the cartoon character with little stars spinning above my head.  It was like being hit broadside by a car I did not see.  I consciously thought, "Breathe.  Breathe. Breathe," even when there appeared to be no oxygen, and my heart ran out of words.

And then I knew why I had fasted.  It was not "for no good reason." God stood firm around me.  My heart did not explode.  My life was not reduced beyond restoration.

I did not see it coming.  I didn't have to. God knew.  And He knew what I would need, an extravagant package of His strength, already delivered and dissolving into my bloodstream.

I refuse to live as a practicing atheist, as if fasting and praying and trusting God does not matter, as if God does not matter, as if the supernatural does not exist at all.  Because He does.  God is alive and well and working powerfully.

I did not fast for something.  I fasted for everything.  There was an ache buried deep in my heart that while at the end of the day was still there, it shifted just a little bit.  In the momentary crisis, I did not die, I was not buried alive by it, but a strange sense of peace passed over me, not an emotion, but a sense, a Presence.  And with it, a profound urge not to despair, but to pray in that place, to not miss that opportunity to pray, to take a different trail in this, a higher road, not insensitive to what was happening, but deepened by it.  It is not that my wounded feelings could not touch me, but as if I was even more aware of every nerve ending, what steadfast love feels like, what shalom does, a completing of what had begun, a new dimension opening and then another that does not end.  Not an outcome, but excavating a quiet place in my soul.

I did not fast for any reason than to be with Him. And that is exactly what happened, in ways I would never have chosen, in a place I could not have imagined.

At the end of the day, I came home and ate.  Was I starving?  No, not really.

Quite filled, actually.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

I just followed you here

Our Sunday School class had already started, when she entered the room.  A woman that I did not know sat across from me on the edge of the large circle, but seemingly engaged and listening intently to the discussion.

As our teacher began to dismiss us, she spoke up.  "I came early to church today with the intention of going to the first service," she said.  "I had heard about this class, but I was reluctant to go."

She hesitated a moment.  "And then, I saw you," she said, pointing to my friend Sandy.  "I followed you up here."  My friend had no idea.

"I just wanted to say what a blessing this group was to me this morning."

A few minutes later, as I sat in the church service, her words resounded through my thoughts like a repeating echo.  "I followed you up here."

And when we get to the other side of life, how many people we do not even know, or we would never suspect, will say the same to us, "I followed you up Here."

Faithfulness to God is contagious.  It does not just change the course of your life, but all those who are around you ...and even those yet unborn.

You never know who is watching you, carefully observing on Whom you stake your life and what difference God makes in you, not just in the "big events," but in the every day stuff of life, which always turns out to be the most significant of all.

Others are watching to see if God is real.

Who is following you to Him?

"Let us go with you,
for we have heard
that God is with you."

             Zechariah 8. 23

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Something extraordinary is about to happen

There is a swath across the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina 50 to 70 miles wide,  awaiting in breathless anticipation for what is about to happen in another week.  On August 21, a total eclipse of the sun will appear in the skies, plunging a bright day into utter darkness, when the moon comes between the earth and sun, blocking out the light.  In Nashville, where we live, it will occur precisely between 1:27 and 1:29 in the afternoon.

Image result for total solar eclipse

Tens of millions of people have purchased special glasses to observe this extraordinary event. Without protection,  eyes are permanently damaged.  Even school children in those regions have been dismissed from school to witness this once in a lifetime event. It last occurred in Nashville in the year 1478  -- 539 years ago.  None of us will be around when it visits Nashville next.

My husband and I attended a lecture about the eclipse at the Vanderbilt University observatory. The precise mathematical details were incredible, calculated and analyzed and studied by prominent PhD scholars and scientists.  Our lecturer had either his doctorate in astronomy or astro-physics (or maybe both).  He had mapped out the facts and figures in colorful charts and graphs, pointing out the exactness of this spectacular event.

A total solar eclipse does not just suddenly appear, but can be calculated exactly in time and place, far in the past and into the future, down to the second, even where to stand along its exact path, a thousand feet on either side altering one's vision of it.  We were supplied facts on what, where, when, why, and how.   People in the audience were quite excited, peppering the lecturer afterwards with questions for clarification. The lecturer was energized by their curiosity.  He was prepared by decades of study and detailed information.

Towards the end of the question and answer period, a little three year old girl raised her hand. She said into the microphone in her tiny little voice, "But WHO made the sun and moon?"

It was as if all air had been sucked out of the room, along with all the facts and figures and models and knowledge.  The answer for "who" had been left out of the discussion, the answer for "who" was so obvious in that silence that no one -- believer in God or not-- had to answer.  The evidence of God, as Creator and designer, was blatant before us.  His Presence resounded in that room.

The lecturer was speechless.  That little girl's question hung in the air, seemingly printed in bold type and CAPITAL letters. In all of his study and deep research, he neglected the question "who.".  It was almost as if after his hour long lecture about this phenomenal eclipse, a tiny pre-school girl had set him up for this question.  The answer was obvious and profound:  God.

The lecturer stood at his podium, silent for the first time in almost two hours.  He stumbled and fumbled -- this man of elaborate explanations and equations -- and finally spit out, "Well, that's rather complicated."

Even the audience chuckled at the irony.

The presence of God is so complex, there is no end to discovery. The evidence is so obvious, even the smallest child can recognize Him.

All the calculations are incredible, because they are so seamlessly woven.  But don't forget the awe. What we recognize as beauty and wonder are only His fingerprints all over it.

So in a week, when this extraordinary event in nature spans across the skies, may the majesty of God rise up in the heart of every observer.  Things like this don't just happen.

There is design to it, nothing has changed, all the way to the beginning of time  "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."  Genesis 1.1.

Last week, I asked our four year old grandson, who is already mesmerized by study of astronomy, "So Adri, who made the sun and moon?"  He looked up at me and laughed out loud,  "God, of course!"

...let all the inhabitants of the world
     stand in awe of Him!
For He spoke,
and it came to be;
He commanded,
       and it stood forth.

                   Psalm 33. 8-9

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The only thing pathetic was my attitude

It was a long and upward trail on the side of a mountain.  There was a way through this wilderness that had been faithfully trod by those who went before me, be it rocky and full of roots that tried to trip me up.  But there was a path engraved.  I just had to follow it.

I kept my eyes to the trail.  And all I could see was dirt and gravel and roots and an occasional low spot of squishy mud.

Kind of like an ordinary day, I thought.  Keep your head down and you'll get through this.

But as I hiked, following Bill up the mountainside, my senses began to awaken to what was around me.  And I realized that the only thing pathetic was my attitude.  Because when I lifted my eyes, God astonished me.

I glanced to my left, and God took my breath away.

And then, I looked up and saw a million trees singing praise.

This was not a path through the woods, but the main aisle in one of the world's greatest cathedrals.

God does not transform the mundane and ordinary.  I am already walking through the extraordinary, and I don't even know it.  Even now.  Even today.  Even in what only appears like gravel and mud, He dazzles me with His Presence. 

I just need to lift up my eyes and see what He has wrought.  Look where I am.  Look where I am going.  Look at what is before me.  I don't want to miss out on His resounding faithfulness, bombarding all my senses. How majestic is Your name in all the earth.

I will not just get through this hard gravelly place. Things will not just be OK.  That would be missing the point. That would be missing the awe of God in this.  Because God is not all about outcomes and destinations, but the incredible journey of knowing Him more.

Where is this hard path going?  You wouldn't believe.  Don't miss the wonder along the way.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
     who made heaven and earth.

                       Psalm 121.1-2

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sometimes take your stand, sometimes run for your life

It was late afternoon, the house was quiet, I was at a pause in my work.  I checked the forecast. The sky was overcast, but no rain was expected.  I drove over to the park to hike my favorite loop.

I started up the big hill and had almost reached the border of deep green trees standing like a sanctuary with its doors wide open, when I heard a noise I could not immediately identify.  It was not a chorus of angels.  I listened as I walked.

And very suddenly, an audible alarm resounded in my thoughts. I realized that whooshing noise was not a tractor in the distance, nor a plane flying overhead, nor the innocuous invading vibrations of a leaf blower.  It was the sound of rain rushing my way, so heavy, pounding down so incredibly hard that it appeared to be "white noise" on the highest volume, literally sounding like an ambushing army, violently coming my way.

RUN, my brain shouted.

I turned immediately and ran as fast as I could, back to my car.

Walk in the strength of the LORD.
Take your stand for righteousness.
Recognize your refuge in Him.
But also know,
                when to run for your life.

No temptations has overtaken you
  that is now common to man.
God is faithful, and He will not let you
be tempted beyond your strength,
but with the temptations
will also provide the way of escape,
that you may be able to endure it.

                          1 Corinthians 10. 13

Listen for His voice,
    be aware of the exits,
look for the pass in the mountains,
be faithful in what God places on your path,
but be willing and ready to turn on a dime.

And flee when God says to.

If I had hesitated,
    even but for a moment,
I would have been caught by it.

Know when to run for your life.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

But something else does

The first time I picked up a book by author Annie Dillard on recommendation from a friend, I rushed into it, only to find myself deep in a bog, barely able to pick my way through.  And then, I began to walk at her own slow pace.  And a whole new world opened.

Sometimes an entire essay of hers doesn't move but an inch or two.  But profound truth, so embedded in creation, peeks shyly through the trees and astonishes me every time.

"Muskrats are cautious.  Many, many evenings, I wait without seeing one.  But sometimes it turns out that the focus of my waiting is misdirected... For when the muskrats don't show, something else does."  (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

And from her writing, I learned how to meander in my own life. Stop, stand still, and study what is all around me, to cease from always moving, always rushing, always looking for the next big thing, always watching for something else, always seeking another open door, a fork in the road, a different trail, or a path through the thicket or the miry bog. 

Having done all, to stand, right where I am, no need to go somewhere else.  What is right here, right now, right in front of me. An entire universe is under my feet, and I am looking everywhere else.  I have learned to be silent, and to realize only then, that nothing is silent, watching for what moves, studying what does not.  To watch the clouds creep across the blue and change their personalities, and look slowly like an elephant on its back, or a duck holding hands with a flying dog.

The brook does not gurgle, but it breaks into a million different levels of sound, the voices of its chorus rushing past the rocks that fail to stop the ongoing requiem.  And ten feet away, on the other side of the wooden foot bridge, the moving water sounds like a foreign language, a strange country from where I was, an entirely new section of the symphony.

We drove past a black bear the other day on the side of the road.  This huge lumbering pitch black marvelous creature was skirting the edge of the deep forest where she would become invisible, suddenly passing from one dimension to another.

A little further down the one lane gravel road, we stopped the car on the border of a field of tall prairie grass, so deep, if full-grown lions had passed in front of us, we would not have seen any more than a breeze rippling over its surface.  I reached for the binoculars which we usually forget to bring.  I scrolled along the huge trees on the far side of the field, one tree dead and barren, one smaller tree reaching up to the sky, and another next to it, its ancient limbs raised like an  enormous Y.  That is where I stopped moving the binoculars and watched and waited and focused and refocused on a dark spot I saw there, a shadow, I surmised, just a murky swath of bark.

But then I saw it move.

"I think there's a bear in that tree on the right," I said as I passed the binoculars to Bill.  I was a bit skeptical that it was.  Not likely.

Yet there was not one bear, but two.  In a tree where, with my naked eye, there was nothing but green, way too far for me to see anything on my own.  But with a deeper vision, there was the wonder, the reality, not at all a figment of my imagination, nor conjured up from all the years of nights my grandma told me the make-believe story of the three bears.  They were real as life.  Because they were real.

I was not looking for anything in particular.  But as Annie says, "when the muskrats don't show, something else does."

I just couldn't see it before.  And the people parked around us in their jeeps and minivans and sedans  were oblivious to this astonishing sight, as if in an invisible dimension right next to them.  How many hundreds of times I have passed that way and not considered it as much as an empty field?

That kind of vision, that kind of insight, does not happen on its own.  And that is why I read the Bible, because it matters, to see the supernatural all around me, not to make connections but to realize them, to be sensitive to what only appears invisible, to know, to stand still, to stop even before the day begins.  I don't want to miss any of it.  I don't want to miss the wonder.

And something always comes I never saw before.

The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and the firmament proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech,
    nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

                                 Psalm 19. 1-6

Friday, July 7, 2017

Even today

Even today, in what only appears as ordinary, or what looks like an impossible wall or harrowing abyss, even now, even here, God does not just suddenly show up. But we --the myopic people --slowly realize God does not just run ahead of us, His designs and purposes are already rooted and bearing fruit.  

God never works in singular outcomes. His faithfulness springs up from the very ground (Psalm 85. 11), even what is impenetrable to us.

Fifteen years ago, our family was in a tough spot. "We don't know what to do, but our eyes are on You." (2 Chronicles 20.12) became our daily cry. We were six months into praying, reaching the critical path of ceasing to seek the answer, but seeking God in it and seeking Him through it. 

A huge turning point came in an unusual way, which is almost always how God breaks through.  I had taken one of our girls back to college, attending a morning church service with her before I headed the five-plus hours back home.  James MacDonald was preaching on the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament.  He directed our attention not just to the plight of the Israelites, but to our own. God is at work, he said. "And when you get to the end of this, you will have a story of God's faithfulness."

I couldn't write down those words fast enough. His phrase engraved itself with a promise that God would bring us through.

Those words resounded in my heart all those many miles home. As soon as I arrived, deep in the night, I jotted down that quote on an index card and set it by the kitchen sink as a reminder through the day.

Early the next morning, our youngest daughter rushed past to grab a bite of breakfast before she caught the bus to school. She hesitated a moment to read what I had written down. "That's not true," she said, rather shocking me.

And then, she spoke words which carried me through the hard places I couldn't even see yet, words that God continues to remind me through all these many years:

"No, Mom, every day is a story of God's faithfulness."

God is not just delivering an answer, there is not just an outcome, but God is bringing me through the story of His incredible faithfulness. 

Every moment. Every day. Even in the unexpected. Even in this place.

Even for you.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

In the middle of the whatsoever

Perhaps you have awoken this morning after the Fourth of July to a hard task, in an impossible place, all rain, no shelter in sight.

What am I going to do?  Apply His Word, let it seep in.

I don't think I can do this. "Good, because I can," says the LORD.

I don't know what to do. "But I do," He reminds me.

"I am with you."  God's Word does not just comfort, but directs me into His purposes.

In His Word is how to walk through this miry bog, up this mountain, knee deep in mud, tangled by the thicket, bushwhacking in the wilderness where sometimes it feels like there is no air to breathe. There, in that very place, you will find the faithfulness of God, beyond all explaining away.  And as the old hymn says, in the bottom of the pit, I find my Savior there.

Despair only blocks out any available light.

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 your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren,
whatsoever is true,
whatsoever is honorable,
whatsoever is just,
whatsoever is pure,
whatsoever is lovely,
whatsoever is gracious,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything
           worthy of praise,
think about these things.

              Philippians 4. 6-8

Whatsoever is good,
even that little crumb,
      focus on that.
If there is anything to praise,
       seek it out.
God will bring you through.

An exit sign may not suddenly appear,
          but just the next step emerging,
another direction unfolding,
a strength in the staying.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

What I almost missed

We hiked through God’s glory yesterday, through gates of splendor, trekking through the grandest of sanctuaries.  Sixteen miles was a long hike by any measure, an uphill climb that seemed to go on forever.  

And I almost missed it.

At first suggestion of this particular hike, my reluctance surged into full defense mode. It is going to be cold, hot, wet, hard, long, and steep. Probably, said God.  

But on the other side of reluctance, whoa, I realized I’d be the loser if I didn’t go.  I am old enough to know that the uphills and hard places don’t even compare to the good stuff that emerges, not even on the other side, but along the way.  

Be prepared, and leave the “what ifs” for God to carry.  Those phantom fears and often ridiculous inconveniences, most of which never even show up, will weigh you down and wear you out.  Alarm bells should have blared and red lights flash,  when I discovered that two of our trails were named Long Hungry Ridge Trail and Twentymile.  There are reasons for those names...  and stories behind them.

We took along peanut butter sandwiches, bandaids, and an extra-large backpack of humor.

As in any daunting task, as I climbed upward, I could not look too far ahead.  Don’t think of it as almost 16 miles, I thought.   Divide it into a do-able half, and then cut it into bite-size pieces.  And as my grandmother always advised me, “Count down, not up.”  Not “you’ve gone 13 miles. You must be exhausted.”  But “You only have three to go.  God is bringing you through.”

Those who blazed the trail ahead of us, sometimes hundreds of years before, applied liberally switchbacks on the steepest inclines.  Back and forth, back and forth, degree by degree to the top.  This is a journey, not a race.  Wild flowers we could not even identify decorated our way, unexpected cool breezes ambushed us when we needed them most, and that sliver of light up ahead through the trees was not the sky, but deep blue hope.  At one point, we observed an almost invisible nest by the side of the trail, two tiny eggs nestled like a precious treasure inside. 

I thought of things on my plate right now in life and on my radar and on my heart, those things that I have been asking God,  “Why am I doing this?”   And in those mysteries , God reminds me even those are not an endless trudge into nowhere.  God is going somewhere with this.  “Trust Me.”

The end result of our hike was a big bad blister on the back of my right foot….  and a heart filled to overflowing with the incredible, impossible things God brings to whatever we do.  It was not wonderful.  It was full of wonder.

So we do not lose heart.
Though our outer nature is wasting away,
our inner nature is being renewed every day.
For this slight momentary affliction
is preparing for us
an eternal weight of glory,
      beyond all comparison.

                 2 Corinthians 4. 16-18

A blister will heal and disappear.  But I will never forget what came with it.  

And when we reached the top of the mountain, where we stopped and enjoyed lunch in a field of tall grass and enormous bushes of flaming azaleas, well, a different view emerges, and there are no small victories.  Too much to even grasp.

The end of the trail is never the end of the trail,
        because we are changed by it. 
                       We are changed by Him.
            God just opens up another dimension,
                     not necessarily wide-open doors
                     but His vision to see
                              the hidden ones all around us.
    God builds His strength in us
              to take us past the slightest momentary affliction
                        to spheres we cannot even imagine
                                        beyond all comparison.

Not necessarily in that order
    and sometimes simultaneously.
It was the perfect day.