Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bring your net

Yesterday, my husband Bill went fly fishing in the rivers and streams that meander along the mountain roads.

I tagged along, not to fish, but just to enjoy his company and being outside.  I finished up a book I had been reading.  I ran a gravel road through a cathedral of trees, their tender green leaves creating a visual masterpiece against a Hand-painted dome of the deepest blue. I hiked a trail that used to be a rail line for logging companies who robbed the mountains of its trees and left behind the marks of greed. But now, I hiked through a place so beautiful there isn't even a word yet invented for it.  Left for dead, I saw what God's redeeming looks like in a life. The forest didn't survive. It thrives. 

As we arrived at one trailhead, two fishermen were packing up for the day. How were the fish? Bill asked. "Not much," one grumbled. As we moved toward a foot path down to the rushing stream, he added, "You're not going to catch anything down there."  We proceeded anyway to check out the flow.

As soon as he climbed down the bank, Bill cast his line into the water, and in one continuous movement, pulled out a ten inch trout.

You never know what incredible things flourish below the impossible.

As I returned from a run, Bill was walking up to the truck. "How'd you do?" I inquired.

"I caught some good ones," he said. "One of them was big enough I should have brought my net with me."

I had just been praying as I ran. For family members down to the smallest ones. For friends in impossible situations. For obvious needs of those I know. For the not so obvious wounds all around us. For help. For forgiveness. For practicing the Presence of God.

When you wade into the water, I wanted to tell Bill, bring your net. Fish expectantly.

And when we come before the LORD, pray expectantly. 

Bring your net.

So they cast the net,
and now
they were not able
   to haul it in,
for the quantity of fish.

               John 21. 6

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Why did the chicken cross the road?

"Why did the chicken cross the road?"  the long-established riddle asks.  And amid the elaboration of creative answers, the original stands firm, that which states the obvious, "To get to the other side."

This past week, we explored yet another public playground with two of our grandchildren.  On such a hot and sunny day, an enormous tree held out its arms as a welcome refuge, shading most of the space, a prevailing breeze swirled around us, and the children ran up and down through the wooded structure, designed like a fort.

At one point, our four-year-old grandson, not more than ten feet away from us, stood on a strong beam a mere foot above the ground.  The beam was designed as a bridge of sorts, leading from one part of the structure to another, the literal way and means "to get to the other side."

With one hand on the support post, he took a few steps.  When he had to let go, he realized his vulnerability.  He was on his own.  There was nothing to hold onto.  He looked at us, not for direction, but for deliverance.

"Take one step, buddy."  And he did.  "And now, another step."  Which he also did.  He was making his way across.  One step.  And then, another.  The steps became smaller, until a single step began the smallest of shuffles.  At that point, instead of keeping his eyes on the beam or looking to us for direction, he looked down.  Big mistake.  That short hop to the ground appeared as an abyss to him.

Instead of taking another step -- which would have been the easier thing to do -- he balanced himself, bent his knees and reached down to grip the beam with his hands.  He crawled  the rest of the way.  And that was ok too.  He made it.  Steps, shuffling, and crawling, but he made it to the other side.

Oh baby, I thought, learn to trust God when you are only twelve inches off the ground and when you can see the other side five feet away.  Because not if, but someday, your lifeline will be trusting God across a literal tightrope when the outcome is not so obvious.  Someday you will be a long way up on a slender thread into unknown territory and that seems to go on forever.

Trust God on your beam in the playground.  Trust God with this.  This experience is not an end in itself, but a chronicle of His faithfulness to you... and exactly what you are going to need in your skill set in the years to come.

No matter the impossible difficulty ahead of you today, look to Jesus.  Eyes on Him, staying faithfully on His path for you, even the hard stuff, even that which may make no sense to you at all.  That's what trust is made of.  It may appear to look like devastation, but that is when His power and His grace break through. Take one step, no matter how tiny it may seem.

The first step of a long obedience in the same direction
       is simply that:
                  a first step.
God is faithful.  He will direct your path.

A couple of years ago, we were faced with some huge changes.  What do we do?  It was as if God whispered to us, "Take the one step in front of you."  And then when we did, "Do you trust me with the next?"  We were quite literally inching through the dark.  And even shuffling counts.

When we trust Him, it is not for our glory "Look at me!!!  I did it."  But for His glory,"Look at Me."  Because that is exactly how we get to the other side.

It is not necessarily that God takes us to another place.  The other side may just be a deeper intimacy with him. God enlarges our vision that we may see differently right where we are.

You gave a wide place
             for my steps under me,
and my feet have not slipped.

                         Psalm 18. 36

Monday, May 15, 2017

Not the same person

It is a story about transformation.  It is a story about new affection and new direction.  It is simply a new story for two people who desired change and who changed their desires.  For all intents and purposes, most people would say that they are not the same people, and yet, they have become even more of who they really are.

They haven't lost anything, but have gained new life.  The pictures say it all.  You can read this story of change here.

The transformation is obvious.  But it made me think about other, even more profound, changes in lives, changes in desire, changes in the trajectory of so many lives.

Lee Strobel, the former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, was an atheist who sought to prove God wrong.  In the end of his investigation, God changed the course of his life.  His journey is documented in Strobel's book The Case for Christ, which was recently chronicled in a movie.

But what still brings tears to my eyes are a couple of paragraphs, hidden in the last few pages in his book.  As he continued his spiritual journey, now with Christ, his life began to change before his eyes.

Strobel wrote:  "Maybe that sounds mystical to you;  I don't know.  Not so long ago it would have to me. But it's very real to me now and to those around me.  In fact, so radical was the difference in my life that a few months after I became a follower of Jesus, our five-year-old daughter Alison went up to my wife and said, "Mommy, I want God to do for me what He's done for Daddy."
    "Here was a little girl who had only known a father who was profane, angry, verbally harsh, and all too often absent.  And even though she never interviewed a scholar, never analyzed the data, never investigated historical evidence, she had seen up close the influence that Jesus can have on a person's life.  In effect, she was saying, "If this is what God does to a human being, that's what I want for me."
     "Looking back nearly two decades, I can see with clarity that the day I personally made a decision in the case for Christ was nothing less than the pivotal event in my entire life."

Nothing will ever be the same.
That would be your heart.
That would be your life.

The world says you are stuck
    and that you can never really change.
But God says to the contrary,
    God shows to the contrary.
God specializes in changed lives.

if any one is in Christ,
he is a new creation;
the old has passed away,
behold, the new has come.

                2 Corinthians 5. 17

Sunday, May 14, 2017

All the grand blunders of being a mom

All the great blunders I have made as a mom through the years,
the enormous shortcomings,
the large selection of "what was I thinking?"
the "I was not going to make that mistake again,"
the regrets,
the "I should have's"
     and what I did instead,
the D minus days,
an insensitive heart
        and that would be all mine,
the "I had no idea,"
my myopic vision,
the nonreturnable words
     -- final sale, no exchanges--
my downright sins,
the justifiable selfishness
     which is never justifiable,
all these blunders,
          gaping potholes of my own making,
      are just a reminder
that God is God
            and I am not.

I need God.
He is faithful,
    even when I am not.
O LORD, have mercy.
And when I offer up to Him my life
       -- even my mom guilt--
God redeems.

Even that.
Even now.

And as God's Word says 62 times 
           in the book of Ezekiel:

"...and you shall know
          that I am the LORD."

I cannot rewind the past,
but I don't have to dwell
      in the miry bog of deep regrets.
I can repent.
And God can redeem.

I can't do anything about the past,
    but God gives me today.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Love you Mom

Every year in mid-May, I would stand in front of the racks of Mother's Day cards, pulling out one card and then another, none appearing to be a good fit.  My mom was a different kind of mom -- even more so than I could realize at the time.  I just wanted a card to say, "I love you, mom."

Last week, I stood in the store, buying a card for my precious mother-in-law as well as our two oldest daughters who are both now incredible moms-of-four.

As we checked out, my husband looked at me and said, "What's the matter?  Did we need anything else?"

"I wanted to get a card for my mom too," I replied.  He nodded and gave me a hug.  "I can understand that," he said.  She has been gone for twelve long years in the redeeming place on the other side of life.  I rejoice because someday, I will see her again.  I do not grieve as one who has no hope (1 Thessalonians 4. 13), but I still miss her.

What I wouldn't give to have a cup of coffee with her, to catch up, to listen a little deeper than I ever did before.

What I wouldn't give to be able get her a card for Mother's Day to let her know how much I love her, how much I still love her, how much I always will. 

The ten commandments really boil down to only two:  love God and love people.  The first five commandments address our relationship with God.  The second five are headlined by our relationship with our parents.

Honor your father and your mother,
that your days may be long in the land
which the LORD your God gives you.

                           Exodus 20. 12

What if we really took God up on that promise?

Because how I treat my mom
                           sets the pace.
How I speak of her even now that she is gone,
      those indelible marks of grace and forgiveness
              impact everyone around me
              and even the children yet unborn.

Honoring one's mom
has nothing to do
with her performance as a mom,
                       but grace.
My relationship with my mom
is Exhibit #1 of God's redeeming.
It is what love looks like
        in ordinary ways
        on the most ordinary days.

Mother's Day is designed not to remind your mom
                that you love her,
but to remind you.
The rest of the year is designed
                            to show her how much.

And even deeper than a mother's love is this:
      the LORD loves you even more.

Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion
               on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
              yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have graven you
   on the palms of my hands...

                             Isaiah 49. 15-16

We may not all be moms,
        but we all have one.
   If yours is still available,
                         call her for me.
Make her day.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Pack your bags

My husband is an avid cyclist.  Even as I write this blog, he is watching on his computer the famed Giro d'Italia bike race, today in its seventh stage.

As the British journalist reported on the event today, the words served more than a description of the riders, but spoke to my own heart.  These cyclists are pushing themselves to the limit in a race.  And we, each and every one of us, struggle with something, sometimes an entree that changes by the day.

"84 km to go and the break are starting to dig deep into their suitcases of courage.  I hope they brought more than just carry-ons.  They'll need the full allowance of 20 kg per person.  And then, of course, you have to pay extra if you bring too much courage and go over the said limit.  "Did you pack this courage yourself, sir?"

Digging deep into their suitcases of courage. I love that.  Because that is exactly what it feels like in a race when you don't feel like you can go another step.

What have I packed? 

What have I been training for?  Life itself.

The cycling news resonated with Psalm 108 that I read earlier this morning:

With God we shall do valiantly;
it is He who will tread down our foes.

                       Psalm 108. 13

God does not promise that we will win,
                       but that He is with us.
The outcome itself
    may not be the triumph,
success may not be the point at all,
but His strength in the journey there.

Dig deep into His strength, my friend.

John Wayne once said, "Courage is being afraid,
and saddling up anyway."

God says, "Don't be afraid.  Trust Me."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


When our girls were young and leaving the house for school in the morning, we would tell them how much we loved them, and then often, we would say, "Go MAD!"

Don't just stumble through the day,
don't just do the minimum to get by,
and not just what not to do,
        but what to do.

Go Make A Difference.

We think of making a difference
in HUGE actions and decisions
and that which is recognized
                  as "significant,"
but the biggest changes in this world
are made
    by ordinary people on ordinary days.

That would be you.
That would be me.
We have no idea
   what profound things
   hang in the balance.

What has God put on my path today,
who has He put on my radar,
listening, hearing, and heeding
       "This is My way in this..."

In a take on the tune Home on the Range,
we live in a culture,
"Where seldom is heard
         an encouraging word."

And that is within the power
      of every one of us.

We will never fully realize the difference
        that can make in a life,
often in those deep crises
that are invisible all around us.

No word of encouragement is ever forgotten,
no act of kindness is random.

Plan good.
Look for the opportunity
to Go Make A Difference.
To stand in the gap,
to stand by someone's side,
to do something
     however puny it may seem.

He has told you, O man,
what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

                         Micah 6. 8

What does that look like today?

I cannot solve all the problems of this world,
nor fulfill every need,
but I know in my own life
how an unexpected phone call,
a kind word from the sidelines,
a simple "praying for you!"
     has strengthened this flagging heart.

Do not withhold good
from those to whom it is due,
when it is
in your power to do it.

              Proverbs 3. 27

Monday, May 1, 2017

Suspended in thin air

When I arrived, the parking lot was mostly empty.  But over the course of the next hour or so, women arrived from many seasons of life, taking out of their cars duffle bags, suitcases, and pillows.  They showed up at the YMCA camp for our church's women's retreat.

And with their arms full of necessities, each one brought needs below the surface:  heavy hearts, deep wounds, weariness, desperations with all kinds of disguises, a hunger to belong, and a strong desire to hear from God.

I am not a "retreat person," but I know from experience that I need to seek out the stitches of spiritual formation in daily ways, the weekly gathering of God's people, and those opportunities to listen, to ask, to go a little deeper in relationship with Him.  I have found those times are not just something else to put into my already busy schedule, not the things that tie me down, but release me and cause His strength change my heart degree by degree.

On my way to the meeting hall, I passed the zip line, which looked even higher this year.  Done that once.  No need to repeat that particular fear, I chuckled to myself..

But on the last afternoon, chatting with a new friend, and passing that skyscraping zipline tower as we headed back to the dining hall, she turned and said, "Come on, let's do it."  My reluctance rose up like a shield around me.

No, no.  Can't do it.  Not my skill set.  Not my idea of fun.

Amid that litany of very fine and legitimate excuses, I heard a whisper inside me, "This is not about fun."  but something much deeper than that.

We climbed up to the lower platform.  I can back out at any time, I reassured myself.

A young woman clipped us into the harnesses.  You need this, and this, and this, as she handed us the pieces of equipment, piece by piece, things that I have no idea why, or what, or how they work, not to weigh us down, but to prepare and equip us, and to free us to do the task staring us in the face.

Be strong in the Lord
and in the strength of His might.
Put on the whole armor of God...

                Ephesians 6. 10-11

We had pretty much all that armor, it appeared.  And then, she didn't just hand me a helmet, but tightened the strap and made it secure.

And take the helmet of salvation,
and the sword of the Spirit,
which is the Word of God.

                Ephesians 6. 17

We were ready, so equipped, that essentially we didn't even have to hold on by ourselves.  So far, no big deal.  We were, at the time of this picture, a whopping ten feet off the ground.

We began to climb the tower stairs, winding our way, up, up up, to the higher platform, the place for which we had been equipped.  With each stair tread, my courage decreased.  And then, I caught a glimpse of reality.  Whoa, it is a really long way down.

"I can't do this," I said to the young woman at the top who was strategically positioned to encourage me and to slip me onto the cable.  I thought about how many times in life God has placed people -- sometimes strangers -- who handed me a word of courage when I desperately needed it.

She just smiled gently at me.  She hears those same words hour by hour, day by day.  She hasn't lost anyone yet.

I stood paralyzed, looking so far down.  I simply could not step off that manmade cliff.

"Look out not down," she said, "and if you sit and rest on the harness, it will carry you."

Lowering myself, resting on that harness, I began to roll forward, slowly and gently, beyond my own strength, into a new dimension of trusting God.  Resting on that harness.  That's all I had to do.  And instead of FRIGHT in capital letters, a cool breeze rushed past my face, the world opened up in front of me, high above the trees, and a few friends down on the ground cheered as fear lost its grip on me.

Analogy aside, God was carrying me.  I didn't have to know where or when this wild ride would end, but it was an incredible sense of being held secure in an impossible place, an awareness of just being held, where my feet didn't touch bottom, beyond my control, exceeding my puny idea of strength.

As soon as I reached the end -- and I did not die -- God impressed on me that there have been and will be things in life a lot harder than that.  I need to do things like this zipline.  Because someday, I won't be harnessed in.  Someday there won't be a strongly attached cable with a definitive endpoint.

But there is God.

He's got this.
He's got me.

I need to know not just what trust feels like,
    but God's faithfulness live streamed.
I need to know Him
                  like that,
resting on that harness,
         and let Him carry me
                      into His wonders.