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.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

This day

We are heading on an adventure today, off the grid, taking a trail that is new to us, into what only appears as a wilderness to us.  But to God?

He not only knows our way, God has intricately designed our every step, every moment in this day.

I don't want to miss His wonder in it by my premeasured ideas.  I want to seek Him and be wrapped and enraptured by His glory. Even in this. Even on the mountain ridge. Even through the miry bog. His glory is the same both places, wherever the LORD leads me this day, however He unfolds it.

I have no idea what to expect today,
but it is no mystery to Him.

Do I seek His blessing in it?
Or seek to bless Him?

One and the same.  Wherever, in whatever, among whomever. Even in this.

Every day is a story of God's faithfulness.

Happy is he
whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
    Who made heaven and earth...

                     Psalm 146. 5

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Other Side

Early this morning, I posted on my other daily blog ( a passage of Scripture that is one of my favorite accounts in the Old Testament.

I love the Bible because it is not only the Word of God, but it relates the real stories of real ordinary people and how they come to realize who God is and what He can do in their lives.

And through my reading His Word this morning, God reminded me:
                The circumstances are not the main event.

When the servant of the man of God
rose early in the morning
and went out, behold,
an army with horses and chariots
was round about the city.
And the servant said,
"Alas, my master!
      What shall we do?"
Elisha said, "Fear not,
   for those who are with us
   are more than those
   who are with them."
Then Elisha prayed, and said,
"O LORD, I pray to You,
open his eyes
      that he may see."
So the LORD opened the eyes
   of the young man, and he saw,
and behold, the mountain was
full of horses and chariots of fire
                        round about Elisha.

                   2 Kings 6. 15-17

(Feeling that kind of
"Then Elisha prayed..."
It is not that
    "God will show up,"
but He opens our eyes
           to see He is already here.
The LORD is my strength.
Even in this.)

Enlarge our vision, O LORD,
that we may see
    what is really going on.
And that we may know You
even more in this
and through this impossible situation.

God never works in singular outcomes.
His faithfulness stretches
   even beyond the heavens He created.
And surely,
                  a lot more than this.

Feeling overwhelmed?
   Look to the LORD
                who overcomes.
There is another side to this.

For we are powerless against this great multitude
that is coming against us.
We do not know what to do,
         but our eyes are on You.

                             2 Chronicles 20. 12

Monday, June 19, 2017

Because, quite frankly, there just might be a reason for it

The clock was ticking faster than it should.  I needed to bring something awesomely chocolate for our daughter's birthday lunch.  And I didn't have the time to drive to the store to even buy a box of brownie mix.  A bizarre idea flew across my thoughts.  After checking with the book The Joy of Cooking, all the ingredients for its brownie recipe were waiting on my pantry shelf.

I could make homemade brownies in the oven faster than it would take to drive to the store and back.

I followed the recipe up to the point of greasing the baking pan lined with foil. "And why exactly would I do that?"  I thought.  Lining a pan with foil doesn't sound necessary.  I had never heard of doing that.  This recipe is from the original 1931 edition of this cookbook.  Things are different now, I tried to justify my own defiant heart.

And then, the conversation in my head reached a new level, "And who exactly is the resident expert in this situation?  Who wrote the cookbook?  And of course, there is a remote possibility that maybe she might know something more than me?"

Ok, ok, I'll follow the instructions, the rebellious chef within me finally resigned.  Because, quite frankly, there just might be a reason for it.  

(And if you have followed this blog for very long, you are familiar with my long saga of culinary misadventures which could be entitled, "Yes, you need to follow the directions.")

The recipe came together quicker than I could have imagined.  And the brownies were SO good, I made another batch for our small group meeting the next day.

"Why would it call for lining the pan with foil?" I later asked my husband with his engineering mind.  He didn't have to think twice about it.  Because the foil reflects the heat upward and bakes the brownies more evenly, decreasing the possibility of the brownies overcooking or burning on the bottom of the pan.

So, there IS a reason for it.

And when I read Scriptures, there are verses in which God calls me to do something quite counter-cultural like loving difficult people and going the second mile in a hard situation and listening to His way in the impossible places.  And stuff even harder than that.

My natural self reacts with, "And why exactly would I do that?"  It doesn't make any more sense to me than lining a baking pan with foil.

Because there is something much deeper going on here, something incredibly supernatural.  God is the reality of this equation.  And that makes all the difference.

I am not God.  He is the resident expert here in this.  And God authored the Book.

"And if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments...And all these blessing shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God."    Deuteronomy 28. 1-2

There is ALWAYS a reason for it, deeper and multi-dimensional and more generational, than I can ever know.  Even in those things I don't understand.  Even in those things I may find hard... or seemingly ridiculous in my myopic vision or stubborn way.  Even in the easy stuff no more difficult than as if lining a pan with foil.  There are no small acts of faithfulness.

Following God into it is not just because He says so. It is responding in love to Him.  It is because I know He bears His profound purposes in it. God never works in finite dimensions or singular outcomes. That which is unknown to me is no mystery to God.  I would be astonished by what the Almighty is doing.  He has seamlessly woven His glory into the most intricate details and His faithfulness into the bigger story.

And I can trust Him with my very life.

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,
                             says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.

                                  Isaiah 55. 8-9

My Very First Ever Homemade Brownies
          (adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

Grease a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan, lined with foil.
Melt together 1 stick unsalted butter and 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate in a small saucepan.  Let it cool before adding to the other ingredients.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat together 4 large eggs and 1/4 teaspoon salt
Gradually add 2 cups sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla while continuing to beat, until thick.
Switch to a wooden spoon and stir in the cooled chocolate mixture, and add 1 cup flour.  If desired, stir in 1 cup chopped pecans.
Scoop batter into the prepared pan and bake 25 minutes.  Cool completely in the pan before cutting with a plastic knife.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A little message for Father's Day

Finally brothers, whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.

                        Philippians 4. 8

What are you going to dwell on?

Look for something good.  
And thank your dad for it.

And even when the relationship is rocky,
      there is another way in this.
God heals.
God redeems.
God is faithful.
Make sure those you know
and those who come after you
            know that God can create
a new story for His glory.

Let God redeem.
And think about these things.

We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD,
                 and His might,
and the wonders that He has done. teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
      the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God...

                                  Psalm 78. 4, 6-7

Thursday, June 15, 2017

...because in him
there is found something
   pleasing to the LORD...

                 1 Kings 14. 13

(And that always looks very different
     than the ordinary response.
Help me, O LORD,
to seek what is pleasing
                 in Your sight.
Even in this.
Especially in this.)

Friday, June 9, 2017

What is draining my phone?

It snuck up on me without fanfare, as these things often do.  All of a sudden, I noticed last week late in the afternoon, my cell phone's power was balancing on the abyss of being entirely drained.  I had not done anything different, nothing unusual, but unless I plugged in, I was going to be done for the day.

It is easy to blame the "big rocks" for those things that decrease power, but most of the time, it is the silent drainers that deplete on the fringes - those apps I never use, those websites I forgot to close down, the little stuff that nibbles away at the fuel.

What is draining my phone's power?  What is draining my heart?

It is sometimes the big detours I make around God's way in something, a route that never quite ends up in the same place.  It is sometimes the little details -- the tiny knots of a rebellious heart -- that develop into a huge disobedience that is hard to unravel.

It is the little things that distract, the other voices I follow, the cumulative details that subtract, and the ways I am not seeking His strength.  And even little fears grow exponentially into enormous black holes, also known as anxieties.

Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel,
"If you are returning to the LORD
with all your heart,
then put away the foreign gods
and the Ashtaroth from among you,
and direct your heart to the LORD.

                                1 Samuel 7. 3

What are the things that get in the way of my relationship with God?  What do I need to haul out to the county dump and leave? 

The solution is not a matter of stuffing God someplace in a pocket of my day, but to direct my heart to the LORD.  It is not that everything will suddenly change, but God enables me to see all things differently.  I am running with Him.  I am running on the strength of the LORD.  His power is never used up.  His power in us only grows stronger.  He changes my vision.  He changes my heart.

Even in this impossible place,
   even in this difficult relationship,
breaking into,
interrupting my own small rebellions,
      which are never unimportant at all.

What coveted things in my life are draining my energy and distracting me from Him?  Those things I don't want to let go of.  Those things that "aren't a problem."  Those things I can justify with a milliondy legitimate reasons.  Justifications should always send up a red flag.

For my phone, I plug in every night whether the device needs it or not.  For my soul, I plug in every morning, whether a day of big decisions or ordinary living, whether I think I need it or not.  There are no ordinary days in God's economy.

You never know what strength you will need.  Even those things which we deem insignificant are discovered the most profound of all.  And most crises are never announced ahead of time.

His power not dependent on circumstances or my own puny muscles,  but an empowering of the Spirit which transcends anything thrown along the way.  That kind of fuel comes from prayer and daily time in His Word.  That kind of strength comes only from Him.  That kind of life.

I don't want to miss a thing.

O Lord GOD,
You have only begun
to show Your servant
Your greatness and
    Your mighty hand...

                  Deuteronomy 3. 24

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Even in the midst of a mess

The place I was living my last two years of university was like taking an upper-level graduate course on navigation through stormy seas.  There were women from all different social circles and world views, and very few who stepped tenderly through that mine field.  Sibling rivalry in all forms looked like child's play, compared to this turmoil.

As far as I knew, I was the only Christian residing there, which placed me not in a realm of isolation but in a wide-open opportunity to love others.  After a year of living there, I was designated as the resident adviser which both paid for my room and placed me on the front lines of the battlefield, pointblank in the midst of squabbling, wounded feelings, and what appeared at times downright war between foes. Trust me.  There is nothing more vicious than vengeance among females.  I did not just pray daily for wisdom;  I continually prayed.  I never knew what a day might bring.

In one instance, food was being pilfered from the small fridge in the second floor lounge.  It didn't seem to matter that people wrote their names on their containers.  Any item seemed to be fair play. The mindset appeared to be, "what is yours becomes mine."  Coming down hard was likely to foster even more rebellion.  "O LORD, guide me."  I chose humor instead.

I merely taped a notice to the door of the fridge: "Certain items in this fridge have been laced with Ex-Lax.  If you take what is not rightfully yours, we will know who you are." The pilfering stopped suddenly and completely.   A bit of grace lingered instead in that space.

Shortly after that, early one morning, one of the renown ringleaders of trouble in that rooming house stopped me by the communal sinks in the bathroom. "We know you are a Christian," she said.  "And we are watching you."

I had no idea.  But I have never forgotten her words, now some forty years ago.  Others are watching, not to see if I am perfect or horribly imperfect, but to desperately know if God is real.  That does not just show when things are good and the skies are crisp blue, but when things go incredibly wrong and the storms don't seem to stop. What does my relationship with God mean then? Does my life look any different? Not to be impervious and detached in the midst of a deep mess, but responsive and living faithfully in it.

...and you shall be
My witnesses in Jerusalem
and in all Judea
and Samaria 
and to the end of the earth.

                 Acts 1. 8

There are no exclusions.  

Even here?  Maybe especially even here,
   strategically placed,
   divinely appointed,
the gospel livestreamed.
Being a witness
     underlies whatever we do,
     influences whatever we do,
               how we do it,
     changes who we are.
The concentric circles of witness
        have no boundaries
and run farther
          and profoundly deeper
than we can ever know.
A witness points to the evidence
      of a life changed forever.
What does that look like
     where I am today?

Excuse me,
   your witness is showing.
Even now.
Even in the midst of this mess.