Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stating the State of the Union

A few nights ago, our president shared his perspective on the State of the Union.  Maybe it’s just a new year, or perhaps it having this sort of Self-Assessment of our leadership, but I thought it was a good reminder to me of the importance to assess the state of our own personal unions from time to time. 
Thomas Paine was referenced in that speech by President Obama, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”  Yes, these times are hard.  Every day, I hear about more jobs being lost, more economic issues, out of work, food pantries being harder, charities that are barely functioning when they are needed even more.  The stress can really get to me, I am even avoiding watching the news – it’s just too overwhelming.
The overwhelmed feelings don’t go away when I look at my own life.  Lord, can we just talk about the future and what is going to happen?  Did you see that over there?  Is that going to be fixed?  Will you heal this?  Will you take away that?  Each day brings it’s own challenges and triumphs. 
I think one of the biggest struggles that I face when doing a self-assessment of my heart and spirit is the quickness to compare myself to someone else.  Whether it is admiring someone and feeling like they are gifted or achieved beyond something I can aspire to, or if it something more of a prideful nature – humph look at them.  That is when I have to be careful to “remove the plank from my eye first and make sure I am seeing clearly.”  Luke speaks of looking at someone else and pointing out what we see as a flaw, an error, a mistake, a weakness – a “speck of sawdust in their eye,” (Luke 6:42).  Sawdust in the eye – ouch!  I don’t even like the feel of eye goop in my eye.  Sawdust would be painful, I would be blinking and my eye would be watering, maybe hopping up and down.  My eye waters, the next thing I know the other eye will water in sympathy watering, my nose will run, and there goes the mascara.  But, that is just the sawdust – let’s keep reading.
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?’”
A plank?  Wait just a minute, I’m having enough eye goopy watering, nose running, by now I have stubbed my toe from running around and not being able to see.  But, a plank?  That makes me think of a sliver of wood that is wedged in that delicate area.  Forget running eyes and nose – we are talking out and out can’t see – and desperate to get that out.  How in the world am I supposed to help someone else while I’m running around trying to get this gigantic wood sliver out of my own eye? 
So, why don’t we all do this?  Why does it get easier to point out somebody else’s speck?  Our souls are quite delicate and strong as well – and the plank that gets wedged in hurts. But, over time it takes less and less attention, I get used to the pain.  I get better at ignoring it, at looking around the painful area to avoid making changes. 
Lord, please point out my planks to me.  I know I have them.  And, would you walk with me all the way, because I think the removal of them is going to hurt.
I wonder what the state of our personal and national union would look like if we worked on our planks.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

There is an old tale, more of a fireside story than anything else about St. Patrick.  The story goes that Patrick and his followers were travelling to Tara to spread God’s message.  Enemies gathered in the wood, planning on stopping him by attacking through an ambush.  The story says that Patrick prayed a prayer of protection and that the enemy saw not Patrick and his followers go by, but a small herd of deer.  Thus, the prayer song has also been known as the Deer’s Cry. 
I arise today

Through the strength of Heaven 

Light of sun 
Radiance of moon 
Splendour of fire 
Speed of lightning 
Swiftness of wind 
Depth of the sea 
Stability of earth 
Firmness of rock

I arise today

Through Gods strength to pilot me

Gods eye to look before me 
Gods wisdom to guide me 
Gods way to lie before me 
Gods shield to protect me

From all who shall wish me ill 

Afar and a near 
Alone and in a multitude 
Against every cruel 
Merciless power 
That may oppose my body and soul

Christ with me, Christ before me,

Christ behind me, Christ in me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 

Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, 
Christ when I arise, Christ to shield me

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me 
I arise today

My alarm clock will go off, I have to get out of bed.  These words sometimes greet me in the morning as the sleep fades and the smells of coffee are lingered over.  I love the gentle reminder of the words, the strength in that we are not alone and need not rely on ourselves for strength to face the day.  Instead, relying on God, we gain strength and wisdom to move through the day.  Then, in turn when we can be transparent about this, we show God to others, we can be useful to him in his works here on earth.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Protector of the Protectors

Twila Paris wrote a beautiful song in 1984, The Warrior is a Child.  The words both confirm the beauties of God’s grace, the strength, of his armor, and that there are still wounds.  Wounds come to those in the Christian body, and when they are from inside the Christian body it can feel even harsher.  Each of us has gifts, different and yet similar in that they are meant to focus on a common purpose.  Looking at the role of a shepherd, we see someone that guides, someone who addresses wounds, someone who feeds them, and someone who protects them.
A guide helps the sheep know which way to go, the direction of the path which leads to grazing pastures and cool and clean water sources.  A shepherd addresses the wounds of his sheep.  Sometimes, the sheep will bear wounds from poor direction, chasing that elusive scent of fresh grass into a thicket of thorns.  At other times, wounds come from the sharp cut of claws and teeth from a predator.  As all living things, it is important that the sheep are fed.  But, they shouldn’t just eat any thing.  Their bodies will operate best on certain foods. 
We often need help knowing which way to go.  A fan of pro con lists, I have written many of them over the years trying to figure out decisions.  Grabbing whatever piece of paper is handy; I draw out my T and label each side.  Pro, cons – then, I start listing out all of the possible things my decision might affect.  The problem is that often, I still don’t know which way to go.  Instead, I need someone who knows the paths to give me some firm directions. 
A shepherd is responsible for the health of the sheep, meaning that their wounds must be tended.  Strong sure hands can move over that body and know what feels amiss.  Perhaps a patch has been scraped when walking in thorns.  Removal of debris from the wounds and tending to the needs fulfills the role of a healer.  Other animals may see sheep as easy prey, weak and without any defensive means.  Wolves and lions prowl, hungry and looking for prey.  Sharp claws, deadly teeth slash at the sheep and the shepherd must keep the sheep safe. But, also if an attack occurs, the survivors must be given healing touches.
Finally, there is a protector.  The shepherd who stands between the predator and the prey and defends the herd, watchful eyes and ears are required, skill with the use of the staff.  We each have a gift, and some of us are more aware of our enemies than others.  We learn to protect through prayer.  We do not rely on ourselves and our strength, but rely on God to fight for us.  It is the role of the protector to be aware, to warn, to turn things over to God. 
What do you do however when your protectors are tired? Especially, if the hurt is from within the body of Christ, the wound seems to be doubly deep, and infection of bitterness and feelings of betrayal easily set in.  What do you do then?  Yes, I do love that song by Twila Paris, as she acknowledges the hurt, but it is only in the retreat that we go to lay wounded, bruised, and broken at God’s feet.  There, and only there, we are picked up and the shepherd applies the healing ointment The wounds are cleaned, bound, and we are given a time to rest.   Then, donning the armor we resume our role.  

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Pig Market

A friend whose son was involved in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program, spent some time raising hogs.  I got to go out to the farm hosting them once and I was amazed.  I had never been that close to pigs before, they were really big and strong!  One of them was even picking up the metal fence and dropping it with it’s snout.

There was a man who was approached with an opportunity.  He lived in the tombs and hills with an evil spirit living in him.  The man lived here, alone, because no one could control him.  He had been bound physically by a chain, even irons on his feet and no one was strong enough to keep him bound.  Instead, this man suffered alone and isolated, cutting himself and crying out.  Maybe a temporary physical pain was what he was driven to seek out, to temporarily even momentarily forget his mental and spiritual pain.

Then, the man saw Jesus at a distance.  He ran to him and fell on his knees in front of him.  Imagine the sweat pouring off of him, running hard with hope in front and fear driving him, collapsing at the feet of Jesus.  When he arrived, he shouted – not whispered, not spoke, but shouted, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”(Mark 5:7).  They were reacting to a voice of healing and authority.  Jesus had just said, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” (Mark 5:8).

Then, Jesus asks the man, “What is your name?”  The evil spirit responds “Legion, for we are many.”  And again, that man spoke, or rather the evil spirit spoke and begged Jesus again and again not to send them away.

Imagine, here is this man who has been a threat to his home town.  His family has worried, grieved, hurt, and even given up on him.  He has been alone, living in the hills and among the tombs.  A man living, walking among the dead.  Stronger than chains of iron, this spirit now throws itself in front of Jesus and pleads for mercy.  Jesus didn’t torture this man, he didn’t do anything but be present and his authority, strength, purity, holiness – they were enough in itself to reduce the strong evilness to it’s weakened state. 

There is a large herd of pigs on the hillside.  They were being kept to go to market.  The demons begged Jesus to send them to the pigs.  He gave them permission, and the evil spirits left the man and went into the pigs.  The herd reacted, around two thousands pigs rushed down the hill and into the lake.  They drowned themselves.  The people tending the pigs ran off and told them in town what had happened. 

The man now is still near Jesus, but without the demons inside of him.  I wonder what happened in the time it took for the people to be told in town and come back out to see what had happened.  It would have been a rather gory scene, pigs dead – 2000 pigs dead in a lake.  The man is now dressed and in his right mind.  I’m sure he was scarred and bruised.  But, he is now whole, healed by the King of Kings.

The people began to arrive.  They saw the man.  They saw the pigs.  They started to plead with Jesus to leave.  Leave!  They had just had a miraculous healing, yet they were terrified.  Beyond that they were unhappy with the loss of this herd of pigs.  The gain of one man’s life and the loss of a large herd of pigs.  The gain of one family and the loss of income for perhaps several families.  How do they total out?  How do they equal one for the other?  Does one mean more than the other?  Is a miracle something we should be scared of?

The unknown is often very scary, especially when it involves such a dramatic change.  I wonder if there were a few voices in the crowd who led the way, creating a mob mentality.  The approached Jesus as he was getting into his boat.  The man begged him, begged to go back with him.  Not asked or pled, but begged.  Jesus did not take the man though, instead he said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you,” (Mark 5:19). 

The man left, he went and told in his home what Jesus had done for him and the people were “amazed.”  Amazed, the mob mentality that had led in the moment, it changed to amazement.  It changed with the story from the individual, the one who had walked through the dark tortuous days and lived to see the light.  From that, many others I’m sure were encouraged, perhaps perplexed, but encouraged. 

Do not let those who are focused on the pig market and forget the individual, who speak with the voice of a mob and not the heart of the individual, do not let them discourage you from sharing your story.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Cloak of Color

Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, brown, white, grey – these are colors I remember displayed in one of my elementary classrooms, on a string of posters.  We learned our colors as they pertained to things; green grass, blue sky, white snow, and purple flowers.  However, as vocabulary and word usage grows, the way that we use colors expands. 
Despairing in darkness, passion of crimson, happy friendship of yellow, green of growth, blue of contentment, soft pinks and blues for babies, white of hope, grey of confusion. We wrap our emotions in colors, wrapping ourselves in cloaks of color.
Joseph had a cloak given to him, one that was richly ornamented.  His father gave him this to celebrate his son.  Joseph was also wrapped in a cloak of different colors with the events that happened in his life.  I think of how that robe must have looked, many different colors and textures formed together to make each part.  Wrapping that robe around his self, I would imagine that Joseph tried to get a glimpse of how it fit here and there. 
We try on different cloaks as well, as different seasons of our life come and go.  One part may be in joy and another in pain, perhaps trying to be invisible or very noticeable, practical or extravagant, we could describe them all in colors.  Yet, when we wrap that cloak around our shoulders we are deciding how we will perceive things.  Perhaps it will be through rose colored optimism, grey hazy skepticism, or somewhere between. 
Wrapping any cloak around myself, be it one of attitude or one of cloth is a choice.  Many factors can go into that choice, but it my choice and your choice to make. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Celebrating Hope

A few nights ago, I had a time to hang out with some friends.  While a girls night out can be fun, a girls night in can be as well.  Especially, when you can just light a bunch of candles, pull out all sorts of munchies, and just spread out with comfy blankets, pillows, and no shoes.
So, for about six hours last night, I enjoyed a time of friendship.  We each had had some discouraging things happen this last week.  A snowball effect seemed to take over, one discouragement led to another, a stress to trigger another, until even good things seems impossible to deal with.  Hope, in those moments, can be something that acts like the candles that were around us.  Each flame is something that seems so fragile, one moment with a snuffer and the flame dips, sputters, and then we are left watching a trail of smoke. 
However, when we finished up our time that night, there was one candle which just didn’t want to go out.  Each time I dipped the snuffer in, it remained lit. I found myself realizing that our hope was much the same way.  A giant candle hope snuffer had come and sat on our heads this last week.  The flame had sputtered.  But, when the snuffer was removed, the fuel of oxygen hit the flame and it flared back up to light the dark around it.  
Such a difference a little light can make in the dark.  Keep your hope close, celebrate it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Be Attitudes – Is it My Be Attitude?

Attitudes are contagious, they are viral.  They are choices with prolonged thought and in the heat of the moment.  Beatitudes can seem pretty contrary to common sense, at least the common sense that we are used to.  Perhaps it is a bit too common and not quite enough purpose behind them.  Ever wonder why we are so attracted to movies, plays, and books about powers, nobility, special things?  I think that we want to be recognized as different, as special, as unique. 
Check out this list again from Matthew 5.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Well, that would be a rather unique thing wouldn’t it to be able to do those things.  I don’t know anyone who has mastered all of those, I certainly haven’t!
Poor in spirit, humble before God.  Poorness is much more than financially poor, though I am just a recovering grad student – so the wealth is not exactly rolling in.  Poorness is much more than that.  Those who are poor in spirit can sometimes be incredibly wealthy.  Perhaps, it is more of an attitude of reliance on God. 
Come on, I’ll be honest if you will.  Things go great – God is good and then we kind of move away from Him, we get distracted by all the great things around us.  Then, the fog rolls in, the storm comes and rains on our head, the lightning strikes, the wind knocks us down, the earthquake leave us trembling, and the tornado leaves us bruised and vulnerable.  Where are you God?  In the overwhelming moments with the wind whipping around us, the lightning flashing and our own feet teetering about on the waves as they knock us down and drag us in over our head, it is in the overwhelming moments that we often hear most clearly that still, small voice. 
And when we listen, when we lean on God in the storm and in the calm then He has a chance to move the way He wants to.  The landscape is changed, the drought is lifted, the rain is soaked in, the lightening dissipates the charges that were growing, and the sun will come out.  It is in the storm that I may listen the best, but it is in every season that I wish to lean on God.  For my heart to be humble before God, made aware of my smallness next to his greatness, wisdom, goodness, and mercy; for my mind to jump quicker as an act of obedience and trustful faith; for my heart to listen better to that whisper and be in tune to it’s insight. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Divide and Conquer

My 6th – 8th grade band instructor used to quote Napoleon when she handed out new music. “Divide and conquer.”  Of course, she was referring to the music in front of us.  Learn one measure at a time and pretty soon you will know the whole song.  And then, we would begin – one measure at a time.  I can still hear her southern drawl pulling out the words.
There is a lot of wisdom to that in general.  There are many things which seem much to complex until they are split into digestible bits of information. 
However, the enemy also knows this concept and uses it as well in the Christian community.  Divide the body and conquer.  It is often at times when we most need to pull together as a body that we are fractured and stand-offish.  How the enemy must absolutely gloat with an evil glee!  He knows that by splitting the body, by creating a fracture that it does make his task of conquering much easier. 
Oh fractured body, split over so many misunderstandings, hasty words, thoughtless actions, and silly petty human things – do not be divided.  Apply the words of loving our neighbor as a cast on our wounds, providing the stability we need.  Wrapping the wound so it is stable, a cast can help us relearn how we should behave.  Then, removing that protective device, we learn anew to strengthen the area and are careful with it.  We need to be careful with each other as well, we must be careful not to be divided.    

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Surprising Lack of Passivity in Meekness

I’m not someone who craves the lime-light, limes never were my favorite fruit. Instead, it is working behind the scenes and watching it all fall together that I really enjoy. When someone can stand on the outside and partake of a project or event and think that it was so easily participated in, I am in my moment of really enjoying that time. Some people think that because of that I am just a super quite person, and though I can be quiet I’m not really a super quiet person. Give me that one on one quality time and I will jump right into the conversation.

Anyway, being quiet some people think I must be this wonderfully meek individual and I have come to realize that that has some very interesting, though odd undertones that come with this. Meek, you might have heard and are thinking about “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” That actually comes out of Matthew 5 and is part of the Beatitudes or what I like to think of as the Be Attitudes. Let me set the stage by saying that Jesus has seen crowds of people who are coming to hear him. So, he goes up on a mountainside and sits down. Then, when his disciples come to him, he starts teaching them….….

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

You might be stopping and scratching your head and pausing – what, did that say it’s blessed to be falsely accused? But, let’s not lose sight of our focus for this particular moment. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Meek here seems to kind of represent a lamb to the slaughter, powerless and totally passive type of response. “Oh yes, I will inherit the earth if I just act as a doormat for everyone who comes my way.” No way! Meek is someone who is humble, gentle, and modest. God is not a timid God, yet his children which are meek may be labeled in just that way – timid, scared. Let’s check out a different context though, this one is from Zephaniah.

Zephaniah issues a warning, a destruction is coming because people have turned away from God. There are a few chapters describing the upcoming consequences and justice that will be taking place. However, Zephaniah 3 goes on to describe the future of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, personified here, is warned that by not accepting correction, not trusting and drawing near to God that there are consequences. Rulers are corrupt, resources are not well spent, and the law is not obeyed even by those in power. God cautions them that he has tried correction and they have spurned it, always a dangerous thing to do. This isn’t because God is vengeful over their reaction, but because he loves enough to keep trying. In that trying, there is a promise that over the land, there will be change. With that change will be a removal of the pride, the removal of that sin and arrogance. Instead, “I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the name of the Lord,” (Zephaniah 3:12). These are going to be the new leaders, the new law makers, the decision makers. These are the people who are going to work together, unafraid because of the great trust they have in the Lord. It takes activity, not passivity to trust, to act, to withstand the difficulties in those dark times. These were the people who were withstanding the arrogance, lies, treachery of leadership. That is not a passive thing. Yet, they were not seeking the limelight either, instead they were humble and returning the praise to God.

So, if someone thinks that because I’m quiet, I’m meek they are rather off the mark. But, it is something I can aspire to.

Friday, January 22, 2010

An Olive Tree

Why do some people seem to not only do all the wrong things, but have every thing go right while it all done?  Why do some people boast of this?  Oh unbridled tongue, uncontrolled you are a harbinger of death.  Words can cut like razors, they can twist the truth and leave you completely torn open.  Loving evil, loving hurtful and terrible things, harming the beautiful things, and maiming the truth.  That tongue gets in trouble over and over, the lying and harmful thing.

Yet, God is a God of justice who will bring grace and caring, love with compassion and strength.  To teach, to return the tread to his path.  The removal of wealth removes the trust in wealth, the strength in doing harm and gaining the power through fear from others. 

The righteous will trust in God, and there will not be a fear of those who evil, harming others on purpose.  Instead, the righteous are like olive trees.  They flourish in God’s house, they trust in God’s love which never fails.  Praise instead will forever be offered, hope forever maintained, for the goodness of God.

Sometimes it helps me to really help the words of a Psalm sink in when I reword it.  Psalms 52, it helps me remember to not be fearful when those who use cutting words seem to prosper.  Instead, I remember that God is in control.  And, then miraculously I remember that not only is God in control, but He also will remove the riches, the power from those and instead seek to pull them back towards Himself. 

The part about the olive tree also is so special to me, what a beautiful visual.  Think of a special garden, a place well tended and cared for.  Flowering abundantly, there is an olive tree there, blooming.  Imagine the scent of a blossom, then that changing to the growth of olives.  Then, this wonderful produce when picked, not only is a seasoning and flavor, but does not lose it’s flavor when pressed.  Instead, it becomes something produces a flavor for many thing.  As I am pressed, I would also want to be more like the olive and not be pressed and squashed flat.  Instead, I would change for that purpose and serve as a flavoring for God.  Tended by God, I want to be that olive tree.  

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Seasons Strung Together

Every year, when I start thinking about the approach of spring, I find myself turning to a favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien.  The words that he wrote somehow seem to help me find the patience that I will need in a few months as winter lingers and spring dawdles in its approach.
His writings strung together many chapters, characters, locations, and plot lines into multiple books to tell one story.  Each one has a part to play, and from those words I have to admit I find something new every time.  Today, these words struck me…
“‘And it is not our part here to take thought only for a season, or for a few lives of Men, or for a passing age of the world. We should seek a final end of this menace, even if we do not hope to make one.’”
There is wisdom here that I just love.  Things get hard and it is so tempting sometimes to aim for a quick fix.  Slap a little duct tape on that baby and let’s just keep on moving.  For instance, I had a menace of my own in my life, a menace of fear.  Lurking in shadows, it sought to paralyze me.  Whenever I had to move, to act that menace would be there.  At some point though, I realized that I had to deal with it, that it was a growing threat in my life.  But, I couldn’t just slap some psychological duct tape on it.  I had to deal with it, taking a hard look at why I was fearful and how I could address it.  No, it was not my part to only think of that season, maybe I could just hide for a while and let the worst of it pass.  Instead, I had to seek an end of this menace in my life. 

For me, it comes in bits and pieces, it is not cleared up in its entirety.  Only tonight it lingered about, trying to waft that sickly sweet smell towards me of nervousness with just a twinge more.  But, I hold to the promise that God did not give me a spirit of fear.  This was not his gift, so I’m not accepting it.  Instead I cling to that hope and keep journeying to make an end to this menace in my life.  It has become part of the story, part of the season.  I cannot remove it or it would remove part of who I am.  Instead, the seasons are strung together and together form the story line.   

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I am starting to have occasional dreams of spring, warmer days when I go outside barefoot at night and see the first fireflys against the night sky.  Standing on the grass that will hold the sun’s heat, I sing “I stand, I stand in awe of You.”  I don’t really know the entire song without words, so I will probably just blend that phrase in with something else several times over.  But, the point is that I want to be in awe of God, to realize just a little more of who God is. 
It is so easy for me to want to put limits on God.  My mind just can’t hold everything that He is.  The things that were started a very long time ago can become something common place, the sense of awe is lost.  Church, the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ can become just something to do on Sunday.  Little phrases that you might more commonly hear amongst Christians or those who are proclaiming this belief might just become less meaningful over time.  We grow content and the extraordinary grace, goodness, strength, and love of God become rather commonplace in our minds.
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.  Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong,” (Ecclesiastes 5:1).  Guard my steps, I need to make sure that I am choosing the right path.  There is a hill I climb once every few years that is quite steep, leading up to a family cemetery.  You have to choose your foot placement carefully, guarding and judging so that each step is firmly placed.  Otherwise, you risk winding up on your knees holding onto the dirt path for balance. 
The other thing I think is the complacency I have to watch and guard against when going to the house of God.  Going near to listen, I need to make sure I am prepared to listen.  Listening to the message and then letting all of the words and instructions mush around a bit with my brain tissue before seeping out my other ear doesn’t quite accomplish what it is intended to do.  I need to listen, not only to the words that someone is sharing in a sermon, but at what God is telling me. 
I am in awe of God, and that keeps much of the habitual activities from growing stale and commonplace, from me growing complacent.  Stand in awe. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sledding Time

This last weekend, the weather was great for sledding.  With temperatures in the forties, the snow that had fallen so beautifully fluffy had melted down a bit and now, the plastic sled would go fast.  With a visiting three year old boy and his mommy, we dressed up for the snow, armed against the cold wet with hats, gloves, scarves, boots, snow suits, mittens, coats, cuddle duds, sweaters, hoodies, and various other winter clothing wardrobe items. 
The pink plastic sled leaning up against the garage had rope strung through the front – for better pulling and sled guiding, was grabbed and a little boy was loaded in.  The sounds going up and down and up and down and up and down those hills was laughter, squeals of delight, and hoorays of successful sledding runs. 
That time was wonderful, time well spent.  There is a time to play, part of that “time to laugh and dance” mentioned in Ecclesiastes 3.  With such busy life styles, taking time to play, enjoy, laugh, and dance can be pushed in the back of my planner.  I can’t say that I have ever written in my planner, from 3-4 I have an appointment for laughter.  Maybe I should, that does sound rather wonderful. 
I was just a little sore the next day from sledding, but my heart and mind were clearer and refreshed with the time of joy. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Turn of a Dirty Phrase

Have you ever heard of a dirty phrase?  No, not dirty as in foul language, or dirty as in dealing with dirt or muddy earth, but more of a psychological approach.  Think of the following sentence…
I would really like to come, but…. 
I care about this, but…
I love them, but…
It is the but in the sentence that makes this a dirty phrase, a turn on the meaning to go backwards.  It may truly be thought and felt this way, as we humans are a very confusing dichotomy of twists and turns.  We are capable of looking at something and having two different reactions come forward.
I would really love to come, but I have to work. 
I would really love to come, but I’m going to take the night off.
I would really love to come, but I don’t know anybody in that crowd.
Each of these convey a sense of division, with varying degrees of really loving to come. 
It’s one thing to have a dirty phrase dealing with scheduling or explaining the top priorities I have.  Is this different though when I’m talking about something that is supposed to be absolute?  Mark 12 tells me that the most important commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” (Mark 12:29-30).  So, what if I say I love you God, but I just can’t do this with all that I am.  We all feel that way sometimes, I know I certainly do! 
The one that I think that I am the most guilty of actively having in my life is the next commandment down, the second part of that thought in Mark 12; “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Though normal is not something I aspire to, I would imagine that I am normal in not everyone is my favorite person.  Thinking back over my life thus far, I can think of people who I really was not too fond of.  In those cases, I may have said and certainly had the attitude of yes, I’m supposed to love this person, but I don’t really want to.  I mean, have you heard what they did to me or someone I care about?  I can think of some people in my life that I really did have that attitude towards, the attitude of a dirty phrase. 
This attitude is one that I am realizing is dangerous for me.  If I give myself mental and emotional permission to include this attitude, then I am basically saying that I can sin against this commandment.  It’s not an obvious one, at least at first.  It takes time for the attitude to gather speed and come charging towards me full speed. 
I must be conscious of my attitude, and make sure that I’m not turning any dirty phrases.  

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Direction of Steps

Who gets to decide which way to go in life?   Is it your choice as to where to go, where you will be?  Before you jump to the yes conclusion, such great exercises jumping that way though…  We can make decisions most definitely, we decide all sorts of things.   But how are our steps really directed?
“I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps,” (Jeremiah 10:23).
The answers come in the words before and after this phrase.  It was a lifetime ago when a group of 8th and 9th graders headed to the University of Chicago History Museum with a few adults other than me in tow.  Entering one hall, the kids looked over a large stone statue that had once been worshipped by a people who are now long dead.  Gathering around it, one of the kids asked me – “how could they ever worship something like this?  Were they just stupid, I mean it’s just rock!”  I could understand where he was coming from, to this teen, looking at something from the perspective of 2000 plus years later.  So, let’s change the clock and move it forward. 
The words of Jeremiah 10 are still so applicable!  The Lord cautions Israel to stand apart, to “not be terrified by the signs in the sky.”  There have been some pretty terrifying signs in the sky haven’t there.  September 11, changed so much.  Do you remember the uneasy feeling when the flights started running again?    We don’t have to be afraid! 
The “customs of the people are worthless” they are worshipping things that we can make by hand.  Think about it, how much time have been spent on hobbies, resources of time, money, emotions spent on wasteful things.  This next part is just so amazingly worded that I’m going to just let you read it yourself, “Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk.  Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good."
The Lord is so unique, so mighty – it does make sense to trust him to determine our steps.  

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Finding a Stone of Ebenezer

Samuel and his people had just experienced a great victory, and in response he “set up a stone between Mizpah and Shen.  He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us,’” (1 Samuel 7:12). 
Several years ago, I found an interesting looking stone sitting out at the corner of the barn.  It stood about a food tall, with a shape coming towards a sort of soft edged pyramid at the top.  I had read about this stone of Ebenezer and it struck me as just the thing, plus it would look wonderful tucked in the front flower bed amongst the mint.  I tilted the rock one way, then another – wow, a lot heavier than I thought…I would need to rethink this strategy.  Though it was mid Iowa summer, a yellow snow sled struck my eye as the perfect tool.  Working it out of the rafters in the garage, and dodging the several months worth of dust that had collected since winter, soon I had the sled sitting by the rock.  I tipped it towards the sled until gravity proved my friend and the stone tumbled noisily into the yellow plastic rock transporter/winter sled.  Pushing and shoving I moved the stone away from the barn and down the little hill, across the driveway, and to the mint patch.  Then, wobbling and wiggling it from the plastic, I slowly maneuvered it into place.  It was a reminder every time I saw it of the celebration of the Lord’s help. 
Right now, that stone is well covered along with the mint under about a foot of snow.  It’s just one more lump under the lump of other things in that flower bed. But, I know it’s there.  Sometimes, I think I need tangible reminders of God’s help.  I wonder if I should, that my memory is running too short and shy of where it should, but maybe if Samuel set up a stone of remembrance it’s not such an odd thing.  Anyway, after the many prayers that have been answered this year so far, the many many prayers, I have thought perhaps a stone of Ebenezer is called for.  It’s just a reminder, a reminder of what God has done.  But, those reminders are good things.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Heavenly Spoons

I remember reading somewhere, and I’m sorry to the author for not giving proper APA cited acknowledgement, anyway… I remember reading somewhere about a description of heaven.  The first room that people looked at was hell.  People were sitting around a table loaded with food.  However, their spoons were much too long for them to serve themselves.  Holding the handles, the people tried to reach the food and then turn the spoon so it would be reachable to their own mouths. Food spilled out, leaving the people hungry and miserable.  They mumbled and complained, groused and moaned in their hunger and displeasure. 
Then, the people looked into the second room, that was heaven.  Inside was another table loaded with food and those long long spoons.  However, in this room, the people were working together and feeding each other.  They were content and happy, well fed and nourishing each other.  Words such as please and thank you, oh compliments to the chef were heard ringing out.
In a very simple way, that is a good view of heaven and hell.  Galatians 5 is just one spot of several which tells us about a single and very important command.  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  However, in verses 14 and 15, there is a warning attached. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” 
In your hands, you hold a long spoon.  Scoop up nourishment for your neighbor and share.  

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Intent, Truth, and Forgiveness

Have you ever wondered what someone was thinking?  I have, and not just what to get that very hard to buy for individual for Christmas.  I wonder what they think about… this project, that event, and of course what do they think about me? 
In those moments of wondering, a little thought can start poking us.  “Hey, what if they think that I am ___” (you fill in the blank for what best suits you).  One look misinterpreted, on tone not understood, a perceived change here then there, and the next thing you know it’s snowballing out of control.  “They don’t like me!”  Oh what assumptions we have jumped to, when the intent of the initial wondering was perhaps something so completely different.  However, charging ahead as the snowball starts picking up speed and becoming an avalanche, we may even react to our assumed perception of intent.  “Well, I’ll show them – I’ll just be polite, cold but polite.  I’ll cut this off before we even get there.”  Then, that individual who suddenly is receiving the cold shoulder is left wondering why, starting the cycle all over again. 
What can stop the cycle of avalanches from plowing over our heads over and over?  The truth!  Go to someone and clear up any misconceptions long before you are digging yourself out from a very cold and lonely tunnel.  What you hear may be a total shock and could possibly be completely different than what you originally thought. 
But, what if it’s not?  Take your opportunity.  The door is open, deal with the issues.  Get them all out on the table, talk them all through.  No, that’s most definitely not easy.  However, if you can do this with a heart of grace, seek out forgiveness when you need it.  Give forgiveness when it’s needed.  Trust may not be there for a while, or perhaps forever.  And most definitely the face of the relationship has changed.  However, the avalanches can stop.   

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It’s a Choice

It’s been very cold here recently, where negative numbers to double digits have become a common thing.  My old green car, which has ran well for quite some time, spurted and sputtered as I turned the key in the ignition on Sunday morning. Reaching for the knob to turn on the heat of the defroster, I moved the knob from low to high and waited to hear the sound of the air being pushed out.  Nothing.  I checked all the knobs one more time.  Still, nothing.  I took a deep sigh, “God, why now?  You know I was really hoping that this car would last till spring.” 
Then, it dawned on me – I was making a choice.  I was choosing the attitude and approach towards what had happened.  And, my initial choice was a pretty poor one.  God has shown me over and over that he is faithful to provide my needs and yet, I still struggle with making the trust and acceptance my initial thought. 
It takes courage to leave these things to God, courage in a very human way.  Others may see us as flighty, irresponsible, not understanding why we aren’t bent out of shape.  I’m not saying that it’s not serious to have a working defroster in double digit negative weather.  It is.  But, as I caught myself, I thought about how I had prayed God would provide the perfect car for me exactly when I needed it.  Maybe the car was getting close and almost ready!  I was getting excited to see how God was going to answer this prayer.  I made a choice to trust.
King David made a choice as well.  He had the eyes of the entire nation on him, not to mention neighboring rulers.  If he did something which the people thought as odd, you can believe that someone mentioned it down at the local gathering place.  God gave David a promise and David made a choice.  God had been faithful to David over and over and in return David wanted to give God a temple, a special place to be worshipped.  But, even before the building plans could start in serious construction mode, a prophet received word that it was David’s son that was to build this building, not David.  David had a choice.  He could fuss and fume, that this privilege was not supposed to be his, that somebody else would get the credit.  After all, it was his idea wasn’t it?  However, David responded with a prayer, saying … ““O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, 'I will build a house for you.' So your servant has found courage to offer you this prayer.  O Sovereign LORD, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant.  Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, O Sovereign LORD, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever," (2 Samuel 7:27-29). 
David chose well, he chose to accept God’s will and became excited about how God would fulfill his promises.  I’m going to keep practicing making good choices.  How about you?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Don’t You Dare Try to Steal My Joy

The last week was a whirlwind as the family prepared for a very serious surgical procedure to occur.  It was an up and down and round about dizzying experience.  Yet, we came through this with great joy and praise.  God is good!  God is good regardless of the outcome of all of this.  But, knowing that God is good, that he is faithful was such a comfort.  Then, after receiving good news from the surgeon and having the joy of passing this on, I was sailing pretty high.  Exhausted but elated.
Then, in a bold move there was an attempt to steal my joy.  Words that came at an inopportune time caught me tired and busy.  I left feeling even more drained, that each words that they had said was like a little leach that attached itself to me and drained away joy.  It only took a moment before I realized what was occurring and announced in the kitchen, “Don’t You Dare Try to Steal My Joy!” 
Oh the attacker is cunning, will change strategies to hit us as hard as possible.  For me at this time, it was a moment of fatigue that led to vulnerability.  Then, whack!  The enemy tried to knock the joy out and then cart it away.  No no no!!!  You cannot have it!  Why steal joy?  What could be powerful in joy? Well, Nehemiah phrases it so well, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” (Nehemiah 8:10b).  There is power in joy because it is strong.  Joy is like the sun, it warms everything, providing light, comfort, and strength.  The joy of the Lord contains rays of peace, hope, compassion, strength, grace, and love.  There is power in this, power in the ability to rest in God. 
So, I declare right now that my joy is off limits!  You may not have it!

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Audience of One

I heard an interview the other day on the radio.  A musician was sharing how he really felt impressed to create this album.  However, once he got started worries started to creep in.  He really wanted to write music that would move people, make an impression.  But, what if the words fell short, and how do you meet the needs of each person who might listen to the music?
Overwhelmed and stressed, the musician starting praying to God for clarity.  He was impressed that the only one he needed to write this music to was to God.  The musician shared that at that point he felt so relieved, now he had an audience to focus on.  An audience of one, who already loved him just as he was, no need to impress.
I have been told that I write a lot, but who do I write to?  Well, sometimes it really is to specific people.  Some of my most impassioned writing doesn’t see the light of day because it is just me and my computer.  But, my real audience is an audience of one no matter what I write.  In all things, I seek to glorify God.  Who is your audience?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Rules

Have you ever heard something about the social rules of things?  Perhaps it is clothed in a nickname like society or expectations or normal.  The authority that comes behind this is from the famous and at times infamous and always vague they.
They say that you should do this.
---- They say you should do that.
----    ---- Don’t wear this!
----     ----    ---- Did you hear?
The little phrases can turn our lives upside down as the they governed rules are applied to our lives.  I have looked at my own life many times in that light and can hear the they in my head. 
However, the they and the rules is such a lie!  While there are real society rules which do help define a sense of common culture, they can become a lachrymose lie hanging over our heads and hearts.  Laugh a deep laugh, a laugh that comes all the way from your toes as you look at the silliness of those rules and then you decide!  

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Overwhelming Will

For some reason, it is hard for me to turn things over to God’s will.  It’s not that I don’t love him, I do.  It’s not that I don’t believe him, I do.  But how much do I trust?  That’s not an easy question in the hard times, when there is so much importance in what happens next.  Lord, do I want your will to be done or my will done?
I know the arguments.  My view of things is not the same as God’s, therefore God would make wiser choices based on having all the facts.  My intelligence is certainly not the same as God’s, therefore God would make the smarter choice.  My heart is not good like God’s, therefore my decision might be based on personal motives, mistaken understandings, or sin.  So, what is exactly is the difference?
I think it lies in the gap between what I believe as to who God is and how God views me or anyone else.  On one side of the gap is God as he really is.  On the other side is my limited view.  Then, God asks me to trust him, to not ignore the gap but to place trust in it instead to bridge the chasm. 
This week has been a difficult one as I practiced seeking out God’s will.  What if it wasn’t the outcome I wanted?  What if it didn’t happen the way I hoped?  What if this, what if that… the statements flashed through my mind.  Yet, I must consider one additional what if.  What if I don’t trust God’s will?
Last night, as I settled in to complete my Bible Study, I was reminded by the devotional that we are equipped when we are called by God, he equips us knowing both what we will need to face the various parts of life as well as what we will need to move through them in a way that God wants us to.  I was reminded that God is eternally and completely good.  Then going even deeper into the thoughts, I thought again of how God wants what is best for each one of us, not only best but absolutely right, good, and perfect. 
Yet, it is still such a struggle to turn over the perceived control and relax in the request of God’s fulfillment of his good and perfect will.  Perhaps what I perceive as the best outcome won’t happen.  Perhaps it will even turn out in such a way that seems terrible.  Perhaps what God’s will is something beyond my comprehension, my understanding, my liking, my comfort. 
No, it is not an easy thing to turn this over to God’s will.  But I will continue to try and trust, to practice relinquishing this perceived control, and relying on God whole heartedly, with my whole self.  

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Refocus

I’ve worn glasses for years, and then switched to contacts about 6 months ago.  I love the freedom to have fun sunglasses, not looking over or under the brim of the frames.  One day, I put my contacts in and everything was a little blurry.  I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on until… wait for it… the light bulb went on.  They were in backwards! 
My eyes were out of focus so that distorted the visual perception of everything around me.  When my internal vision gets out of whack, that does the same thing.  Backwards viewing not only throws off my perspective, but I start giving the wrong things the wrong priorities.  Like a fog, subtle yet strong worry creeps in and makes it hard to see.  Then, signs flash along the way holding detours to follow.  They look so official, and yet will guide me off of my road.  The what-ifs of pot holes bounce me; I cannot see them in that foggy mess.  Pretty soon, the fog grows darker and darker.  The swirls changes to darkness and I feel truly lost.  Where are you Lord?
Then, a gentle reminder comes. The Lord who is the “Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – the Lord, who remains faithful forever,” reminds me that my glasses are on backwards again.  From the Lord who will always be faithful and has been right there with me through dark, detoured, pot hole strewn path comes a tap on the shoulder.  I can almost hear him saying, Jessica – how about we try taking off those glasses and looking at things through a different lens.  Things slowly go back where they should.  The sun comes out and burns up the fog.  Then, I can see!  I can see the road, the detours that are false, the possible pot holes, and still I am not traveling alone.  Instead, I am reminded that the Lord “gives sight to the blind.”  What a wonderful gift!  I will turn my eyes upon Jesus and refocus my vision.  

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bumper Cars

Bounce, jar, push, shove.  Get out the way!  Life seems like that some times, like right now.  We are approaching some turbulent happenstances in our family, health issues.  Going through this, I feel like I’m in a bumper car, getting bumped one way and then the next.  I heard the news, the words and felt fear slam into me.  Then, dread bounced in, landing on the pit of my stomach.  From behind there came another thud, what if.  Oh, I hate that one especially! 
When the emotions are running a little on the wild side, it is very important to remember that faith decisions are not based upon feelings, but upon a choice.  So, in that bumper car I am comforted to know that I am not alone, God is with me.  He settles the bumper cars and provides peace.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Dreams of a New Year

Now that 2009 has ended and 2010 is well under way, I’ve been thinking about what I would like to accomplish this year. 
I don’t want to follow the typical plans of new years, soon to be cast away, resolutions.  Instead, I would like to establish good goals that are something which will cause me to grow, yet be attainable.  Good goals are rather like objectives, when written well you know what it is that is to be achieved, in what time span, the steps and process that this will take, and what it will look like when it will be accomplished.  So, really this is moving from a dream to a goal to a plan to action.  If you read about goal setting, objective making - experts state that you should tell everyone, it helps to make you more accountable.
So, my first dream is to write my book, hopefully the first of several.  I’m not giving away what it is about or the title, but it has been started.  I’ve never written anything quite this lengthy before and have absolutely no idea if it will ever be published, or even how to go about that.  But, I figure that if God has plans for those words, He can take care of those needs.
My second, and please note that I am really not looking to follow the typical new years resolution plan, but it is to lose weight and be more in shape.  I have been successful in this before with carefully watching calories and then another time by being carefully about proportions.  I’m not quite sure how this one is going to work yet, but to occur it will need a plan of action and help along the way.  Especially on evenings when brownie mix is calling my name, or bread – oh bread and butter….
My third, and these are not really in any particular order, is my study.  This last year was one which was a pruning year for me and then of some new growth.  The pruning hurt by the way.  But, it was by the master pruner, and from that there is new growth and the promise of abundant fruit.  So, in honor of that I think I will not only study, but also grow some grapes.  I do enjoy reading my Bible, but I do not want to just read words and then not remember later what I have read.  Instead, I am seeking to dig in and study God’s Word. 
Three goals for one year, that is not so terrible is it?  Well, here at the starting line it isn’t.  But, as I continue to walk, I will need the encouragement of some, the call to accountability of others.  I hope that you have some dreams which can turn into goals for you this year.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Year in Review

It’s rather a normal thing to stop and think over a year as the new one begins.  The struggles, victories, projects, accomplishments, laughter, and tears all blend together in my memories to form a year.  The year 2009 started off with really letting go of a long term burden, and being able to do so without regret.  In the stead of that good-bye, I have said hello to several old friends, with whom I have enjoyed finding out how they are doing.  Pictures of children, shared memories of gone by days of school, memories of music from a very talented band and our mutual connections have provided moments where it feels as if we were still gathered around that round cafeteria lunch table.  How I love to hear of them doing well, how proud I am to see where we each have come, where we each are going.
New friendships have been forged as well, some of which I am greatly honored to be included in.  These are people with wisdom and kindness, which have taken a place in my heart that would weep if they were suddenly absent.  They have offered gentle counsel and sources of information. 
It has been a year with pain.  Several conflicts brought me to my knees with prayers and tears.  The sorrow of people I care for, the hurt of cruel words, the cynicism that tried to worm its way in with acts garnered to breed mistrust.  There was indeed rain, tears of sorrow that fell.  However, from those times of being cloaked in aching wounds, I have had an opportunity to see new growth and real change.  I have had the opportunity to share with others my own hurts and experiences at points where I am healing or have healed.  My pain was never wasted and I have felt peace as never before.
School ended, hooray for graduation.  I have saved my micro-econ textbook and notes for the express purpose of burning them this next summer.  What can I say, I am not a math minded person.  School did finally end and a few weeks later, I went to pick up my diploma.  Masters in Business Administration, with an additional concentration in Human Resources, it was a proud moment.  It was difficult to put that paper down, though it is only a representation of the effort and comprehension.  I ended this time very burnt out, up, and through as I had spent nearly every evening and weekend buried in books, paper, calculators, and my laptop for three years.  After a few tests (yes, it was that math again) which took over twelve hours to complete, my brain felt like it was on complete and total overload, soon to become a pile of mush.  Thankfully, burnout is not a permanent thing, and in time I have found myself not only picking up my writing again, but research as well. 
Quieted by a badly sprained ankle and knee, I spent two and a half months preparing for the Great Banquet.  If you are ever invited to attend, please say yes.  This was a life changing time, and I walked from this time refreshed and ready to continue my journey, strengthened by the transparency of some amazing women and many acts of caring and Christian love. 
This was a year I have been so proud of dear friends, family.  I have seen them make wise choices, grow in their faith, and provide hospitality that is truly tender and kind.  We have held each other through tears, in prayer, and in laughter.  Through many phone calls, text messages, e-mails and trips, the roads between Iowa and Ohio have been well used, though not as well used as we would sometimes like.  I am indeed proud of them and am so blessed by who they are and who they will be. 
In this last year, I have been grateful many times over for my parents.  Though I have looked and considered houses a few times, I am always welcomed to stay at home and get out from the burden of the student loans first.  But, that is only a small piece of my gratitude.  Over this past year, we have continued to grow as a family.  This time is something I have looked at as very precious as the relationship that exists here is more than just mom and dad, but as dear friends, confidants, and mentors. 
Oh what a year, a year with a yellow puppy and a sweet chocolate lab, nine Christmas trees, and easily reading over twenty books (please don’t ask me to list them all).  It was a year of growth, of pruning, and peace in God’s goodness.  Oh what a year to remember. 

Monday, January 4, 2010

I’m Dreaming of a Green Spring

Each season has it’s beauty and unique special qualities.  The winter snow is beautiful and I love how the moon is reflected on the white surfaces.  Even the tree branches seem to be lit up like they have specially designed lighting on them.  Summer is so casually hot, warm breezes move eagerly through areas bogged down with moisture and humidity, star filled nights are perfect for sky watching.  I admit that autumn is my favorite, the smell of leaves and the earth preparing for winter, the cool in the evenings and the lingering warmth in the afternoons.  But spring, that is also very special.  Soon the temperatures will start rising and days will start becoming lighter longer, just a few short months away.  Then, the earth will thaw and buds will start appearing. 
Fully enjoying the snow, I am dreaming of a green spring and what I will do outside.  Perhaps try my hand at grape vines, expand and prune back the herb bed.  Split hostas and lilies to put them in other spots.  Living in a spot with yard and woods, I am dreaming of taking just a little spot of untamed woods and putting in a little wild flower spot.  A spot that will be perfect suited to time with a blanket in the summer to dream of hobbit gardens, to read books and relax.  Not very big, but something tucked among the trees with flowering vines surrounding it, drooping like great sweetly scented curtains.  Little fruit trees gathered in one spot with lavender and onions planted at their base.  Cheery black eyed susans will welcome dandelions that are not welcome out in the grass.  Perhaps I can scour the woods around to find natural native flowers that can be arranged and welcomed.  Oh, I can nearly feel the breeze now, such a nice time to dream of a green spring.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Route 66

Nat King Cole leans back and sings… “Well if you ever plan to motor west, Just take my way, that’s the highway that’s the best.  Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.”  Is your foot tapping yet?  After a resurgence by the very fun movie Cars, I have heard more about that route and definitely heard the song more often.  I would love to take a trip on Route 66 some day, pass through the towns which once were the highlights of cross country travelers.
Of course, and sadly enough, many of those small towns have suffered from the highway which was replaced by the four lane freeways. 
The new freeways passing up the towns caused an economic ripple, wiping out some communities.  Have you ever felt like that?  Bypassed by something new, something different, the latest trend or fad?  Maybe it is as friends move on with their lives.  Perhaps a new opportunity has led you to a new area, new responsibilities.  A demanding schedule perhaps, or a project which requires lots of time and concentration.  Other things can be left behind. 
These new changes can be very good things, and what we leave behind might not necessarily be a bad thing.  However, at the start of a new year it is kind of fun to take a trip down a route of memory; recognizing what you have come through, moved past, or started on. 
When I think over the last year, I am reminded of new friends, good-byes, healing, growth, walks by the river, laughter watching the dogs, wonder at the snow, times with family.  Take a trip along memory lane, your own personal Route 66.  But, don’t forget that you don’t live there anymore.  Times have changed, this cannot just be ignored.  Happy journeys and get your kicks on Route sixy-six.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A New Year – Standing on the Edge of Town

It is the beginning of a new year, a time with the promise of what can be and the reality of what will be.  Many articles for the next few weeks will be addressing resolutions for the new year, changes people will make, changes they won’t make, etc..  Looking back over the year, it is easy to think of what I would have done differently, opportunities to pursue, choices to change.  I also look back with that lovely benefit of twenty twenty vision and have a different level understanding of how God has worked in my life. 
Now, this new year is sprawling out in front of us, like a new land.  We can’t avoid brining the luggage from our past years, but where we go  and what we do with these things are new choices.  Standing on the edge of the new year, it is standing on the cusp of the future.   If the future were a town, where would I find you?  Where would you find me? 
In a town, you can choose where you go and what you do.  Think of the priorities, the “places” you have gone this past year.  Consider time, energy, resources, emotions, choices, attitudes, and priorities as if they were places in this town.  Choosing wisely, I am reminded of entering the town in Luke 10.  The disciples were instructed to enter a town and make a decision.  If they were welcomed, the instructions were straight forward to “eat what you are given, heal the sick, tell that the Kingdom of God is near you.”  If the town did not welcome them, then “wipe even the dust that sticks to your feet off.  Let them know as well, the kingdom of God is near.”  Now, consider those “places” in town again – time, energy, resources, emotions, choices, attitudes, and priorities.  As you decide where to go in the next year, will these places be welcoming or you should wipe your feet off of these things and go someplace else?
Psalms 65
Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled.
O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions.

Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! 
We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.

You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, 
O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth 
and of the farthest seas,

who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength,

who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, 
and the turmoil of the nations.

Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades 
you call forth songs of joy.

You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. 
The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, 
for so you have ordained it.

You drench its furrows and level its ridges; 
you soften it with showers  and bless its crops.

You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.                                        The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.

The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; 

 they shout for joy and sing.