Sunday, February 28, 2010

Have Mercy

The pinchy shoe moment has ended. Jesus and the disciples have packed up and are leaving Jericho, with a large crowd following behind.

And though in my mind I have pictured some sort of gigantic van, I know that they didn’t have on at that time and were walking. Walking along, two men are sitting by the roadside, blind. Sitting there, passersby might have taken pity on them and helped to meet a need.

If you ever cover your eyes with a scarf and try to operate for a while, you may notice that your other senses start to grow sharper. Hearings, smell, taste, touch all start compensating for the loss of sight. So imagine these two men, sitting on that road. Perhaps the sun was out that day and they were feeling heat, listening to the sounds of people passing on the road, maybe bugs were out buzzing (and bugging), the smell of people who have walked and their animals could have drifted by. But if these two men sat there often, this would all have been familiar to them. Then, something strange happens – there is a crowd walking past and the men hear news.

Jesus is coming!

What fabulous news for all of us to hear! How did they respond? “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” (Matthew 20:30). Mercy, shouting for mercy! It was a cry of help! What a great response to Jesus. We all need help and when we hear that Jesus is passing by, we can either cry out for mercy, try to ignore the crowd, or hide. These men showed wisdom in their pleading.

The crowd’s response was to tell the men to be quiet. Shhhhhhh!!!!! Can’t you hear it now; practice it in your very best movie librarian voice. Don’t interrupt us, don’t bother Jesus, and don’t get in my way! We do that too don’t we? That person has something wrong with them – don’t look, don’t ask, don’t talk, don’t, don’t, don’t.... Or better yet, let’s hide what’s wrong so that nobody else knows. We have an inner Shhhh at times that comes out, telling us that it is just too minor, major, horrible, silly, etc... to be shared.

So again – I applaud these men, they were not daunted by the crowd, but shouted out even louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” (Matthew 20:31).

Jesus stopped, called the men to him. “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32). These few verses are just packed with information! We learn more about Jesus here. He knows what is wrong with these men. He knows about their vision, about every cell and every hair, every hope and every dream, every wrong and every right that has ever surrounded these men. But, he stops to ask – what do you want me to do? Jesus does that for us too. He doesn’t charge in and make us change. Instead, he calls to us, stops for us, and then asks us about the change. What love that is! Think how we would rebel if it was pushed on us, instead we are wooed.

What did the men want? Their sight! “Lord, we want our sight.” (Matthew 20:33). Can you imagine the butterflies in the stomach, the elbowing and jostling in the crowd, the excitement in the air? Sight for these men carried so much with it, possibilities and freedoms that were currently unattainable.

Jesus had mercy on them, he had compassion, and he knew that he could heal these men and what it would mean. Jesus “touched their eyes.” (Matthew 20:34).

What I would give to have been able to see those men’s faces as they took it all in. What was the first thing they saw? Did they know what their road side compatriot looked like? Did they hear familiar voices in the crowd and start putting faces with them? We don’t know if they had always been blind, perhaps they had never seen sunlight or starlight, shadows, green leaves, and the dust of the road. There would be so much to do right then, I think I would want to go five directions at one time! I want to see everything!!

But, these men “received their sight and followed him,” (Matthew 20:34). They received their physical sight, but they also followed Jesus, receiving the sight of their souls. Jesus did have mercy on them.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pinchy Shoes

Have you ever come to the spot in Mulan II (the Disney movie) where the princesses sing about wanting to be a “regular girl”, without having to wear “pinchy shoes”? I’ve worn those pinchy shoes before; you know the really great looking heels that are squeezing the life out of my toes (sorry guys) but make my legs look longer. You wear the pinchy shoes very long, and that is pretty much your all consuming thought. My feet are going to die and take the rest of me with them!

Sometimes, circumstances occur where we have a pinchy shoe reaction. It grates a little, then a little more, rubs us the wrong way, the blister starts appearing, the blister gets bigger and bigger, the foot gets redder and redder... Next thing you know, you are throwing pinchy shoe fits over something that needed to be addressed miles back.

When the mother of Zebedee’s sons approached Jesus about her boys and their potential (she hoped) positions in heaven, I think there was a pinchy shoe moment for everyone else there. Uh lady, we were here too – what makes you think that your sons are all that great?

Okay, I’m paraphrasing – the conversation went more like this. “When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers,” (Matthew 20:24). In other words – what a bunch of brown nosers! Notice a couple of things here, that the ten are upset with the two brothers. There is no mention of Jesus being indignant or of the mom being part of the backlash.

Instead, Jesus took a moment to point out the pinchy shoes in their midst. “Jesus called them together, and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave ...’” (Matthew 20:25-27). Um fellas (yes, I’m paraphrasing again), let’s take off that pinchy shoe of pride for a minute and talk about who is really great. Then, the response takes a turn that some might not have expected, as Jesus turns their logic on its head. Let’s go over that part again – to be great, you need to be the servant. That does seem rather backward doesn’t it? I mean, the great one has the servant. Yet, think of truly exemplary leaders, they have a heart to serve their people, company, friends, country, etc... They want to serve, they want what is best for them – not always what is best or easiest for themselves.

Jesus wraps it up with, “...‘just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,’” (Matthew 20:28). What a gentle, yet humbling reminder that the Son of God, God in human form himself came as a servant. Is it too much to ask me to serve? When I think of it that way, then I’m thinking instead of the missed opportunities I have had to serve. Where has my own pinchy shoe of pride blinded me?

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Greener Grass

The Greener Grass
Have you ever heard that expression that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence?  This looks pretty good, but over there in that yard they have had a lawn service and wow is it lush and so green.  I could just walk around in that barefoot for hours and it would feel so good…
I think that there was a mom once upon a time that dreams of greener grass for her songs.  “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling down, asked a favor of him,” (Matthew 20:20).    Here was a mom who had an idea of greener grass.  And, really – who could blame her?  She has caught the idea of Jesus as the son of God and wanted something great for her sons. 
“‘What is it you want?’ he asked.  She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.’”  This is a mom who wants greener grass for her sons and perhaps for herself. 
Jesus points back the spotlight onto her own grass.  “‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them.  ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’  The grass, it’s not so green right here.  In fact, it’s full of moles, thorns, and weeds.  Don’t walk barefoot because your feet are going to get cut!  But, that grass still looks really good and green, so the answer comes. “‘We can.’”
What cup is that?  In this case, the cup is the acts in the coming days, the terror and horror of each moment.  Instead, the reply came, “‘You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or let is not for me to grant.  These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.’”  Sorry, that grass isn’t for me to share.  I am respecting the authority of the one who owns the grass. 
The grass, the perception of something better, it’s not such a bad thing.  Yet, in this case there was a loss of focus in yearning for the green, the better.  Sometimes, you have to take stock of your grass realistically and learn first to work and remove the weeds through hard work first. 
I think we all do that sometimes.  And not necessarily for things, but sometimes for situations.  Wow, I would love to have that family, home, relationship, child, job, opportunity, skill, education, dream, ability, etc…  I wish I could have that kind of patience, faith, hope, trust, love…  I can’t say that I have ever yearned for the right or left hand of God in his kingdom.  But, there are other things I have wished, pined, ached for.  Yet, the cup, the path, that God has prepared for me is a special one, a unique one.  I need to trust that the grass is just the right patch of grass for me right now.  Dig in, weed, and make it as best as I can.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Even Better than an Easter Bonnet

Do you remember hearing the song Easter Bonnet on old movies shown about this time of year?  Bing Crosby leans back and sings to Virginia Dale about her hat at Easter, praising the beauty of her and her comely hat.
Going back farther than the 1930s, there was a different celebration going on.  But, like all celebrations, it was going to take some preparation. 
Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!" (Matthew 20:17-19). 
This is no surprise party – Jesus gave the overall gist of what was about to happen in coming days.  Some terrible preparation would occur, but then life would concur! To prepare our hearts for Easter and the celebration of life, let’s take a walk through the days leading up to the events.  You can even wear your Easter bonnet if you would like.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

You Can’t Ever Use Never
“I can’t!”
                “I never can!”
                                “It’s impossible!”
It’s so easy to blow away the possible by tossing out the excuses of impossibility.  It’s not so easy to take on what is deemed as the impossible.  What would my world look like if the can’t, never, and impossible were taken away?  Replaced instead with can, always, and possible; I wonder if it would look drastically different.
The thing is, is that I am at my most capable when I have hit the bottom of the trench first.  It is then, that I lean on a different power source, I lean on God.  Slowly, he picks me up out of the mire and cleans me.  Then, walking on, off the beach – He steps out onto the water and keeps walking.  I stand there on the beach. I’ve been picked up, cleaned up, and now I am standing there – with the God of the impossible and hesitating. 
                “But Lord, if I go out there, I’ll sink! It’s impossible!”
I imagine at that moment, all that really happens is he turns, and stretches out his hand. 
I make a decision – can or can’t.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Panes of glass stack up with painted layers between.  A delicate theme prepared on the bottom layer has grace and strength in it.  More layers are added, delicate baby colors, colors of little league teams, band uniforms, and school colors.  Collegiate layers are added, scripts of text painstakingly prepared in notes.  Adulthood layers are added with heavier tones of responsibility.  Choices add more layers, choices that the individual has made, choices that have been made which affect the individual. 
The first layer, many presume it is lost in the midst of the other layers.  The delicateness belies it’s persistent strength.  Like a ray of light which is shown through, the shadow reflects from the first layer onto the others, leaving an imprint. 
Hope, truth, love, shining onto the layers, shone from God onto his children, where the delicate cords of grace are prepared for them.  The layers continue to add.  But in each, there are additional ways that grace is shone through.  

Monday, February 22, 2010

Aspirations of Normalcy – Really?

Sit for one TV show and you will watch several breaks of commercials.  Obviously, they are commercials and therefore by nature designed to compel you to purchase, go, or act in a certain fashion.  Buy this outfit, fix your hair like this, drive this car, fit in be normal.
But, what is NormalShould I really aspire to be normal?  Should you?  I have my own sense of who I am and who I can be.  Imagine that you are standing in a gallery filled with beautiful paintings.  Each is unique, each is different though there are similar themes found in many of them.  There paint has been mixed to fit just that canvas perfectly, blended by a deft hand and applied in a masterful way.  Lighting has been arranged to catch the best of each of the paintings.  Carefully hung, each is unique as you stroll past.  Now, imagine that this gallery is really the sidewalk of a street.  Each person you meet is a carrying a painting in their arms.  Each one is a unique work of art by the Master artist.  Unique, and I’m aspiring for normalcy?  Nope – I don’t think so!  I’m aspiring for something extraordinary.  How about you?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Spring Beckons

We have had a few days with sunshine here in the wintry Mid West. Though the rushing cold of the wind may take your breath away, there is new warmth in the sun. I sat down in my car a few days ago, and just relished the heat I could feel on my back, through the many layers, where the car had been sitting in the sun.

Winter is beautiful. Crystalline ice sculptures, snow that reflects the moonlight and sunlight, even the mist coming off of the Mississippi River through the cracks in the ice. Eagles have gathered in the trees, the cardinals stand out with their scarlet regalia. The two red foxes frequenting the yard stand out. Seeing them wiggle about in the snow, much like a long nose and busy tailed puppy, have been a delight.

Yet, spring beckons. When I think of spring though, it’s not just warmth or green. It starts with a smell. The first time that I smell the smell of earth, thawing under my feet. Then, the yearly contest of who can see the first robin begins. When that little bird appears, bright eyed and rose colored, my entire countenance feels like it’s gotten a vacation. Slowly buds appear, then suddenly overnight it seems that God told them to open. The world will fill back up with green. Early flowers, sweet hyacinths and crocus blossoms dare even the chilliest snows. Orion will take his place lower in my horizon in those warmer clear nights and the Big Dipper will slowly rise. Dreams of tomato plants, zucchini, and green beans start filling my head.

The purple vetch, that somehow even smells purple, is just a little ways away. The leaves will fill out, the river thaw, and the eagles return to their northerly summer homes. Spring will beckon.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Olympic dreams on Washington School hill

Across the street from where I live is an elementary school with a great sledding hill.  Turning left from the driveway, driving down the road on my way to run a quick errand, a young boy was walking towards the hill.  Bundled in a quilted style blue coat, with a black toboggan, his little face stood out and looked fiercely determined.  In his arms, he was holding a snowboard. 
The Olympics are going on right now, and many children will be inspired.  I wondered driving past him if the Olympics had been on at his house.  Now, a new snow board was being tried out, with a dream of Olympic glory in a small boy’s head.  I do enjoy watching the games, but I think that one of the things I like the most is the dreams that are born every four years with each Olympic games. 
To that little boy – dream big!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cause’ the Church Will Tip

You walk in the door, hang up your coat, and then greeting as you go – head to your seat.  Passing rows, familiar faces fill the pews.  Paying attention week after week, you could name the names which seem to be assigned to their particular spot.  I sit behind a couple who sit parallel to the last window, about halfway back on the right hand side. 
What would happen if we moved?  The church would tip and we would slide out and land on the other side of the world!!  No?  Are you sure?
Okay, so we do like traditions and it is easy to become stuck in the familiar.  I don’t know that there is anything really wrong with sitting in the same pew week after week.  But, it was a good reminder to me that I need to hang on to the right things and let the familiar change, if it’s a change of tradition or ritual or the familiar.  Maybe we should all pick a different spot to sit one Sunday – and let the church tip just a little.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

You Get What You Give

I saw a church sign the other day stating in clear white acrylic letters, “You Get What You Give.”  There is some merit to that.  There are quite a few things in life that you get out what you put into them.  Goal completion, mentoring programs, education, friendships, exercise programs; these can all be fairly good examples of the give get exchange.
Yet, when I saw that I sign, I was reminded of what I “Got” and not only didn’t but couldn’t “Give” for.  Coming as a baby, growing up, being praised, being persecuted, tortured and killed – Jesus died for me.  He died for you.  I didn’t give anything for that.  There is nothing I can give for that.  Then, he rose from the grave!  There is certainly nothing I could give for that. 
There are times when I do not get what I give – Thank God!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Arthritic Hearts

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Though, I admit it’s a little late, the sentiment is still the same.  A few days ago, I wrote the following for friends and family…

These holidays seem to strike me as the confluences of emotions are displayed in front of me.  The excitement of the loved spouse, the friend who is remembered, the parents and grandparents who share this day with a special card or dessert; watching their joy flit about is a wonderful thing.  Others lock their hearts away this day, trying to shove it deep down into their shoes or possibly encase it in ice so that it doesn’t hurt, doesn’t cry out for someone to care.  How many others are numb, just another day, too injured to care to display caring for someone else.  Hope, hurt, dreams, flowers, chocolate – they all get mixed into the swirls of heart displays and flower bouquets that were being sold.
I’ve had Valentine’s Days where I absolutely adored being the sweetheart of someone special, and others where I would have been quiet content to drown my sorrows in a gallon of some excellent ice cream and a good movie.  This year, I found myself seeing the day a bit differently.  Instead of it being about cards, flowers (which are always lovely and happily received), I was struck by the way we act as sponges for love.  We, creatures made with a need to be loved, and yet are often so unskilled at loving one another.
Maybe we have lost sight of the real need behind a day to celebrate love.   Perhaps we should celebrate it more often.  Recognizing the work of the mother and father providing for their family and acknowledging their effort, it takes effort.  Enjoying the smear of cake on a child’s face along with a sugary grin, get your camera handy.  Cleaning snow off the car, making the pot of coffee, folding the laundry, or just saying thank you; what would our world look like if we just stopped long enough to recognize and celebrate?  It’s kind of interesting question isn’t it.  It just might change the world around you.
So, on that note – Happy Valentine’s Day.

One of the comments I heard was a conversation between my “moms”, my mom and my friend who is like a second mom to me.  Somehow in there, with a bit of teasing about age, there was mentioned an arthritic heart.  That phrase, arthritic heart, really stuck with me.  I’ll admit freely that I borrowed (um… okay I stole it – but I told them), those words, arthritic heart. 
Arthritis, that painful inflammation of the joints can afflict any age.  But, what if we had arthritis of the heart?  Imagine that your heart is inflamed, choked off with stiffness and soreness.  Stretching is limited, not allowing free movement.  Pain, coming with movement, comes without movement.  Still, repositioning of the heart is limited trying to avoid future throbbing, seeking out that place where the hurt is temporarily stilled. 
I think sometimes that my heart is arthritic, that it doesn’t want to move.  Sometimes, it is sore with hurts I see around me or happen to me.  Sometimes, I just want to go back to bed, pulling a favored blanket up over my head and blocking out the light, pulling in the comfort of the heated darkness.  But, eventually the blanket is pulled down, the blinds are opened and it’s time to face the world.  After all, arthritis really isn’t helped by sitting still for long times, but through gentle movement.  Pull off the blanket, open the window blinds, and stretch out your heart.  Just maybe, you might make today a Valentine’s day for someone else and they might make it for you.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Moonlight, Prayers, and Pillows

I am normally a very sound sleeper. Night comes, it gets dark, my eyes grow heavy, and quite often I have no difficulty in curling up with my pillows and blankets to find a soft and sweet sleep.

There are times though, when I am woken up. Not by the owl singing love songs to his feathered mate on the next hill, or the dog who occasionally howls in her sleep. But, woken for a purpose. It is something like a knocking at my heart, faint and gentle at times, stridently piercing at other times. It is a knocking like a hammer that knows exactly which part to strike. I wake up from my sleep and know that there is a need.

Sometimes it is a prayer need for a family member or friend. I try to focus my fuzzy sleepy brain around that as the moonlight comes into the room and coats everything. At other times, it is a sense of urgency to pray, but without a specific topic. But these times, though they interrupt my rest, are very special to me. My thoughts slowed down by the quiet, they are often more centered on the topic at hand. This may be something I have prayed about all day, and yet, somehow in the dark of the night, it is clearer than by the sunlight. I am less distracted, less liable to wander off my topic.

I wonder if you are ever woken up in the night by more than the crooning owl or the howling dog. Do you have someone knock on your heart at times?

Monday, February 15, 2010


I had the joy of listening to one of my very favorite little boys in the world laugh and play through the phone last week. He and his mommy were playing at their home, about 8 hours away. Sitting on the exercise bike, she and I chatted while they played.

There was such joy in that laughter. I laughed just for hearing it.

When I’m a bit down, or I start feeling a week’s worth of stresses trying to creep up in one moment, I try to remember that little laugh. Ringing through phone lines, bouncing to his own particular wonderful humor. There is a time to laugh, a time to be merry and joyful. To splash in a puddle or lay in the snow and make angels. To laugh at the dog licking your face or the little boy wearing his tennis shoes and carrying his snow boots. To laugh at the beauty and strangeness of it all. There is a time to laugh.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lengua Materna

Lengua Materna, the mother tongue or primary language.  Learned from the world around us, the words spoken in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, and play groups as children, the words resound in our minds and imprint themselves.  Slowly, we develop linguistic skills and they become our mother tongue.  I remember taking Spanish in high school and besides a few verb conjugations, I can’t say that it stuck.  My mother tongue is English.
But should it be?
Shouldn’t my mother tongue, my lengua materna, be to love the people around me? 
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
That is some language, one of patience, kindness, broader sight to help understand the other.  Truthful, forgiving, protecting of the relationship, building trust, these are all qualities found in real love. 
We are told that we must love our neighbor.  By this definition, my lengua materna must be one of careful words, working to let God guide and guard my heart, mind, and tongue.  It must also be of careful actions, following God’s direction in reaching with my hands, stepping out with my feet.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”
Happy Valentine’s Day

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Road Maps

I love a good map.  Pulling open the paper, I can see the path the road will take.  Then, I can plan which way to head, if I need to diverge this way or that, or what alternatives I have.
It would be nice sometimes to have a map like that for life.  Tracing along the path, I could see joys, detour the sorrows, and avoid the hurts.  Honestly, that is what I would do if I could see that map.  I would avoid the hurts.  But, God puts the hurts in front of me at times, at other times He allows them to come into my path.  “It is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
The Lord’s purpose, the Lord’s plan is something that is a mystery to us.  We don’t have a map that shows what is coming next.  “Many are the plans in a man’s heart.”  But we don’t steer a straight course, we don’t go the way we should, and at times we get lost.  “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
We can take comfort in that, that the Lord’s purpose prevails.
~Proverbs 19:21

Friday, February 12, 2010

Be Strong, Take Heart

Bad day?  Tough news?  Sad times?  Those days can be clogged full of despair.  Lord, where are you?  Where are you in the midst of the grief of the death of a loved one?  Where are you when you hear the sad news of a friend?
What do you say?  “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”  Psalm 31:24
Hope.  Strength, heart, hope.  A friend heard some bad news this week.  Her bad news brought forth concern for her and her family, wondering what the days ahead will hold.  Then, I saw this – “Be strong, take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” 
Be strong – relying on God’s strength, unexplainable peace and joy can fill us.  It’s not a silly giddy type of laughter, but a deep and intense reliance upon God.  With that, my spirit takes heart.  It takes motivation, movement, and hope.  Yes – hope!  We will keep our hope.  We will keep this through reliance upon God.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Stranger’s Smile

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2
Sometimes, a kind word from a complete stranger can make the difference in your day.  Recently, on a day that I was looking for sunshine behind every cloud which seemed so large, heavy, and grey, I found sunshine through the smile of a stranger.  Walking to work, she had crossed the street and was heading to an assisted living center.  A big smile greeted me, “oh what a pretty hat, it looks so good on you.”
I responded with a “thank you,” but must have seemed either not quite awake or a little surprised because she went on to emphasize it. 
Parting ways, just a few words and a couple of seconds, but she made my morning.  I walked a little lighter, smiled a little quicker.  Perhaps, just perhaps, I entertained an angel unaware that day.  Maybe I can go be an “angel” to someone else tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sacrifice of Praise & the Second Hand Smoke of Grumbling

“We bring the sacrifice of praise, unto the House of the Lord”…  Ever heard those words?  Sung those words?  I have. 
Yet, a sacrifice generally means giving something up.  What is it that I am giving up to praise God?  Well, right now it is grumbling.  I wrote earlier about the Israelites grumbling in their tents.  The thing about grumbling, after trying to go a week (unsuccessfully) without grumbling, is that it is rather addictive.  By the end of last week, I felt like someone who was trying to give up smoking by standing with the smokers instead of actually holding the cigarettes.  Stopping short of putting tape over my mouth, it was all I could do some days to not grumble. Sometimes, I probably should have put the tape over my mouth because I grumbled anyway. 
Not something easy to quit doing.  But, I will keep working on it. 
Is there something that you need to sacrifice to praise God?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow fence

Much of the country just had another bout with snow.  Driving back from a nearby town, I was struck at the way the hedges in the fence rows were banked with snow.  On the other side of the fence, the field is protected from snow and only a small amount comes through. 
I thought of how many times I have asked for a hedge to be placed around me or someone else.  The request of protection from the feet and feet of snow, or rather the feet and feet of difficulties or hardships that come in to sweep us away. 
Job is a great example of someone who kept getting hit on all sides.  His losses just kept piling up, much like the snow drifted against that fence.  Pretty soon Job was overwhelmed, stuck in the drift.  But – the important thing to remember with Job’s story is to read all the way to the end.  Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.”
Had a rough day, a rough week?  Wondering if God’s plan could possibly be accomplished?  Have hope!  Here is a promise, plainly spoken – God’s plans cannot be thwarted.  Not may not or possibly might not, but cannot!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Is God Big Enough?

Is God big enough to handle my questions?  Can He really handle all my problems?  Is He really always there?  How am I supposed to know that?
Colossians 1: 15 – 23
 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
 21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
What a comfort these words provide.  This is the very beginning, the creator of all, and holds all things together.  God is the head, supreme in all things.  There is such strength here, hope.
Which begs the question, if God is that big, that good, great, and supreme – would He bother with me?  The next part, go ahead and read it again – that is the part which fills me with joy.  Once an enemy, and yet looked at not as villain, but as someone who is filled with love towards me.  That is an wonderful thing right there, but it goes on.  Reconciled, forgiven – cleansed from the sin which plagues us all.  Cleansed by a death from the blameless son of Christ. 
Yes, Paul’s proclamation is one of hope and power.  But, it is also a very personal statement, full of joy and hope.  What a wonderful thing it is to know that God really can handle all my questions, all my problems, and is always there.  Still how much more amazing it is that this God, big and powerful, almighty and all holy – is deeply interested in a relationship with me, with you.  Certainly worth a proclamation isn’t it!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Praying Dangerous Prayers

Isaiah 9:2    The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
The doors that have clanged shut so many times now swing open.  The hallway, dark and dim with fears now has a brilliant glow coming from the exit.  The guards who had stood before the prisoner and freedom, between prison of everything into freedom are now gone.  Oh the glee, the joy, the fear and hope of the possibility of freedom. 
The first steps down the hall, gathering momentum and then the deciding moment comes.  The prisoner pushes the door open and walks into the light.  Freedom. 
Which of us would take the steps out of our prison cell?  Would we be brace ourselves and walk into the unknown, embracing the freedom that awaits us?
The people who walked in darkness, who have now received hope of a great light.  The hope of a light, the hope of freedom, of a release. How they, as we, must have prayed for that.  What a dangerous prayer, and yet no safer prayer.  A dangerous prayer because we don’t know what God will do with release.  Freedom is the freedom to serve, to act, to obey, and to move.  Freedom to go where we are sent.
Why would that be dangerous?  Have you ever heard anyone say, “oh, don’t pray for patience because God will give you something hard and you’ll learn to be patient the hard way.”  I think it might be bit like that, the prayer that could lead you anywhere.  Yet, it would be anywhere where God would like you to go, or what God would like you to do, listen, speak, obey, or wait. 
I’m going to try and venture out with this prayer.  Will you join me?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Wholesome Scent

There is a smell that I love at the end of a stressful day; lavender, tea tree oil, and Echinacea infused into bath salts.  Pouring them under the hot water, they dissolve in and release their fragrance into the air.  Breathing deeply, I am reminded of the beauty of a wholesome scent.  It’s not a flowery fragrance, a perfume, but is clean and healing.
There are some things to me that seem wholesome and healing, things that provide a beam of light when things are dark and grey.  A friends voice, a baby’s laugh, a dog’s wet kiss, the feel of sunlight, the smell of an old book, laughter until we cry, the smell of oranges and snow.  Those and many other things are little nudges, little whispers along the way that we are not alone.
Oh, to be not alone, what a wonderful promise.  “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  Never ever, not ever left or forsaken.  Not forgotten, left behind, or misplaced.  Never, not for just a little while or till something happens, till a relationship grows strained, or until someone moves – but instead, we are promised never. 
Hebrews 13 is kind of a wholesome collection of last thoughts.  You know, the kind that your mom gives you before you leave the house as a kid – be careful, don’t talk to strangers, etc…  And in the middle of all of that, there is this great big beautiful statement.  “‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?’”  Never left, never forsaken – indeed it is a wholesome thing.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Vaccination Against Grumbling

My disclaimer today – this post is rather long. 
Stories in Exodus are wonderful to read.  We can recognize ourselves in the Hebrews as they are stuck in a place they don’t want to be, are delivered, and then find out that the green grass that they thought wasn’t quite the green grass that is.  Then, they grumbled.  Oh and there comes some real recognition of those ancient Hebrews in ourselves as well. 
Do you know the grumbles?
                I just want out of Egypt and then I’ll be happy…  I just want out of this job, city, state, marriage, life, friendship, debt, burden, and or task and then I’ll be happy.
                Well, thanks for getting us out of Egypt God, but this isn’t quite how I imagined it looking… Thanks for saving me, but come on – have you even seen what this place looks like?  Why am I here?  Did you get lost?  I told you after that last turn we should have stopped for directions.
                Thanks for the manna God, but I’m kind of sick of the taste.  Can I get something new?  A Quarter Pounder with Cheese and French Fries would be nice…  Thanks for providing for my needs, in THAT way – but I really wanted you to do this in THIS way.  Uhm, can you do this a little differently?
Well, you get the point.  The Ancient Hebrews really weren’t so different than we are today, at least me. 
Is there really any danger in that grumbling though?  Isn’t it okay to just “vent” to each other, at each other from time to time? 
Think of a wall of stone in front of you.  I think grumbling is like a moss that grows over and with achingly slow patience grows into the stone.  Then, when it is removed, small pieces of the stone are torn away.  This leaves the rock itself more vulnerable to the weather outside, making it wear down and wear away faster.  The moss can seem harmless sitting there.  I mean, it’s just sitting there right?  Wrong!  Slowly, instead the roots sink in and slowly displace the broken stone. 
Those Hebrews, they also had to learn this.  Psalms 106 basically paraphrases the story.  Starting with praise, the author of the psalm starts with a reminder that the Lord is good and his love endures forever.  It’s one of those moments when it is nice to know the end of the story before it is over.  Things are going to get a little dicey here, but we can claim that promise. 
Then, there is an encouragement, a reminder that the Lord’s praise cannot be “fully declared.”  If I do nothing but stand someplace and praise God, it would not come close to completely describing him.  That is a good reminder to do right, even when it is tiring – especially when it is tiring.  “Blessed are those who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.”  Well, if grumbling is wrong, that pretty rules that out doesn’t it?  But, the psalm doesn’t stop there – it continues.
Next, there is a request – “remember me Lord.”  Remember me Lord, I’m stuck or unhappy or stressed or depressed or fearful or angry or numb.  Remember me Lord, I’m not sure where to go or I don’t want to go where I am supposed to or I’m going to have to leave where I want to be.  Remember me, what a beautiful impassioned plea.  Remember me so that you can save me.  In other words, I can’t save myself and need your help – please don’t forget me.  Again, an encouraging reminder comes, “sharing in prosperity, sharing in joy, joining the inheritance of giving praise.”  What a beautiful encouragement. 
Then, the story really begins in earnest, as truth comes out, acknowledging the wrongness of the sin that has been committed.  There is not an attempt to disguise it, to white wash it, but instead it is strongly and clearly acknowledged, and understood that it is nothing new.  “When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.”
What do leaders normally do with those who rebel?  They are punished right?  Perhaps community service, jail time, for treason it may even be death.  Instead the response by God was, “Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.  He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert.  He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.  The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived.”  Wait a minute, the people rebel and God’s response was to save them?  I’m thinking that he doesn’t really think at all like people.  God understood that there was more than just rebellion.  There was fear, hope, and God’s purpose.
The response of the people was at first to “believe his promises and sing his praise.”  Then, slowly that moss crept in and the grumbling started.  “They soon forgot what he had done, and did not wait for his counsel.  In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test.”  Gee, thanks God for helping us out and you are great and everything, but our feet hurt and we want some other food and a hotel would be nice.  This tent is starting to get kind of old.
What should God have done then?  Does he spring up a four star hotel in the desert.  He could, but should he?  Is it what his people need?  God “gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them.”  Perhaps God knew that unless the people’s hearts were knocked down again that they wouldn’t turn to Him for help.  Let’s see what the next thing is that happens.  “In the camp they grew envious of Moses and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the Lord.  The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan; it buried the company of Abiram.  Fire blazed among their followers; a flame consumed the wicked.  At Horeb they made a calf and worshipped a idol cast from metal.  They exchanged their Glory for an image of a bull, which eats grass.”  First there was jealousy and then anger.  It sounds like a few of the impromptu leaders and their followers were also made examples of.  Compounding the mossy growth of grumbling on top of envy, rebellion, and then idolatry.  Wow – what a difference the removing of the outer strength of the rock made in these people’s lives.  The roots that had so quietly made their way in, then led to something deeper, stronger, and darker.
“They forgot” the Bible goes on to say.  “They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt, miracles in the land of Ham and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.”  They forgot.  I don’t personally think that means that they forgot as in can’t remember.  But, they forgot, as in forgot their focus. 
God responded.  He said in his justice that “he would destroy them.”  This was justice by the way, not revenge or a temper tantrum.  God is still good.  But, Moses went before God and pled for the people. Finally, the promised land is near.  The journey is almost over!  Yet, the people “despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise.  They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the Lord.”  That grumbling was the beginning of a long laundry list of resulting consequences ranging from plagues, scattered people, sacrifice of sons and daughters to demons, the shedding of innocent blood, defiling of themselves, and oppression.
Now, comes the final part.  “Many times he delivered them.”  The Lord did not just let his people go through all of this following their disobedience.  Instead, he “took note of their distress when he heard their cry.”  The response was to “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.  Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting.” The people would return to God in their distress and he would hear them and care for them, again and again.
A vaccination is a fairly modern medical marvel.  Using bits of a strain of an illness, we let our body produce anti-bodies that will protect us later if faced with the live virus.  I think that the story of the Ancient Hebrews is a bit like that.  We are vaccinated through the stories and lessons of these people, teaching us that we must guard our hearts and tongues.  We must not “grumble in our tents.”  It is a dangerous thing, which leads to other dangerous things. 
I’m not saying that this is an easy thing for me.  Sometimes, I’m so frustrated with someone or something that I feel the need to pour it out to someone else.  Yet, who should I pour this out to?  A friend or my God?  I must be careful not to lose sight of the answers and blessings I have been provided.  When work becomes stressful, I must not forget that it was an answer to prayer.  When a relationship becomes hard, I must not forget that this as well was an answer to prayer.
Instead, my prayer is that I will be able to keep the mindset that this psalm ends on.  “Let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the Lord.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sun and Moon

We had about two weeks of classic Mid-West winter weather here in Iowa this last January.  Grey skies, grey ground, grey grey grey!  Blah!  After about two weeks of not seeing the sun,  I think people started to slowly lose their minds, collectively.  Me included.  Everything big or little felt big, everything was a little harder, little more draining, and then the complaining started. 
The sun, which is out today and absolutely beautiful, makes such an incredible difference.  It chases away much of the winter doldrums, brightens the snow back up to it’s gleaming white, and warms us.  Standing in the window, I close my eyes and just soak in the warmth that is offered.
God kind of reminds me of the sun.  We can’t look at them straight on – they are blinding.  Providing warmth and clarity of sight, they do remind me of each other, the creator and the creation.  I can’t be a sun.  That’s not my job.  I think I’m more like the moon.  The moon that is to reflect the sun, shining it’s own light not from the inside but as the light bounces off.  I need to make sure that my surface (my heart, attitudes, spirit, choices, and mind) reflects God. 
How am I doing at reflecting God?  That is a question for me to continue to ask myself.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


What is healing? How do we who are Christians view healing? Is our view limited and myopic in nature? I have watched family I love dearly walk through difficult health issues. Some I have said a good-bye too, trusting to see them again someday in heaven. Others, honestly I don’t know about. Which on a complete side note relieves me, because I wouldn’t want that job! But, two people recently passed away that were part of my life, one through her quiet presence and the other as the loved one of a new friend.

Two women, two different ages, two different lives, two different stories, two different histories. Both were taken home this week to be with God. They have truly been healed. Yet, I know that my own heart shrinks from that with others – I don’t want them to go. Stay here! Stay, we’re not ready!

The graves sting, the sorrow that makes us sit Shiva of the mind and heart through great loss, is not wholly removed. The sting is still there, though the hopelessness of it is completely removed. Praise God! Those two were healed this week. Completely, totally healed. I think of the weakness, the pain, the agony of the birthing process into heaven. But now, they are healed.

That is a comfort in the face of loss.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Have you ever had a knot in that shoulder blade area?  You know, follow the bone and between the spine and the shoulder blade, there is that spot screaming out for a good strong rub.  Using the strength of her hands and arms, I have a wonderful massage therapist friend who seems to know where those knots are extra sore.  She holds down gentle pressure on them.  Slowly, the muscle starts to relax.
While it may feel like a tiny golf ball has become wedged in my shoulder blade area, it is generally stress that gathers there.  The pushing, rubbing, massaging motions across the muscles and skeletal systems help to dislodge the tension.  It can hurt a bit.  Okay I’ll admit it, for those really sore muscle groups more than a bit.  You may even have a low grade fever the next day.  So, why put up with the tender touch or the potential to actually be sore or have a low grade fever the next day?
The long term benefits outweigh the initial potentials for discomfort.  Muscles relax, tension fades, these knots start to relax.  Fatigue from daily struggles starts slipping away from my muscles and work its way out of my system.  I will sleep better, relaxed a little to let thought think clearer. 
Sometimes, I think that I run across things like knots in my life.  Not muscles and nerves, but difficult times.  I can shy away from it and hope that it works itself out, or I can start to gently knead the area.  Pushing gently, adding gradual and careful pressure, I can help that knot release.  Knots that are ignored often don’t get better on their own.  Instead, I have to apply pressure to myself to resolve them.  

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Shape of Words

I wonder what shape words take if we could see them.  If I open up the shapes feature in my word documents, I can see all sorts of fun things.  Maybe, a word is like a circle, a square, a triangle, an octagon.  An arrow could be something direct and pointed, an arch for something high level. 
If I could see my words, would I use them differently?  If arrows stuck, would I choose something softer?  If circles bounced and never settled anywhere, would I choose something a little more straight sided?
The shape of words, the shape of the meanings – I wonder what they would look like.