the way

I accepted the challenge! Feeling the downward pull of messy closets and the clutter of living in one place for more than thirty years, I vented to a friend how out of control my life was right now. She questioned that seemingly drastic expression of the weight of my lifestyle, then calmly asked, “Well, could you choose just one space and set the goal to clean it out and organize it before the end of the month?” That question did two things. It put my focus on one small space in my home, and showed me that the entire situation was really not so bad after all.
As I began to pull out clothes that are no longer worn, shoes and old gift wrapping supplies, I unearthed a heavy plastic tub stuffed in the corner. Wonder upon wonders, I discovered family memorabilia from the past, of my grandparents, parents and my childhood, a treasure trove of decades of life. The contents revealed a true spiritual heritage: my chaplain grandpa’s communion set including the paper-thin wafers; my great-grandmother’s Bible with my name carefully entered on the flyleaf by her daughter in 1958; photos and certificates of my children’s school days. My eyes honed in on a ragged, blue, spiral bound notebook. I remembered how carefully the words were printed there, my early attempts at journaling the summer I turned 16. What a treasure!

Lately I have been walking through a journey of a different sort, a rediscovery of the plans and purposes of God for me in this next season. Its been an exercise of searching for the calling of God on my life, and part of that process asks for a list of the likes and joys and pastimes of my youth. I recall enjoying writing, always, and there were books, my mini library with official cards to check out my tomes.

In this precious notebook, my early attempt at writing, I had penned:

        The Way

So many paths, Lord

Show us the way

Teach us thy will, Lord

We constantly pray.

Your joy opens our hearts

To new love each day.

Show us the way, Lord

Show us the way.

Enclosed within the pages was proof of my earnest thoughts and theological leanings, a trust and a questioning of the direction I was to travel, way back when. By the following summer I was happily married and moving along the path of training for ministry with my husband. Our way was initially one of learning how to pastor and shepherd God’s flock. Today, even after his passing, I am still called to do that in my little corner of the world.

“The Lord your God has blessed you in all the works of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.” Deuteronomy 2:7

The next forty years I expect that God will continue to direct my steps. He will guide me to remove the clutter in my mind and my heart and my home that may weigh me down. His gracious hand of mercy will hold tightly to mine, and I need never fear the turns on the path where darkness may prevail. This is a godly heritage that has been solidly passed down from generations long gone, and continues on with my children as they raise theirs. Faithful, ever faithful, God leads us tenderly!

Advertisements

hide and seek

The long summer evenings bring back illusive memories of my early years. We lived on a quiet street, with woods around back, close to the dead end of a neighborhood full of families with children my age. My brother and I would play outside after dinner as long as allowed, and often the game was hide and seek in the dusk hours. Heart pounding, fearful of being found out, feet moving so fast to break out and run towards home base if spotted. You’re trusting that the child appointed as “it” is playing by the rules, not cheating or peeking while they count. If you were fortunate enough to find a really good place to hide, “it” would search high and low and not be able to find you. After looking and looking he would call out “Ollie, Ollie, Oxen, Free” and you would saunter toward that safe place called home.

As an adult I find myself playing a similar game, but with more serious, long-term consequences. I try to hide myself, hold back bits and pieces, corners and crannies of myself from others. I fall into the trap of believing that if I don’t allow people to see the real me, they’ll somehow think I’m a better person. Maybe they’ll even think I’m perfect – wouldn’t that be great? I’m well aware that I’m not the saint that my actions and outward appearances may imply, but for brief moments I can dare pull it off and “be” perfect, at least to someone.

This only causes me loneliness and more feelings of inadequacy in the end because I’m isolating myself from those who would love me to be fully in their lives, imperfections and all.

The sad realization is that I also try to play this game with God. In my attempts to keep one little part of me hidden, “mine” as I would say as a little girl when others wanted my precious toys, I’m showing that somehow I don’t really trust Him with all of me. I’m fearful He will take my stuff, be demanding of my space and time, my very life. Yet the opposite is actually true. As I yield all of me to Him, I find a freedom and joy and life like nothing I could conjure up on my own. The giving is really so one-sided. If I give my all to the One who truly gave it all on the cross of Calvary for me, I gain so much more than I can ask or imagine – eternal life, joy in living today, freedom from the weight of sin and a love that cannot be explained.

So I’m taking a new step of faith and opening up my heart’s door even wider and inviting Him into the dark parts, exposing my very best hiding places to the One who daily hides me in the shadow of His wing. He is my true covering as I allow Him that rightful place. It is there I find true safety and peace like I’ve never known. So I listen for His call, “Ollie, Ollie, Oxen, Free” and run towards home to find a refuge and quiet resting place that only comes from giving up what I feel may be safe for what I trust will be so much more – life, and life abundant in Him. I will change places and become “it” and chase after Him in the dusk of my life. Oh, how He longs so much to be found!

my favorite things

As a young girl I recall the wonder and awe of the breathtaking mountain scenery and glorious melodies of The Sound of Music. Most likely the first movie I saw on the “big screen”, the story and pageantry of Austria and a home filled with happy children make for a grand early memory. Maria’s sweet voice still brings a smile to my face as she croons, “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens; Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens; Brown paper packages tied up with strings, These are a few of my favorite things…” These words have the ability to take me to a secure, happy place in time like none other.

In 2011 a friend gave me a copy of Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. She challenged me to begin to compile a list of things I was grateful for. Rather than the lofty 1,000 gifts that Ann recorded, she suggested starting with 100. At the time I was in a dry, stuck place, and the precious gift of the book and her loving words began to do a deep work of healing in my heart. I listed such things as a warm cup of coffee, birds at the feeder, an unexpected letter from my daughter… all things that reminded me that God was for me, not sitting up in heaven on His throne waiting to fling down hardships and trials, but lovingly guiding me in the dark places of the soul. In that season my husband had decided that with his diagnosis of Parkinson’s he no longer had the energy or felt safe holding down a job. We literally went from being a two-income couple, with his income significantly larger than mine, to a one income lifestyle almost overnight. If I hadn’t already been listing the simple gifts of God, my focus may have strayed off my Provider and onto the circumstances and realities we found ourselves in. James wisely wrote:

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way… So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.” James 1:2-4, 16-18

Our relationship became strained as I worked harder, became the primary care-giver, and watched my once vibrant, protective husband back down to the symptoms of ‘PD’. Continuing to shift my gaze from the trials to the blessings made all the difference.  We never missed a meal and our bills were miraculously paid on time. God proved Himself so faithful!

Music had always been a vital part of our life. We met at church at a youth meeting and what drew me to him was his sincerity and love for God as he played his guitar and sang. I remember shyly sitting next to him to hold the songbook so he could read the words. In choir together, later on worship teams and singing duets were always so important, a bond in ministry to God together. At my brother’s wedding we sang Steve Green’s “Household of Faith”, and pledged again to each other to stand alongside no matter what.

As the disease began to take away David’s abilities to play the guitar and sing, we discovered other musical couples, tuning in to their programs on TV and finding a connection that helped feed our relationship and bring a ray of bright joy. We found Joey+Rory, a singing duo with amazing harmony, deep country roots and a sincere faith. Joey’s song, “That’s Important to Me” was her own list of favorite things. “Having somebody to share my life, loving my husband and being a wife… that’s important to me…” Then we found Sharon White & Ricky Skaggs, a bluegrass singing couple who sang “Reasons to Hang On”. Even though life was difficult, there were still many reasons that we both had to hang on to our relationship, as well as the life we were living, because God was with us in it.  We would sit together and watch these musical couples as they promised to love even in the hard times, and it made us feel less alone in ours.

Thomas Merton wisely said, “To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is grace.” So I’m resurrecting my gratitude list, and I encourage you to begin your own as well. I’m grateful for skilled doctors and surgeons, and the Great Physician who is restoring my body during this time of healing. I’m finding simple pleasure in homemade, sweet and tart blueberry muffins, straight out of the oven, fresh and warm in the early morning. Then there are friends who call or text to make sure I’m recovering well and taking care of myself. All these gifts are evidence of my God’s presence even on dark days. I join with Paul and encourage you to:

“… Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8

Your gaze will be drawn upwards and I can guarantee that your face will be brighter with each gift you record. Each gift, every reason for life, those favorite and important things you list, will turn into moments of joy and will diminish the dark thoughts, as you focus on the Gift-giver. What are you grateful for today?

divine surgery

Surgery can really take it out of you! Just over a week ago I was waking up to “we got it all, we’ll have the pathology report in a few days…” With three laparoscopic incisions and a grateful heart, I began my current healing journey.

Recently I’ve had more time to sit and think about the condition of my heart. Is it truly submitted to God’s ways? I am drawn to the time of the exile of Israel and Judah. With the death of my husband, David, followed a year later by the passing of my dad, I feel more and more that this world is not my true home. Day to day interactions with evil, and people who don’t know God, can cast a dark shadow over my mind and give me a divided heart – loving God, loving the world, loving self and loving sin. Oh, I’m not a committer of the capital “S” sins of murder or theft or such, but I’m also not as kind as I’d like to be, or as patient as I know I should be, the characteristics of a God who is loving and faithful are often illusive.

In Ezekiel God talks about a surgery of sorts for the children of Israel.

“Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered… And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” Ezekiel 11:17-20

The Divine Surgeon would gently but firmly use His scalpel to remove the sinful, hard, waywardness from them and transplant a new, tender and receptive heart in it’s place.

The week before my surgery my physician called to check on me. When I told her that surgery was scheduled and what the plan for my treatment was, she said “sometimes all that’s  needed is the sure, clean cut of the knife.” In my instance this appears to be true. The enemy-mass was removed, an offensive yet contained object gone so that health and wholeness could take over in its place. I don’t have any memory of the searing pain of the incisions. My natural inner-workings are taking over, and as I obey the surgeon’s orders to rest, eat a healthy and balanced diet, abstain from lifting anything over 10 pounds, I’m trusting that I will heal completely and be back to normal in 3-4 weeks.

As for my heart, I must continue to fill it with the solid meat of the Word. I must resist the pull of the world to grasp for relationships and possessions and ideals that are contrary to God’s perfect will for me. I must cultivate the tender soil of a heart fully committed to being who God wants me to be. The Divine Surgeon understands the intricacies of my heart. He isn’t dismayed at what He finds there.

“The Lord looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race… He made their hearts so he understands everything they do… the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine. We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.” Psalm 33:13,15, 18-22

The journey to health and wholeness requires a daily decision to continue on the path God has planned for me. So I will journey on in the strength of knowing that God has placed a tender heart of flesh within that aches to meet with Him, to be used of Him. My yieldedness  to His will makes the way a delight that enriches the lives of others as well.

You are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Corinthians 3:3

As I yield fully to Him, He is faithfully writing, using all the experiences of my days to bring about a grand story. My heart is a place of life and wholeness and hope for the world too see. Oh, Divine Surgeon, continue Your skillful work in me!

in exile

The past three years have been the hardest yet sweetest time of my life in so many ways. Watching my dear husband decline at a pace that seemed very rapid after years of the slow progression of Parkinson’s, his death which formally ushered me into widowhood, my adult children relocating their lives away from “home”, the death of my daddy and watching my mom follow in my steps on her own journey, to health issues this year, have brought an empathy for the plight of the people of Judah and Israel in the time of Jeremiah the prophet.

Exile. A separation from home, dislocation, being out of joint. In all of this, Jeremiah had a strong call on his life to live and write and speak in a time of hardship and transition and trial. All through his life God was telling Jeremiah to live out loud, to be present, to bring hope but also the stern warnings and rebukes that  God’s wayward people needed to hear. As God led the people forth into exile, He was still loving them, ready to forgive and protect and heal. They were challenged to not wallow in self pity, as many of the things they were experiencing were because they had turned away from God’s law and love. He was calling them to a new way of life, to thrive in the midst of the dark place of trials. The charge was to be human right where they were, to live by faith in the circumstances in which they found themselves.

Our family had the great opportunity to be together for a very joyous occasion, as my youngest son and his beloved were married this weekend. Because all my kids live on the east coast of Florida and the wedding was to be on Amelia Island, we rented a beach house nearby to stay in. This was the first time we have all stayed together away from “home” and it was a joy to gather and celebrate. There were conversations, lots of laughter and music, and of course meals together. There also were rare times of quiet and alone, most often for me on the front porch. I sat and reminisced about this season and home and family, and the time of trial I find myself in. I’m feeling a bit in exile, with many unknowns as far as my health goes, transitions in time away from work, having to ask for help and depend on others. But even in this place of “dislocation” I found the comfort of family and friends, and in the cardinals, tufted-titmouse and Carolina wrens in the bushes and trees nearby. These reminders are what are what helps to keep my focus on God when things get hazy.

The Israelites had to trust God was leading them out into what was most definitely the unknown during their time of exile. It doesn’t make sense to leave the familiar, and many of them did not heed the call and perished. But after exile God gave them a promise:

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, and made it livable and lasting…  ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own… I’m going to give this city a thorough renovation, working a true healing inside and out. I’m going to show them life whole, life brimming with blessings. I’ll restore everything that was lost… [they’ll] be a center of joy and praise and glory for all the countries on earth. They’ll be in awe of the blessings I am pouring on her… the time is coming when you’re going to hear laughter and celebration, marriage festivities, people exclaiming, “Thank God-of-the-Angel-Armies. He’s so good! His love never quits,” … I’ll restore everything that was lost… I’ll make everything as good as new.’” Jeremiah 33:2-3, 6-11 The Message

So I continue to trust as I walk this dark and unknown path in this my season of exile. The wise words of C. S. Lewis encourage me further: “There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”  I choose to thrive, to live by faith in the God who created all from nothing, and who holds my hand, to know He is leading me. He will bring me out if this place, and the best of my life is yet to come!

the awakening

Lately there’s a stirring of life in the dead and dry places of my soul. It isn’t coming easily, and the struggle is something like giving birth. Have you ever noticed how the presence of personal pain will make you more aware of what’s going on around you? You receive a phone call with bad news that plunges you into despair. The doctor gives an unexpected diagnosis and your world shifts on its axis. To be in unfamiliar territory can make one sit up and take notice of the voices running through their head, and to regain a sense of security there is a need to reconnect with the One who is a lifeline and has the only words that are so vital for living.

For me over the past month there have come a series of tests, from minor inconveniences to major health issues. Last week as I listened to God call me to be more intentional about being unplugged so I could spend more time with Him, my Kindle decided to do an upgrade. My evening companion, the classic Solitaire game, became disabled. Then another few days passed and my cell phone took a brief dip in the toilet, effectively drowning my lifeline to the outside world. The health issues came out of the blue, changing the way the next season of my life may look, but God has faithfully brought the comfort of His presence, my family, and my faith community to my side and I know I’m not alone in this place.

As a teenager I learned a song with a folksy, catchy tune that was popular in church youth groups, which proclaims my thoughts exactly:

“Day by day, day by day, To see You more clearly, Love You more dearly, Follow You more nearly, Day by day by day…”

What is God saying? Am I so in tune with Him that I can hear His voice clearly? I really am nothing on my own. I easily get sidetracked from what God is saying and doing, entangled in the ways of the world, but the call is to come out of that place of complacency and move higher, to live in a place of total reliance on Him. This is the place of life – true life. Abiding. Living wide-awake! To purpose to be so close that my daily reality is that:

“The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know what to say to all these weary ones. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will.” Isaiah 50:4

Do I fail? Often! My flesh is weak and in myself I am so prone to taking the lazy way out. Do I give up? No, I can’t! For not living wide-awake means I’m not connected to the life-giving power of Jesus! I must make the constant decision to rest in, put my hope in, place my trust in, Him alone. As each day goes by with abiding in Him I find it gets easier to hear His voice. My spirit draws closer and the transfer of words and ideas and purposes becomes more like a second nature to me. I am more like Him in my inner wo-man. I am being refined and reformed. The noise of the world and the enemy dies down as He becomes more alive in me. Scripture, His love letter of life to us, becomes part of my mental makeup, and begins to bear fruit as I speak it out:

“The Lord… hears the prayer of the righteous. Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.” Proverbs 15:29-30

My living wide-awake brings life to the world around me, allowing the Kingdom of Heaven to take over another patch of earth for His glory. I become His image bearer! The soul ambitions He placed in me from the beginning of time can come alive. In that place of living there is perfect Joy, even in the place of pain.

“This is why it is said: ’Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is… be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs… always giving thanks to God the Father for everything… “ Ephesians 5:14-20

I don’t want to miss an opportunity to bring Heaven to earth! So I commit to awaken every morning ready to hear His voice. I strive to be open to understanding His will. I choose to be obedient to speak His words as directed. And I seek to be ever abiding in the resting place where I am close enough to feel His breath on my skin. That is the place of life! Awake, oh my soul!

20/20 vision

I would never have imagined being able to say that I have 20/20 vision. It amazes me to think that with the advances of medicine, a surgeon with a laser and corrective lenses could make the precise cuts necessary for me to have near perfect vision at a distance after more than 50 years of wearing glasses. All. The. Time! Yet that is the reality of my physical eyesight now.

The work needed on my heart for spiritual sight is a much slower process, less dramatic, often painful as I strain to see and understand what God is saying.

God’s word gives the account of a man during the time of the advancement into the Promised Land. Balaam’s story sounds like the stuff of science fiction and fantasy. For someone who called himself the “man with 20/20 vision” God had to send a donkey to lead and speak to him, an angel to block him from doing what he had been instructed not to do, before he could see.

Balaam was a prophet from the country of Aram, a native of Pethor near the Euphrates River, a non-Israelite who obviously was known in his circle of influence for hearing from God and being able to pronounce a blessing or curse that was eternally binding. He heard clearly not to go with the princes of Moab, yet he waivered in his decision to be obedient to God’s voice. Even in this, God went with Balaam, proving that His desire to be in relationship was stronger than Balaam’s disobedient thinking, even sending an angel to speak to him. As Balaam persisted in going through with his ill-fated actions, the donkey, seeing with his 20/20 vision, detected the angel guarding the pathway, even trying to communicate with him to get him to turn around. God intervened further by allowing the donkey to be His mouthpiece. (Numbers 22-24)

Yes, God allowed him to go, but He also knew what was in Balaam’s heart, that he was ultimately being tempted to go for the fame and rich reward he would receive, not for the joy of being God’s mouthpiece.

20/20 vision is a term used to express normal visual acuity, the clarity or sharpness of vision, measured at a distance of 20 feet. It does not mean “perfect” eyesight. Eyesight is the ability to see, sense of seeing, and range of sight, view. Vision usually includes contrast sensitivity, the ability to track moving objects with smooth and accurate eye movements, color vision, depth perception, focusing speed and accuracy.

There is a true blessing that comes from being able to see God at work all around us. I desire to be able to look beneath the surface and discern truth, to have my eyes wide open and a heart of faith that God will guide me in every decision and step I should make. To do this I must stay close to Him, in His range, and if I use the 20-foot rule found in ophthalmology’s definitions of excellent eyesight that means I’m constantly close to God, aware of Him, in fellowship with Him, in tune with what He is up to. Can I see Him? Better yet, can I touch Him? I must have a God-encounter! What words have been spoken over me that I have allowed to take root that have grown up to block my vision of Him? Where has my vision of Him been marred and blurred so that I cannot see Him clearly anymore?

What is the motive of my heart? Oh, I desire for it to be pure always! To be able to hear God clearly and act obediently, for the “eyes of my heart to be enlightened.” (Ephesians 1:17-19)

My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.… put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. Psalm 131  (NIV)

The sad truth is that the 20/20 vision of Balaam was in hindsight! Yet his final Decree foreshadows the coming of the Messiah, a Savior, a star rising to reunite us with God.

Decree of Balaam son of Beor, decree of the man with 20/20 vision, Decree of the man who hears godly speech, who knows what’s going on with the High God, who sees what The Strong God reveals, who bows in worship and sees what’s real. I see him, but not right now, I perceive him, but not right here; A star rises from Jacob a scepter from Israel. Numbers 24

The goal of my life is to have 20/20 spiritual vision in the moment, vision to see a different story, a God-story. The more time I spend in His presence, the clearer my sight of Him at work in me and around me will be. Like any relationship, deep knowing of God takes time and trust. When my active reading intersects with God’s voice clearly speaking – my eyes are open, my ears are open, my heart is ready to receive and act on His promptings. I have to put myself in the correct place to hear.

Oh, to really have perfect vision, nothing between! Draw me closer, God! Pull me into Your embrace, so that You can guide me with Your eye.