Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Strangely Clear"

Remember the old song, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus/ look full in His wonderful face/ and the things of earth will grow strangely dim/ in the light of His glory and grace"?

Quoting Philip Yancey from Christianity Today, July 2009: "Church historian Mark Noll remarks that the song...plainly errs when it says, 'and the things of earth will grow strangely dim...' No, he says, the rest of the world grows clearer, not dimmer, in the light of Christ. God created matter; in Jesus, God joined it."

I know what the old hymn writer meant. He was talking about the ugliness of this world, when trouble seems to blind us to grace, and hardship strips away our peace. In times like those, as we focus on Christ, the difficulties seem to fade just a bit as the glory of God restores hope. He was right, just as in the song Bette Midler made popular, "From a distance, the world seems blue and green and the snowtopped mountains white...God is watching us...from a distance." In the same way as the old hymn, the contemporary song speaks of the truth that God sees the big picture, the end of the story, the final triumph, the right side of the tapestry rather than the knots of string below, the forest and not just each individual tree. It is a message of hope.

But I also know what Mr. Noll meant when he said that the things of this world grow clearer as we welcome Christ into our lives. An intimate walk with Jesus changes our perspective on everything and enhances our view of all things.

With Jesus in my heart, though I may hear a diagnosis of cancer, I am strengthened by the knowledge that He took stripes on His back to provide for my healing, and that even if I die, I will live eternally with Him.

With Jesus in my heart, when I feel alone and lost, I have hope and peace because He has promised never to fail me or forsake me.

I was 24 years old when I first experienced the forgiving grace of Jesus in a truly profound, life-altering way. By that time, I had been a believer and follower of Christ, by my own volition, for 15 years. But I had also strayed from Him and found myself living at the bottom of a deep pit of despair. When I knew in my heart that He loved me, cleansed me, and welcomed me back into fellowship, my entire world changed. My spiritual perspective was certainly new -- the darkness in my heart was flooded with the light of His love and I knew that I was forever free from guilt and condemnation. My emotional perspective was transformed, as well -- the heaviness of shame had almost crippled me in relationships, and now I found myself able to give and receive love again.

In addition to seeing things differently in my very soul, the essence of my being, I also noticed immediately that I began to see things in the physical world differently. Suddenly, I had eyes to see the beauty of creation in ways I never had before. It was as if my spiritual blindness had also rendered me near-sighted with regard to things physical. Now, even barren winter branches had a stark beauty that took my breath away. The sky was bluer, the sun brighter, colors were deeper and had more contrast. With Christ nearer, the world was clearer. The Creator had come into my life in a new way, and He opened my eyes to see all things created with new eyes -- the veil was gone and I saw, literally, without the shadow of sin.

Of course, seeing more clearly also means that one sees the meanness and ugliness that has infected our world more clearly. But that clarity of vision only serves to spur me on to do more to affect the world in positive ways, because of His love, because of His intended and eternal purpose for beauty to surround us, because He longs to fill our lives with Himself instead of the brokenness that threatens to overwhelm us.

A couple of days ago, after a solid month of heavy rains (20+ inches in just 3 weeks, a record-setting September for rainfall in Mississippi), I awoke to a crystal clear sky, with stunning deep blues and a crisp fall breeze. Not wanting to waste even a moment of what might last for only a day or two, I suggested that we pack a picnic and make the trek to Jeff Busby State Park, where, at 603 feet above sea level, Little Mountain towers over most of Mississippi. We could see forever! And, oh, what a sight we had! It's much too early for the best fall color here, and truthfully, Mississippi doesn't get the startlingly beautiful shades of autumn that are on display in New England and other places where the sap runs to oranges and reds, but the greens we saw that day were deep and verdant and throbbed with life.

A little closer to where our feet trod, we saw nuts and pods, spiders and bugs, toppled timber and hollow logs, even a pretty little finch that had met its life's end earlier in the day. We marveled at the creek appearing here and there below our trail, and we stood amazed at the incredible variety of wildlife all around us. We even built a shelter (a very small one) of logs and sticks and bark, and dreamed about how we might be able to survive a night on the Natchez Trace, where Indians and postal carriers used to travel on horseback.

I'm sure that many people never have to be awakened from darkness in order to appreciate beauty like this, but I must admit that I believe that I enjoyed it that much more because of the last six weeks of darkness. Since we moved from Missouri to Mississippi 42 days ago, we have had more rainy days, literally and figuratively, than we have had in a long time. The move itself would have been enough darkness, but it was compounded with all the frustrations of lost mail, delayed bank accounts, too much rain, scattered possessions, the aching loss of friends and community, of fellowship with believers we knew and loved well.

I needed some sunshine in the darkness of my heart. I have grasped at every glimpse of His Light in my daily quiet time, and when He allowed the sun to shine so brightly on Mississippi this Monday past, I was compelled to rush into it, with arms and heart open wide for whatever new vision of His loveliness I might find.

"And the things of earth will grow strangely CLEAR in the light of His glory and grace." I know you agree with Mr. Noll, at least from this perspective, as I do. I pray your eyes are open to see.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Surviving Change

Well, we've done it. We signed a contract on a house in Mississippi just one week ago, and we are moving just one week from today. Our days are full right now, to say the least, and when I opened the professional movers "Guide to Making Your Move Easy" last night, I discovered why. We were supposed to schedule our mover 8 weeks ago, buy our boxes 6 weeks ago, send out change-of-address forms 2 weeks ago, and be sipping lemonade under a tree at a resort by now, awaiting the transfer of our belongings in leisure and comfort. Ain't gonna happen!

I had, thankfully, packed about 50 boxes before our quick trip down to choose the house, but we've packed another 150 since then, and probably have at least another 50 to go. I'm sure the professionals could have gotten all our cumber into 1/4 the number of boxes it's taking us. At this rate, we'll need two semi's, instead of the 2/3's of one that we have reserved.

In the 10 days leading up to our moving day, we have scheduled 2 birthday parties (for our little family), 2 goodbye gatherings (which we are hosting in our home), 1 overnight trip to another city, 1 set of overnight guests here, and numerous stop-in visits from dear friends. We still have to fill out all of those change-of-address forms and arrange for utilities to be disconnected here and connected there. We have major pieces of furniture and play equipment to disassemble and/or package in crates. And we have a couple of DIY projects that need attention before we leave this house. And, oh yes, all the stuff still to be packed and the cleaning that must be done before we see this house in our rear-view mirror.

Meanwhile, we must carry on with the daily responsibilities of responsible citizens and parents, which now includes home school each morning and tending to at least the minimal amount of ministry-related clerical work, preparing meals for little boys and making sure they are gainfully occupied and not getting into mischief while we are so preoccupied with packing boxes. How will we survive?

Last week, I read an article about survival. Did you know that the original meaning of the Latin word, from which survival gets its root, is "super living?" That conjures up images of Super Woman or Elastigirl, or Helen Reddy's roaring woman from the 1970's who was bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the pan. But doing more than is humanly possible is not what "survival" means.

Nor does survival mean barely eeking out an existence in the midst of overwhelming odds against you. But the word does conjure up images of stranded crash victims melting snow to drink, of three fishermen clinging to the bottom of their boat for 8 days, and the lone waif of a girl wandering through the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia.

Survival -- "Super Living." I've been thinking of that a lot while I've tried to balance all the tasks that must be done this week. "Super-living" is not about the mountain of stuff I have accumulated throughout my life, or my ability to successfully transfer that ever-growing pile to yet another domicile. Survival is not about whether my magazines reach my new destination before I do, or whether I leave no stone unturned in closing out this house.

No, in this particular season, these two intense weeks of transition and change, super living is about leaning into the all-sufficient arms of the One Who orders all my steps, and from the rest and strength that I find there, opening my arms to shelter two little boys who are walking through the second-most chaotic time of their lives.

Super living is about taking time to thank the neighbors who have become our family, going out of their way to help us maintain our wonderful home -- and I don't just mean the house and property, but our home, where the heart is.

Super living is about reaching out to ask forgiveness, to do all that is possible to reconcile broken relationships, to do all that depends on us, before we move on to the next phase of life and the next circle of friends.

Super living is eeking out every last bit of goodie in those friendships that have become most precious, so that the fragrance of their lives lingers as we reach out to form a new community of friends and family.

It's 5:30 am and I have been awake for 2 hours, fretting over the long list of things that have to be done in the next 8 days. This is not super living, so I wanted to take a few minutes to remind myself what "survival" really is -- clinging onto that which is essential to sustaining life. That is you, precious friends, family, co-workers, neighbors. I just want to squeeze you like a sponge until the joy of the love we have shared fairly drips from my heart and mind as I move on to the next place.

Change happens. Surviving it is about super living. You have given me much to super-size my life. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Children

"From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger."

Ask me today how much I love home school! This is fantastic! During "opening exercises" today, my 7 year old son had his left arm around my neck and his right arm lifted in the air toward heaven. His head was thrown back and his eyes closed, with a huge grin on his face, and he was belting out, "Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us sing! Power and Majesty, praise to the King!" I'm telling you, it does NOT get ANY better than this!

I wish I could tell you that we have always had family devotions and that this is a regular occurrence, but the truth is that we have prayed daily at mealtime and bedtime, and occasionally in a crisis or at a point of need. Once in a while, we have a praise fest, where we put on the tunes and dance around the house. But we have never done it on a regular basis, and now, 5 mornings a week, we shall be joining our hearts, hands, and voices to sing praise to the King of kings and Lord of lords! This is going to be one of the best experiences I have ever had!

Today's passage from Psalm 8 has always been one of my favorites. The song begins, "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" Sandi Patti popularized that verse in the early '80's with her fantastic song, and millions of people still sing it regularly in worship services all around the world. One of my favorite memories of years in the Philippines was a gorgeous celebration in dance at the Happy Church in Ozamiz City. That verse is very well known.

And later, the Psalmist carries on with, "When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor." Beautiful oratories and powerful sermons have been preached on that passage, highlighting the high esteem the Lord has toward us. My dad preaches a sermon on that passage that I think I could still give verbatim.

But what about that little passage in-between? "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger." Why is it so neglected? I once heard a teaching about it that even today in Middle Eastern cultures, it is common to put children out on the front-lines of rebel activity, "singing praise," so that terrorists can send over bombs while legitimate nations refuse to attack innocent civilians. I guess that's true, but I don't really think that's what the Lord had in mind when he dictated this passage.

I think this little verse holds a key to releasing the power of God in our homes and communities. Stay with me a minute while I work this out...

In Deuteronomy 6:4-8, we are instructed:
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."

Throughout the history of Judaism and Christianity, parents have known that it is our responsibility to teach our children the Word of God. We understand that precepts and principles for Godly living are found here, and that helping our children learn to discern truth and goodness is our responsibility, not something we can leave to anyone else, not even the priest or pastor or Sunday school teacher. It is our responsibility to teach them.

Earlier, in Deuteronomy 6:2, Moses tells us that we do this "so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands..." To "fear the Lord" is not to be afraid of the Lord. It is to hold Him in high esteem, to honor, worship, and stand in awe. It is to follow, obey, emulate, to love what He loves and hate what He hates. To "fear the Lord" is to choose to live in a way that honors Him, every moment of every day.

But did you catch that one word? To fear the Lord also means to worship Him! Following rules and regulations is not always fun, and can become rigid, cold, hard existing, not the abundant, joyful, overflowing living that He really intends for us. In Deuternomy 6:18-19, he goes on to say, "Do what is right and good in the Lord's sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said."

"That it may go well with you...thrusting out all your enemies..." Those words speak of truly inhabiting the promises of God for our lives, and promises are not fulfilled just in the not-doings and must-do's of life. Promises are fulfilled when the enemy is banished and we experience the freedom that comes from uninterrupted fellowship with the Father.

No, we can't have that all the time as long as we are in this world, but we can have marvelous glimpses of what is Yet To Come, even while we are still in the Not Quite There Yet. We don't have to miss the fulness that IS available just because we are not dwelling in it fully yet!

James 4:7-8 says, "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you." Yes, we come near by keeping His commands, but we FEEL near when we worship Him. And miracle of all miracles, when we worship Him, the devil runs off like a whipped dog, tail between his legs, yelping in defeat and frustration.

In our house, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the stresses of plain old living. Busy schedules, responsibilities and chores, fulfilling expectations, dealing with crises, fatigue and frustration, crankiness and anger. Sometimes it seems like we just invite the devil right in and give him a seat in the living room. We snip and bite at one another, letting the love-stealing, joy-killing, peace-destroying enemy sit there and rub his hands together in satisfied accomplishment. We know that is not what the Lord intended for our household, but it is so easy to just slide down that slippery slope of negativity until we are mired in Satan's slop.

The Psalmist said, "You have ordained praise from the lips of silence the foe." It's that straight-forward and simple. When we teach our children to praise God, not just follow His rules, the enemy cannot stand to be around! In fact, he is not permitted to be in the Presence, so he must flee! And when we draw near to God, He draws near to us, flooding our lives with His abundant sufficiency.

I sensed that this morning when that tiny arm was wrapped around my neck. There just wasn't an empty seat in the house for a foe! The was no room in our hearts for the avenger! Through the sweet, off-key proclamation of praise from two little-boy voices, all that is not of God fled from the house and we were filled with His sweetness.

Yes, I'm going to like home school. God is in the house!

Monday, August 17, 2009

First Days

Today was our first day of home school. I wish I had lots of pictures to post, but none of us slept well last night and I was in a fog most of the morning. Thankfully, it wasn't my morning to teach! Lori and I are going to alternate morning academics and work, so that one week, one of us will teach M/W/F and the other will go to work. We'll all get together for lunch, recess, and a couple of hours of work for both of us. Then the one who worked in the morning will take the boys home for special class (art, music, library, etc.), and we will reverse the order on T/Th. At the end of day one, I can say that it was a roaring success!

How did the boys like it? The jury's still out. They thoroughly enjoyed the freedom to go outside and play in the rain and then with the hose, while at regular school, they would have had to watch a video or have some other indoor activity. But they were a bit squirrely this morning. I don't blame them...this is new territory for all of us, and they are having to relate to us in a new role. They will test the boundaries and we will, occasionally, over react. But we'll figure this out.

I'm so excited about this opportunity to really invest in their lives. Sure, I'm going to miss the hours of uninterrupted work, study, and "me" time, but we'll figure that out, too. I just hated sending them off for 8 of the 12 hours of each day that they were awake. For 9 months, 5 days a weeks, we saw them awake for only 4 hours, and during that time, we had to feed them twice, make sure they were dressed for school, had all their homework done, had play time, bathed, and then get them to bed. Not much time left for easy-going interaction. Not that home school is easy-going interaction, but it sure is less stressed than the other schedule, and there is no homework!

We will be able to take them with us on the road...that, in itself, is worth the extra time and trouble. And just imagine the wonderful places they will see! Talk about field trips! This year, we will be in the heart of Ohio during pumpkin season. They are likely to see the biggest pumpkin in Pickaway County, and there is sure to be a corn maze and several festivals to visit. Why, we will even visit the Pumpkin Show in Circleville, if it's going on at the time. In 2010, we have the opportunity to travel to Nigeria, Ghana, Russia, and India, and we may also visit China, Japan, and the Philippines. Our school curriculum next year will be on different countries and you suppose our travels will enhance their studies? What a wonderful plan!

A built-in portion of our curriculum is Bible time, with memory verses for each week. History and science are studied from a Biblical worldview, and we can monitor the books they read, the websites they visit, and the video they consume, not just to screen out inappropriate material, but to help them learn how to discern truth and goodness.

This afternoon, during special class time, the boys and I spent 45 minutes drawing together. We worked on drawing straight lines and learned how using simple lines and nothing else can create shadows, distance, perspective, and 3-dimensions. It was fun! I think I learned as much as they did and we talked about all kinds of things while we were sitting there together. Talk to me in a month...I may be pulling my hair out by then. But, truthfully, I think we are going to thoroughly enjoy this change in our life.

In spite of all these good things, there is a sadness in my heart. I had grown really close to their teachers and many of the other parents and children. In fact, we had built true community with those folks, and the knowledge that I won't be rubbing shoulders with them on at least a weekly basis really makes me sad. With every good gift, every positive change, there is always a sense of loss. Something has moved, altered, and will never be the same. We will have to work harder to maintain these ties.

In fact, we will have to work much harder to maintain the ties we have formed with everyone here in Blue Springs, Missouri, since we are soon moving to Mississippi. No, we don't have a move date, yet. Nor any nibbles on the house. The thought of moving was really difficult when it first became an inevitability, but now that we have had time to say goodbyes, and we have begun our new work with the ministry in Mississippi, we are anxious to make the move and get settled so that we can really dig in and get those fields ready for harvest. The joy and the sadness. The new and the old. The constant change.

Today was the first day of home school. Sometime in the near future will be the first day in our new community. Bittersweet. Constant change. I'm grateful we dwell with the One who is the same now and forever, from the beginning to the end, the first and the last, the One who is with us in all our changes but never Himself changes at all. My Rock, my Refuge, my Strong Tower. Thank you, Father.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Drinking Deeply

" He is intimate with the upright." (Prov 3:32b NASU).

A few weeks ago, a dear friend left behind her copy of Og Mandino's "The Christ Commission" for me to read, and for the past 10 days, I have savored every word. The story is of a 20th century novelist who publicly challenges the notion of a resurrected redeemer and finds himself a time traveler, taken back to 1st century Jerusalem, just 6 years after the alleged resurrection of Christ. His wish has been fulfilled, and he is to be the one-man Christ Commission, interviewing all of the major players of the last few days of Jesus the Christ's earthly life, so that he can finally, conclusively, dis-prove the resurrection myth.

It has been my privilege to travel to the Holy Land on several occasions and so it was easy for me to picture the scenes depicted through the narrative. I could even smell the smells and hear the sounds of the ancient city, with carts clattering over cobble-stoned streets, and lamb roasting over open flame, pungent spices displayed in open bins, and merchants crying out for shoppers to buy their wares. Oh, how I love that old city! I get homesick just sharing it with you now!

I was fascinated with this fictional account of the last few days of Jesus' life, and as always, found myself looking back to Scripture to confirm whether some things were true, and nodding to remind myself that some were pure fiction. Good fiction, and certainly some of Mandino's imaginings are not too far off the mark, but fiction, nonetheless. I found myself lingering over conversations between the investigator, Matthias, and the followers of Jesus -- his brother James, John the beloved, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, Peter, the virgin Mary, and Mary of Magdalene. The depictions of some of them, particularly the Magdalene, disturbed me, but others touched my heart with that aching joy that helps me remember that there is so much more to know of Jesus.

Just before I began the book, I read an online devotional that highlighted the verse for today, concerning God's intimacy with the upright. So, as I read this story of the affection Jesus had for his disciples, and their obvious adoration of Him, those words were ringing loudly in my heart's ears. I so long to have that intimate fellowship with Him, to "know His love" and how "wide, long, high and deep" that love is, to catch more than just glimpses of the lavish love of God, and rest in the sufficiency of that love.

Why is it that we usually find it so hard to believe that the Father loves us so unreservedly? So completely? Is it because we have been so poorly loved? Is it because we are so well acquainted with our unworthiness? Is it because the enemy of our souls is very good at the work he does to steal and kill and destroy? What a shame that we allow human frailty and demonic deviance to keep us from the most solid promise ever given us -- that He has loved us with an everlasting love.

Why are we satisfied to linger on the fringes of that love when the invitation to intimacy, to plunging into the depths of His love, stands before us like the door to unending paradise? I have an ache in the depths of my being that nothing has satisfied. When I catch a glimpse, get a taste, of His love, I know that I am on the precipice of "being filled with the fullness of the Godhead."

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied." In other words, if we allow ourselves to be content with less than Him, then we will find ourselves literally starving to death. But if the hunger is ever deeper, the thirst never quenched, then we will be satisfied with more of Him. I don't know about you, but I'm parched and starving, too! Feed me, Lord Jesus. Fill me with the Water of Life!

"Water of Life, pour through me; fill me up; make me clean. Wash me in the fountain that never will run dry. Cover me completely with the Water of Life. " (Dave Clark & Mark Harris)

"O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you." Psalm 63:1-5

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Majestic

"O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When I consider the moon and the stars which you have ordained...what is man that you are mindful of him?" Psalm 8

Tonight, God graced me with His majesty and His sweetness. Our favorite meteorologist, Gary Lezak, told us that there was a meteor shower that could be observed, and at just that time, I heard my favorite mini-man stomping around upstairs, 2 hours after his bedtime! So I met him at the back door -- the mini-man, not the meteorologist -- and we snuggled on the chaise lounge on the deck for about 30 minutes.

I never did observe a meteor, though Christian did, and we both observed the beauty of the Lord, even with the "light pollution" from the city. It was so peaceful, a moment captured with my son that nothing can ever take from us. We talked softly, making wishes and then sharing the secret with one another. We dreamed together about where the airplanes we saw were taking people...Africa? Asia? New Zealand? We wondered if there were mothers and sons traveling together, just like us, or maybe even a "family of seven, just like us!" That's two girls, two boys, two dogs, and a cat, you know.

My heart is still so full I just want to cry. I shared the beauty of the Lord, the One who loves us most, with the one I love most in this world. Thank you, Father, for this family time we have had.

No Place to Lay Your Head

"Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but teh Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

The packing goes on, whether or not we have an offer on the house, just in case! To date, we have packed more than 50 boxes. Sad thing is, you can't even tell in the house, we have so much stuff. It's like some kind of metamorphic glob that just shifts and reshapes itself to fill the void. We know it's not there, but I don't think a stranger would know. Truthfully, it feels better in here, with less stuff to look at, move around, trip over.

We went downtown for a doctor's appointment this afternoon and on the way out of the parking garage, we noticed one man carrying all of his worldly possessions in one small duffle bag. The reason we surmised that it was all he had was because he was also carrying two very used blankets, and he had the unkempt appearance of one who has lived in the streets for a while.

A mile later, when we were turning to get on the on-ramp for the interstate, there was another man standing with a sign that read, "Will work for food." His bag was at his feet. Yesterday, I passed two other gentlemen near our suburb, one asking for money for gasoline, the other just looking for a ride.

It's going to cost us several thousand dollars to move all our stuff to start a new life in Mississippi, serving the "least and the lost" of the world. "Following Jesus." That's what we're doing. Hmmmm. I wonder.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Perfect Timing

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven?" ( Eccl 3:1).

I hate waiting! A friend of mind posted a new status on Facebook last night that read something like, "Why is it when you go for fast food, that means placing your order, then moving forward to WAIT 15 minutes for it to be delivered?" I commented that I'd like to know where that place is so that I can avoid it. I hate waiting!

I love waiting. A couple of weeks ago, some friends and I went to dinner at a great restaurant downtown on the Country Club Plaza. We were told at the door there would be a 30 minute wait for our seats, and handed a plastic box that would buzz and flash when they were ready for us. Meanwhile, we were free to roam around the Plaza and enjoy the shops. We had such fun window shopping and talking during that time. I love waiting!

I hate waiting. Last week, I went in for my regular eye examination and arrived in plenty of time for my 8:30 am appointment. Nobody should have to wait when they take the first appointment in the morning, but wait I did, while I watched no less than eight other patients be called back to my doctor. Twenty minutes later, I finally heard my name called. I hate waiting.

I love waiting. We purchased tickets for an outdoor theater some time ago and arrived early for the show. It was a beautiful evening and there were snack shops all around the theater and good jazz music playing over the sound system. We sat on the hillside and talked and laughed for over an hour while we waited for the show to start. I love waiting.

I hate waiting. A year ago, my then five year old son was behind closed doors with virtual strangers for the fifth surgery of his very young life. Several friends and my pastor did their best to entertain me during the long 3 hour wait before I was called back to see him in recovery, but it was not fun, and while their company was appreciated, I really didn't enjoy the visit. I hate waiting.

I love waiting. Several years ago, we were privileged to host two ladies from Norway whose path had crossed ours in the Philippines. They were making a tourist trip to the USA and graced us with a 4-day visit to our home. When we went to the airport to meet them, we were told their airplane had been delayed in Minneapolis and would be 2 hours late. We decided to eat dinner in a nearby restaurant and ran into old friends while we were there, laughing and talking and catching up on old times. I love waiting.

What is it that makes some waiting a joy and some an absolute torture? Expectations, time constraints, fear, pleasure, anticipation, fatigue, hunger, good company, responsibility...all of these things can contribute to how we experience the never-ending certainty of waiting in our lives. I keep telling myself that I want to learn to slow down enough to live in the moment, but there are just some moments that are so pregnant with other things - like waiting in the dentists office for a needle to be shoved into your jaw - that it is impossible to enjoy the moment.

Oh, I know what people mean when they say "live in the moment," "Carpe Diem," "Sieze the day!" They're just encouraging us all to accept each day for what it is and do our best to appreciate it for what it is. But some moments are not supposed to be pleasurable, and I appreciate Solomon's acknowledgment of that: "There is a time for everything..." Some moments are meant to be pleasurable: "a time to be plant... to embrace..." And some moments are just plain agony: "a time to tear give hate...for war..." And some moments are a mix of pain and pleasure. Just ask the mother who has been in labor for 38 hours, waiting for that wondrous moment "to be born!"

This summer, we placed our house on the market in anticipation of a move to Mississippi to join a wonderful international ministry. Six weeks later, we are still waiting for that elusive buyer, cleaning house every other day to keep things in pristine condition (we can't wait to sell this house and move to a newer one), vacating the premises on a regular basis so that yet another stranger can look through our home (after all, it is still our home), wondering how long our new employer will patiently await our arrival before deciding that maybe God was not in it, after all, wondering if we will have enough in savings to hold us over until the changes have all been made. This waiting time has been agony.

But it has also been pleasure. As my friend, Angie, pointed out to me, we have had a good, long time to say goodbye and some very sweet things have happened while we have waited. Already, we have had several special occasions with friends for the express purpose of saying goodbye and "thanks for the memories." We are finding out just how much we have been loved in this community, and how much we have loved living here. On almost a daily basis, we play the game, "What are you going to miss about Blue Springs, Missouri?" and our litany of things we love grows longer each time. We have even had the opportunity to mend some fences and see the sweet, healing love of Christ at work in relationships that we had given up for lost.

There is a time for everything, and while I sometimes think it would be nice to see the schedule ahead of time, God has very good reasons why things are arranged just the way they are. And one of those reasons, in every circumstance, is so that I will learn to trust Him more. King David had apparently learned to rest in God's perfect scheduling when he said, "But I trust in you, O Lord; I say 'You are my God.' My times are in your hands." (Psalm 31:14-15)

There is no safer, no more comforting, no more joyous place to be while we are waiting than in the hands of God. Some days, some moments, I don't want to seize, I just want to see them go. But if I can remember that my times are in His hands and learn to lean back into His strong embrace, then perhaps the waiting will give way to rejoicing, every time, eventually.

There is a time for everything. And that's they way it's meant to be.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Thanks, Mama

Today would have been my mother's 75th birthday. I still can hardly believe that she has been gone for nine years. Thank you, Father, for bringing me to be through the life of such a precious Daughter of Eve. Help me to live a life that exemplifies all that she honored in You.

Worthy Walking

" I urge you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love."

We had an unexpected treat this morning. After vacating the house so that it could be shown to another potential buyer, we went for donuts noticed that the local Office Depot was hosting a public safety fair. The boys had a blast climbing into and over every vehicle in the lot, and the sherriff's deputies, paramedics, nurses, and firemen were gracious and professional as they shared the tools of their noble calling with us.

Our first ride was on this cool "tank." There were a bunch of lawn tractors and this Trekker, too. They got on nearly every one of them!

While we were there, we got word that the local Life Flite helicopter was about to land. We sat on the grass and waited with about 20 other folks. They were right when they said the blades would whip up a lot of debris, but wow! It was worth the pain! Lori and I both commented that we had never been so close to a helicopter of any kind.

We had to wait a few minutes while the blades slowed down, then we got to meet the crew and look inside.

Volunteers from the Sherriff's mounted deputies were there. They told us about training their horses for search and rescue, and then they let the boys pose on their motorized mounts.

Can you see the look on the face of the old dude in the driver's seat? He was thoroughly enjoying locking up these two yahoos. When we were done, the boys couldn't figure out why they couldn't open the door...

We have a couple of friends in our local fire department. They were not here today, but these guys were super. We are so impressed and blessed by all of these folks who take a daily, calculated risk to help the rest of us. They showed us the storage area for 1000 feet of 5" hose and told us all about the tools stored in and around the truck. The boys sat in the cab later.

This was priceless! Do you see how embarrassed Ramzy is? When we got in the ambulance, Christian decided to tell the paramedic all about our ride in an ambulance in Mississippi when I "trashed" our old van. Ramzy was mortified!

What a great morning we had! When we left there at 11:30 am, the temperature was already pushing 95, with high humidity. Dressed in shorts and t-shirts, we were exhausted and ready for a cool drink. I couldn't help but think about all of those public servants, dressed in full uniform, ready at a moment's notice to respond to "the call." In fact, while we were still there, the helicopter was summoned to an accident on I-70, just a few miles from where we were.
I don't know anything about the personal lives of the folks who were there today, and I'm sure some of them have colorful lives. But those we met showed themselves to be "worthy" of their calling. Well-trained, thoughtful, responsive, kind. I hope that as a display for the Lord, I show myself to be such a worthy servant.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Variation and Shadow of Turning

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." James 1:17

Six months ago, I resigned from a job that I had thoroughly loved for six years. Since then, it seems that my world is constantly turning in new ways. Wonderful ways, mind you, but definitely turning. And if "variety is the spice of life," as someone has said, then my life would definitely be asterisked on the menu, with the warning: "*not for the faint of heart."

However, I have found out that I really like to stop turning, sometimes. The last thirteen years I have lived in the same house...longer, in fact, that I have resided in one single place, consecutively, in my entire life. When I was a little girl, my dad served churches and was appointed to a new one every 3 or 4 years. By the time I was 11, I had lived in Gainesville, Georgia, and Lambert, Columbus, Itta Bena, and Starkville, Mississippi. Believe it or not, I have cognitive memories of all of those places, even Gainesville, where I lived for only one month after my birth. Okay, I admit, my Gainesville memories were established 28 years later when I briefly dated a Methodist pastor whose family had a lake house there. But in all the rest, I have the treasure of warm memories of community and friendship that helped to establish the anchor of life.

When I was 11, in 1971, Daddy went into fulltime itinerate evangelism and he has lived in the same house since then -- almost 40 years. My brothers and I go "home" to that house for his birthday and several other special occasions throughout the year. (Thanksgiving, Christmas, every Mississippi State ballgame you can name...) I, however, have lived in no less than five different cities in five different states, since then, returning to Starkville in between each "foreign" adventure, during which time I have occupied upwards of 15 different domiciles. From 1977, when I entered Oral Roberts University as a freshman, until I bought my first home in 1990, I lived in 12 different dormitories or apartments. That's almost one new place per year. When I was 26, my mother expressed concern, at yet another move, because she believed that I am a "nester." If that is true, then like most migrating birds, at that time, I built my nest and tore it apart, almost annually, only to rebuild again!

While it is true that since 1990, I have lived in only two houses, I have during that same time, traveled more than 750,000 miles across the world, to at least 20 different countries, and some 43 of these United States. Since moving into this house 13 years ago, I have occupied three different bedrooms, changing the furniture in each numerous times. No wonder that we still stub our toes on the furniture in the dark! A blind person would lose his mind in our house!

"Turning" and "variety" are the definition of my life. I like change. I enjoy experiencing new things. But I also reach deep to squeeze the goodie out of each experience, and to establish bonds that last in each relationship. I don't give up on friends easily, and I re-visit the past frequently, geographically, emotionally, and spiritually.

What I have found is that I absolutely depend on the fact that, with the Lord, "there is no variation or shadow of turning." I recently learned that the words used in this passage have to do with the variableness of heavenly bodies -- planets, stars, moons -- and the "shadows" that are cast on our existence, as a result. Those shadows are changing seasons, tides, and orbits through space, the length of days and nights, heat and cold, the brightness of the sun and moon, or the clouds that dim the light. All of these are created things. Created things change.

But the Creator does NOT change. "There is no variation or shadow" with Him. No matter the orbit of created things around Him, He remains faithful and true, just and merciful. His Word remains and it accomplishes the things He intended. His plan cannot be thwarted, and He works good from everything that might turn in our lives.

This evening, I was watching that wonderful old movie, "The Swiss Family Robinson." On their first night after shipwreck on a deserted island, when the father is despairing of hope for the future, and blaming himself for their predicament, the mother wraps her arms around him and speaks a strong word of hope. "What we set out to do was a good and right thing. Just because we were shipwrecked on the way does not change that."

Shipwrecks, job loss, financial distress, cancer, divorce, addictions, depression...our lives are full of variation and shadow. But in Him, Jesus Christ, Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, there is no variation or shadow of turning. He is our firm foundation and the strong tower to Whom we run.