The Beauty of Crisis

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“Ask a strong, stable family where they got such strength, and you may very well hear a story of crisis.” (Philip Yancey, “June 11,” GRACE NOTES, Zondervan, 2009)

Blizzards, hurricanes, World War II stories, famines, Depression era stories, droughts, terminal illnesses, 9-11, tsunamis, public scandals, divorce stories, and business failures have stretched across human history, to name a few. Philip Yancey states, “I detect a trend that seems almost universal in the reminiscences of older people: they recall difficult, tumultuous  times with a touch of nostalgia.”

Why would there be a paradoxical affection for demanding or punishing times in our lives, if we happen to survive? Could it be that our Creator used and continues to use the crises to bring about the beauty of His greater purposes?

I Peter 1:6-7 says, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

In my own story, the first beautiful crisis was learning to live under the authority of my parents. Don’t get me wrong. My parents were, and still are, great parents. But, I didn’t want anybody telling me what to do, especially when I was young and unwise. The next beautiful crisis was in being married and raising children. Don’t get me wrong. I am blessed with a wonderful husband and three great children and their families. But, there were no short-cuts. Tim Keller was right when he said marriage and family were created to sanctify us. My own expectations and time table were/are at constant odds with those of others. My own comfort was/is constantly at risk. My own convenience was/is shattered. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. If anything, I am admitting my obsession with myself – with self-preservation and self-centered achievement.

I admit, I was born with the silver spoon in my mouth and continue to enjoy major elements of the “cushy” life… But, I’d have zero substance in my life without the crises through which God has worked beauty. I praise God for these things! Because they forced me to grow up. To persevere. To understand what love really looks like. To be grateful that God loves me enough to hammer me into His image. To be ready for each subsequent crisis. To have genuine faith, proven by His grace.

My beautiful crises have confirmed that God really only wants me to respond correctly (His version) when everything around me is incorrect, to love more purely when everyone around me seems undeserving or unappreciative, and to detect and hate sin more emphatically so that I repent more often.

Beautiful crises, mine, unique and not so unique. I know the slicing and dicing of disappointments in the workplace. I know the sadness of broken and “unrepaired” relationships. I know the heartache of unmet expectations and the loss of friends to disease or death. By God’s grace, I have not experienced the dangers of war, the financial losses of the Depression, or the poverty and starvation that exists in some areas of the world. Yet, I have grieved over various family members and one who died this year from an overdose. I have seen the great damage to my house caused by Category-1 Hurricane Isabel. I’d hate to think what a 2, 3, 4, or 5 would have done. I spent a career building something that I thought would last, but hasn’t. I’ve not been exempt from life’s curve balls…

And, I’m older now. Wiser. If anything, I am nostalgic about God’s grace in and through the storms of my life. There is beauty in crisis. It’s how God showed me to depend on Him and stop trying to control the uncontrollable. It’s how God shows His mercy in providing His real presence and comforting guidance when all seems otherwise lost. It’s how God gives relentless joy to His children in the face of life’s atrocities and death-producing clutches. Faith gets proven genuine when I can honestly say, “I trust You, Lord.”

James 1:2-3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” There is beauty in crisis.

I trust You, Lord.

Simplehearted

Azaleas at 117 spring 2019

Psalm 116:6 “The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, He saved me.”

This spring’s Easter celebration was the great reminder to me that God came to make His dwelling among us, and no more in a temple made by human hands. His presence is experienced in a heart, life, and soul redeemed by Him through faith. Jesus, the One and Only, perfect sacrifice, was victorious over death on the cross so that I don’t need credit for anything anymore except my faith in Him. I am free and clear. He paid my debt. This is the simple truth.

After all the excesses and extravagances of King Solomon’s life, and after he veered off the path of godly wisdom, he reached a simple conclusion. Ecclesiastes 11:13-14 says, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” This is the simple truth.

I’m wondering, why do we make things harder or more time-consuming than they need to be? Why do we let the train runaway with our time and efforts? Obsessions, compulsions, how do they mount up so quickly? Type-A becomes an excuse for it all, right? A disguise for pride and perfectionism. Yet, pride is what the Lord saves me from again and again. Easter was a sincere reminder. Jesus is the standard, the perfect, the Lord, the Savior. It’s a simple truth.

Raising up the Great Name of God in my daily planning and actions is really the only thing that is important. What a danger to my soul to get off this track and get clogged with complex-hearted thinking. In Psalm 132:3-5, David is quoted as saying, “I will not enter my house or go to my bed – I will allow no sleep to my eyes, no slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” In other words, I must dig my heels in until I experience God’s presence in my life. Not a move will I make until He is with me.

But how can I invite God’s presence? One powerful thing is to soak in God’s Word. But, not just for knowledge. (And not just to check off that I have completed my BSF homework.) Not by programs and methods. Instead, to know Him more fully. Pursue only Him. God is so present in His Word and so available to the simplehearted. And why are people like me so reluctant to spend time in it and absorb it deeply? To be transformed by it, to be sustained by it? To dialogue in prayer with the God Who promises His presence?

So, why am I so often tempted to overlay my idiosyncratic needs for symmetry or lack of clutter or coloring between the lines onto the simple obedience of abiding in Him without distraction? “Just a sec” leads me down the road of activities that make it impossible for me to be that dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob – Jesus Christ. These invented delays threaten my pursuit of God’s presence. The one more text message. The one more phone call. The one more shirt to iron. The one more sauce to make. The one more thing makes impossible simplehearted devotion to Jesus.

Victor Hugo once said, “I advance in life, I grow more simple, and I become more and more patriotic for humanity.” In my mind, patriotism for humanity means love and respect for the Creator and His creation. Living according to the Creator’s Word. Fulfilling His purposes. Knowing Him. Knowing His presence in my life. This I know, the Lord favors the simplehearted – those whose single and simple focus is on glorifying God’s Great Name in thought, word, and deed – no matter what.

 

 

Grandiflora

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One of my “happy” experiences is visiting a dear friend. A “Grandiflora” living room is a personal reminder of one of these wonderful times with my dear friend who lives in Charleston. Grandiflora is the name of her street. But, it was exactly the reunion of friends that made the street name so special. So, I’ve adopted it as one of my “happy places.” Well worth a 10-hour train ride, for sure.

To me, Grandiflora has taken on a whole new meaning. The sweet smelling rose is now a reminder to me of the gift of friendship. Grandiflora is really the name for hybrids of tea roses and floribunda roses. (Now I am truly out of my element since green-thumbing is far from my list of abilities… but, thank you Google.) I simply have been thinking about happy places and what makes them happy… A street named for a rose. A wonderful friend who lives there…

Here’s another. A few hours of quality with my two daughters and my daughter-in-law on a beautiful sunny day in the spring. A 30-minute drive up Route 5 to Upper Shirley Plantation makes it a beloved route – a happy place. But, not because of the means of getting there – on an unclogged 2-lane byway on a pretty day (which is quite nice).  Instead, because of the sweet end – the treasured bonding between sisters and mother, even mother-in-law, the happy place became happy. The delicious food and drink were only reminders of the laughter and “girl time” that we enjoyed for a few hours.

These treasures, these “ends” to be found in and around happy places, remind me of the treasures that are found in a heart rightly related to Jesus Christ. He is the  Grandiflora of my heart. There is a phrase in the hymn Fairest Lord Jesus: “Fair are the meadows, Fairer still the woodlands, Robed in the blooming garb of spring: Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer, Who makes the woeful heart to sing.”

Billy Graham said that the message of the Bible is Jesus Christ. It’s about “humanity’s redemption through Jesus Christ. It’s the message of salvation primarily. It is only incidentally concerned with the history of Israel or a system of ethics.” God’s Word becomes a “happy place” only if it leads one to become a true believer. Fair are the Bible stories, Fairer still the faith of saints over the years, but Jesus is fairer.

Fair are happy places. Fairer still the quality relationships with friends and family. But, Jesus is fairer. He is the Giver Who makes hearts thankful. He is the Savior Who redeems us from the destruction of sin. He is the Grandiflora of the Gospel. He is the Provider of life, peace and eternity with Him.

Psalm 30:11,12 “You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever.”

The happiest place.

 

Tune My Heart

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My two nieces dedicated their baby boys at church on Sunday. Family members took up three-and-a-half rows in the front center of the church. This was a mile marker, for sure. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” That is definitely what happened. Desires of the heart fulfilled.

We come from a family of believers. How great to see the next generation! Dedicated to God!

When King David was nearing the end of his life, he was grateful that God had given him the ability and longevity to see his son Solomon succeed him as leader of Israel. I Kings 1:48 says, “And [David] said, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has allowed my eyes to see a successor on my throne today.’ ” This is when you really know that it is “well with your soul.” You are encouraged about the future, the legacy of faith, the Christian heritage being passed along in your family. You actually get to see it.

There is another hymn that I have known forever it seems. I have played it many times on the piano in my various churches, starting back in my teen years. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” was a tune that I learned from a young age. I know I’ve sung it many times, but never being gripped by the lyrics. Until now.

This one line – “Tune my heart to sing Thy grace” has gripped me. It helps to have lived a long time (like I have). The tuning is much better, much more accurate. I can really see God’s grace in a much deeper way. I can see the blessings in broad daylight, living color.

We recently tried to find a new home for our Knabe Baby Grand piano. It was a bittersweet project because it had much sentimental value as well as antique value. There was some interest out there in the world of piano seekers and dealers, and a logistical challenge we faced regarding its physical moving (oh my). But, imagine the comfort that came from one of our children deciding to take it! It’s one legacy being passed on, one heritage, the story of this great piano preserved in our family.

Such reminders of God’s grace come through different means, even piano moving. We sing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” fairly often in Bible Study Fellowship (of which I am a regular participant). The words are familiar. The lyrics inspired. But, when did it actually grab my heart? Only a few Sundays ago. When I realized that my heart has finally been tuned into God’s grace in innumerable ways. “Tune my heart to sing Thy grace” jumped out, and then a week or so later – the dedication of the baby boys to God… And then, a home for a beloved piano and all its great memories. Thank you God.

It is well with my soul.

 

 

Sunrise Prayer

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So many mornings, Lord, I have been seated in other parts of my house, looking down at my phone or my Kindle or my Bible study homework (not that these are bad things), but have failed to look up, to look east, to see the sunrise from the front room in our house, a room that isn’t used very much. But, this morning, I can’t believe the beauty I’ve been missing by not looking up. By not seeing out, not watching the brightness appear over the water gradually into full on sunshine and a new day. The front room. That beautiful morning glow.

Psalm 121:1,2 says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Four years ago, I wondered what life would be like after an intense 22-year ministry career. I wondered how I would spend my time. Really Your time given to me. I wondered how having time to really study Your Word would transform my life… because the Gospel does change everything. Every relationship, every perspective, every motive, every yearning, every dream.

And then this year, I met King David in Your Word, and I saw how he inquired of you often, and when he didn’t, he went wildly astray. I felt You calling me to be part of something that I never would have naturally sought. I felt You pull gently at my heart. I heard You tell me to break with my patterns, my routines, my natural inclination to find closure. Break with my obsession to finish what I’ve started, no mid-year upheavals allowed.

You brought me into something You were doing in my town. You helped me connect the past with the future. You pulled back the veil and let me see how You were preparing me. The last hurdle was waiting on You and Your timing, and it certainly wasn’t at all like 40 years in the desert…

It was an inquiring process that unfolded with regular prayer meetings and faithful women and men who were praying for the last 4-5 years. You included me. You gave me a new vision. You tended the garden of our hopes and dreams, and spurred us on. We inquired a lot. Then you answered, just like You answered David. It was a circle around.

II Samuel 5:19-23 says, “So David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will You hand them over to me?’ The Lord answered, ‘Go, for I will surely hand the Philistines over to you.’ So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He said, ‘As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me.’ So that place is called Baal Perazim. The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David and his men carried them off. Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so David inquired of the Lord, and He answered, ‘Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the balsam trees.’ ”

In the last two weeks, You showed me personally that waiting is never idling. Waiting is never wasted in Your kingdom. You were in the midst of this, encouraging me with purposeful waiting activities and special blessings that I would only have a small window of time to receive and enjoy before my next assignment. Your answers are strategic.

In this waiting period, one particular gift was a special friend. My special friend whose son married my daughter 15 years ago. I would never have anticipated a bond with her that has taught me so much about Your faithfulness. Psalm 40:5 says, “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders You have done. The things You planned for us no one can recount to You; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.”

Now the sun in the front window is fully up. It’s Sunday at 7:29 a.m. My friend and I share more than our children and grandchildren. We share Christ, and two transformed hearts that can only exist by the Lord’s hand of grace. And, for a brief two weeks, we got to be in the same Bible Study Fellowship class, sitting together, talking together, and mostly being grateful for our divine journey because of Jesus Christ.

Lord, how could I not be grateful for this amazing two weeks before You unfold the next mystery of Your purposes in my town, the next assignment, which You are now doing? The front room is full of bright sunlight now. I almost need sunglasses to be able to continue looking up. I am reminded of the need to lift up my eyes to the hills often. Help me to remember this always. Thank You for letting me be part of the sunrise of something You are doing in my community for Your glory.

Amen.

 

 

The Shepherd Approach

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Coach Edgar Randall. A really good man recently passed away. And, now I join many in reflecting. I have had the great privilege of knowing Coach for 25 or so years. Known to many as beloved Coach Randall, he loved the Lord Jesus Christ and faithfully lived out the picture of a godly servant leader who invested himself in the lives of others to share the gospel of grace and to bring glory to God. He radiated the Good Shepherd in everything he did!

There is an account of God’s servant leader David in I and II Samuel. You will see that Coach Randall was much like David. I especially love II Samuel 7:8,9 which says, “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Almighty says: I took you from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth.’ ”

Similarly, God took Edgar as a young athlete in Williamsburg to become a servant in the Kingdom of God and to bring godly influence to many many people. A community celebrated well his life on Friday, February 1st. Although Coach Randall had many earthly claims to fame, he is mostly highly regarded because of his servant leadership qualities: kindness, encouragement, faithfulness, excellence, joy (tremendous joy!), godly counsel, helpfulness, availability, generosity, love, friendship, care, concern, and love. He was all about serving God cheerfully and pouring out his life for others.

If you study the life of David, you will draw some similarities. If you study the life of Jesus, you will see even more similarities. Micah 5:2 ” ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times.’ ” Matthew 2:5,6 ” ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem , in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’ ”

These scriptures picture the Shepherd King – Jesus Christ. So many parallels can be shown in studying the life of David, the man after God’s own heart, and the life of our Messiah. Godly leadership is characterized by shepherding. Ruling and shepherding are not necessarily antithetical. They are an influential mixture of leading and loving. Much like the life roles played by Coach Randall.

Coach Randall’s style was influential shepherding. He was a gentle giant who nurtured young students and athletes to aspire to things of eternal value. Excellence in athletics was certainly one of those high values. His manner was always engaging. He was very approachable and inviting. But, he also had a great vision for students and held them to a high standard. They knew they were loved! They knew they had to work hard. They knew he would teach them to always take the high road of honesty, integrity, and compassion. They knew it was all because Coach Randall loved Jesus and did everything because of Christ’s call on his life to serve others.

John 10:14-15 ” ‘I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.’ ”

This was Coach Randall’s legacy – the shepherd approach. He laid down his life in service to His Lord.

Flourishing in the House of God

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Psalm 52:8 “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” Sometimes I think about the blessing of being a grandmother (which I am now) and maybe even a great-grandmother one day. Oh, to be able to see a fourth generation! To be able to see God’s unfolding plan in my grandchildren’s children. With the hope of a long life span and continued production of fruit, the olive tree provides an image of “aging well” by God’s grace and provision.

I retreat to the Outer Banks twice a year with five of my girlfriends. One of our fondest traditions is to feast on green olives, tuna salad, and carrot salad prepared by one of our special ladies. It’s not an everyday thing to eat lots of olives, but we think it is a treat! We truly desire to flourish in the house of God together, now after many years, just like the olive tree pictured in Psalm 52:8. Remembering that our common faith in Jesus Christ brought us together in Bible study many years back, “flourishing” for us has been a continuing spiritual journey. (Always easier at the beach, of course!)

In Psalm 52, David vents his indignation about enemies. In particular, Doeg the Edomite, exposed his whereabouts to King Saul who was trying to conspire against David to kill him. Already David had spent a lot of time running and hiding from King Saul and he didn’t need any more complications to foul up his escape from Saul’s harmful intentions.

Harmful intentions bombard us daily. We wonder how much more we can take. Conspiracies, real and imagined, plague us continuously. Maybe not death threats. But, plots to cause us harm. The enemy of our souls is always looking for a button to push. I have experienced a few whoppers in my lifetime…

What I have learned is that I admire David for choosing to pour out his complaint to God in prayer, preferably as a first response. When I become enslaved by my preoccupation with injustice or the evil actions of someone toward me, I want an olive-tree-like response to be prompted in me by the Holy Spirit. Turning quickly to Him, no waiting, no agonizing, only depending on His strengthening. His unfailing love.

After processing his life-threatening problems, David chooses to trust in God’s unfailing love. David’s writings indicate that he does not want to be forever locked into a personal prison of bitterness and fear. He is, after all, a man after God’s own heart, though not perfect. Something inside his heart causes him to seek God again and again, though sometimes not first.

What is it about the olive tree? It is unwavering. Unmovable. Olive trees can live a really long time, even a thousand years. The tree continues to bear fruit despite the ravages of aging. Even with a gnarled trunk. Even with a hollowed trunk. There is life. There is continued flourishing.

Today I researched the health benefits of olive leaf extract. Just to name a few -gastroprotective, neuroprotective, antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antiociceptive (reduces pain stimuli), antioxidant (prevents cell damage/oxidation). Even protection against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The nutrient oleuropein found in olive leaves sounds amazing – an antidote for so many bad things that ravage good health. (I’ll be taking this soon!)

So, when I consider the limitations of old age (to which I am relating more and more), the gnarled joints and the hollow bones, I am inspired by David’s hope of continued usefulness in the house of God. Though the trunk might get twisted, irregular, and full of bumps and cracks, flourishing can still happen. Steadfastness. Anti-inconsistency. Faithfulness. Anti-fearfulness. Trusting God completely… Unmovable. Unwavering. A strong tree living well.

In Bible history, cultivation of the olive goes back to the earliest times in Canaan. I discovered that cultivated olives are planted using shoots that grow at the base of another olive tree, rather than seeds. The imagery of such shoots is used in scripture to reference the blessing of children around your family table (Psalm 128:3) and the prophetic Messiah (Isaiah 11:1). I pray that all the shoots around my table will be faithful followers of our great Messiah into the 5th and 6th generations, even those I will not see with my earthly eyes.

While the olive tree’s fruitfulness is not hampered by bare and rocky ground or rainless summers, the tree somehow overcomes its vulnerability to hostility. Still able to thrive, the olive tree is known for its tenacity in great heat with minimum water. The tree’s wood is resistant to decay and when olive tree waste is burned, it becomes renewable energy producing 2.5 times the heat of burning wood. Even the ash becomes a wonderful garden fertilizer.

What a comfort to read the Psalms! Psalm 52:8 makes the olive tree’s attributes worth our study. David envisions the spiritual aspirations of the faithful with his image of this special tree. You might recall the heartiness of the olive tree was apparent after Noah’s flood receded and the dove returned with a healthy olive leaf. You might already know that the olive branch has long been a symbol of peace. Extending the “olive branch” is what the steadfast in the Lord do. It’s what the courageous of heart do. It’s what the faithful do. Living like this sturdy tree in the house of God is the only way to flourish.

Happy New Year (2019)!