Moderate Drought Condition

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Photo Credit: Kim Clayton Lance

I’ve been thinking about the picture of rain loosening soil so that weeds can easily be pulled out of the ground. About the rain of God’s Word softening the soil of my heart so that the weeds of sin can be removed. Weeds that undermine my communion with God. Weeds of me-focus and my love of independence. Spiritual drought added in.

My town has recently experienced a moderate drought condition. This can also be the condition of my heart – moderate drought. Not sure what constitutes the moderate classification weather-wise, but I know it hasn’t rained significantly since the tail end of Hurricane Dorian. Dry leaves have been falling to dry ground on dry days. As far as the condition of my heart, there are likewise seasons of dryness, fruitlessness, and yes, fire hazard. I know God hasn’t left me. But, somehow I have wandered far off.

How can my heart be loosened from its moderate drought condition?

With His thoughts. Colossians 1:19-23 “For God was pleased to have all fullness dwell in Him (Jesus), and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”

With His thoughts. Psalm 89:14-15 “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.”

When my thoughts enter. The longest weeds of my soul don’t often like the light. This is when my plans seem best, my solutions the only ways to get anything done. Weeds of rebellion spread out. They are now the widest roots of all – I want control. My way is the way. Enter more thoughts. My heart. Full of self-preservation and dreams of achievement. The deepest weeds. My cynicism. People are so hopeless. The deceit they’ve perpetuated. The comfort they’ve stolen. The inconveniences. The drought of my heart.

Admittedly, I don’t do yard work (I’ve said this before), so the weed analogy might seem ridiculous coming from me. I barely notice anything green except when it is missing. I do appreciate colorful flowers, but can never name them. I do love fall, but it is all about the colors and temperatures…

Yet, I still appreciate the analogy of the rain of God’s Word. Jesus is the One Who will release my heart from the choking weed of my resistance to His Lordship. By the rain of His Word, the drought is removed. The washing occurs. Titus 3:5 “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Weeding begins.

Again, His thoughts. Psalm 16:6-8 (NASB) “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. I will bless the Lord who has counseled me; indeed, my mind instructs me in the night. I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Green pastures.

Guess what? It’s raining outside in my town now.

 

Planks and Pieces

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I don’t remember my dreams unless they are early morning nightmares where I cannot, for the life of me, get to where I’m supposed to be going. Today’s version of that: I was traveling in a tour group and somehow left my car parked somewhere (not sure why) and mistakenly thought I was close enough to home that I could just walk a few blocks to get there. But, the surrounding landmarks looked unfamiliar and big-city-like, not at all like my town! When I frustratedly failed at trying to secure an Uber (I don’t even have the app on my phone), I asked someone to point me in the direction of the W&M Law School. I got a confused look and the response, “You are in Arlington.” Then came the realization that I’d never get home. A compelling reason to wake up in a sweat! Thankfully. What a relief to know, okay, I’m in my bed, in my house, in my town, and my car is right outside! Rescued by wakefulness.

A favorite devotional book of mine is Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings. The reading for August 22 grabbed by attention because I related it to my own modern day experiences of Acts 27:44: “The rest were to get there on planks and pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety.” To get the context (surrounding story) of this verse, I encourage readers to look at the tumultuous, but miraculous story of Paul’s voyage to Rome (Acts 27, whole chapter). The voyage was difficult all along, but then became life-or-death dangerous (Acts 27:9) and then a violent wind made matters much worse (Acts 27:14-15), if you could imagine.

To survive the worst storm, the crew began to jettison the cargo (Acts 27:18) and Paul assured them that only the ship would be lost, but their lives would be preserved (Acts 27:22). When Paul says, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail for Crete” (Acts 27:21), I am reminded that doing God’s work, but not in God’s way, will invite similar disaster. Doing God’s work, but not using the people He has specifically called. Doing God’s work, but not waiting on His direction. Doing God’s work, but not inquiring of Him in constant prayer. Doing God’s work, but ignoring the red flags sent by the Holy Spirit. Yes, it becomes a highly dangerous voyage, not to end well.

Yet, God, in His great mercy, will weave us out of the disaster safely, not usually by angels dramatically grabbing us out of the water, but by simple, winding paths of escape. On planks and pieces. Pain will be involved, but life is preserved. The airbags might cause damage, but you will be able to walk away with your life.

I’ve lived long enough to see unthinkable voyages. I have seen sophisticated undermining of ship’s captains, I have seen the demoralization of the crew, I have seen the emotional, spiritual, and even legal twisting of the truth to cause massive division and shipwrecks. But, in all these things, I have seen God work a simple way of escape and I have seen Him give the survivors, who floated away on the planks and pieces, eyes to see His rescue and redemption.

My dad is in his late 80’s. He has been walking with the Lord for a long time. These days, he talks about resurrection often. He loves the metaphor of the caterpillar, the cocoon, and the transformation into the beautiful butterfly. He loves the picture of hope in Jesus Christ and eternity in His presence. I share my dad’s hope. I can see that life in Christ is mostly lived in the caterpillar and cocoon stage. Some storms pass, some don’t. And serious shipwrecks do happen.

The planks and pieces of the dangerous voyage, we are sure to face – in more ways than one. But, one day, we will wake to find we reached our heavenly destination, very likely on planks and pieces of the wrecked ship. But, humbly and simply, as those whose hope is in Christ alone. We will wake up and not be lost in Arlington (I thought it was interesting that it was northern Virginia that caused the most fright). However, there will be a resurrection that provides our ultimate safe passage on the planks and pieces. It will not be a dream. It will be reality. Like the butterfly.

 

 

The Next Generation

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Watching children play on the beach is an uplifting experience. Even more so when you see the future before you in broad strokes and think about the gifts these kids are now and will be to others in the future. The potential they represent! The family of God! The heritage passed on to them by their believing parents.

One day this past spring, a friend shared a burden she had for the next generation. After several years out of her profession as a retired school principal, she returned to an interim position briefly and was surprised at the drastic change for the worse she saw in students, their parents and teachers. I found myself nodding in agreement as I had seen similar trends in recent years. Growing disrespect, tolerance of inappropriate language, divisiveness, and lack of discipline, to name a few. Yet…

Deut. 30:19 says, “…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” When we choose life, we do so knowing that God’s promises remain solid. This is for our children, too.  And for their children. God is true to His Word, and His gift of salvation was meant to breathe life into us anew and for eternity. And into our children. And, to sustain new life and its flourishing, even while we had and still have an inclination for death ever since the Fall.

God is still the Giver of new life and the gifts of marriage and family.  These were God’s designs for human flourishing from the very beginning. Have you ever wondered why our hearts melt when we see a newborn baby? Or even a newly born puppy, chick, or calf? Because we see great hope in the next generation perhaps? Great blessing for the future? In bearing God’s image, isn’t it one of our deepest desires to be part of the continuation of new life as part of God’s creation?

Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him.” In my lifetime, I have come to appreciate that fertility is never to be taken lightly. And, that infertility is an agony of great grief and despair. Yet, I also appreciate that great miracles do happen and often occur when you have least expected them to come. And, only by God’s grace. I see God’s miracles in every one of my grandchildren.

In a summer Bible study that I am leading currently, we had a discussion of the meaning of the word “ramification” as part of a discussion of suffering in I Peter 4:12-19. We found that it is – “a subdivision of a complex structure or process perceived as comparable to a tree’s branches.” Another definition is “a branch or offshoot, the act of branching, a consequence, an outgrowth.” We listed out ways that so much of life resembles branches… The branching out of the circulatory system, plant life/root structures, actual trees, family trees, etc. Outcomes (or outgrowths) are varied based upon the direction of the branches – and they go in so many different directions.

Literally everything has an implication (or branch or ramification) for the future. So, we as believers have a real urgency to pray regarding the next generation. Our children are our branches. We have hope in and because of Jesus Christ. We have access to new life in Him. We know that a family built on authentic faith in Jesus Christ will have an inheritance that cannot spoil, fade or perish. A great ramification.

For these things we should continually pray. Inheritance that includes these family branches, these spiritual ramifications, to name a few:

  1. Singleness of heart and action, unity. Jeremiah 32:39 says, “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear Me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them.”
  2. The Lord’s love and righteousness. Psalm 103:17 says, “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children –.”
  3. A stronghold against enemies. Psalm 8:2 says, “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” Think about this kind of protection and covering that comes from children praising God.
  4. Great joy in a real home and a real dwelling for God’s Name. Nehemiah 12:43 says, As the Israelites were rebuilding the Jerusalem wall “…(They) offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”

Our prayers, if built around ramifications for the future, will branch into prayers for our children and their children – to have a real home, and a real dwelling for God’s Name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Friend Leanne

Tribute to My Friend Leanne

Although Leanne stepped out of our lives way too early, she left a strong footprint on our hearts and I want to tell you how. Like Psalm 97:11 says, “Light shines on the righteous and joy on the upright in heart.” Leanne’s footprint was the “joy of the Lord.” And it was shining on her and through her continuously.

The Lord’s joy was always radiant in Leanne. From the first time I met her, it was easy to sense. I knew Leanne since 1990 when she joined the staff of the Walnut Hills Baptist Church Learning Center as an extraordinary preschool teacher. Her great love for and effectiveness with little ones was magical! And, she served the children wholeheartedly out of a deep and contagious faith in Jesus Christ. She left her footprint in each little life she taught.

We continued to be friends by participating in various Bible studies at Walnut Hills Baptist Church. At first, we were a fairly informal group of friends until a certain discipleship training course crashed into our lives. It was called Master Life. It was transforming. And, it called us to become sisters with a deeper bond knitting us together. We studied together, memorized scripture together, prayed together, grieved together, and fostered joy together in Christ.

Years went by. We stayed in touch. Six of us were reunited in 2011 for a beach trip to the Outer Banks and afterwards, we continued to retreat together every 6 months. We didn’t know that this past May would be our last trip with our beloved Leanne. Early on, we referred to ourselves as the Masterlife Reunion group, but later shortened it to OBX girls.

Leanne and I were the earliest risers at the beach cottage. One of my favorite memories of Leanne is the morning coffee and conversation we shared on the front porch of the cottage before the other four girls awakened. She loved coffee – the stronger the better. We both shared a love of books – historical fiction, Christian autobiographies, and Oswald Chambers’ MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST devotionals. Each of us, with a Bible or devotional book in our laps, would get lost in conversations about the Lord and our families. That treasured footprint was found in the simplicity of talking over coffee, the pastime that unites many sisters in Christ.

In our porch conversations, we would always rest in the truth of Acts 2:28 which says, “You [Lord] have made known to me the paths of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence.”

God used Leanne’s wisdom, as the older and more seasoned sister, to breathe life-giving footprints of God’s presence into my heart. Times with Leanne were always a tremendous blessing. As well, she shared with all of us the grace of continuous joy for life’s journey. She shared very thoughtful devotionals at various mealtimes and trusted us with her tears whenever they came.

We felt like royalty at the beach cottage! Leanne’s gift of hospitality was another wonderful footprint pressed into our souls by this special companion who donned the ordinary kitchen table with beautiful fresh potted flowers, tablecloths, and novelty napkins on every trip. She would bake craisin-and-raisin oatmeal cookies without fail and would treat us with the tastiest homemade Brunswick Stew or lasagna. Up until a recent determination of mine to strictly reduce my calories, I would otherwise feast on these favorite cookies for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight snacks – on every retreat to the beach prior to the May trip.

Leanne challenged us to enjoy strategy games and 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles while at the beach. I was the reluctant one, but she was the enthusiast who could encourage me to break down and participate. My heart would eventually melt into the fun and laughter playing games like Chicken Foot and Phase 10. This would always be after a long day of sitting, talking, reading, sleeping, and walking on the beach.

To stay in touch between trips, the OBX girls try to meet monthly for dinner at Rick’s Grill. I spoke to Leanne on the phone on Tuesday evening (July 9th) to remind her about the plan for the OBX girls to meet on July 11th at Rick’s at 6:00 pm. She was hoping to come, and we were all looking forward to seeing her then. But, God had another plan…

How grateful I was that God had given me the gift of this last phone conversation. If you knew Leanne, you would know that it would not be an email or text message conversation. She resisted the intrusions of technology and I respected that. Now, how grateful I am that I heard her voice, almost as clear as it would be in our front porch conversations at the beach. How grateful I am to have enjoyed Leanne, my sister in Christ, who has left me with her footprint of joy in the Lord. I can’t wait to see her again one day.

Mile High Journey

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This colorful glass sculpture is found in the Denver Botanic Gardens. I photographed this on a glorious day after seeing an overwhelming collection of flowers, herbs, bushes, trees, plants and other earth fare. It was a very special day in other ways, but that is a story for another day… The sculpture seems to reflect the gloriousness and fragility of life. Such was the contrast I experienced between a damaging hail storm in the Mile High City a couple nights prior to seeing varieties (not pictured) of lily pads thriving in these beautiful botanic gardens on a blue sky day! What a contrast!

Psalm 121 (NIV) says, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm – He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” When I lift up my eyes to the hills, I see His glory and I realize that He is the One who watches over the fragile. He’s the Only One who can.

This summer I’ve been leading a Bible study at my church, digging into the book of I Peter. I Peter has been a big part of my personal mile high spiritual journey (I encourage you to read it; it is only 5 brief chapters). In having lived through probably three-quarters of my life at this point, I am able to catch a glimpse of my life’s influence, who I have affected, and what my words have carried along. Particularly, in my family, this includes both good and bad influences, both glorious and fragile.

I Peter 3:8 reminds me that there are miles more to go to be “like-minded, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble” as the Lord watches over my coming and going and helps me to keep my eyes on Him. At the three-quarter mark, the threads and seasons of my family’s lifetimes have become more connected and visible to me, just like the shining glass. God purposely reveals more and more of the intricacies of His Sovereign story as I get older.

I am reminded of a rope that was thrown to me some years ago when I was a participant in a Bible study at church. A mother was the leader/teacher and her adult daughter, in town for a season, was also a participant. At the last class, book recommendations were suggested for further summer reading and some were even distributed around for borrowing. Picking up on a clear vibe between mother and daughter about some past troubled times, I took that as a nudge from God’s Spirit to read the book they both recommended heartily. And so I did. This life-changing story started me on a healing journey with one of my children. I am grateful for that moment, that I was attentive, that this mother and daughter affected me that day, that their words carried life into mine by God’s grace. The Maker of heaven and earth was seriously watching over my coming and going that day!

I Peter 1:18 (The Message) says, “Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God…” Seemingly trivial things (like book recommendations), woven into the fabric of life, are meaningful when there is abiding faith in God who provides, sustains, directs, controls, and saves. Regarding another more recent book recommendation, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (by Rosaria Butterfield), I continue to be blown away by God’s powerful ability to intersect with us and rescue us from darkness and lies. I am recommending this book to you now. It is a true “God’s amazing grace” autobiography. In her book Rosaria says, “The first rule of repentance: requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin.” The focus is knowing God. Nothing else.

Glorious and fragile is the mile high journey of a Christ-follower.

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.