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.

 

 

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.