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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.