Thursday, March 31, 2016

Safe and sound

I jumped awake and sat straight up in bed. “Oh good,” I thought, “she’s here.”
Pippy was fast asleep at the end of my bed but just moments before she had been stuck down a rabbit hole. Or at least that’s where I saw her last during a dream that was more terror than fantasy. In my dream Pippy, leash-less on a walk through a meadow scene had discovered an open rabbit hold. In an Alice in Wonderland moment she slipped beneath the earth’s surface, the hole closed up and Pippy had disappeared. That dream seemed to last forever as I dug into the dirt, trying to reopen the hole and save my precious pet.
I’m not sure if Pippy barked in my dream or how I followed her movements below the earth but the next scene I remember is another rabbit hole opening and Pippy’s gray, dirt stained snout sticking up from below the surface, the hole too small for her to fit through yet large enough for me to see her desperate face.
That’s when I woke up. And there she was, alive and well.
Sometimes I wish that the critical, desperate moments in my life were all just a bad dream, like Pippy’s nightmare of an adventure, and that I would wake up to a soft bed and an hour left to sleep. But reality unfolds much differently than dream land. I end up in rabbit holes that seem endless, like I am trapped in the dark, uncertain of which way to go next.
Thankfully, God sees me and has my path established. In miraculous, marvelous ways He leads me out of the darkness and into His glorious light. Even when I cannot see a way forward and cannot comprehend how I will ever escape the confinement of the rabbit trail, God has already dug out the hole that will lead to my freedom.

In the end I know I will end up just like Pippy, safe and sound at the foot of Christ’s cross.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The card on the cross

"Love: Juju."
That simple salutation made my heart melt. Cards colored with love by little children’s hands have a way of producing that kind of emotion in sentimental recipients. On the outside of the hand made yellow paper card was a large pink decorated Easter egg drawing along side a "Happy Easter" greeting. But it was the love inside of the card that put a lump in my throat.
My Easter card came hand delivered from the three-year-old hands of Juliette, my pint-sized niece with bouncy blonde hair, boundless energy and a contagious smile. From my back row seat during the Easter morning church service, when the sermon was nearing its conclusion, I heard the door behind me open up followed by a scurry of little feet. A moment later Juju was at my side presenting me with her card created specially for me.
"I told her she could choose one person and write them a card for Easter," her older sister said. "And she choose you." 
Out of all the people in our family - her Mom, Dad, Grandparents and seven siblings - she chose me. Tears formed in the corners of my eyes. Love overwhelmed me. I gripped her card tightly in my hands, vowing to keep it forever. 
As I looked up from Juju's card my eyes landed on the cross. That Easter morning on that empty cross I saw a message penned just for me, signed by the blood of Christ and it read "Love: Jesus." 
God's love for me, a love that cannot be measured, was poured out for me on that cross. God choose to love me, flaws and all. While I was a sinner, separated from Him by my rebellion and blatant disobedience, God choose to send a rescue mission to save me and His name was Jesus. God chose to send His message of eternal love in the baby in the manger who would one day go to the cross as my Savior.

The one universal desire of all mankind is to be known for who we are, imperfections, flaws and shortcomings, and to be loved in spite of them. On the cross of Christ that love is found. The card that shares unmerited, unending love is signed by the precious Redeemer and King, Jesus. While I was still a sinner, while you were still separated from God, Jesus said, “I love you” and delivered the card with each of our names upon it.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

While decorating eggs...

Theories abound as to why we color eggs every Easter. Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene are both credited with sparking the tradition along with the royals of England and the Orthodox Catholic church. Some people dye their eggs simply for the crafty fun of it while others use it as a teaching moment to share the good news of the resurrection. How a colored hard boiled egg displays Christ's rise from the dead is beyond me, but who am I to squelch the proclaiming of the Gospel? If a cooked egg does the trick then, by all means, get the water boiling.
As a child growing up I never contemplated the deep meaning of the traditional egg dying practice. Every Easter Mom boiled a dozen eggs and filled an assortment of bowls with pastel-hued dyes. I popped out the cardboard circles from the packaged egg-coloring kit purchased from the grocery store and set out spoons to assist in the dipping of the white egg into the colored water. I never was very skilled at using the flimsy egg dipper included in the kit's package.
After changing into a "messy" shirt destined to be splattered with various shades of spring, I would  sit myself at the kitchen counter ready to create a beautiful masterpiece on my white eggshell canvas. Well, "masterpiece" might be a bit of an exaggeration. Many of my attempts at originality resulted in the discovery of new hues that will never be featured on the PAAS egg coloring kit box. But I never let my lack of egg artistry deter me from enjoying the tradition. I colored as many eggs as I could get my hands on, down to the last cracked egg.
It never failed that the last egg in the bowl was always cracked. I would reach for the perfect eggs first, hoping someone else would end up with the white egg marred by the jagged grey lines, presumably the result of a hand a bit over-zealous at the initial stage of egg boiling. But the end of the bowl was an inevitable truth and the cracked egg awaited me. I never spent much time on that egg. It was already damaged goods. Sometimes I just plunked it in one bowl of bright pink water and let it sit there for an inordinately long period of time. Other experiments included multiple colors and a similar half-hearted effort. But amazingly enough, that one cracked egg always turned out beautifully. I could leave it in the water for a minute or for five and the shade would be just perfect. The crack in the shell added character to the design. The break in the surface would soak up the richness of the dyes color. The design left behind always created a visual image more pleasing than any I could have crafted by my own hand. The broken egg, once dyed and dried, was always my favorite out of the whole carton.
Isn't it funny how it is the broken that turns out most beautiful?
God uses the same design principle with me. He has broken me and let me crack so that in the end I can be more of a masterpiece. I may think that I want easy, bruise-free, crack-free living but God knows that, once painted, that kind of life won't produce stunning end results. So He brings about some bumps to let my shell split at the edges. He makes sure there are some jagged lines along my surface, leaving gaps for His goodness to seep into my heart. Every imperfection is another element of His design. Every perceived flaw a feature for His future glory.
As a young egg decorator I always thought that I wanted the perfect looking egg. As a young child of God I thought I wanted a perfectly paved life, smooth and steady, completely crack free. But I'm beginning to see things through a new set of eyes. God specializes in making brokenness utterly beautiful. He uses cracked canvases to create His greatest masterpieces.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Snow in spring

Spring has sprung.
Tell that to the snow.
Days after the official start of spring a snow flurry passed by my window. And then another. And then another. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I was seeing straight but, to my dismay, my eyes weren't playing tricks on me. Freezing precipitation in the form of big white flakes were indeed cascading down from the sky, landing on my car's windshield.
Irrational annoyance immediately followed. All December long I had wanted to see snow for the Christmas season but, alas, it was a brown Christmas. Now all I wanted was to put away my furry boots, heavy coat and fuzzy hat but the never-ending snow and freezing temperatures keep forcing me to bundle up.
The weather is playing tricks on me. It isn't the way it is supposed to be; the way I expect it to be. I believe that Christmases are meant to be white and springs are supposed to bring sunshine. I've always believed that April brings showers that will turn into May flowers. But somehow the skies didn't get the memo.
Call it infantile, call it juvinille, call it absurd but I am am downright angry at the snow that shouldn't come in spring.
Driving down the road I reluctantly turned on my whipper blades that pushed the white dusting away from the glass, giving me a clearer view of the road and of my silly atmospheric irritation. So, the forecast isn't what I think it ought to be; who am I to say when it should snow or when it should rain? Who am I to dictate the sunshine or dismiss the clouds? Why should God be stopped from rearranging the seasons? His thoughts aren't my thoughts and His ways aren't my ways - not even His weather ways.
The snow that came on that spring day reminded me that God has His own agenda and I am simply along for the ride. I am along for the crazy, the confusing, the unpredictable and the utterly fabulous twists and turns. Traveling down God's road I get to experience the trying conditions of a winter blizzard, the random snow flakes in spring and even the blazing heat of an August afternoon. He exposes me to all the elements, showing me just how diverse He is in His creation and His plan.
With the unexpected and unwanted snow flakes in spring came a fundamental lesson of God's providence: He doesn't work the way I want Him to, He works the way I need Him to in order that I am prepared and readied for Heaven. He wants me alert and keen, able to stay stead and strong in the face of difficulties. He desires my attentive following that is unwavering in focus on Him even when things in my world go topsy-turvy and the seasons get all twisted.
One day I will get to Heaven and all will be set right. Snow will only fall at the perfect moment. All of the trials and tribulations I faced on this earth will be distant memories, only serving as reminders of God's steadfast faithfulness. Until then I'm going to put on my windshield whippers so I can see God's glorious plan more clearly. I'm going to enjoy this wild and crazy, unexpected, and unpredictable ride because it only happens once and if I don't pay attention I might miss out on how beautiful snow can be in spring.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The sweet scent of service

Thursday. The very name of the day on the calendar overwhelmed me with guilt. Tuesdays and Thursdays are always food pantry days where I help distribute food and necessities to the needy at the local Family Care Center. In the past I have always loved my time serving at the pantry. I used to look forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays with great anticipation and joy at the opportunity to interact with the community and serve the body of Christ but recently I lost my passion for the pantry.
It all started with the stench.
Over the past few months the crowds checking in to receive assistance have been growing in number and destitution. With rising unemployment and growing immigration the level of poverty has spiked sharply. The evidence of the epidemic wafts into the air on the skin and clothes of the homeless visitors who make their way through the door of the pantry. Their odor is a silent call of desperation for food and soap.
As I looked at the day on the calendar all I could think about was the dirt, grime and smell of the pantry. With childish determination and reluctance I decided not to go.
In my mind I did my best to rationalize my decision.... I'm just one person, they won't even notice if I'm not there. How many people would I really serve anyways? I'd have to drive downtown. And, look, I think I see a rain cloud, better stay home! My lame attempts at justification were downright silly and utterly feeble. I was being selfish in my heart of hearts and the pit in my stomach knew it.
Then, like a lightening bolt cutting through the night's black sky, a Word of truth flashed across my mind's eye. Don't think of yourself more highly than you ought. In the moments that followed a wave of shame and guilt flooded my heart and engulfed my spirit. How foolish I had been to judge the scent on my fellow brothers and sisters. In order to protect my own nose I had almost neglected to walk in the footsteps of Christ who, during His ministry, didn't just smell the foul odors of death and dirt but even washed the muddy feet of shoeless travelers. And I wanted to stay home and away from the off-putting scent of homelessness? I wanted to withhold the extending of a box of cereal to avoid an unpleasant odor?
An hour later I found myself standing in the center of the food pantry greeting visitors, loading up plastic bags and helping to unload big boxes of coveted toilet paper rolls. In my short visit to the pantry I met new friends, shook hands and exchanged countless smiles. The visitors received their food and even a little bit of friendly conversation. In return I was blessed beyond measure and filled with the joy that only God can give.
And do you want to know a secret? I didn't smell a thing.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Bunny blessings

I stood at the kitchen sink, looking out the window upon the vibrant green lawn illuminated by the early morning sun, the dew upon the blades of grass still fresh causing the landscape to appear as sparkling glass. My mind was transfixed by the simple beauty of day break when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement beneath a pine tree out on the perimeter of the yard. A moment later two small wild rabbits emerged.
The pair of bushy-tailed bunnies lingered beneath the branches of the trees before one of the cottontails began jumping and hoping with delight. The rambunctious rabbit scampered around his companion, taking an occasional leap towards the sky. He bolted one direction, did a little mid-air jump and then scurried back towards the pine trees. He ran around the stumps of the trees with a spring in his little rabbit steps. Then he went dashing back to his bunny companion who had yet to join in the fun.
From my perch at the window I wondered if the second bunny was hurt. That little rabbit wasn't running, jumping or leaping like the other bunny. I anxiously watched, waiting for a sign of movement that would put my concerns to rest.
The first bunny, full of vigor and life, went back to his lethargic friend with a burst of energy. He jumped in circles right around the idle rabbit, practically willing the tired hare to hop to it. In my vivid imagination I pictured the boisterous bunny encouraging his friend, "Just try a little leap in the air! It'll be fun! See, look how I'm doing it. Just spring straight up like this!"
It took a little convincing but the still, motionless rabbit began to move. First he hopped a few steps towards the trees, his furry friend right behind. Then he hopped a few circles around a tree stump. Before too long he was dashing about, jumping over his friend, leaping straight up into the sky in tandem with the first rabbit. The two rolled about, scampered in unison and chased each other across the yard. It was a scene of pure joy.
I can't help but believe that the second bunny was thankful for the persistence and prodding of his bunny friend. To think he could have missed out on the early morning frolicking fun! But his companion wouldn't relent. He knew that his lazy bunny buddy just needed some more encouragement and coaxing to wake up to the enjoyment he could be having if only he would take a romp around the yard.
Alone at the kitchen sink a smile spread across my face. Oh, God, how good you are to me. I had not realized that Jesus has been doing frolicking of His own in circles all around my life, urging me to join Him in His kind of fun, the best kind of fun. Jesus has been displaying His power and peace to show me what I'd been missing.
As I watched the reluctant rabbit become a rambunctious, full hearted participant in the fun, I saw Christ's offer of boundless, endless joy that could be mine if only I'd join in His energetic, full life. If I jump when he jumps and scamper in unison alongside my Companion and Lord, I too will come to enjoy a life full of glee and delight.
In Christ is true life, limitless joy and the very best kind of fun. I know because the bunnies showed me so.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

What are you doing here?

"What are YOU doing here?!"
The question was posed with such force that it practically knocked me over. I was just standing in the gym locker room, minding my own business, readying my bag and coat to head out the door when the shock occurred. The questioner, a woman I'd never seen before, came bursting through the doorway huffing and puffing. One look at me and she came to a screeching halt. She stopped dead in her tracks, dropped her jaw and posed her question. "What are YOU doing here?"
This wasn't a case of mistaken identity or a curious joke. She was truly perplexed and startled by my presence in the gym locker room. She wouldn't be the first to ponder such a question. My severely thin body has raised the query in the minds of many onlookers. What am I doing in a gym? Why am I so underweight? Do I have a problem? And is it physical or could it be mental?
What the questioning woman couldn't know by simply looking upon my outward appearance is the inner war that has stripped my body of its weight and natural cushioning. Six years into my battle with multiple sclerosis has left me shockingly small in size yet strong in spirit.
As I stood in the locker room, feeling vulnerable and exposed by the inquiry of the stranger, I was paralyzed to answer her question. In my mind the past six years, the journey that led to my body's current condition, flashed through my mind but no words formed on my lips.
Thankfully the whirling dervish of a woman standing before me didn't wait long for me to formulate a coherent response. She was off and running about the various reasons people join a gym: lose weight, tone up, gain muscle, shed fat. Her chatter faded into the distance as she continued on into the back of the locker room, unfazed by the bewildered look on my face and my utter silence.
For the mystery woman in the gym locker room that strange encounter was nothing more than a passing moment but for me it posed a question I couldn't shake. What am I doing here? For years I've fought for my body's survival but that isn't really my purpose. That's not why I'm here.
The questioning woman was long gone when the answer came perfectly formed in my mind: to serve God and bring Him glory. Whether I eat or drink or workout or stay home, the purpose is always the same. The purpose of my everyday, everywhere existence and being is the same on Sunday morning as it is on Friday night. It is the same at a perfect weight or a weight that is too low. I am a messenger of the Lord, a mouthpiece for His goodness and a proclaimer of His power.
Should I ever happen to find myself again confronted with the mystery questioner from the gym locker room I'll know just what to say. "I'm here to honor God and bring Him glory. How about you?"

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A sailor and a singer

He was a sailor in search of his perfect mooring. She was a singer seeking an accompanist to join in her tune. They were both looking for companionship, a friend to share their later years of life.
Keith and Lorraine had a lot in common when they met in their early seventies. Both were widowed. Both had welcomed five children into the world. Both turned, with hesitation and trepidation, to in, what they believed, would be a futile attempt at finding companionship.
Lorraine likes to say she messaged Keith first but, Keith, being the gentleman he is, always sets the record straight. "No, no, I saw you first!" he always insists. Lorraine just smiles and rolls her eyes. They interact like lifelong soul mates.
They both agree that Keith asked Lorraine to meet face-to-face over a cup of coffee at Eat-n-Park. She agreed and as they exchanged preferences, interests, likes and dislikes they discovered that they were a perfect match. They had nearly everything in common. The rest, as they say, is history. The two have been inseparable ever since, sharing copious amounts of coffee and countless hours of easy, comfortable conversation.
Now-a-days Keith and Lorraine are regulars at my local coffee shop. They come in every afternoon around two, take up a seat by the window and chat for hours. Some days they barely seem to talk at all. That's the beauty of their relationship. They can talk without barely stopping to take a breath or they can just sit in the silence of each other's presence. As long as they are together they are content. It is the being there that is important.
Keith and Lorraine each went looking for  a companion with whom they could enjoy a slice of life. They didn't make demands or grand plans. All they wanted was a friend. And they found it. They turned on their computers, took a few clicks and a big leap of faith and were shocked to find just what they were looking for.
The story of Keith and Lorraine isn't an advertisement for nor is it a recommendation on how to find a friend or a husband. None of us needs a computer to find companionship. All it takes is a Bible and a prayer. Finding someone to share life with is as simple as turning to our one perfect match, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The greatest longing of our hearts for intimate relationship, constant companionship and faithful fellowship is fulfilled in God's presence. We can seek it by turning to God anytime and anywhere, sharing with Him the deepest longings of our hearts, our tightly held secrets and even our utter silence. Jesus Christ is truly our perfect mooring and flawless accompaniment to our every song.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Somewhere along the course of human history men became the inhabitants of "man caves." Aside from comical historical recaps of the evolution of the man cave no solid record of their genesis exists. I suspect it dates back to women's frustrations with men's sloppy couch-lounging behavior. So maybe man caves have been around since the beginning of time. 
Growing up I was unfamiliar with man caves. My Dad had his own space but no one in our home called it the "man cave." We called it the basement or, when feeling humorous, the dungeon. Our walk-out basement provided the perfect retreat for the man of the house. It wasn't really a dungeon. It had windows and a sliding glass door. Thanks to my Mom's decorating it boasted a large mahogany desk complete with a leather chair. For ambiance and warmth an electric fireplace was installed in between the bookshelves filled with my Dad's vast collection of history books and Civil War memorabilia. 
In my Dad's downstairs retreat a "man cave" sign was never nailed to the wall. Thankfully my trips down the steps were never greeted by a large deer head or animal pellet, either. Dad never was a hunter. He filled the walls of his manspace with vintage tennis rackets, portraits of famous historical figures like George Washington and classic motivational posters. 
Oh, how he loved those motivational posters. You've probably seen the type. Each poster, matted with a thick black border, features a stunning piece of photography such as a soaring eagle, expansive ocean or conquering athlete. Printed below the image is a word. Opportunity. Success. Attitude. And then the famous, inspiring quote. 
Dad filled his man cave with those prints. He referred to the sentiments printed on the photographs and passed on the lessons they taught. Just the other day I came across one of those old photographs. The orange, brown and yellow of the Grand Canyon displayed a stark contrast to the rich purple of a stream cutting through rock. Below the breathtaking image of God's natural beauty read the word "perseverance" and the quote "In the confrontation between the river and the rock, the river always wins...not through strength but by perseverance."
Growing up I considered that poster, and all the others like it, downright cheesy. But as I read the quote years later and meditated on the picture after facing challenges of my own that have felt as massive and overwhelming as that Grand Canyon, the poster didn't look quite as silly. 
The poster finally conveyed to me the truth of perseverance that I had missed in my youth. I am weak, vulnerable and utterly helpless to overcome obstacles and challenges by my own insufficient power. I will only win the prize by persevering in the strength of God, pressing forward to take hold of His will for my life. 
God, the maker of the Grand Canyon, is the only one who can conquer the very barriers I am hopeless to overcome. By my own might and will I cannot defeat my life's "rocks." But I can continue to seek more of God no matter how overwhelming the boulder. I can remain faithful and obedient even in the face of trials. 
When I persevere in my seeking of God He will cut through the rocks and make a way that is brilliant and beautiful. Just like that gleaming river in the middle of the Grand Canyon, God will carve out a path for me in accordance with His will. I know that when I persist in pursing the Lord and persevere in walking His path He will surely make a way for me. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

A lesson in broiler safety

Oven broilers and brown sugar are a dangerous combination. Just ask my Mom and me who learned that the hard way.
It all started with an altruistic attempt to make an apple crisp. I began the baking endeavor that somehow turned out terribly dry. I called in backup, or maybe it should be called bake-up. Mom entered the kitchen armed with more butter, oats and brown sugar determined to salvage my unappealing dessert. She mixed up some more topping, mixed around the apples and increased the oven temperature. Thirty minutes later the crisp wasn't any more appetizing.
Enter plan C. The broiler. This is always a dangerous device in my house and always a last resort. When all else fails and you have nothing more, culinarily speaking, to lose, you enlist the use of the most powerful heating element on hand and hope for the best.
With an apple crisp on life-support Mom felt it best to turn to the equivalent of our kitchen defibrillator, the broiler. She set it to high, sprinkled some more brown sugar on top of the mushy mixture and popped it into the oven with the words, "Don't let me forget I stuck this in there" quietly floating into the air.
We both took our positions at the kitchen counter, engrossed in our internet worlds when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something shooting orange from the direction of the oven. I glanced through the glass to see a fiery pan of flame-broiled apple crisp. I ran to the oven, turned the broiler off and whipped the door open without an oven mitt in hand or a thought as to how I would extract the blazing dessert. The moments that followed are a blur of hurried feet, frantic, incomplete sentences and Mom's arms reaching into the five-hundred degree oven with a flimsy rag. In the end a black, oat and sugar crusted apple mush lay in the sink literally burnt to a complete apple... crisp.
Within seconds Mom and I were in such fits of laughter we could barely stay standing. We laughed so hard we cried, maybe even snorted. It was the kind of laugh that makes your stomach hurt but in the very best way possible.
Although we lost the crisp we gained a hysterical memory and a lesson in broiler safety: freshly sprinkled brown sugar underneath a blazing, hot radiant heat creates fire.
But we learned a lesson that extends beyond the kitchen and outside of the broiler. The lesson of hearts on fire for Christ. The only sweetness that can safely be set ablaze is the sweetness of Christ set on fire by the overwhelming presence of His Spirit in the heart. The fire lit for the glory of God is best uncontained, raging in a bright and beautiful ball of flames. The fire of Christ's love is so sweet that once set it can never be extinguished.
From now on Mom and I are going to keep away from the broiler and practice more responsible fire safety. And from now on we're only setting fires in our hearts that burn with the love of Christ for the glory of God.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A little more striving and straining

Each day as my walking companions (two schnoodles) and I round the corner towards home Molly begins her normal, excitable dog behavior. Without fail, she always pulls and strains on the leash near the end of our walks. It might be the the scent of home or the anticipation of a reunion with the elderly cat. Either way, Molly's eagerness on the last leg of our journey is undeniable.
At the end of the other leash is Pippy who displays a completely different demeanor. She is Molly's opposite. At the beginning of our walks she is a bit more of a leash-puller but that behavior never lasts more than a block. She falls into the comfortable arrangement we have assumed and perfected. She trots in step with my pace always on my left side, always a stride behind, positioned to follow any turn I might decide to make along the way. We walk with effortless synchronization all the way home, even during the last block of our walk and right into the driveway.
Molly's lack of disciple and daily pulling used to frustrate me. I wanted her to walk like Pippy and outgrow her tugging behavior that I blamed on puppyhood. But now the time to point fingers at youth has passed. Molly is officially an "adult" and I do believe I have officially come to an understanding of her leash-pulling behavior. Just call me the dog whisperer.
Molly is pulling on the leash because she is straining towards what is ahead with joy and great anticipation. She simply cannot wait to get home! She loves home. She loves the little couch in the living room that has become her "bed." She loves to run and jump off the top step of the small set of stairs leading into the living room, perfect for rambunctious air-flying tricks. She loves my Mom, her Mom. She loves to play with, read: torment, Patches, the most elder pet of the house. When Molly is pulling on the leash she does so with pure delight because she knows what lies ahead and she knows that it is truly good.
In Molly I've come to see a characteristic I could use a bit more of in my own life: looking forward with hope and excitement at what lie ahead.
God has in store for me a good and glorious future. Ultimately, He has a "home" for me that is so magnificent and marvelous that my mind can't comprehend it. But I know this much, it's worth tugging on the leash to reach it.
The way Pippy walks is a lesson all of its own. She follows, just like I must be following Christ no matter where He leads or where He turns next. Christ is my leader, the "top dog" in the pack and I am His faithful follower.
Yet, Molly reminds me that I can be excited while I follow. The promises of what God has ahead are so exciting that I should yearn for more of Christ, constantly striving to experience more His love and grace. As I walk I can reach for more of God's spirit to overcome my life with His presence and fill me with His peace.
As I walk with Jesus, following with the faithfulness of Pippy, I'm going to embrace a little Molly in my stride, too. Filled with joyous expectation I am going to strain, reach, stretch and strive for the goodness of God's glory that lies ahead while I walk in step with my Savior.

Friday, March 11, 2016

A trip to Lincoln Metal

Every afternoon Steve pedals his way across busy, four lane highways and treacherous pothole-laden roads to make his daily delivery to Lincoln Metal, the local drive-thru recycling center. Steve arrives on his specially designed tricycle fully equipped with a heavy trailer designed to haul the scrap he collects from businesses around town. He customized the bike himself and does all his own repairs when it breaks down. In winter he fits the bicycle with "snow" tires.
That's right, winter. Steve rides that bike through every imaginable weather condition. Snow, sleet, rain, hail, wind, negative temperatures and record heat. I've seen Steve brave all sorts of inclement weather.
On his trek around town Steve has been screamed at from mean-spirited teens driving too fast, blasting music too loud. On rainy days Steve is drenched from head to toe thanks to the combination of rain falling from overhead and an abundance of puddles splattering his feet and legs with dirty water and mud. Come winter he layers up in thick workman's canvas coat and pants making his load even heavier and more cumbersome.
But nothing, not weather or ridicule or trying road conditions, can stop Steve from fulfilling his duty. His job is to collect metal and deliver it to the scrap yard and everyday, come what may, Steve fulfills that obligation.
I've been blessed to witness Steve go about his work each afternoon. As he pedals his tricycle Steve shows the world what it means to be dedicated, tenacious and determined. He has made the decision to remain faithful to his duty and he refuses to allow obstacles to deter his daily mission.
I want to be like Steve. I want to wake up every day compelled to serve God in all circumstances. Come hell or high water, the desire of my heart is to fulfill the commission I have from the Lord to glorify Him in all I do and honor Him with my every breath.
Steve has displayed a picture of faithfulness to duty in all circumstances and in all conditions. May I be so dedicated to Christ and so committed to the cross that I, too, live in such a way that I am absolutely surrendered and unwavering in obedience no matter what obstacles come my way.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Paddleboard Lesson

Dolphin enthusiast, marine admirer and ocean lover Noelle wadded into the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico bursting with excitement at the adventure ahead - her first excursion into salt waters on a stand-up paddleboard. The beach attendant from the paddleboard shop helped her up onto her board and gave her the basic instructions, although she barely heard his words over the daydreams of dolphin encounters swirling through her mind. She steadied herself on the board, grabbed her paddle and pushed off into the wide open waters.
From the shore we all watched her glide along the calm, serene blue sea. It was a picturesque scene plucked straight from a postcard. But then the scene became disconcerting. Noelle was venturing far off into the waters. Her, sixteen-year old, five foot four frame looking smaller and smaller with each passing moment.
From the shore we all began to shout in a futile attempt to get Noelle's attention. We frantically waved our arms up and down, motioning to the shore. It was like a game of charades but Noelle didn't know we were playing. She didn't even look in the direction of dry land. In her blissful state of unaware Noelle continued floating further away from the shore and further down the coast.
Desperate to bring back our oblivious seafarer we rushed back to the beach attendant. He powered up his jet ski and zoomed off in Noelle's direction. Immediately he knew the predicament. Without knowing, Noelle had been taken away in the ocean's current. With the dazzling dolphin display distracting her, Noelle had completely forgotten to look at the land and pay attention to the course of her journey.
As we watched the attendant pull Noelle out of the current and back to the safety of shore I saw a vivid picture of God's rescue for me. How many times have I wandered off God's path in blissful ignorance? It begins so innocently. I simply take my eyes off of the cross for what feels like a split-second and before I know it I'm a mile away from the safe, God-honoring path.
Thankfully, God has deployed a rescue mission fulfilled in the cross, accomplished by Jesus Christ. God knew I would venture down ill-fated roads and get terribly off course so He planned for my redemption. Just like the lifeguard who is at the ready to jump in and save the drowning, or the beach attendant who is ready to pull in a stranded paddleboarder, God has placed Jesus at the ready to come to my aid and pull me to safety. Only through salvation in Jesus can I be pulled from the currents of sin and the tide of rebellion. I will only make it back to shore by the blood of Jesus.
I am happy to conclude Noelle's saga with good news. She made it back to land safe and sound and with quite a story to tell and a lesson to share: don't take your eyes off of God because before you know it you'll be perilously far away from the safety of His shore.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The wind-whipped umbrella

On a cool summer night I lay fast asleep in my bed, a pleasant breeze passing through my open windows. The temperature was just right for sleeping, my pillows were perfectly fluffed and my dreams were peaceful and sweet.
And then the winds kicked up. The breeze turned into gusts. I woke up to the whistling of a northwestern wind whipping through the trees, causing branches to beat against the side of the house. A few moments later rain began to fall in buckets, piercing the gutters, providing an musical element of pinging to the wind's gusts.
Then, as if on cue, came an alarming crash. The instant I heard the sound I immediately knew its source. It was the umbrella. And not just any umbrella. It was the beautiful deck umbrella made of teak, enveloped by an emerald green canopy and adorned with strings of white twinkle lights. It rested in a concrete stand in the center of our outdoor, deck table. As a family we sat under the shade of that canopy nearly every summer night eating grill-prepared meals and ice cream sundaes for dessert. But even the well-built, sturdy umbrella didn't stand a chance against the sudden storm's powerful squalls.
I jumped from my bed and rushed down the stairs to find a disastrous scene and my heartbroken Mother. The umbrella, broken in pieces, lay resting at the bottom of the deck stairs. Pieces of wood lay in a trail of destruction leading to the pile of shattered twinkle lights mangled around splintered teak and ripped green canvas.
I hadn't anticipated the coming wind and rain. The weather forecast wasn't consulted to check on any unlikely storms stirring off in the distance. It had never crossed my mind to turn the simple pulley system on the umbrella's pole and bring the canopy to a safely closed position for the night. Now the umbrella was nothing more than a mess to be disposed of with the next trash collection.
Recalling the sad end to my family's beloved umbrella reminded me of the unpredictable nature of storms and the destruction they so easily leave behind. Those of us who fail to prepare risk suffering as a result of the unforeseen, disastrous disturbance.
When it comes to the elemental storms of this physical life we often get warning thanks to the weather man and never-ending news cycle. The preparation for meteorological storms is straight-forward. Put down the umbrella canopy. Sure up the windows. Bring in the wind chimes. But there is a very different kind of storm that rarely comes with an alert, blasting horn or red banners running across the bottom of the TV screen.
The storms of the personal life come unannounced and produce infinitely more damage than a destroyed piece of patio furniture. Thankfully, there is a protocol for preparation. By remaining connected to the anchor of Christ in all circumstances - sunny, stormy and everything in between - we can be ready for whatever life will bring.
The preparation God advocates is an everyday suring up of our hearts and securing of our souls. To enjoy the fullness of God's protection we can't simply wait for the storm to roll in and then seek refuge. The destruction will happen too quickly. We must remain in Christ at all times to be fully guarded against the devastation the sudden storm can and will cause.
A storm is coming. I don't know when but I know that someday, without a warning or watch in effect, the storm will roll in. From now on I'm taking the canopy down on my umbrella and I'm taking my heart to the foot of the cross. In all ways I will prepare for the winds and rains so that I can make it through the storm in peace, security and with an upright umbrella.

Saturday, March 5, 2016


The internet has created a whole new avenue to fame and it doesn't require talent or skill. All it takes is failing and doing it with cuteness and absolutely no creativity. It all starts with an innocent game of hide-and-seek. That's all it takes for a star to be born.
Take, for example, the underwear-clad toddler standing stalk still in a corner with a lampshade over her head. She was, needless to say, found. 
Or how about the slightly built little girl who managed to squeeze behind the bathroom toilet? Her body fit - barely - but her big brown eyes and curly head of hair sticking out above the tank was a dead give away. The seekers didn't have much of a challenge on their hands.
A sheepskin rug couldn't provide effective covering for a little boy laying perfectly still on the kitchen floor. Nor did the clear-tupperware container atop a tiny little boy keep his parents from quickly discovering their air-deprived son. From little toes sticking out of piles of laundry to motionless kids standing behind lights posts, children's unsuccessful attempts to go undetected are going viral. 
For the adults and talented hiders and seekers the ridiculous hiding places of the newbie players to the game provide a good laugh. "How cute that they thought standing in the fridge with the door only half-shut would keep them from being found!" we think to ourselves. Then we take a picture, laugh and post it to Instagram for the whole world to see. Hiding fail. 
We experienced hide-and-seekers may think we've outgrown the childish ways of shower curtains and sheet cushions to keep us out of plain sight but God has taken our picture and He has proof that we fail at hiding, too. Our best attempts at hiding from God look just as silly as the toddler with a Winnie the Pooh atop his head. God still sees us. 
There is no place to hide that is out of God's sight. Staying out of church won't keep us hidden. Covering up our feelings and our sin won't work, either. I've tried refusing to pray and holding onto my anxieties in the pit of my stomach. God still sees my heart and finds a way to speak into my soul. I can't hide from His will. I can't escape His presence. He is the Master Seeker. 
When God looks down on me it doesn't even take Him a moment to spot my hiding place and the hidden corners of my heart. I am always visible and vulnerable before the Lord. 
With God I'll need to find another kind of fun, one that doesn't include a game of hide-and-seek, because I'll never win. And I won't end up a viral internet sensation either. I've already been found. 
Game over. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

The ultimate rescue mission

Jon Taffer is on a mission. A Bar Rescue mission. Every Sunday night a new episode features a failing bar business begging for the help of Taffer and his team. In desperation, owners of failing bars write letters and send videos hoping to be chosen as the next bar rescued from the brink of the out-of-business disaster.
Once chosen the real work begins as Taffer and his team sweep in and take over. It starts with an assessment of the problems plaguing the business. Is it the menu, the customer service, the decor or the sub-par concoctions? Then Taffer does a complete establishment overhaul, from the ground up - literally. He breaks down walls if necessary. He fires employees and retrains the rest. He changes the name of the business and revamps the menu. He breaks down the budget and takes over the checkbook. He markets, he manages, he master plans. All in an attempt to save a bar. 
Or so you think.
For Mr. Taffer, Bar Rescue is about way more than providing alcoholic beverages and saving saloons. He believes he is on a mission to deliver families from the brink of bankruptcy, protect Dad's from losing their livelihoods and ensure that the house won't go to auction to pay off the debt of a business disaster. 
Taffer doesn't believe he's just saving bars. He believes he is saving people. 
This coming weekend Taffer will celebrate his one-hundreth episode. When asked what has made his show such a hit and the bars such a success, even years after he's gone, Taffer replied, "I'm passionate." With his whole heart Taffer went on to talk about the plight of the families behind the bars. He spoke with genuine care and concern for their futures. What would happen if the bar failed? Would the family lose their home? How many employees would lose their jobs? Taffer didn't see a bar when he saw the application videos and letters from candidates, he saw desperate and needy people crying out for help.
I wonder how many of us hear that cry from our fellow man as they struggle to find their ultimate salvation? Their calls for help often come quietly, without a video presentation or tear-soaked letter. Sometimes the calls come in the silence of depression. Others call with their sin and their wayward living. The desperate pleading is all around us. Do we hear it? Are we eager to sweep in with the message of redemption and hope that is only found in Jesus Christ? Are you and I committed to being part of the ultimate soul saving rescue mission?
The need of the perishing is more pressing than a failing business or struggling establishment. This is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. There is no great mission worthy of greater passion than the rescue mission to tell all the world that salvation has come and His name is Jesus Christ. 

"Spring is coming"

Every year, without fail, winter comes. In Northern Pennsylvania it is a sorrowful turn of seasonal events. Leaves descend to the ground, causing trees to go bare, naked without their lush coverings. The green grass starts to dull in color even before the first snowflake blankets the earth. The sky goes grey, casting shadows of gloomy chill on every window pane.
And then there are the birds. They don't linger in the falling temperatures. At the first sign of frost they take off for the warmth of the southern sun. A shortage of food supply and a lack of leafy green vegetation send the birds sailing off for bluer skies and friendly foliage. With them goes the beautiful music they share every morning and the visual beauty of their winged adventures. Their migratory departure creates a void that remains unoccupied all winter long.
Weeks turn into months and the silence becomes deafening. The combination of low level clouds, piles of snow and icy streets threaten all hopes of spring and the return of the beloved song bird. Why would they ever come back to such depressed conditions when they can stay where its warm and share their tunes down south?
And then, as if out of nowhere, daybreak brings a tweet and a twitter outside my shut-up window. At first I can hardly believe my ears. Could it be? Could the birds have returned?
The sun hasn't returned quite yet. The clouds still look grey. I am still pulling on my boots and buttoning up my coat to venture out into the cold yet the birds have reappeared.
Before the first bud is spotted on the barren rose bush or the first leaf breaks through on vacant trees, the birds know that a change is in the air and they return to announce the coming of the long awaited, highly anticipated spring.
With the tune performed by faithful feathered musicians comes the blessed proclamation of the renewal of the earth. The restoration of green grass, blue skies and warm air is under way. Hope is  budding beneath the surface, on the cusp of springing into glorious, bountiful, beautiful life.
In the tune of the bird comes the promise of a future. In their song the proclamation that God is busy at work just beneath the surface, making all things new. Their music declares that God's work of renewal cannot and will not be thwarted. The faithful plans and purposes of the Lord will always overcome.
The birds are here, hallelujah, and they are signing the song that celebrates with hope and expectation, "Look, spring is coming!"

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Perfect perfume

It was a day like any other. I sat at my usual seat, in my usual cafe, surrounded by the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans and sugary-sweet cinnamon bagels toasted to golden perfection. 
And then he walked through the door, and everything changed. 
Not so fast, this grand entrance had nothing to do with dashing good looks. It had everything to do with the cologne wafting through the door as he entered, announcing his arrival. 
Gone was the enticing scent of cinnamon. The coffee bean aroma became, in an instant, utterly undetectable. Suddenly my nose came under a full-blown fragrance assault.
I tried to hold back my obvious repulsion to the offending onslaught of the evil cologne bottle. I thought about coffee. I thought about the baking of pecan rolls and freshly baked bread. I tried my hardest not to think about perfume, Ax and the fragrant cologne counter at Macy's. But no matter how hard I tried, my mind simply couldn't overcome the eau du toilette. 
Fighting the temptation to plug my nose, a lesson in perfect perfume application began to take shape. I've never been a regular fragrance spritzer, at least not in the traditional sense. But there is an aroma I should be exuding every day, in every situation. The aroma of Christ. 
Wearing the pleasing aroma of Christ doesn't require a glass bottle and a simple spirtz on the wrist and neck. To put on Christ takes a whole different process of application. 
It all starts with the washing. Naturally, my aroma is one spoiled by sin and shame. It stinks worse than rotten fish and offends infinitely more than overly applied cologne. I need to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. The moment I surrender and submit to Christ He breaks out holy scrub brushes and shampoos, immediately washing away all of my impurities, removing the filth of my guilty transgressions. 
Then comes the application of the sweet aroma of His Spirit. God, with His expert hand, perfectly applies the pleasing fruits of His goodness. Grace, love and mercy are poured into my heart so that they will be detectable in all of my comings and goings. The indwelling of the most precious perfume is administered in such a way that it wafts into the air with heavenly beauty, spreading the testimony of redemption and salvation.  
Apart from Christ my aroma is doomed to spoil my witness. Just as an overly applied bottle of cologne stings the nose, my sinful stench will offend the heart of God. 
But I can be made clean. By the grace of God I can be made to beautiful and fragrant aroma of Christ. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Mr. Rogers, down for the struggle

Love is a struggle.
Just ask Mr. Rogers.
Yes, that's right, the gentle minister turned children's show TV host known for his blue tennis shoes and perfectly pressed button down cardigan was down for the struggle. The love struggle. In the Neighborhood of Make-Believe where he enchanted his viewers with puppets and taught lessons with marionettes, Mr. Rogers taught about the reality of love. True love that is anything but a fuzzy fantasy. Biblical love that is "an active noun like struggle."
Mr. Rogers taught children (and adults too) about loving like Christ.
When Mr. Rogers told kids how to love he rooted his curriculum in the timeless truth of John 15:13, the ultimate struggle of Jesus laying down His life for sinners. The greatest love of all, the love of the perfect Savior paying a penalty He didn't deserve to redeem the lost and pardon the guilty, was at the heart of Mr. Rogers' lessons on love. Lessons that stand the eternal test of time.
To love like Christ is to choose to follow Christ, take up a burdensome cross and struggle. It is to wrestle with people's imperfections and endeavor to accept them in spite of their flaws. Love for others is, at its core, a labor of love for Christ.
Apart from the indwelling of the Lord's love I am bound to fail at giving love to my fellow man. Their day-to-day annoyances, quirks and bothersome habits are sure to squelch weak, emotional love. All the fuzzy feelings in the world will turn rough and rigid under the pressure of agitation.
To give consistent, genuine love is only by the indwelling of Christ. I must surrender to Christ, pick up my own cross and follow Him and His example of love. Love that endured the hardship of scorn, the pain of nails and the agony of a death to save my doomed soul.
Christ didn't sugar-coat true love, and neither did Mr. Rogers. It is not a walk through a land of make-believe. Love is a struggle. But it is worth the fight because when we love like Christ and suffer with Christ we are united with Him in His pain and one day will be united with Him in His glorious, eternal neighborhood of Heaven.