Friday, April 29, 2016

Wind without a storm warning

It was the middle of the night when I was shaken out of my slumber by a ferocious wind. I'd never heard anything quite like it. One moment all was still and the next violent gusts were pounding my window. At first it sounded like a train, then a twister. I had to remind myself that I was in Northern Pennsylvania, not tornado alley.
The flurry of sudden atmospheric activity didn't last long. As suddenly as the wind was whipped up, it settled and returned to its quiet and calm. The leaves on the trees ceased to flutter and the branches abandoned their roof-top beating. As unexpected as the wind storm came, it left. No tornado. No massive destruction.
In that moment of restored stillness a peace that transcends understanding passed over me. As quickly as the winds came and changed the world outside my window, God can come in and change the course of my life.
Although it has seemed that my life has been at a stand-still forever without much of a future and little promise of an upcoming change in speed or direction, last night's sudden wind storm reminded me that I don't know what God has in store, but when it is time for Him to move in He can do it in an instant. Change with God isn't always gradual. Sometimes it comes at lighting fast speed. Sometiems it comes without warning. God doesn't specialize in "heads up." His area of expertise is more of the "hang on" variety.
I find myself begging God to send a fierce wind into my life and shake things up a bit. Stir me from the slumber of a worn out body. Change the direction of my repeated journeys down dead-end roads that haven't led to health and vitality. I want God to do something aggressive, noteworthy and life-changing. I want a tornado but He hasn't even been sending a stirring of the leaves.
At least, not yet.
Just because God hasn't moved yet doesn't meant it isn't part of His plan. It wasn't until the middle of the night that God pounded on my window with unexpected gale force winds. As long as God infuses my lungs with air and my pumps blood through my veins He isn't done with me quite yet. The night is still young. He has more plans, more wind, just waiting to be revealed at their perfect timing.
I don't know when and I don't know how but I know this much: God can turn on the wind machine of my life in the blink of an eye. And when He does I better be holding on because it is going to be fierce and utterly amazing - and it's coming without a storm warning.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Good morning, beautiful!

"Good morning, beautiful. How was your night?"
Outside my window the world was dreary. A light rain was pinging against the gutters and making music on the roof. The air was damp and chilly. It was the kind of morning that transforms a bed into a slice of heaven and causes the idea of rising up from beneath the covers to send shivers up the spine.
From the cozy cocoon of my pillow-top mattress I heard God's soft and sweet voice stir me awake. "Good morning, beautiful." It was as if He were right there, standing at my bedside, stroking my bed-head hair to gently stir me from my slumber. It was early - earlier than my internal alarm clock's set time. The sound outside my window would have normally encouraged me to stay in bed where it was dry and warm but something inside of me wouldn't stay lying down. God had woken me up early for a reason.
I stood up out of bed and was immediately drawn to my window. Just beyond the trees, peaking up from below the neighbor's roof and through the leaves was a sunrise watercolor painted just for me. A glorious golden orange illuminated the dark night sky. The edges of the horizon were awash in purples, pinks and reds. In the distance the day was dawning in a brilliant display of God's fiery power set against the stage of the blackness of night.
As I marveled at the site outside my window God's voice returned. "How was your night? While you rested I was busy preparing this sky for you."
All at once I was struck with awe at the site outside my window and the presence of God filling my room. While I had been sleeping, worrying not about the day to come, God had been preparing for me a masterpiece. While I was lying in bed God was at His easel with His best brushes and most precious paints making perfect strokes on the canvas of His creation. And then, at just the perfect time, He woke me up to reveal His piece de resistance. Knowing that it would be at its greatest glory at one precise moment He made absolute sure I was awake and alert, ready to take in the beauty created by His hand.
Painted on the canvas of the morning sky was a reminder that no matter how dark, dreary and cold the season of life I am in God is at work with His brushes creating a masterpiece behind the scenes. At just the right moment, when the fullness of its glory is complete, God will reveal it to me. He won't let me miss what He has specially crafted with me in mind.
At precisely the right moment, when the colors sweep into each other like the rays of the sun and the hues pour into each other like a stunning watercolor, God will wake me with a "Good morning, beautiful" and reveal to me the glory of His stunning design: His perfect will, His special plan and His eternal purpose for my life.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Bring it on bull

I've never ridden a bull - live or mechanical - but I think I'm up for the challenge. I think I could be a stand-out in the bull-riding arena. Little as I am, I believe I could conquer the wild stag.
You may be wondering what spawned this sudden, and admittedly strange, desire to mount a bull. I pondered the same question when the thought dawned on me that I'd love to enter the rodeo arena. Where did the seed come from that planted the idea in my mind that I would be a perfect fit for the back of a twelve-hundred pound, bucking bull? I haven't been reading about David facing Goliath yet somehow a Herculean style drama made its way into my imagination.
I could see it all in my mind's eye: The tiny, fragile pipsqueak of a girl weighed down with heavy cowboy boots and chaps makes her way to the bucking chute, preparing to conquer the seething beast waiting in the arena's stall. She can hear the angry animal kicking, huffing and puffing but she isn't deterred. The crowd is silent, utterly perplexed at her presence but she doesn't even hear their taunts and doesn't notice their gawking. She is determined.
As she climbs up into position she double checks her vest, pulls her gloves extra-snug and grips her bull rope firmly in hand. She mounts the bull, looks to the gate man and gives him the cue. She's ready.
The gate opens and the longest eight seconds of her life begin. Her opponent is fierce, rarely defeated in the ring. He can buck off the most skilled, seasoned riders. Immediately the bull breaks into twisting jumps. His hind-legs catapult straight up into the air. The flimsy weakling on his back fights for her life to maintain her balance. All of her focus is on maintaining the freedom of her left hand while staying upright. With each second that passes in the most dangerous eight seconds of sports she thinks of nothing but surviving. The whiplash will take its toll later. The pain will set in once she dismounts and exits the arena.
Five...four...three... The crowd gasps as the the bull changes direction from side-to-side then front-to-back. The little body on the bull's back wavers but does not fall. As the time comes to an abrupt close the bull goes for a "spinner." The little rider throws her body away from the bull, dismounts and is propelled across the dirt floor of the massive arena. She knocks against the ground. The dirt flies into a cloud of grit and soot.
The stadium falls eerily silent, waiting to see if the tiny body reappears upright.
And then she stands. She stands right up! And the crowd goes wild as she runs like the wind towards the nearest exit.
She conquered the beast. She survived eight seconds of deadly peril and lived to tell the tale.

So, why do I want to ride a bull?
Because I've been preparing for such an event for the past six years. I've been kicked, bucked and spun around in dizzying circles for six long years. And I'm still upright. I've held onto the stag and I've kept my one hand reaching to God and He has kept me upright. The miracle is that this little, fragile, pipsqueak of a girl hasn't been thrown off yet. God is proving that when He is behind the reigns there is no bull on earth powerful enough to dismount His rider before the time is up. And my time isn't up quite yet.
The eight seconds of the bull rider are a blink of an eye compared to the six years of my health saga. The competition is still underway. I still need to keep my hand up to God without letting it drop or fall. I need to keep my balance - spiritually and emotionally. And if I want really great markings I need to do it all with joy and peace. How's that for the ride of a lifetime?
I'm confident that I can conquer the bull in the middle of any arena because God has already proven that He will empower me with strength, perseverance and steadiness that defies human logic. With God holding me steady and secure I am ready to take on any bull that enters the chute. So bring it on wild stag. You're no match for my God.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A prescription for hope

Desperation led me, once again, to my doctor's doorstep. At my wits end with my ongoing digestive dilemma I begged him for help. This certainly wasn't my first trip to the doctor in search of answers for the malabsorption that has caused my unintentional weight loss and inability to put on a single pound. The weight is only half of the saga. Life altering, debilitating digestive distress is a far less visible yet profound trouble I've carried with me every day for over six years.
The trip to the doctor went like so many before it. He listened intently, furrowed his brow and reviewed pages of blood work. Liver, kidneys, thyroid. Normal, normal, normal. He reviewed my eating and lifestyle habits only to conclude that none of this makes any sense. My little body shouldn't be so little. There is something standing in the way of thriving. But what is that something? Six years have passed and still the mystery is as perplexing as ever.
Determined to help me find relief, the doctor wrote out another prescription for another pill. With equal parts gratitude and skepticism I thanked my doctor for his attentiveness and commitment to helping me solve my mystery. I left his office with a prescription on paper and plenty of internal doubts.
Pills have failed me before. A pill isn't a cure. It is a band-aid aptly applied to the most obvious problem area. But even heavy-duty band-aids fall off someday. For healing something more needs to be beneath the band-aid.
Each time I hit a wall of frustration I run to the doctor and he hands me another pill. And each pill has failed me, body and soul. It hasn't fixed my physical ailments. The pills have only provided me with an emotional band-aid. With my new pill I can cope, if only for a while. I can have hope, even if it is only halfhearted and skeptical.
But I've learned that hope in a band-aid isn't hope at all. It will always fall off and leave me disappointed, despondent and emotionally exhausted.
True, lasting, enduring hope is found in knowing that God has a plan even when I don't understand it. Hope is trusting that God is always good, even when I feel badly. Hope is looking forward to Heaven. Hope is knowing that this life is imperfect but Jesus is flawless. Hope is believing that the lasting, final cure is found on the cross and not in a doctor's office.
When I put my hope in a pill, a cure or a diagnosis I will always be disappointed. Nothing in this life - not even perfectly functioning bodies - can provide eternal, enduring hope. But Christ has my hope secured and in Him, not a pill, I will not be shaken.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Beauty from ashes

On a quiet street tucked away in a neighborhood full of 1950's cape cods and ranches, tragedy struck. In one of the small homes on a corner lot a spark flew and grew. By the time 9-1-1 was called and the firetrucks arrived flames were shooting out of the roof and engulfing the entire upstairs. Despite the best efforts of the firemen, the home was devastated. All that remained was a charred frame and burned-out foundation.
Just the other day I drove by the ravaged home. A few men were making their way through the yard, clearing out wood too singed to be salvaged. The dumpster in the front yard was full of torched memories and blackened keepsakes. Everything was an entire loss.
My heart broke for the family that lost everything they held dear. The place that had been their home sweet home, scorched beyond recognition. All of their comforts, treasures and possessions gone in a cloud of black smoke and ash. How would they ever rebuild and restore all that they had lost? The task ahead for that little house and the family who called it home looked too daunting to be undertaken. Surely the burned-out structure was destined for demolition.
Imagine my surprise when, just a few days later, I happened to be driving past the burned-out lot. On the same square plot of land where a charred frame once stood was a site I didn't anticipate. A repaired foundation, reinforced wall studs and new insulation were all in place. The dumpster had been emptied. New windows and doors were stacked high, ready for installation. The home was far from habitable but it was certainly not about to be met with a bulldozer. The little house was being restored and made stronger, sturdier, and safer than ever before.
As I drove past that house for the second time a flood of reassurance washed over me. That little home with the tiny lot could have easily been scrapped away in a days time. The workers would have even made it home for dinner. But someone saw in that unassuming, humble home a treasure worth saving and restoring. Someone loved the memories made within its burned out walls. Someone had chosen it as their refuge and cared for its yard. And that someone looked at the fire-ravaged structure and saw their sanctuary. So they went to work on restoring it and rebuilding it because that's what love does.
God has that same love for you and me. We may be broken, sick, emotionally devastated and physically exhausted yet God looks at us, loves us and has determined to remake us stronger, more vibrant and better than ever before. The process doesn't happen overnight. Like a fire ravaged home, the smokey remnants of our former lives must be cleared away. Then God can go to work installing the supports of His truth, the characteristics of His love and the stability of His peace.
The handiwork of God will never be matched. He will revitalize our ravaged hearts and make them new again. When we call God in to do our spiritual cleanup and ask for His design and execution for restoration He will turn our broken hearts into gleaming, beaming lights for His glory. He'll truly make beauty from our ashes.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Serenity. Calm. Tranquil. Serene.
In short, everything Frank Costanza was not.
I hope I'm not throwing my parents under the responsible-parenting bus but I grew up seeing nearly every Seinfeld episode - more than once. My Mom loved the constant laughs the show provided. Elaine's dancing was a hit in our household. We looked forward to Cramer bursting through Jerry's apartment door with his perpetually askew hair and high-wasted slacks. A visit from Jerry's parents was a treat. And the Costanza's were a constant source of high-voltage humor.
Frank Constanza brought ridiculous anger to the screen. He had the ability to get fired up over a missing TV Guide. Christmas was a holiday for the airing of grievances. Serenity was in short supply although Frank would regularly shout, "SERENITY NOW!" in a comical attempt to bring peace to his constant state of agitation.
Back in my younger years of Seinfeld repeats I was known to borrow Frank's plea for calm composure by jokingly shouting out his characteristic phrase. Shouting "SERENITY NOW" proved to be an effective tool in breaking tensions even if it didn't change my circumstances or my internal peace. The call for serenity, and the mental image of Frank Cosntanza it engendered poked a hole in the tizzy balloon my anger and frustrations had created.
In recent years our TV hasn't been home to as many Seinfeld re-runs and the constant flux of Frank Constanza hasn't been playing out in my living room. But the plea for "SERENITY NOW" is as pertinent as ever. In the quiet of my heart I find myself making silent appeals for a renewed peace of mind and return to stillness. Without words or shouts I am forever calling out to God to provide me with SERENITY...RIGHT NOW!
Unlike George's father, Frank, my earnest request is acknowledged by the Giver of serenity and Prince of Peace. A response and remedy is provided. The stillness I seek can be mine. The tranquility that my heart is yearning for is available to me.
Christ came to fulfill my need for serenity now. When I call out to Him and the indwelling of His Spirit my words aren't returned void. They are delivered to the source of Peace, the only One who can relieve the tensions and tizzies of my heart and replace them with the calm assurance of Heavenly serenity.
Empty words won't bring peace and calm. Only the Holy Spirit living in my heart and relaxing the agitations of my soul will bring lasting, true, enduring serenity. Composure and comfort of the heart are only a call away when I send my plea straight to the throne of God and the Prince of Peace who graciously bestows serenity right here and right now.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Precious pennies

In my bedroom closet is a old round tin with the face and name of every United States president arranged along a timeline chronicling each man service in the highest office. I don't know where the tin came from. All I know is that, for as long as I can remember, it has been my "change bucket." Some little girls get a piggy bank. I received a presidential history lesson made of tin to hold my silver and gold Lincolns, Jeffersons, Roosevelts and Washingtons.
Today I pulled the presidential container from its dusty shelf. It had been so long since I'd rolled its coin contents and made a trip to the bank to cash in on my change. I dumped the bucket of change on the floor, pulled out coin roll wrappers and began digging for quarters. I always start with quarters, the creme de la creme of the change bucket. Rolling pennies feels like an exercise in futility. Counting fifty little golden Lincolns only garners two George Washingtons. But collect forty Washingtons and the bank will hand over a crisp Hamilton. If time is money there is no competition when it comes to the coin-rolling return on investment.
I laid out my quarters in little stacks of four but when I was all done poking through the contents of my change bucket I only had eight little stacks. Eight quarters short of a single roll. I had just enough nickels to garner two dollars and, after swiping two dimes from my wallet, just enough Roosevelts to equal five dollars.
What I didn't have in quarters, nickels and dimes I had in, you guessed it, pennies. An abundance of pennies. Determined not to waste my time on what I deemed "junk currency" I threw the pennies back in the bucket and decided to wait for more quarters to appear before I made a trip to the bank with my loot.
Poor Lincoln, he got entirely gipped when it comes to coin desirability. Sure, his is the only coin thats the color gold but what is it really worth? Pennies can't even purchase a stick of gum. Unless they are stuck in the toe box of a loafer pennies don't have much appeal. A penny laying in a parking lot is easily passed by but a quarter? I'll stop for a quarter.
The truth is Lincoln isn't the only one who is getting ripped off. God manufactures pennies in the form of moments, winks and blessings yet I pass them by as if they were a heads-down penny in a parking lot. I want the quarters - the big, life-changing, exciting blessings of God. I want the job offer, the romantic relationship, the health, the book deal, the legs that run the race and come in first and the trips that fill a photo album with camera-worthy memories.
But I'm underwhelmed by pennies.
Pennies are what God has given me. He's given me these precious little moments that, on the surface, don't appear to make much of a life. I've been given quiet mornings with my Bible and a blank page in my journal. I've been given legs that move and walk the dogs faithfully each day. God has given me an abundance of pennies in nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters. The kitchen full of food, the comfy mattress on my bed and the tulips in my front yard are all better than pennies - they are God's gifts to me.
This morning when I awoke I wanted to be showered in quarter-sized blessings. But God rained down pennies instead. But this time, instead of throwing them back in the bucket, I counted them out and rolled each one. I choose to see the worth and value in the little moments because they are special and precious. They are invaluable treasures. The penny moments of life are the priceless pinholes in which I get to see the glorious goodness of God on full display each and every day.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The lumberjack

On a piece of land once filled with acres of trees and an array of shelter-seeking wildlife stood a dozen big burley men dawning flannel button-downs and well-worn ball-caps. In their hands were chain saws and axes. The trees that used to stand so healthy and strong laid lifeless on their sides, slashed at their stumps. The branches just beginning to bud in the spring warmth, laid scattered across the field. The rich foliage once a nesting place for birds and a hiding place for squirrels reduced to scrap, destined for the wood chipper.
As I drove passed the busy scene a righteous indignation came to a raging boiled inside of me. I became angry at the lumberjacks who were destroying God's beautiful creation. With their axes they laid waste to majestic maples and stately spruce. They made barren the place where pine trees and cherry trees naturally thrived.
Didn't those lumberjacks consider the wildlife they were disrupting? Did they not look at those trees and see the life God had breathed into them and the miracle of creation? Was the value of the lumber so desirable and the promises of land development so appealing that acre upon acre of vibrant, healthy forest be demolished?
Out of my anger towards the tree choppers came a nudge from God. It started with a "love your neighbor" and turned to "take the plank out of your own eye." Immediately I wanted to push aside God's reprimand. I've never chopped down a tree, God! See, no plank here!
But God wasn't referring to trees.
With the cares of this world and the concerns of my heart I have cut down the confidence I have in Christ. I've taken an ax made of worries to trusting in God. I've thrown His promises in the wood chipper of my unsettled soul.
God has placed in my life the most glorious of His creations, His very Son, His plan for my salvation. There is no one, no tree and no landscape that can even begin to compare to the unmatched majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ. He brought into the world unconditional love, unmerited mercy and boundless grace. All of the goodness that makes life beautiful is found in Jesus Christ.
And yet I've cut it out of my life time and time again when the going gets tough. I've held tightly to anxieties and concerns, taking an ax to the peace of Jesus Christ. I've succumbed to anxiety and slashed God's gift of His presence by choosing fear.  Instead of protecting the bounty of blessings God has given me - His love, grace and mercy made manifest in Jesus - I have chosen to let concerns lay waste to the confidence I have living in the land of the Lord.
But no matter how many times I come in with my heavy equipment full of worry and my lumberjack hat well-worn with concern, God breaths new life into my heart. Each time I turn back to God in demolition regret He is quick to replant my field full of His rich and abundant blessings. He sows seeds of His goodness and, before I know it, the trees are in full bloom and the birds are back in their nest.
God will restore what I've destroyed and revitalize the barrenness of my heart the moment I entrust my every worry and concern to the Lord. He is the Master Planter and He is bringing the bounty of His beauty to the land of my life with His goodness and grace.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Job application

If I am ever in need of a fresh dose of humility or a self-esteem readjustment I need to look no further than a job application. Before I am even considered for employment I must first admit that I am woefully inadequate, completely lacking in the desired qualifications the employer is seeking.
The beginning of the application is a cake walk. I'm a pro at my name, birth date and contact information. I even sail past the criminal record portion of the form. Thankfully overdue library books don't count. Unless maybe the job opening is at the library, then I suggest paying up those late fees before trying to get on the pay roll.
Once my eligibility has been established it's on to educational background. This is where things get dicey. The abundance of spaces for college graduation date, graduate studies and special qualifications reduce my on-paper credentials to zilch. Two years of college six years ago doesn't exactly spell out "overachiever."
After education always comes a work history. A lifetime spent in the family business has provided me with an intimate understanding of hard work and dedication, not to mention the value of customer service and the importance of adaptability. But a lifetime in the family business hasn't given me a precise "job title." And although I know my supervisor would provide an outstanding referral I'm not sure a prospective employer would base their hiring on the recommendation of the applicant's father.
By the time I've completed even the most basic of two paged job applications I feel utterly worthless and pessimistic. Why would anyone hire the girl described on the paper? There is nothing written that makes me stand out. My "special qualifications" leave much to be desired. That is, unless the employer happens to be looking for "big smile" and "small enough to not get in the way. "But I have yet to see a job requirements list seeking such a candidate.
Despite discouragement I've filled out these paper confidence killers and hand delivered them to places of business only to be met by radio silence. Apparently the employer saw exactly what I feared they would: nothing.
By the standards of the job-seeking world I am not the most qualified candidate. Thankfully God never asked me for an application. He took me on without reviewing my history or requiring that I have more experience. In fact, God took me on when I was His enemy! I had a criminal record against God and yet He made room for me in His office and welcomed me on His team. He made me a holy offer, no experience required. He saw my lack of skill set and declared that I'm just the kind of candidate He's looking for.
This morning I turned in another job application. This might be the one that gives me a chance and a call back or maybe my lackluster credentials will end up in the trash. Either way this time my confidence won't be shaken.
I know that my true worth isn't defined by what I am on paper and can't be confirmed by a job offer. My true worth is found in being a child a God, cherished and valued by the King. Even when I was a sinner, unqualified by the stain of disobedience and rebellion, God looked at me and loved me. No experience necessary. All God has ever required is my obedience, my heart and my unconditional surrender.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Heeding the road signs

Forgive me while I brag for a moment. I'm a good driver. Never-mind that one little run in with the college campus security guard. I can blame icy road conditions, right? And, besides, that was nearly eight years ago! My record has been spotless ever since. So, aside from that one brief mishap behind the wheel my driving is stellar. No speeding tickets. No accidents. I attribute my driving success to heeding the road signs and being gentle on my brakes (thanks be to my Dad for that valuable, and cost-saving, driving lesson). 
The road signs are my guide, alerting me to changes in the traffic patterns, varying speed limits and one-way streets. When traveling I make great time by avoiding "Dead End" and "No Outlet" streets. I'm intentional about which highway direction I choose in order to avoid going north when I should be traveling south. I'm especially attune to "Speed Strictly Enforced" signs and always on the look out for sneaky cop cars hidden in the brush. 
Now that I've bragged about my abilities behind the wheel of my car let me tell you that I'm not as confident about my driving when I get behind the wheel of my life. The signs are all there. God has laid them out in His Word yet I seem to completely ignore some of the biggest, most helpful of the warnings. 
Take, for example, "Forgive one another" and "Don't hate your brother - or your sister, or your enemy." God has tried to impress the right road on me by putting it in other terms such as "Love one another." God has even put the sign in big, bright red letters with a flashing border, "If you don't love other people I know you don't actually love me!" 
And yet I've traveled down roads such as, "Holding A Grudge," "Unforgiving," and "Resentful." Every one of these roads has been a no outlet, a complete dead end. I've wandered down their well-worn path, ignoring every notice directing me to choose a different route, and ended up going in circles with no way out. After wasting gas and time I've ended up back at that original road, faced with the decision to exit back out onto the road of grace and mercy, away from the impassable road of hard hearted hatred. 
God gave me the warnings of the dangers of hate and malice because He knows they won't lead to a place of beauty and peace. Holding a grudge and stewing in resentment will only produce frustration. Like driving down a dead end road, feelings rooted in hatred never lead anywhere worthwhile. 
Thankfully I have all I need to be just as skilled behind the wheel of life as I do behind the wheel of a car. God has created flawless signage and posted it in clear view. He hasn't made the directions complicated. They are really quite simple: love one another. That command is easier to understand than a Chevron sign. The challenge isn't understanding the meaning in the notices, it's heeding he warnings and following the directions.
In the end I'll always end up at the right destination if I follow God's signs, avoid the dead ends and go the right way on His highways. Frustration and endless circling about can be avoided if only I will stay alert and remain on God's route. His ways are good, clear, and pleasant. God's road always leads to peace and is always filled with grace. If I drive in accordance with God's Word I am sure to always have an impeccable record. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The National Zoo Saga

"And then, of course, there's the zoo story."
The zoo story, one of my favorites. I've heard it a thousand times but every time my Mom recalls the National Zoo saga of 1991 it is as if it were brand new. I love it for the part it played in my life, the absurdity of its consequence and how it reminds me that God will use any means necessarily - from the silly to the sobering - to get me precisely where He wants me.
The zoo story dates back to 1991 when I was eighteen months old and, in my Mom's opinion, at the perfect age to enjoy a trip to the local zoo. Local at that time meant the National Zoo in Washington D.C. It was an hour drive from my family's home in Northern Virginia but it was the closest zoo and, despite terrible Saturday traffic, my Mom packed a diaper bag full of everything we would need for a day of animal exploration. With my brother's and I buckled into our seats we set off on my first zoo adventure.
Mom maneuvered her clunky blue Astro van along the interwoven highways of the I-95 corridor and through the congested beltway. Even on Saturdays Washington doesn't sleep. Downtown was a buzz with visitors, families and site-seeing buses. As she entered the parking lot of the Smithsonian Zoological Park she was greeted by sign after sign that stated, "LOT FULL." Determined to show her only daughter all of the sights of the zoo, from polar bears and to pandas, Mom weaved up and down every row. But not even my Mom, the woman with the God-given talent of happening upon primo parking spaces could find an empty spot to park the van. There was no room in the inn. Or should I say, no space for the Astro van in the lot.
Over an hour later, fuming with frustration, Mom gave up. All she had wanted to do was show her daughter some animals and share a photo-worthy memory with all three of her kids. Instead she ended up spending her afternoon in jam packed parking lots and over crowded highways.
Once home Mom had made up her mind. She was moving. Back in Northern Pennsylvania, in Mom's hometown, was a small zoo that never ran out of parking spots. A city small enough that the zoo could be reached in under twenty minutes from practically anywhere in the county. There were no beltways to contend with and not a single site-seeing tour bus company. Mom decided that day that she was going to go back to that town with her kids and her Astro van.
At first Dad was reluctant. He couldn't see a future in Pennsylvania that would support his family and he didn't want to leave his business in Virginia. But when he looked into the eyes of my Mom and heard the passion in her voice he knew this wasn't a passing phase. So Dad made Mom a proposal. "You find a buyer for my business and a new business to start in Pennsylvania and I'll move."
Piece of cake.
Within two months Mom had that business sold, another one found and half of her boxes packed. The little family of five who had yet to go to the zoo with their youngest child moved to Northern Pennsylvania. And the rest is history.
Dad has had a thriving business ever since. Mom took me, her daughter, to the zoo regularly with the yearly membership she purchased and cherished. All three of her kids graduated from the same high school she attended. Both of her sons live in that same Northern Pennsylvania town where they are raising their kids and taking them to that same local, parking-friendly zoo.
If ever you wonder how God is going to write your story, just hold on. He isn't going to do it in the way you anticipate. God uses the most unlikely of events to write the story of our lives. The plots He creates are creative and unique. He infuses each chapter with unlikely occurrences and surprising twists. God can turn a storyline upside down with something as silly as a trip to the zoo.
Whenever I doubt that God has a plan all I need to remember is the 1991 zoo saga. It changed the whole course of my life. Where I grew up, who I became friends with, where I went to college. Who I've become can all be traced back to a frustrating trip around a Washington D.C. parking lot.
God is still writing my story and as I travel through each page of His book for my life and enter each new chapter I do so with great anticipation and absolutely no idea where the twists and turns will take me. Life is a real page-turner and I can't wait to see where God takes it next.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Healing to-dos

I have a to-do list. Well, it isn't my to-do. And it isn't a "honey to-do list." This girl doesn't have a honey but if she did she may make him a list. She is, after all, a list-maker so why not share the love with a significant other? If you love lists and have a love life, pair the two. It only makes sense.
But back to my current to-do list. The list is for God and it outlines, in order of importance, the healing agenda I have for Him. Like any good to-do list it begins with the most pressing needs. For me need number one is digestive. That is such a big to-do I have it written in big red letters complete with many exclamation points. A few words such as "discomfort," "absorption," and "bloating" have been underlined just in case God misses my not-so-sublte memo to get on this task - and quickly, please.
The next few lines on the list are filled with needs such as the alleviating of heat intolerance, the restoration of energy and the elimination of spasticity. I've turned the list over to God because it is a list too daunting for me to handle. I've tried to complete the tasks on my own and failed miserably. So I've turned the list over to the expert trusting that God, being the ultimate Man of His Word, will surely take up my list in a timely fashion and complete the to-dos lickety-split.
Time has passed and God has had the list in His possession for weeks, months...years. This is starting to sound like the saga of an old married couple, don't you think? The wife tells the husband the bathtub needs caulked and instead of the husband running out to Lowes to gather supplies he leaves the list on the kitchen table, causing the exasperated wife to wonder why she even make a list in the first place.
When I gave my list to God I trusted He would pick it up and get to crossing off each need. I thought He'd treat my list as a "rush order." Isn't that what a red pen and capital letters are meant to communicate? But it feels like God has left my list on the kitchen table while He's gone to the fridge to find a snack. I've even suggested I give Him a ride to Lowes but He has yet to take me up on my offer.
So I've spent some time waiting for God to get around to my to-dos. I've become exasperated like the wife with a leaky bathtub. God hasn't been following my order on my time-table and He hasn't been meeting my to-dos.
Or has He?
If I take my eyes and my fixation off of my own to-do list and get back to God's Word I'm not left wondering very long what God has been up to in the kitchen. He hasn't been neglecting my list. He's been rewriting it. The "needs" I had listed that had to be met in my order, in my timing have been moved down the page. New priorities have taken their place. God's to-do list of healing begins with my heart.
God sees my needs and He knows each one intimately. Not only does He know what they are, He knows what's causing them. The symptoms that baffle me are understood to God. In the blink of an eye, with the snap of a finger He could heal them all. But first He has to start with my heart. He has to bind up my broken heart and restore my shattered soul before He will touch my physical wounds.
God is the Master Physician and the faithful fulfiller of to-do lists. He hasn't thrown my list in the trash or ignored the pleading heart that filled its lines with hopes and desires. God has my list safely in His pocket - my rewritten list.
On the to-do list that once prioritized my physical body God has made my spiritual health His priority. God knows that what is truly best for me is a vital heart that beats for eternity and a soul that sings praises forever. Reduced spasticity and perfect digestion may come but they don't top God's list. He is binding up my broken heart, polishing it to a lustrous shine and making my spirit a Masterpiece for His glory. The to-dos that top God's list are the ones that will outlast the paper they are written on and the body they restore. God's list is the list of eternal importance and He always fulfills it in His perfect timing.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Me and my claw

In recent years my trips to the ocean have been limited to the shoreline. The creatures great and small that reside beneath the water's surface have relegated my beach enjoyment to the sand and knee-high waters. I prefer to have a clear view of any threatening marine life.
Sharks aren't what scare me about the ocean. I've seen the statistics. The likelihood that I'll be bitten by a shark is miniscule. The stress over an attack has a greater chance at harming me than the shark itself. It's the smaller, less intimidating sea life that causes me concern - the sting of a jelly fish, the spikes of the sea urchin or the back of a slippery stingray. There are an array of creatures in the ocean I'd rather not meet or step on. To protect my toes from harm and my heart from a shock I stay safe near the sea shore.
But all of the caution in the world hasn't kept me from the pain of the claw. No, not the crab's claw. The foot claw.
The claw first took hold of my pinky toe. That little baby toe bent into a rigid position and stayed that way. I looked around for a crab to blame but the nearest crab in my northern location was on the plate of a diner at Red Lobster. A crab was obviously not the culprit.
After examining my deformed toe I came to a final conclusion. The claw was caused by me. More specifically, my brain and my MS.
MS, my chronic illness companion, has presented itself in a variety of ways. Spasticity, heat intolerance, vision loss...the list could go on but it had never come by way of a claw. After five years of an array of symptoms the claw foot was a new addition. And a painful one at that.
Throughout my days the claw foot came and went. Then it expanded its territory all the way to the middle toe. I became a pro at walking on a claw foot - an achievement that, as far as I know, does not qualify me for any awards.
After months of the claw foot I traveled to Florida. No, not to meet a real crab and give my foot an excuse for its behavior. I went for my scheduled stem cell treatment. With high hopes and many prayers the doctor extracted what little fat he could find, harvested my stem cells and pumped them back into my blood stream. The next morning I woke up without a claw foot. It was a miracle.

The blessed day the invisible crab was extracted from my foot was over six months ago now. The claw didn't return and I thought it never would. Until last week.
When my pinky toe seized up I thought it was just a cramp. An hour later I feared it was the return of the claw. A week later my fear has been replaced by acceptance. The claw is back and, once again, it has grown and flourished. The claw is having a party on my left foot with toes three, four and five.
I'll admit it. When the claw first came back I was downright angry. First I was angry at the invisible crab. Then I grew angry at my lousy stem cells. How dare they abandon my left foot! I called it righteous indignation but it was more irrational than justified and more silly than sane.
As I silently cursed my pinky toe and its clawed companions I thought back to the Bible and the beach. Then I thought back to Paul. He had a thorn in his flesh that he couldn't extract. Paul got the jellyfish; I got the crab.
When Paul was writing to the churches he told them about this thorn. He didn't deny its existence. How could he? It hurt! But Paul saw the thorn's purpose. Paul needed to be taken down a few pegs and made dependent on God in the face of temptation. So God gave him this thorn, a sting, a perpetual torment that Paul couldn't escape even when he begged God for relief. God wanted Paul to have that thorn. The thorn was actually a tool for Paul to use as a testimony to God's glory.
Just like at the beach, in life I've tried to avoid pain and suffering. When God hasn't miraculously healed me I've tried doctors, supplements and stem cells. When those haven't worked I've become frustrated and disheartened. I haven't wanted the pain of my symptoms and I certainly haven't wanted the constant presence of a claw foot.
But, like Paul, God has a purpose for my crab. And the purpose isn't a unique excuse to be crabby. The purpose is His glory. I have this crab on my foot as a constant reminder that I am captured and held in the grips of the Holy Spirit. The very being of Christ compels me and overwhelms me. God is my constant companion who has taken up residence in my heart all the way down to my toes.
So you see, this claw foot of mine isn't so crabby after all.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Choosing to be like Charles

For fifteen years Charles had nearly perfect attendance at church yet he never said a word. It wasn't for lack of desire. Charles wanted desperately to speak and converse but the college professor, down hill skier, and music lover couldn't form a single syllable.
Charles was born healthy, vibrant and full of promise. With his sharp mind it was no surprise when he went on to become a college professor. He married his college sweetheart and faithful dancing partner. The two shared an impeccable sense of rhythm, a love for music and a thirst for adventure. It was on one such adventure to the ski slopes that changed Charles' life forever. On the way home from their favorite mountain Charles sat behind the wheel of their station wagon, zipping along the highway late at night while his wife slept in the seat beside him. Charles' eyes were groggy. The long day on the slopes had exhausted him. Tragedy struck when Charles fell asleep at the wheel and the car went careening off the side of the road, stopped by the impact of a tree.
When Charles woke up from a lengthy coma his life looked drastically different. His wife soon left him, overwhelmed by the burden of her husband's future life burdened by disability. Charles was unable to walk or feed himself. His vocal chords had been crushed in the accident, shattering his dreams of returning to the college lectern. Charles, the brilliant professor, would be mute for the rest of his life.
That was in 1978. Charles was only 36 years old.
Twenty years later I met Charles at church. He lived in a rehabilitation facility, walked with a cane, ate food pureed in a blender and couldn't say a word. But he could smile wide, dance in his seat and remember everyone's names. Charles was limited but he was alive.
After recovering from his injuries and regaining more mobility and independence then doctors believed possible, Charles determined to learn sign language. If he couldn't speak with his mouth he would sign with his hands. Charles' mind was still sharp and he quickly learned the ins and outs of the language. Soon a dream formed in his mind to become a sign language professor. Although his vocal box was crushed in the accident, Charles' teacher spirit was alive and well. He had new hope and a dream.
For years Charles worked towards seeing that dream become a reality. He contacted schools and other sign language teachers. He wrote countless letters and petitions to come on staff at colleges and training facilities. As the years ticked by the possibility of Charles' dream ever coming true became more remote. Family members tried to discourage him from even hoping any longer. When they realized they couldn't squelch his dream they simply stopped listening.
When Charles passed away just a few years ago he still resided in the same rehab facility he had lived in since I met him. He never did become a professor again. The dream of teaching sign language went unfilled but the hope never died. Even nearing death Charles still dictated letters of appeal to community colleges and still planned for his future as a teacher.
Some might say that the story of Charles is depressing and disheartening. He never saw his dream come true. His story didn't have a storybook happy ending. But I disagree.
Charles was determined to enjoy life in spite of unfilled dreams. He had little reason to hope yet he never let that stop him from living with great expectation for the future. In the meantime, he took pleasure in what life he had - no matter how limited. He danced in his seat. He sipped on his favorite chocolate milkshakes. He gave gigantic bear hugs at church. Charles enjoyed whooping his opponents in cribbage and playing lighthearted tricks on his visitors. To look at Charles' life you might think he had every reason to be discouraged, depressed and downtrodden but he lived with the joy of hope even in the face of adversity.
I don't know if the dreams I have for my life will come true. Maybe God has different plans. Only time will tell. While I wait to see what future God has in store for me I can follow in the example of Charles and determine to live fully in the life I have now. I can decide to be content in the capabilities I have today and find enjoyment in the simple pleasures that bless my day-to-day existence.
Right here and right now I can choose to be filled with joy no matter why the future holds for my hopes and dreams.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Blue skies and birthdays

Birthdays are supposed to be happy occasions but sometimes birthdays end up being blue, melancholy days of remembrance. More funeral than party. More lament than celebration.
Today is my birthday. My twenty-sixth blue birthday to be exact. I requested a cake-less day without a party or the traditional, rhythmically challenged birthday song. For days leading up to this April the twelfth I have tried to forget that the day was even approaching. Twenty-six sounds dangerously close to thirty. A step into the later half of the twenties. It is a gigantic reminder that my life is at one big loose-end. My only birthday wish has been that somehow I could sleep through the day in a butterflies cocoon, hidden away from the reality of my unchanging circumstances.
This birthday has serviced as a reminder that my past six years have been pure turmoil. Six years of ill-health, fighting to hang on to my weight and my equilibrium. These years have been filled with more unknowns than sure-things. The mystery of it all has taken its toll.
When I fall on my humanness I become hopeless. The only way I've made it through has been choosing to fall on the grace of God. Not to say I always fall perfectly in His direction. Often times I find that I've fallen flat on my face and my knees before I've realized I need to collapse once again in the arms of my Abba, Father. He's brought me this far for a reason and although sometimes I question His intent, timing and purpose, I have found in the past six years that I have no other safe, soft place to land. I have to fall on God. Where else can I go?
This morning, on my twenty-sixth birthday, I found myself once again on my knees and in His arms, sobbing, chocking on my tears. As I laid there at a loss for a reason to pull myself up off the ground, a single phrase came pouring from my lips. It was as if the words themselves were spoken through Jesus Christ, right into this broken vessel: I can go on spiritually. As the words flowed from me I didn't even know if I could believe them or fulfill them. But the more I said it the truer the proclamation became. I can go on spiritually. I don't need to go on physically. I don't even need to worry about my physical body. The hope I have in my heart will keep me going. It has for all six years of my multiple sclerosis. God has kept me going spiritually, filling me with hope and endurance to carry on, bringing me to the age of twenty-six and He will not abandon me now.
With that promise hidden in my heart and those words propelling me forward I rose up off the floor and remembered the scene twenty-six years ago. A rainbow formed across the sky, painting a picture for drivers on the I-81 coordinator in Virginia. As my Father sped up the interstate on his way to join his laboring wife he looked up and saw that perfectly formed rainbow. In that rainbow He saw the promises of God - the same promises that, twenty-six years later, I still rest upon.
God made me twenty-six years ago this day. He has carried me through the ups and downs. He has sustained my physical body but more importantly He has rescued my spirit and given it the strength to go on.
On April twelfth I have every reason in the world to celebrate because I am my beloveds and my beloved is mine. In Christ I have received abundant, endless life. In Christ I have everlasting hope that speaks to my soul, carries my spirit and assures me that this precious child can and will go on.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Truly thriving

Oh, the allure of online marketing. The aesthetically pleasing banners, the eye-catching graphics, the email bombardment and the promise of a "free trial." What internet surfer hasn't been tempted to try a new body lotion, order the latest fitness tracker or, if you're like me, subscribe to the internet food-service fad? The blogosphere is all abuzz about ordering organic, sustainable, healthy groceries online. The promise is lower prices and convenience, not to mention outstanding quality. Become a subscriber, pick your products and track your package. Before you know it a box will show up on your doorstep containing organic goodness.
After receiving my fair share of emails enticing me with promises of the best in cereals, spices and even beauty products. I finally took the bait. The offer from Thrive Market sounded practically life changing. This was about more than food, it was a mission to change the world. And they wanted to give it to me for free! Well at least the bone broth.
So I placed my order and filled in all of the boxes. Name. Address. Credit card information. Wait, what? Credit card information? I thought this was free? As in, you keep your money and get the goods. I read on to discover that this flavorful, life-giving bone broth would be my free introductory item welcoming me into the Thrive family. Once I got my broth, fell in love and became a bone broth addict I wouldn't mind the $59.00 yearly fee automatically deducted from my bank account. Of course, I could always log onto my account and cancel at anytime, even before the first year's dues. I gave my information and made a mental note to cut bait within thirty days if this broth didn't change my life. And honestly, who believes broth is going to change their life?
With the note made and the order placed I awaited the arrival of my box.
A few afternoons later I arrived home to find my delivery from Thrive Market. I opened it up and pulled out a box of bone broth. The box was small, smaller than I had anticipated. I poured its contents into a pot. The color was foggy and off-putting. The smell was worse. Convinced that the five star reviewers must have been raving about the taste I heated up the broth and took my first sip and recoiled. The broth was inedible.
Needless to say the rest of the pot ended up in the sink and the automatic subscription was cancelled. So much for the promise of boxed and door-step delivered thriving.
What did I expect? A bone broth to change my life, how I shop and what I eat? Did I actually believe that a product could hold such power?
Although the Thrive Market couldn't deliver on a life change it did provide an attitude change. The world and its schemes will never cease to tempt me with products and promises that will make me happier, healthier and more fulfilled. The ploys dangle trips to exotic locations in front of my eyes offering me the experience of a lifetime. Commercials with the latest in health and beauty products guarantee my satisfaction. Boxes and bows entice me to purchase, spend and be changed!
But I'm on to their tricks and tactics. A product can't change my life. A trip won't transform me. Only Christ has that power. And He isn't charging me a cent. In fact, He's already paid the full price without asking for my credit card number. He wants to change me free of charge. All He asks is that I give Him total and complete control. The results, He promises, will be truly awe-inspiring.
The deal God has made with me is better than any internet offer. I was in desperate need of being saved from eternal separation from perfection. God sent the ultimate delivery in Jesus to clean me up and get me ready for the gates of Heaven.
What do I need to do? Sign up. Give Him my contact information and the right to my life. What do I get in return in the here and now, you may be asking? The gift of thriving. Flourishing. Prospering in peace, grace and love.
It is the greatest offer you and I could ever receive and I promise, it truly is life-transforming.

A visit to Tifft

If you think stinky, smelly, hazardous wasteland when you think "landfill" you aren't think about Tifft Nature Preserve. To visit the 264 acres of natural beauty you'd never know that just forty years ago it was a Buffalo dumpsite containing over two million cubic feet of trash. 
Back in the day of glass bottles and the neighborhood milkman, Tifft was a busy dairy farm. When the roaring twenties gave way to the threadbare thirties the farm was transformed into a shipment center. to meet the demands of a war. With the changing industrial landscape of America the farm was forced to change, too and in the 1950s that change took a rank turn towards trash.
Gone were the days of cows. Milk became a distant memory. Shipments ceased to buzz to and from the lakeside land. What took its place was the garbage of 500,000 city residents. It was a depressing and malodorous site to behold. 
But in the midst of decomposing trash a vision of blooming flowers, frolicking woodland creatures and fresh flowing waters was born. Together the community gathered resources and rallied support. They went to town halls and convinced law makers. The plans were made and the gigantic feat was undertaken. The waste was enclosed in clay, covered with soil and excavated. Ponds and streams were enlarged. Trails were constructed and new trees were planted.
Slowly but surely, God's design for nature, its resilience and restoration, took shape on the once barren wasteland. Buds formed and green leaves grew vibrant and healthy. Animals returned to the land to build their homes. Visitors from all over the city began exploring the miles of wooded trails and sharing lunches under the protection of shady picnic grounds. Renewal swept the trash heap and new life was born.
On every acre of the green, lush land of Tifft Natural Preserve is a story of God's redemption and His power to restore. He specializes in turning trash into treasure and destruction into a masterpiece. 
The story of Tifft and what God did on the garbage-laden land is the story of what He has done in my heart. He took the trash of my sin and turned it into a beautiful treasure for His glory. Like the city of Buffalo had corrupted the natural beauty of the land I had loaded up my life with all of the wrong things. I had created a toxic wasteland by decisions that were anything but sweet and fragrant. I choose selfishness over generosity, contempt over grace and my way over God's ways. By ignoring God's design for my life I built up a landfill that I could never clean out on my own. 
But God looked at me and saw something worth saving and restoring. God had a vision for my life even when I was covered in sin and smelled of pure shame. God saw a vision for my redemption and salvation so He sent Jesus in to do the clean up work. 
As I look back on the demolition process God has been doing in my life, the clearing away of the trash of my past, the replanting of His good fruits, I am in awe of the work He is undertaking. It is a process that is slow and steady. The mess God took on was bigger than the Tifft landfill but the masterpiece He is working on will be more glorious than the natural preserve on the shores of Buffalo. 
God wants to do a work on you, too. Will you give Him the permit to your life and let Him take back the land? Will you allow Him to clear away the trash, dig in the soil and give you new life? He'll get to work right away on the most amazing work of transformation your eyes will ever behold and your heart will ever experience. He will take your trash and exchange it for the priceless treasure of new, eternal, abundant, beautiful life. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

A spring confession

Confession: I don't understand God's timing. Not only do I not understand it, I'm downright annoyed by it.
It all started with fuzzy boots. I love my fuzzy winter boots. They are made of boiled wool which makes them light weight and warm. Perfect for the harsh Erie winters. As much as I love my boots and appreciate the protection they provide I'm always ready top pack them away after months spent bundled up like an eskimo. Even fashionable eskimo apparel gets old.
Come March I begin to countdown the days on the calendar, looking forward to the official start of spring when the temperatures will rise and the snow will melt. I anticipate the shedding of coats, hats and gloves. With great expectations I await the return of stylish slip-ons and colorful ballet flats.
This winter was no different and when Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow, predicting an early spring, I silently prayed the groundhog would, for once, get this one right.
The days in March ticked by and the temperatures ticked upwards. It looked like Phil had prognosticated perfectly. Spring was indeed springing - early! God's timing was looking, in my estimation, practically perfect.
So I did what any cardigan-sweater-loving, ballet-flat enthusiast would do. I packed away my boots. With a smile on my face I marched my fuzzy footwear down the basement steps. See you next November winter wear!
Days passed and spring stuck around. March came and went with little need for fuzz and wool. But then April came and something terrible happened. It snowed. I looked out my window and there it was - white covering the grass, air well below freezing and ice covered cars. I stared at the scene in disbelief. How could this be? This is supposed to be spring. 
What happened to God's perfect timing? I wanted to make a call to the big man upstairs and tell Him to check His calendar. "Hey God, not sure if you flipped to the month of April but it's spring and snow isn't part of that picture." I stopped short of delivering the memo. I figured He was already aware of the meteorological situation down here on earth. Worse yet, I figured He knew this was going to happen long before Phil ever stepped out of his groundhog den and didn't see his shadow. God not only knew all about the weather, He let it happen!
I can't help but wonder why God let it snow in April but not in March? His timing is a mystery to me in more ways then weather. Why has He allowed me to suffer from MS and ill-health for six years? Hasn't He seen that it has been long enough? The timetable of God never ceases to perplex me and, at times, frustrate me.
On that snowy April morning I reluctantly made my way down to the basement and to the box that housed my winter boots. I pulled them out and put them on. I opened the door and made my way out into the frozen spring tundra. I didn't want to be standing in the snow. I didn't want to be driving in the snow. But for some reason I still don't understand, God let it snow. If I wanted to leave the confines of home I had to suck it up and get out in the snow.
Today it is still freezing and it is still April and, yes, I'm still wearing my fuzzy boots. God's timing is still a mystery. But I'm choosing to live fully in the midst of the mystery because God never promised to divulge His plans ahead of time. In fact, He's told me that I won't always understand what He's doing while the plot is unfolding. But He's also promised me this: someday you will understand. I'm living for that day and holding on to that promise. And in the interim I'm wearing my fuzzy boots, thanking God for keeping me warm and protected while I wait for the fullness of His spring to be revealed.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

20/20 Vision

Morning crept into my room and stirred me from my restful slumber. Upon waking I rolled over, reaching across my bed to retrieve my glasses from their designated spot on my nightstand. I'm utterly helpless without my glasses. The world falls into a mess of colors and shapes with no defined structure. Stairs are perilous and faces are indistinguishable. To make it through my day I rely on my trusty glasses from the moment I awake till the moment I lay my head down to sleep.
My hand fumbled around on the bedside table searching for my survival spectacles but they weren't in their usual position. After scouring the table and the floor beneath I remembered my previous night's sleepy stupor on the living room couch. I had taken my glasses off as I dozed in front of the television.
In that moment of realization every step ahead looked more challenging. Making my way out of my bedroom would be easy enough. The floor was free of clutter and I knew right where to find the door handle but beyond my bedroom door I anticipated the steps -  treacherous, slippery, wooden steps.
I scooped Pippy up off my bed, as I do every morning and determined to carry my step-adverse pup down the stairs without my glasses and without tripping and falling.
Slowly and surely I placed one foot in front of the other, taking one little step at a time. I secured my balance upon each tread before attempting to descend a bit further. When Pippy squirmed I thought we might end up tumbling down to the bottom. Visions of bruises and broken limbs flashed before my eyes. In a soft and quiet voice I urged my wiggly fur ball to stay still.
When we made it to the bottom unscathed I breathed a sigh of relief. The rest would be child's play in comparison. I shuffled through the kitchen and into the living room where my glasses were resting on the coffee table, just like I'd remembered.
Sliding those brown, tortoise shell prescription lenses onto my face was a relief. I felt safe and secure with my vision restored, ready to conquer the world or at least the day ahead. The world had shape and definition again. Even the details of Pippy's friendly face - the wetness of her nose and the glimmer in her deep brown eyes - were clear to see.
Although the time apart from my precious glasses was brief it renewed in my heart an appreciation and thankfulness for my sight, both physical and spiritual. I am blessed to have these corrective lenses at my bedside, providing guidance as I maneuver the obstacles of life.
But more importantly, I am blessed to see the world through the eyes of God. I can maneuver life's difficulties, the slippery steps and even the darkness when I look at everything through the eyes of God. He has made clear vision accessible to me in His word. He has even written it in my heart and provided the way forward with the indwelling of His spirit.
With God's glasses I need never navigate a single step alone and I'm never in danger of leaving His gift of sight in another room. All I have to do is call on His name and turn my heart to His glory. Graciously and faithfully He will bring everything into crystal clear view with His perfect 20/20 spiritual vision.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mighty Warrior

She stood tall and stately draped with her prestigious medal of honor around her neck. Lucca, a six year Marine veteran and the first canine to receive the highest military honor for service, certainly earned the recognition. The twelve-year old German Shepherd has served in over four hundred missions sniffing out explosive devices and detecting deadly threats. Under the protection of her watchful eye and keen nose Lucca never lost a single Marine in her company.
That's not to say Lucca didn't see imminent, life-threatening danger. Peril was at every turn. On one particular mission Lucca discovered a massive explosive device. Troops expertly neutralized the threat as Lucca searched for more. And she found it. A bomb exploded right under her feet, causing her to instantly lose her front leg and suffer severe burns up and down her chest.
Lucca's comrades, all saved from the explosion, were able to pull their hero from the destruction. After surgery and treatment she proved that you can't keep a warrior down by standing on her three legs just ten days later, walking when doctors didn't even know if she'd survive her injuries. Upon her recovery Lucca retired from military service with honor and valor. Her life-long handler returned to civilian life with the courageous hero credited with saving countless lives and sparing the destruction of entire communities.
Lucca displayed the greatest love of all, to lay down one's life for a friend. Lucca went to the front lines of battle willing to sacrifice her everything for the protection of the Marines in her care. When danger called Lucca went running. When a threat was in the air Lucca went ahead of her fellow Marines, risking her life first in an effort to save the soldiers behind her.
Lucca, the exemplary canine bearing a great medal of honor, is more than an example of military heroism. She is a picture of Christ-like sacrifice. Lucca displayed the love of our Savior who endured death to save sinners. The perfect Lord of Lords, undeserving of the brutality of the cross, willingly suffered the agony of that long, torturous death to spare the lives of the guilty.
When Lucca saw a bomb, she ran towards it and ultimately took the blast. Jesus saw eternal death and destruction for you and I, and took up His cross.
Jesus rose again as more than a hero. He rose as Savior, Conqueror and King. He rose to give new life to everyone who seeks His protection. He deserves all honor, glory and praise. He deserves more than a medal and a ceremony.
Jesus Christ, the Warrior King, is worthy of our everything.

Monday, April 4, 2016

So fortunate

"I feel so fortunate." For an hour those words kept running through my mind followed by, "I am safe and protected." I tried to think of something deeper but God kept replaying those words as if they were lyrics to a song He intended for me to commit to memory and know by heart. In those words I could feel the embrace of my Heavenly Father and hear Him whisper to me truths of provision and assurance.
It all started with deer. It always starts with deer, at last for me. Noah had a rainbow, I have deer. They are my reminder that God is watching over me and that He is in complete and total control. Deer are my covenant in the woods, or on this particular day, the middle of the road.
My deer sightings usually occur in singles. One deer will suddenly appear in an unlikely place like the middle of a suburban neighborhood or right in front of me while taking the dogs for a walk. God has used the perfect placement of deer to calm me in the midst of life's fiercest storms. The deer always brings with her a promise that I need not worry, fret or fear because God will not abandon me. He is and will always take care of me.
Today's sighting came in a trio. Three stately, magnificent deer leapt out from the thick woods along the road's berm. They bounded across the street effortlessly one right after the other, each step another display of their majestic beauty.
The encounter with the deer was so brief that by the time I blinked the deer had disappeared down a hill and into the protection of the forest. But they left behind a peace and tranquility that lasted much longer. Hours after the deer sighting I still couldn't stop thinking about my good fortunate to be a cherished, protected and cared for child of God.
I believe God places deer along my path at just the right moment when my heart is yearning for reassurance that He has my whole world in His hands. My Abba Father cares for the deer, protecting them as they cross the road and providing for them as they forage for food. He ensures their safety as they grow from little Bambis into beautiful and mature stag able to leap and jump with vigor and vitality. His eyes are on the deer just like His eyes are on me.
If ever I am to doubt that God is in ultimate control all I need to do is look at the deer. If God is willing and able to care for them, why should I ever wonder if He will care for me? With every deer encounter God is taking me up into His arms, sweetly and serenely calming me with His promises. "You are safe...You are protected..." And in reply I tell Him, "I know... And I feel so truly fortunate."

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Promises of primrose

On the windowsill in my bedroom sits a blue decorative container. Written across the front is the word "bloom" next to a small stenciling of a bird. About a month ago, at the first sign of spring, I filled the container with three primrose flowers. They were an inexpensive and small foliage that I doubted would last past the end of the month. My track record with plants includes a lot of wilting, few buds and inevitable death. But I love flowers so I buy them cheap and treat them like disposable cutlery. If I can get a few weeks of enjoyment out of their green and flowery beauty I'm pleased.
Don't get me wrong, I always try my best to keep the greenery alive with sporadic watering and ample sun exposure. I'm not one to give up on my vegetation. I've been known to water Gerber Daisys that have shriveled up to nothing more than a few twigs in soil.
Where there's life, there's hope, right?
Given my less-than stellar track record with indoor flora you can imagine my surprise when the primrose flowers didn't die by the end of the month. Granted, they weren't flowering as bountifully as when I first welcomed them to my bedroom windowsill, but they were far from dead. They still had buds and vibrant green leaves.
The survival of my primrose bolstered my confidence in their future. I started watering with more consistency and rotating the container, ensuring that all sides of my flowers received adequate sun exposure. Not only did I believe my flowers could survive, I believed they would.
This morning, with a glass of water in hand I looked upon my primrose and became disheartened. Not a single flower to be found. Buds? Yes. Greenery? Yes. But no flowers. I've been so diligent with my watering and rotating. Where did I go wrong?
As I poked around at my primrose I was overcome with a flood of remembrances from the past six years. For six years I've done everything in my power to keep my health alive. I've watered. I've pumped myself with vitamins. I've tried all things medical, natural and alternative in an effort to regain the vitality that was stripped from me so suddenly at the tender age of twenty. Still, despite my best efforts, I've still withered and suffered and struggled to hang on.
But, guess what, I'm still here. There is still life in this little body and these tired bones. And if there is still life, there is still hope.
God isn't done yet. He has given me buds as a good deposit of the bounty to come. There are flowers in my future. Sure, my pot isn't abloom oat this very moment but the primrose isn't dead yet either. There is still life in that soil just like there is fight left in my bones. God is planting a flower bed. He is bringing up buds. I can see a bouquet of primrose up ahead, can't you?
You may look at the flowers on my windowsill and think they are nearly dead. But when I look at them I see life, health and vitality springing up. I'm going to keep watering, keep rotating and keep hoping because those flowers are just about to bloom.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A lesson in no baking

It was a routine Friday morning when I had the sudden urge to bake. Or rather, no bake. You know the ones - the classic cookie made of oats, cocoa, peanut butter and a generous helping of sugar? These fudgey little morsels are a favorite in my family but my last attempt at no-baking them was a miss. This time I opted for a new recipe that I was hoping would be a sure hit. The one thousand reviewers on AllRecipes couldn't be wrong so I figured this batch would turn out right.
To the cupboard I went to pull out quick oats, peanut butter, sugar, cocoa, milk, vanilla, butter and a pinch of salt. It didn't take but a moment to realize my recipe was off to a troubling start. I was short on oats and out of my normal bleached white sugar. Eyeballing the amount of oats left in the canister I determined I could still squeeze out a small batch of cookies  if I used the organic sugar and cut the recipe in half. 
To the stove top I went. Sugar, butter, cocoa and milk were added to the pot where I immediately let the sugar sit too long on the bottom of the hot pan. After a little scrapping and a few "oops-e-daisy"s I freed the sugar and brought my mixture to a boil. A minute later I pulled the pot from the heat, dumped in my oats, vanilla and peanut butter and gave it a swirl with my spatula. 
And then another bump in the no-bake road. A miscalculation of the oat canister left my "dough" too runny to be formed into tablespoon shaped cookies. I lifted the spatula above the bowl and watched the goopey mixture slip and slide right off. 
Determined to salvage the bowl of ingredients I threw in more peanut butter. Oats weren't available so the peanut butter would have to do. Or not. I quickly learned that heated peanut butter won't thicken cookies. 
So AllRecipes plan A hadn't panned out. Plan B had failed. In a moment of no-baking genius a plan C was devised: no-bake bars. I poured the bowls contents into a loaf pan, smoothed the top of the chocolatey goodness and gazed at my creation, holding out hope for my last-ditch effort to create a tantalizing, sweet treat.
A few hours later, with butter knife and dessert plate in hand, my taste-tester extraordinaire (read: Mom) sliced into the no-bake oat bars. With one bite she was in love. The look on her face said it all. The cookies turned bars were a resounding success.
From my near no-bake disaster I learned a lesson that extends far outside the walls of the kitchen: Don't assume you always know what you truly need. I thought I needed more oats. Then I thought I needed more peanut butter. I thought I would need wax paper, so I laid out a sheet for my hot cookies that never made it to the counter. In the end the bowl of chocolate, sugar and oats had a different ending than I had anticipated and, in fact, a much better one. 
Isn't that often the way God bakes up our lives, too? So often I think I know just what I need for success and happiness. And then I open up my "cupboard" and find that I'm short on all of the ingredients I was so sure would create the perfect consistency, taste and texture for the very best life. Yet here I am, in the kitchen of life, without the ingredients I thought I needed and God is saying, "let's do some baking." But how? I don't have what I need. 
Oh, but I do... because God has a different recipe in mind and it is going to be far better then the one I pulled up. While I'm busy reading reviews for cookies God already has bars in mind.
Today if you find yourself in life's kitchen short on the basics - the oats or the sugar - or your mixture isn't forming quite right, don't throw out the whole bowl just yet. Let God change your recipe. In the end you'll have a beautiful treat to share and a glorious testimony to tell.