Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Stem cell decisions

On this date one year ago I announced to my family and friends that I would soon be traveling to Florida for stem cell therapy. After extensive research and prayer I had decided to undergo the revolutionary procedure. Using the little fat on my body the doctor would extract my own stem cells from the adipose tissue. Once harvested the stem cells would be replaced back into my body through my blood stream and nasal passage. I would be back on my feet within a few hours but the work of repair and recovery from the damaging multiple sclerosis attacks would be ongoing. The procedure offered no guarantees but it did provide few risks. Two days after making my announcement by way of FaceBook and the church prayer chain, I boarded a plane to Florida.
The next three days were an amazing, miraculous experience. To begin with, the doctor wasn't even sure he could gather any tissue from my tiny legs. He surveyed the rest of my scrawny frame and determined that there were no other options. The legs would work or nothing would. To his happy surprise, not only did we gather tissue but the extraction produced more stem cells than average. I left the out-patient procedure office six hours after entering feeling drowsy but excited and exhilarated. I had stem cells! Even though I knew I couldn't count on any certain outcome I was invigorated with the hope of a new future. Just a few days later I was back home feeling strong, joyful and thankful.
Over the next few months little change occurred. A few of the symptoms that had miraculously disappeared at the initial stem cell injection returned. The twelve months following the procedure proved to be a roller coaster of ups, downs and varying degrees of in-betweens.
Despite repeated stem cell disappointments the treatment wasn't a failure. The results it produced weren't precisely what I was anticipating or hoping for but it was far from a bust, a waste of time or a waste of money. As I look back on my stem cell journey one year out I can say with honesty and sincerity that the decision to receive stem cell therapy was one of the best I've ever made.
The physical changes that have occurred as a result of the procedure are less than transformative. The most drastic change occurred in my claw foot. On the day I received the cells my foot released from its claw like state and has only returned to it for a few days here and there for the past year. That one change would be enough to make the stem cells a success but the benefits don't end at my toes. The benefits go all the way to my heart and soul.
The decision to undergo stem cell therapy was about far more than my physical body. When I committed to the procedure and scheduled my trip I did so as an act of faith in God. In that one decision, the decision to have the treatment, I confirmed to God that I trusted what I couldn't see. I trusted Him, His plan for my healing and His power to make me new. I knew stem cells might not be the avenue He would use but I believed that if He so choose, He could indeed use them to restore my body.
What I didn't anticipate was how God was planning to use my stem cells for a work of rebuilding, renewal and restoration far greater than any my body could ever need. God went to work on my heart. He started rebuilding my patience, assurance and peace. He used my stem cells to increase my trust. With the multiplying of my stem cells came a growing desire to feast on the Word of God, rest in His presence and soak in His promises.
The doctor at Stemedix told me that the stem cells were emergency repair cells. They would go to where my body was in the most desperate need. Little did any of us know the greatest distress my body was in was hopelessness of the heart. The stem cells did indeed go to work right away. And they've been working ever since.
A year later it would be normal and expected to ask the recipient of stem cell therapy, "did it work?" For this patient I can say unequivocally, "yes." But not the way you'd think.
If you happen to be mulling over the decision to receive stem cells as the road to full health and vitality I can't make any promises for the outcome. You may have improvement. You may even gain mobility in a clawed foot or clearer vision in blurry eyes but I won't fool you and claim fat derived stem cells are the cure for MS. But if you're looking to take a step of faith and put your trust in what you cannot see, believing with every fiber of your being that God is the Ultimate Physician who can use any means He so chooses to heal and restore, then stem cells might be the procedure for you.
Stem cells were the healing my body needed. They did an amazing work of restoration on the desperate distress of my heart and soul that was on the brink of losing all hope. I didn't know that what I needed most was for my spirit to be infused with trust in God's plan. Thankfully God knew the dire health of my heart's status and He touched it with His healing hand.
God touched my ailing spirit with stem cells, the stem cells I choose to receive from Him one year ago today. On July 27, 2015 I made one of the most important and best decisions of my life. I choose to trust God completely and that is a decision I will never regret.

Monday, July 25, 2016

He knows more than my name

I know God knows my name, but does He know anything else about me? Does He know about my muscle spams? Does He know about the turbulence in my stomach? Does God know that sometimes I get light headed, sometimes my hands can't grip and clench, and sometimes my legs give out? Does He know about how my hot flashes are mysteriously paired with frigid feet and hands?
I'll be honest, sometimes it is easier to imagine that God doesn't know any of my many ailments. I can rationalize that if He doesn't know He can't be blamed for not fixing it all. I've read my Bible, I konw that with one thought, one blink of an eye He could remove every single symptom. Without a supplement, doctor or surgery God could make them all "poof," simply disappear. 
But God hasn't done a magic show with my symptoms. He hasn't made them go away.
When my muscles are flaring and my body is in acute suffering, God feels so terribly far away that I flirt with feelings of frustration. Well, to be honest I've more than flirted. I've fallen head-over-heels into utter anger at God for allowing me to suffer all these many years. In those moments when my little body burns with full-blown rage I call God out. I accuse Him of giving me a raw deal. I stew in jealousy over the health and full life of other people my age and question. I question why God has left me hanging in a limbo of sickness while my peers out enjoying a carefree existence of vibrant vitality.
These episodes of anger and frustration always pass. I get it out of my system, vent my inner feelings and move on. But inevitably another bad day will come and once again the question arises, "Does God have any knowledge of what is going on in my body?" To avoid the looming emotional breakdown into anger and frustration I have foolishly chosen to believe God doesn't know. In a lame attempt to protect my spirit from the pain of abandonment I pretend He is completely unaware. Can I blame God when He blissfully ignorant of my condition and far-away from my physical body? No, I can't blame Him one bit.
But the truth is God knows everything about me. He knew my name before I was born. Jeremiah 1:5 says that He actually formed me and is intimately aware of every twinge, discomfort and dysfunction in my body. Before I ever became sick, He knew the ailments to come, how they would feel and the distress they would cause.
This reality leads me to the most challenging question of all: What kind of God is this who allows physical suffering? How can a God, the God who knows my name, be a loving God if He allows this suffering? Does God know my name, know my pain and simple not care? 
The truth of God's all-knowing diety won't relent because my mind tries to play tricks. I can pretend God doesn't see or know about my suffering but to deny His knowledge is to deny who He is and His unmatched power.
 The truth is that God does know my name. He knows my pain and His heart breaks for it. But more than my physical condition, God knows my heart and like any good Father He is orchestrating my life in such a way that my heart is made healthy. The heart is the one thing I have that will last. My body won't. No matter how healthy or ill my body is today, it is temporary. But my soul is forever.
When faced with the reality of God's knowledge the question seems to ask itself, "If God could use my ill body to produce a vibrant heart, would that make Him a cruel and harsh God?" No. It would, and does, make Him a loving and benevolent Father.
God is the God of my body, heart and soul. He is the one true God who knows every fiber of my physical being and knows my every pain and suffering. He isn't distant. He isn't blissfully ignorant. God is doing a miraculous work by using my broken body to rebuild my spirit.
This body is part of His plan, part of His good and perfect plan to make me fit for eternity. Because God knows my name and it is written in His book and one day He will speak it as I enter His gates with thanksgiving and praise.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

set. on. fire.

I opened my eyes to a ball of fire. At least that's what I thought my eyes were seeing at 5:45 on that hot and humid summer July morning. The blazing orange hue enveloping my bedroom was so intense that, upon opening my eyes, I popped straight up in bed. I was sure the room was on fire. It only took a moment for my fears to be dispelled. The room wasn't on fire with destructive flames and melting heat. There was indeed a fire burning but it wasn't of the destroying variety. The fire came from God and it was raging for His glory.
Every wall of my room was glowing. The light was so bright that I thought I must have overslept but when I looked at the clock it wasn't even six in the morning. I was up early and so was God. I rose from my bed and made my way over to the window expecting to see a postcard worthy sunrise. Surely an amazing ball of fire in the morning sky must be producing this unbelievable glow bouncing around my room. To my surprise the sun wasn't all that bright. In fact, the sky was hazy. There was a light cloud cover blocking the fullness of the sun. How could my room be so bright when the sun was shaded, far from being at its brightest? I wondered to myself.
As if on cue, God's presence came bursting from the light. He was in the glow on the walls. It was God who was filling my space with burning orange, yellow and red. God didn't need the sun to set my room on fire. He was doing it by the power of the great I Am.
For a moment or two I just stood there in my room in utter awe of the colors and brilliance on display. The silence of the morning, the shining light in the room and the undeniable presence of God's Spirit left me stunned speechless and motionless. All I could do was sit back and absorb the magnificence of the moment because that's what it was, truly magnificent.
As unexpected as the glow had come, it vanished again. The room's light faded. The orange glow disipated and the haze of the humid morning entered the room. But the Spirit of God stayed behind.
In those precious moments in God's presence He delivered into my room and into my heart a burning passion for His Holy Spirit. With His all-consuming light came an all-consuming craving for a pure heart hungry for the indwelling of Christ. When the display of fiery-bright light ceased to dance across the walls of my room it danced right into the deepest crevasses and corners of my being. God didn't blow out the blazing light display in my room, He just moved it into a raging inferno set within my soul.
God doesn't always come in a burning bush. Sometimes He comes in a burning room. But when He does come, it is undeniable. He burns with such an intesnity that the onlooker has no other explanation for the blaze. It must be God. It could only be God. The sun didn't do it. It wasn't a dream. God came to my bedroom and He delievered to me passion, purpose and purity. He came with fire and the most brillant light to show me the power He was about to place in my heart.
Now it is time to go forth with that blazing passion. It is time to take the fire God has set within the depths of my heart and let it guide and inspire me to live for Christ, live like Christ and live by Christ. God didn't set me on fire to roast marshmallows. He came to me with fire to burn for the glory of eternal salvation. For the glory and majesty of the Lord's great name I have been set ablaze. In all ways, for all my days may my prayer be for a pure heart that forever burn with the power of God's Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Good Vibrations

I grew up on a healthy dose of what are lovingly referred to as "oldies but goodies." The Supremes, The Monkees and The Temptations, just to name a few. My parents grew up in the 1950's and 60's during the British music invasion and the rise of rock and roll. Chubby Checker was doing the twist while The Isley brothers were making people want to shout.
By the time I came around, a 1990's baby on the cusp of a new millennium, the music my parents knew by hearts was the stuff of Froggy 94.7, the since retired oldies station in my hometown. My Dad's truck only ever played one of two stations. Froggy or talk radio. Mom's cars traded the talk for Classy 100, the station featuring the old and kid-friendly new. But most of the time the dial was set to Froggy. As a result the songs of my youth became the songs of the 60's.
The songs that played on Froggy still pop into my mind from time to time and none more frequently then the songs of the Beach Boys. Those California boys were my Dad's favorites.
When Froggy wasn't playing or a pundant talking, the Beach Boys were playing, Dad would play one of his Beach Boy CDs. Dad knew every line to "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "Kokomo." When "Surfin USA" would come on he'd turn up the volume. When "Good Vibrations" came on I'd crank it up even a bit further.
"Good Vibrations" was always my favorite of the Beach Boys classics. I never bothered to learn the lyrics of the verses. It was the chorus and the "om-bop" feel good tune that I loved. From the Beach Boys 1966 hit I filled up on good vibrations and excitations.
As a kid good vibrations were as easy to come by as a tune on the radio. I was carefree. I didn't have the stress of a job, health or singleness. The challenges of adulthood were too far off for me to understand or consider. I could embrace the good vibrations of happiness and joy.
And then I grew up. Froggy 94.7 went off the air and with it the old sounds of my youth. Years passed before I heard The Supremes. The Beach Boys and their good vibrations became a distant memory. With the coming of age has come the challenge of remaining filled with good vibrations in the face of circumstances and troubles that appear anything but good. To sing of excitations as a child is one thing,  choosing that attitude as an adult is a whole different animal.
Choosing good vibrations as an adult requires overcoming the challenges of reality. It isn't as easy as humming a tune and repeating some "lm-bops." To have good vibrations that can withstand the storms of life the pulse of the vibrations, the rhythm and tenor must come from the soundtrack of God's indwelling. He is the source of lasting, enduring good vibrations. The CD can break, the radio station can go off of the air, but God's good vibrations never cease.
As I child I didn't understand the impact of the words I was singing. I didn't comprehend the difficulty of having continual, perpetual good vibrations. All I knew was the Beach Boys and their song. Now I see that good vibrations have nothing to do with California, the beach or surfing in the sun. They have everything to do with being filled with the Holy Spirit of God's one and only Son. Good vibrations are only truly good when they are breathed out of the heart of God and into the soul of man. The only vibrations worth having are the vibrations that beat to the drum of God's truth.
These days my car doesn't play many oldies. I don't have a Beach Boys CD and Froggy isn't around to be tuned in on my dial. But I have good vibrations. I have the best vibrations. I have the vibrations of God's truth and Gospel bolstering my spirit and heart. The rhythm of God's good news is pulsating through my body with a excitation better than any wave a California surfer could ever hope to ride. Playing on repeat is the soundtrack of my soul are God's good, true and lasting vibrations of salvation and new life.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Who I Am

I want to be known.
Now, I know what you must be thinking or at least what song must be playing in your head. Does "You're So Vain" ring a bell? But my heartfelt desire to be known in the world has nothing to do with the typical landmark achievements that lead to stardom and fame. The way in which I hope to be known has nothing to do with news media, TV screens or my name in any set of lights. I don't want to be known for celebrity, nor am I banking on acclaim for any of the inventions I've been creating in my own mind. I think the ideas are brilliant but I'm not sending in proposals to Shark Tank anytime soon.
The way I want to be known has more to do with how I'm NOT known. To put it bluntly (a practice I'm all in favor of), I don't want to be known as the sick girl. I don't want to have the reputation of the girl with that illness. I don't want to be known for my lack of weight, weak body or spastic muscles. Every fiber of my being longs to NOT be known as the girl with MS.
There is nothing flattering about being known as sickly. The routine questioning about physical ailments is never a favorable conversation leading to up-beat, lighthearted chatter. The sad, sideways glances of well-meaning friends is down-right soul-sucking. There is no pleasure to be had in being continually recognized as physically depleted and perpetually ill.
More than anything, I long to shake this sickly persona and be known for something bigger, brighter and far more beautiful than a collection of symptoms. I crave to be known for who I am, not what I have.
In Christ, my longing is satisfied.
The world may look at me with a pained and downcast expression but God looks at me with a brilliant smile and bright eyes. He sees past my frail and fatigued body and sees only healing taking place. At the deepest places of my heart God sees me blossoming, bearing the fruits He has sown. In my body He sees a work of restoration. There is a new, strong, revitalized body being built even now. God sees it all and knows it all.
And that's how He can know me for who I truly am: a girl softened by His grace, on fire for His love and consumed with His glory. God, the only One who can see past my every symptom, knows me best and knows my heart better than anyone. My name is in His book and with it the most comprehensive and exact knowledge of who I truly am: Christ's.
God knows me because I am His precious child who is full of life, energy, a bright future and a colorful testimony of a past. God sees that I'm filled with great hope for the future. God knows that I have joy because Jesus lives. God smiles because He is not deceived by my size. Although I am small, I am but mighty because of His power.
I want you to know who has made me who I am: Jesus Christ. I want you to know who I am is only because of who He is and the new life He has made possible by way of the cross. Once you know me the true desire of my heart is that you'll see Christ in me and by His power and for His glory be known as His.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Be still

Each afternoon I sit down behind my computer screen, open up this blog to a blank post and ready my hands above the keys. Some days my fingers don't linger long before they are off and running down thought trails traversed by God's leading and guiding. Other days I hit keys only to delete them, scrambling for a thought or a word. Some days I stumble upon it. Some days I don't. And some days God tells me not to search for words at all. Some days God just wants me to be still.
Today is one of those days. My hands are on the keys, ready to type, but God doesn't have a story to tell. I've come to the trail to meet God and follow Him where He goes but He isn't going. Not today. He is resting on a log and is encouraging me to join Him.
Today God's only message is to be still. Be still and know that He is God. That one simple truth is a blessed invitation to stop running, striving and seeking - even seeking that which is good and righteous. God is the God of seeking and knocking but He is also the God of resting. He is the God of stillness and peace.
I want to hear from God today. Every child who relies on the guidance and direction of the Heavenly Father longs to hear His voice and walk in its direction. But today God isn't going anywhere. He has taken me down paths that have lead to the riches of His mercy and the lessons of obedience. Today He wants me to just fixate on the most fundamental, most life-sustaining truths man can ever know: that God is just who He says He is.
To know who God is is to enter into an everyday sanctuary of peace and security. There is undefinable rest and stillness in knowing that God is the Almighty Lord who sits on the throne and whose power cannot be overthrown and will cannot be thwarted.
Apart from knowing that God is the great I Am there is no real, true earthly stillness. Life is, apart from God, a chasing after an illusive wind. Life without the foundation of God's peace is a constant seeking for security, purpose and fulfillment. But in the presence of God, all striving ceases. Stillness enters in and calm is restored.
In the word of God there are thousands of verses about trials, love, wisdom and sacrifice. The lessons that fill the Good Book are so great in number a man could study his whole life and never stop learning. God has set appointments with each of us designed to teach us His lessons and truths. But  some days, like today, all He wants us to do is be still in His presence and know that He alone is God. And He is enough.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The most skilled s'more maker

Today we will study the art of crafting a perfect s'more. The two steps and three ingredients that culminate in a ooey-goey s'more seem simple enough, but to make the perfect s'more is no easy task. It requires dedication, patience and a high threshold for heat. And practice. S'more making involves lots and lots of practice.
A s'more consists of three parts. The chocolate, the graham cracker and the marshmallow. Individually, each element of the s'more is unassuming. A plain chocolate bar is rarely the tantalizing sweet dream on the tastebuds of a child. The graham cracker begs to be accompanied and the marshmallow's one-note sugar flavor leaves more to be desired.
This is where heat comes in handy to transform the humble marshmallow. This is where s'more making skills are tried and tested. The s'more crafter must take the marshmallow and skewer it on a long stick, rod or metal poking device. Then the roasting begins. There are two schools of roasting marshmallow thought. School one takes the quick route, burns the marshmallow to a crisp, blows out the flames and considers the charred mess of goo complete. This is not the route of a skilled s'more maker.
The skilled s'more maker takes a second approach, one that takes longer and produces much sweeter results. The master s'more maker scopes out his or her place at the fire where the flames aren't so high that they will scorch the marshmallow yet hot enough to brown its edges. By rotating, shifting positions and moving around the fire's edge, the s'more maker can create a beautiful golden hue evenly enrobing the marshmallow without ever catching it on fire, dropping it in ash or creating a charred exterior. In the twirling and twisting process the marshmallow is slowly brought to a crisp golden-brown, warmed all the way through to the gooey center.
It gets hot standing there at the fire for so long with a stick and a browning marshmallow. Sometimes the wind blows in such a way that the smoke blows right in the master s'more crafter's diligent face. Sweat often forms on the brow and hands have even been known to suffer slight burns. The process of perfect marshmallow roasting is not for the faint of heart.
But when the marshmallow reaches that sunset-gold with a slight crisp at the edges, the master pulls the stick from the fire with a renewed sense of satisfaction. The perfect s'more is only a simple step away.
That flawless golden brown marshmallow is pulled off the skewer to meet the cold, hard chocolate and the unexciting graham cracker. The result is summer-dessert perfection. The sugar caramelizes and sweetens without a hint of bitterness or burnt, smokey flavor. The simple graham cracker comes alive under the goo of the marshmallow's toasty center. The chocolate melts and coats every bite. The taste buds are sent on an adventure of crunchy, ooey, gooey goodness.
With a little time and heat tolerance a simple white ball of fluff is transformed into the catalyst for the quintessential summer treat. Thanks to the simple marshmallow and the patience of the roaster the perfectly toasted marshmallow can become the making for the most perfect of s'mores.

The making of s'mores over the campfire is the s'more crafting nearly every American knows and loves. Who among us hasn't tried our hand at making the world's most perfect s'more and who among us hasn't lost patience and burned the marshmallow in the process? But campfire s'mores are just one type of s'more. God has His own kind of s'more and it is made it all seasons. God roasts hearts and minds to add to the vessels of flesh and bone to create the most glorious creations: children serving and working for the glory of God.
God's s'more perfection process begins at the campfire with a few humble ingredients and a hot flame. God takes the sinful heart, foolish mind and human flesh together and sets out to create something gloriously sweet. He skewers the heart and mind and sticks it in the fire. To roast to a golden perfection God doesn't let the heart burn up or the mind become overwhelmed in flames. He gets them hot without scorching. He brings heat without ash and warmth without destruction.
But the process takes time. He twists and rotates His "marshmallow" to create the perfect golden brown. He works on the mind to bring about wisdom. He maneuvers the heart to soften its hardness, bring love to its cold places and warm it all the way through. His work requires patience but thankfully God has a high heat tolerance and so do His marshmallows.
Once roasted to perfection, the heart and mind resemble that of Christ. The exterior shines with grace and mercy. The unexciting heart that brought no glory to God now gleams with the goodness of His character. The handiwork of God is on every gooey surface.
It is only once the heart and mind have been toasted to a Christ-like perfection that the s'more, the life on the frontlines for God's glory, can be completed. God pairs the heart and mind with the human flesh and bone. The chocolate and graham cracker of our physical being is brought to life by the goodness of the transformed heart and mind. Apart from the work of God in the fire the body is less than pleasing. It can accomplish nothing for eternity. It is here today but could be gone tomorrow. But when the marshmallow is complete, the heart and mind are roasted and toasted, they meet with a body ready to be set on fire for the Lord. The heart is the catalyst for the body to bring Christ's sweet love to the world.
God makes the perfect s'mores. He'll stand at the fire as long as it takes to make the heart and mind perfect for His glory, ready to transform the flesh and bone into vessels at work for His eternal Kingdom. It all starts with a surrendered heart willing to be skewered and toasted under the heat of trial and the flames of adversity. Once the wayward, rebellious, human heart is entrusted to the Master S'more Maker a work of transformation can be roasted to perfection.
I've given my heart to God and asked Him to make me the perfect s'more. I know that in His time, with heat and rotating on the fire of His design, He is reshaping my heart and mind to embody the spirit and soul of Christ. When I'm completed I know what I will be. The perfect vessel for the ultimate treat - a life aflame for the glory and honor of my S'more Maker, the Lord God.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Goodbye Strawberries

Strawberry season is coming to a close. This is always a bittersweet moment for berry lovers. The promise of new fruits is ahead but the lingering taste of a lush, vibrant and authentic strawberry ripe off the vine is still too fresh in the mind to be forgotten and too wonderful to not be missed.
The ending of the season is most evident in the strawberry fields of local farms. You-Pickers still scour the bushes for healthy, undamaged berries but their haul is always skimpier then at the peak of the season. So many of the ripe fruits have already been discovered by worms and buzzing insects. Others have been broken from their life-giving branch and trampled under the foot of passerbys. The berries that can still be found are prized and precious. They are a well-deserved reward for hard work and diligent searching.
When the last rows of strawberries have been picked over and the bushes produce their last hurrah of tantalizing fruit the farmers will turn over the fields and prepare to plant for next season. Then they will move on to the next crop ready to harvest. Blueberries.
For the berry lovers saying goodbye to the strawberry is certainly sad but it isn't the end. The promise of another berry and another harvest is alive and well. When the strawberry bushes stop producing fruit, the blueberries, raspberries and blackberries come alive in bright colors and delicious flavors. The end of strawberry season isn't the end. It is actually the beginning of berry season.  And then
beyond the berry there are peaches, plums and nectarines to be gathered and enjoyed. Sweet corn, peppers, squash and tomatoes soon reach their peak of perfection. The farm stands, short on strawberries, are full of farm fresh goodness. The year-long preparation of produce is just beginning to be revealed when the strawberries shrivel on the vine.
And so it is with God's goodness. When one blessing falls off the vine and retires for the season another luscious surprise is always fresh for the picking. God never leaves us in need of His holy nourishment. The produce He uses to feed our soul isn't the same in all seasons. He brings new harvests all the time, at their peak of freshness when our hearts will benefit from their mercies the most. But He never leaves us hungry. If we will turn our taste buds away from what has withered on the vine and look to the harvest ahead we will never be in want. Instead we will live in continual anticipation and excitement for the new promised pleasure blossoming in our field.
God doesn't let the strawberries in the farmer's fields or His children's lives bloom forever. He brings them in and out of season. But He is never done planting, harvesting and seeding for the future. He is a diligent and everlasting farmer, our God, and He is busy at work in the field of my life and yours, too. My strawberry season is long gone but I see something new is reaching its peak of perfection. It's time to get my basket and head out into the fields to collect the blessings that are ripe and ready for the harvesting.
Have you taken a good look at your field in recent days? Strawberries may be past their prime but I promise that God is nourishing you with a new treasure in the bushes of His blessings. I hope you're ready to get picking!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Fresh air and freedom

On the top of my left foot is a nasty gash I received courtesy of a mishap with my car door. The incident occurred nearly two weeks ago but the cut isn't healing. It is doing quite the opposite - expanding in size and growing in ugliness. Time heals all wounds unless they are infected, which I'm convinced my foot laceration most certainly is. The low-grade pain, yellow pus and bright red bruising are making for a pathetic story to accompany what I fear may be a life-long scar.
In recent days I've been avoiding eye contact with my cut so I've been wearing socks as much as possible. I've opted for sneakers over sandals to remain in blissful ignorance over the condition of my injury. Then the temperature began to soar out of the eighties and into the nineties and my feet began begging for freedom; but I cringed at the thought of an unwanted face-to-foot encounter, revealing my unsightly wound.
When I finally did remove my sock I took a look at my scar. The ring around the cut was redder than I had remembered. Air hit the open wound and a sharp pain ensued. Immediately I wanted to put my socks back on and forget about the wound. At least the pressure of socks and shoes minimized the pain. But my feet needed relief from the unbearable heat. In a few minutes the acute pain subsided. The cut was still unsightly but at least my toes were cool and free.
A few sock-less hours later the cut on my left foot felt remarkably better. The pain subsided and even the redness was reduced. I was able to look at my scar and refrain from cringing. Something in the freedom and fresh air was helping my foot.
The simple and seemingly inconsequential act of sock removal taught me something about healing. Ignoring a cut or covering up a scar does more harm than good. This lesson is true of physical wounds but even more important for the heart. Burying suffering and hiding from scars doesn't produce restoration and healing for the soul. Scars that aren't given air, light and freedom fester and end up looking worse than a pus-filled laceration.
For the brokenness of a heart that has suffered pain, loss and disappointment to be restored the past hurts must be put out in the open, laid before Christ in unguarded complete surrender. Leave the socks and band-aids at the door. Our scars need the air and freedom that comes from being vulnerable and open in the healing arms of Christ.
As much as my foot needs healing I know that my heart needs it even more desperately. In the hidden places of my spirit I have hidden the pain of suffering from an illness no one can see and few can understand. The tender places of my soul long to be accepted and embraced for who I am, physical limitations and all. In an attempt to shield myself from further pain and discomfort I've done my best to cover up the heart scars inflicted by years of sickness and suffering.
But God wants me to take the sock off. There is healing for my pain and relief from my anguish if only I will give my scars air and let Christ bring them perfect healing. My scars are real and God sees them all. He isn't denying their existence or the suffering that has accompanied them. He knows the depth of my distress and He wants to make me well. He wants to cure what is infecting my spirit and heal what is wounding my soul.
It all starts with giving my heart air to breathe. It is so simple, so seemingly inconsequential that it is a wonder how that little act could make an impact on the state of my soul's well-being. But God is the Great Physician and in His medicine cabinet are the simple things, like air and freedom. The remedy for what ails me and the rejuvenation for my scar is found in the presence of Jesus' liberation. He has bought my healing, now all I need to do is step out into the open and receive His glorious restoration.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence Day

Happy July Fourth! Today is the day where Americans celebrate the founding of our nation and the declaration that we are free. We celebrate by eating 155 million hot dogs and blowing up 250 million pounds of fireworks. God bless America!
But this July Fourth I woke up feeling anything but festive. Digestive distress hit me like a firecracker. With pain and discomfort gripping my gut the last thing I wanted to do was join in my family's annual beach festivities. On the day's agenda was a picnic and evening bonfire but the war being waged in my stomach was threatening to keep me home.
All morning long my gut and heart played tug-of-war. The pull of my stomach told me to curl up, lay on the couch and forgo the picnic. But my heart wouldn't let go of its grip. With all its might my spirit doubled down and refused to let go. Deeper than the pit of my stomach was the desire of my heart to be part of my family. Stronger than the pain in my stomach was the yearning for freedom from the tyranny of my body's distress.
In those moments of indecision, wavering between surrender and seizing my freedom, I remembered what today is all about. The image of our Founding Father's risking their lives to sign their names to the Declaration of Independence flashed through my mind. They faced unimaginable hardship yet they took the hard road that they believed would lead to ultimate victory. When faced with submitting to tyranny or fighting for freedom they chose the harder road. The history that followed that decision leading all the way to today is proof that their choice was worth the cost.
In the spirit of the courage and bravery displayed on July 4, 1776 and the countless men and women who have fought to maintain the freedom declared on that day, I went to the beach and enjoyed a family picnic. I claimed victory over my stomach's tyranny. I pressed on and declared freedom from my body. I celebrated independence from my physical limitations.
Tomorrow there will not be a parade nor a picnic, but I don't need the world's festivities to claim my independence. God has made me free and given me a three hundred and sixty-five day a year reason to celebrate. He has freed my soul, freed my nation and freed my body. I am blessed with that independence that has broken the bondage of a malfunctioning body and crushed spirit. Because of the freedom I have in Jesus Christ I can claim victory over my gut, victory over MS and victory over my ailing body. I am not under the dictatorship of the physical body.  I am freed and redeemed by the blood of the lamb and the sacrifice of my Savior.
As a citizen of the everlasting Kingdom of God every day is worthy of a July Fourth celebration because I am eternally, everlastingly free.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The other side of the fence

From my position on the wrong side of the fence my neighbor's yard looked lush and green. And I looked green with envy. My neighbor's yard didn't appear to have a single brown patche...mine had multiplying bald spots. My neighbor's yard looked perfectly pruned, clipped and sculpted in all of the right places. The landscape in my yard was scraggly and sparse.
As I peered through a hole in my fence, giving me a glimpse into the life and lawn of my neighbors, I became discontent with my own yard. It looked so inferior compared to the neighbor's. In the yard next door I assumed they must have superior soil and the perfect balance of shade and sun. I imagined that their yard, full of blooming flowers and healthy shrubs, must attract the most beautiful birds and even butterflies. The fence kept me from seeing the whole picture of my neighbor's yard but I was sure it was a Garden of Eden here on earth. Somehow my neighbor lucked out. Their lot happened to land on the ideal growing conditions. I became convinced that my lot had landed on a patch of infertile soil.
For a long while I just sat at the fence and lamented my land's lack of lush landscape. I squinted through the peep-hole in an attempt to see more of my neighbor's yard. Every flower made me more jealous. I felt gypped. Why had I received the short end of the yardstick? As I watched my neighbor's yard bloom I sunk into a slumped seat against the side of my fence. I saw no point in tending to my own lackluster lawn. Instead I lived in the land of want and desire where the focus was on my less-than lot.
But then one day my neighbor invited me over. I wandered into their yard, the garden oasis I had admired from afar. My neighbor showed me around the property. The peeks and glimpses I had gathered from the peephole came into full view. The yard was magnificent. The hedges were trimmed and pruned. The grass was luscious and freshly mowed in perfect rows. Every rosebush was in full bloom and not a wilted flower could be found. There was even a garden of herbs full of fragrant and vibrant greens.
Then I looked at the soil and surveyed the sun. It looked a lot like mine. The soil wasn't anything special. The sun and shade weren't ideal. How could my neighbor's lawn be so beautiful and full?
And then I saw the shed. I had never noticed it before. I couldn't see the shed from my yard's side of the fence. In that shed were tools, hoses and the evidence of hours worth of labor and love. My neighbor's yard was in full bloom because of what was in that shed. There wasn't anything miraculous about the soil, sun or shade. The miracle was in the shed.
To complete my tour of my neighbor's yard he pointed to the shed that made the yard. He told me how he had built that shed to hold the vast array of tools and supplies he needed to make his yard grow. My neighbor took me into the shed's interior to show me the special equipment used to tend to each flower and nurture each bush. My neighbor seemed more excited about the shed then the yard. The pride and joy he had for the results in his lawn were evidenced in his love of the shed.
I left my neighbor's yard with a lesson in gardening and a truth for life. A lush life doesn't just happen because of luck or good soil. The good life is cultivated in the shed - God' shed.
God has given my life's yard everything it needs to grow lush and bountiful blossoms. I don't need a different set of circumstances or more fertile soil. I have the ideal conditions because I have the foundation of Christ and the indwelling of HIS spirit in my every root and branch. Now all I need to do is get in the shed and tend to my yard. The tools are all there, I just need to use them. The land is perfect for cultivating, I simply need to break out my tools and get to work.
My neighbor didn't get his garden by sitting back and looking through the peephole of life. He didn't have time to stand at the fence. He was too busy pulling out all of the tools and supplies in his shed to make his own lawn a land of glory.
May I be as diligent a gardener as my neighbor.