Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Can you hear me now?

"Hello?"... "Hello?"... "Can you hear me?"... "Yes I can kind of..." "Are you still there?"... "Hello?"
The voice on the other end of my phone went in an out between fits of fuzzy static. I made the ear equivalent to eye squinting as I did my best to make out my mystery caller's garbled words. In that brief, thirty-second call I felt strangely connected to Verizon's turned Sprint's "Can You Hear Me Now" Guy. At the same time I felt distinctly disconnected from the real person on the other end of the line.
To match my Verizon commercial scenario I moved around the room with a hurried aimlessness in search of a clearer signal. Finally I landed on a special foot of space that produced a clear line of communication. "Yes, I can hear you now. Can you you hear me?....Okay, great!"
Without the crackle and static I could hear my caller loud and clear. It was my doctor's office just issuing a routine appointment confirmation call. I confirmed and hung up the phone.
You may be thinking that this exchange sounds quite ordinary and you'd be right. Phone calls are prone to static and being dropped altogether. Cell phone signals are finicky business. Two inches to the right or the left can send a strong five bars down to a measly one.
It is humorous how hard we cell phone junkies try to establish a clearer signal. Many a call have been saved by simply standing on a bench or a chair or a table in the middle of a room just to achieve a stronger connection. I've been known to run around in search of an invisible signal sweet spot with a cell phone plastered to my ear, displaying the same frantic energy as a puppy in search of the source of a mysteriously tantalizing scent. We technologically advanced humans are so accustomed to being in constant contact with our fellow man that it drives us downright batty when our lines of communication break down or crackle for even a moment.
Can you imagine if we all became as accustomed to and dependent on hearing God's call with the same clarity as we do our cell phone calls? What if we all worked with as much energy and passion to hear God speak as we do the voice on the other end of our wireless connection? The world would look drastically different. My life and yours would look dramatically, miraculously different.
The strength of a 4G connection complete with the lastest in mobile phone technology can't match in importance or  power the connection between God and His callers. A strong signal with God that is clear and bright has the power to save and transform. Callers who seek God's voice and won't rest until they have a clear connection are blessed with inner peace, joy and enduring faith. The messages received through the connection with God are eternal and they never change. There is never a routine call with God because each is a beautiful opportunity to hear the voice and receive the love of our Father who longs to speak to us words of truth and life.
The connection that produces strong signals with God is a connection that is established in the human heart. The only fuzz and crackle that can get in the way of hearing God's voice loud and clear comes from a heart that isn't seeking out that "sweet spot" for the Holy Spirit's signal. It isn't a broken phone or a weak line that is causing the disconnect and the muffled messages. Inferior connections are never on God's end. He never drops a call and His signal service knows no limits on bars. The connection dilemma is always on our end.
The good news is that our connection with God can always be made clear. All we have to do is look for it with the same intensity we search for a stronger signal for our cell phone. To the world we'll look sillier than a frantic phone caller shouting, "Hello?" over and over again but don't let that dissuade you. Seek first a strong and clear connection with God. Run around the room seeking out His face. Upgrade your time spent silently in His presence. Carve out a communion with Him that can't be counted in bars and fiber-optics.
When you and I hold tight to the connection we have with the Lord He meets us on the other end of line. No fuzz. No crackling. When God is on the other end we'll have the joy of saying, "Yes, I hear you now!"

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Squirrely Behavior

There is a reason human beings aren't squirrels. We're not very good at being squirrely.
Our innate ability to be squirrel-like in deft scurrying and scuttling is just the start of our wildly inferior inborn squirrel skill set. We aren't built for quick zigs or sharp zags. We don't do well running at twelve miles an hour straight up trees. Our fumbling, bumbling bodies weren't built to hang and swing between leaves and branches. Our feet weren't designed with built-in pads to cushion six meter long leaps!
We humans typically don't plan our winter meals six months in advance. Nor do we live exclusively off of nuts. Our brains were formed to remember more than the location of buried acorn treasure. We were given arms instead of tails to be used as signaling devices and words instead of chirps for effective communication.
As human beings with unique thoughts, emotions and life spans that last longer than five years, we have been given a set of features and specific design that is entirely different than your typical squirrel. Flying or otherwise. No matter how hard we try, we humans will never perfect squirreliness.
So why do we even try?
Why do we try to be squirrely with our hyperactivity that is always striving for more? Why do we try to perfect the squirrel's frenetic movements in an endless quest for significance, meaning and fulfillment? Where did we get the idea that we could run straight up trees or that it's even a good idea to try such a maneuver?
Where in the world did this notion come from that we humans, built with two arms, two legs and brains larger than a walnut, should function with the same manic, wild, utterly frenzied pattern of behavior as a woodland squirrel? We simply aren't built for it! We aren't designed to live like manic mammals constantly on the hunt for the next best berry, shrub, nut or rare, prized piece of stray bird seed.
We're made for so much more.
As humans we were made with unique gifts and abilities. In our mouths we are imparted with tongues and in our chest a set of lungs perfectly suited to talk and speak. Our eyes were perfectly placed to look straight forward, always to the future. Our hands were built to hold and our feet were designed to walk on solid ground.
Our human bodies aren't endowed with the keenest sense of smell but what we have been given is a great capacity of heart. Inside each of us resides a soul with the ability to love, care, encourage and sympathize. This beating vessel so critical for our survival is the same vessel that houses the life-sustaining Spirit. It has no need for hibernation and it doesn't store up in barns or deep in the ground.
This Spirit within us is God's. It is the breath of the Almighty inhaling eternal air into our flesh and bone. It is the hand of God keeping our hearts steady and secure.
The Spirit that God places in us isn't hurried. It isn't frenzied or manic. It never zigs and zags from here to there. It doesn't run up ahead or burrow in the ground for months on end. It is always present and consistently calm. It is unshakably steady and sure.
God's Spirit that lives in you and I, humans without a bit of squirrel mixed in, sets us apart from the rest of the world. It is this living, breathing Soul of the Lord dwelling within us that makes us unlike any other mammal scurrying across the surface of this divinely created earth. It is God's Spirit within us that sets us apart, sets aside and sets our hearts in Heavenly places.
We human beings are not built like squirrels and we're not built to live like them, either. We are built for Heaven and to live like we're already there.

Monday, January 23, 2017

What if?

"What if..." It is a question we all ask ourselves at one time or another. The prodding question is asked in the quiet recesses of the mind. What would life look like if that big "something" hadn't happened? Or what if it had? We silently wonder what our days would look like if we had never encountered that drastic, one hundred-eighty degree change in direction.
I have often found myself asking the big "what if" question, too. If only I could count the many times I've asked, "what if?..."

What if I were healthy?...
What if I didn't have to wonder if and when my body would ever function normally?...
What if I stopped having to think about digestion and metabolism?...
What if I could eat potatoes, night shades and grains and all of the foods that have caused me upset?...
What if my legs ceased to spasm?...
What if the simple act of a hot shower didn't throw my body into a state of turmoil and pain?...
What if my weight were normal, my face were fuller and I had cushioning on my bones?...
What if I didn't have to pray to God for the health and stamina to make it through the day?...
What if I didn't have the need to call out to God for His breath of sustaining life in the middle of the night?...
What if I didn't feel the weight of my weakness that leads me to continually beg God for His strength?...
What if I knew not the sensation of numbness that causes me to cry out to God for relief?...
What if my eyes never failed me and I never had to trust in God to restore my sight?...
What if my muscles were powerful enough to run marathons and ski mountains? 
Or what if I had the stamina just to stay up past nine?...
What if my Saturday evenings were filled with friends and get togethers in crowded places instead of in the serenity of my room in the company of my furry companions?...
What if my life looked normal, like the typical twenty-six year old?...
What if I had never been plucked off my life's course and put on this path filled with illness, pain and sickness?...
What if my plans had succeeded, never to know this crisis of health that is my reality?.... 
What if I had never gotten sick?...

I wouldn't know what it is like to cry out in the night to God for help.
I wouldn't know the indescribable hand of God that has comforted and sustained me for six long years of inexplicable illness. 
I wouldn't understand the joy in a quiet evening at home in the presence of God.
I wouldn't know that the most powerful and enduring strength comes from God's indwelling.
I wouldn't know the relief and rest that comes from surrendering long held dreams into the hands of God.
I wouldn't know the peace that comes from trusting in His providence.
I wouldn't know the depth of my parent's love and the faithfulness of my family.
I wouldn't know the depth of my church's concern and their tireless care for one of their own.
I wouldn't know the companionship of two little dogs or the comfort that is found in little wet noses.
I wouldn't know that Christ' friendship is enough.
I wouldn't know that God has a great sense of humor and a vivid imagination.
I wouldn't understand just exactly how God can use heavy struggles to make me stronger.
I wouldn't comprehend the depth of God's goodness and the perfection of His plans.
I wouldn't be living for the glory of Heaven instead of the emptiness of this world's today.
I wouldn't know how thankful, grateful and blessed I am to be right where I am, exactly as I am.

And I wouldn't be able to say with sincerity and certainty that I would never trade a single "what is"
for a single "what if."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Surrendered and Sheltered

Their doors are open 365 days a year. 366 during leap year. The phone is answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yes, even on Christmas. Every day the breakfast meal is served at 7:00 AM sharp with lunch following promptly at 11:45. The showers are always hot and the towels are always fresh.
For the homeless who are out of friend's couches and futons to crash on for the night; the displaced who have exhausted every alternative option to rest under a roof, the shelter is where they turn. When all else fails, the shelter is a reliable, dependable place the wandering can go where they will be safe and warm. The desperate know that beyond the front door and just past the sign-in table they'll receive the opportunity to wash up and fill up on something other than dollar menu food. They will receive a clean, dry pair of socks and a bed with a full set of sheets and real bed pillow. After nights spent on the floors of random apartments, reeking of days old dirty clothes and unwashed hair, the basic necessities in the shelter sound like luxuries. Who knew soap and a mattress could look so glorious?
The moment the homeless and hopeless come to the doors of the shelter and write their name across the top of the sign-in sheet they surrender. They come in knowing that they must leave behind on the streets more than just their dirty socks. They agree to leave behind their dirty mouths and dirty habits. Guests at the shelter can't enter in with their drugs and alcohol. Their cigarettes must be discarded, too. Starting fights and cussing aren't acceptable behavior. For the shelter to remain a safe sanctuary the standard of upright conduct and behavior must be upheld. Dissenters and the disobedient will be asked to leave, welcome to return if they abide by the rules. The door will always be open to them, every offering of the shelter still available, but not until the old life is left behind. For the shelter to remain a safe haven, a place of rest and relief, it must remain pure and protected from the destructive patterns of the street life.
And so it is in God's shelter. His doors are always open. He answers the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He feeds His precious guests bountiful, satisfying nourishment as faithfully as the sun rises and sets. He provides cleansing and renewal by the washing of His Word. He provides His promises as comfortable, peaceful places of rest for weary heads and heavy hearts. He warms with the presence of His Holy Spirit.
The needy, hopeless and homeless hearts who seek God's shelter must come surrendered and submitted. The desperate must leave behind their old sin and wayward ways of life. Rebellion and disobedience won't be tolerated. The lawless who refuse to denounce and abandon old sins will be asked to leave, welcomed back with open arms when their hearts are ready to submit to the rules. Hearts must be broken of their independence so that they can receive the care God is offering. Submission must be voluntary, ongoing and sincere. For God's shelter to remain a sanctuary of peace and serenity His standard of righteousness must be upheld.
The shelter rules God has established aren't cruel or mean. He isn't heartless to the homeless. God cares so passionately and loves so deeply that He won't stand by and watch His precious children poison themselves with bad decisions. He puts His foot down and says, "Not in my house." God requires our obedience for our survival. His desire is to transform us from lost, sinful vagabonds into residents of His house. He wants to rescue us from the dangers of the streets and provide us a permanent safe place to call home. God longs to remove from our hearts destructive behaviors and dark secrets. He longs to wash away our past rebellion and sins of old so that we can be new creations, living lives that are clean, beautiful and well-nourished.
All that God asks in return is that we leave every remnant of the old life behind. All of it. Every past sin, mistake, regret, temptation and bad decision. Every false god, every drug of destructive choice and every lawless deed. God commands us to leave behind the words that curse and hurt the soul. Flee from the road that led to desolation and run into the arms of the God of eternal shelter.
With forgiveness on His lips and salvation in His hands, God whispers to the homeless and the hopeless, "My child, come and surrender your all and I promise you this, I will be your all in all and all you'll ever need."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Rust Never Sleeps

"Rust Never Sleeps." It was a sight straight out of Fixer Upper. Joanna Gains would have been in architectural salvage heaven. Every square inch of the old garage and shop was full of old barn doors, well used knobs and hooks, antique boxes once used to house all sorts of goods from cigars to crayons. Old burlap sacks that once transported flour and pig feed were stacked high, still rich with the scent of farm life and hard work. Rows upon rows of old slabs of wood, shiplap for you Fixer Upper-lovers, stretched back hundreds of feet and deep and stories high. 
This was my first trip to an architectural salvage yard, my first encounter with the beauty of chipped paint and broken stained glass windows. And I loved it. I loved the feel of each unique antique door knob and the brass workings that still held them together after decades of use. I loved the broken-down trap doors that once protected homes and farms and many a cow’s stall. I loved the shiplap. Oh, the shiplap! Each piece was unlike any other. Wooden finishes once perfectly painted and polished now showed scrapes, a testimony to the years spent nailed securely as the floors of a dining room or maybe even the walls of an old farm house.
As I searched through stacks of old burlap sacks the scent drew me in even further to the rich history of every piece delicately laid out across the store. Each burlap sack told a story. Each was a step back in someone else’s time. One bag was straight from Columbia while others touted that the freshest seed comes from Virginia. Pig farmers and beef farmers had their logos stamped on those old burlap sacks. Holes and tattered, frayed edges had developed over years of being filled and emptied for the survival of the farm and the benefit of its livestock.
With old burlap sacks in hand, surrounded by thousands of pieces of one-of-a-kind salvage, the scent of something more than swine filled the air. I took a deep breath and was overcome with the sweet aroma of salvation. In every knick-knack, trinket and old barn door I saw God at work in the human heart. I saw a vivid picture of how God saves salvage - how God saves you and I – for His glory.
God takes us from our perceived “usefulness” and breaks us to create His kind of beauty. He removes us from the world’s standard of polished and painted and nails us to a wall of His choosing, developing character and our own personal testimony. We get bruised, scraped and utterly tattered, all for His glory and, ultimately our good.
In the end what we turn out to be is salvage. By being used and spent for God, we develop finishes and edges that are distinct and individual. Our nail holes look completely different from every one else’s. Where our paint has chipped and cracks is distinctive and unique. It is in all of those cracked and imperfect places that God sees something worth salvaging. Where the world looks and sees trash and ruin, God sees potential and the makings of a treasure. He looks at our stories and histories of brokenness and sees beauty. He looks upon our ruin and sees a story of redemption. It is in the salvage of our lives that God takes His mighty hand and uses it to pen His story of salvation.
At “Rust Never Sleeps” I bought one of those old burlap sacks from an Ohio Farm. The bag once delivered grain for the cows that produced the beef that fed the family and was delivered to market in nearby towns. Now that the sack is retired from its day job it has taken on a new use – as a future pillow that reminds me of the promise of salvage.
My plan to repurpose that old burlap into a beautiful treasure is the same purpose God has for you and I when we allow Him to purchase us. When we choose to be bought with the precious blood of Christ and give ourselves over and into His hands, He will indeed use us for the sake of His eternal Kingdom and write His story of salvation in our salvage.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Right on Time

The plane sat just feet away from the gate, snow flying and de-ice machines roaring. We were already thirty minutes behind schedule and I was convinced I would never make my connecting flight. Minutes ticked by but they felt like hours. I kept checking my clock. If I were a nail bitter I would have been chewing with a fury of anxiety.
Finally the plane began to move. It slowly made its way onto the runway, into the abyss of a Northeastern frozen tundra. To take off in this blizzard would be a feat of pilot-prize winning proportions. To make it to Chicago on time to catch my next flight would be a miracle of God.
The plane paused at the edge of the runway and, with a familiar buzzing from the propellers, began to pick up speed as it charged down the plowed pavement. With smooth precision the wheels left the ground and the plane went soaring into snowflakes. One anxiety was put to rest – take off – but another still lingered – being stuck in Chicago. With a quick connection I resigned myself to hours spent in the human equivalent to a cow stall.
An hour into the flight I pulled out my boarding passes to check times, gates and terminals. I’d have to run from one terminal to another and, judging by the time on my clock, I wouldn’t make it. Boarding would end at 7:30 while my clock was already reading 7:15 and the captain hadn’t even turned on the fasten seat belt sign yet. I began to play out various scenarios in my head... Maybe the next flight will be delayed.... Maybe another flight will be set to depart in an hour with one first class seat available, no extra charge (and yes, please, I would like a pillow and the complimentary head phones.)
But then I thought about the other scenarios – the worst-case scenarios... What if the flight isn’t delayed and there isn’t another flight going out for five hours? What if the flight in five hours is full, not even a seat in coach near the bathroom available? What if the weather in Chicago turns terribly, horribly bad and every flight is grounded…indefinitely?
For the next twenty minutes my mind did a stellar job of coming up with circumstances that went from bad to worse to terrible. My anxiety mounted with each mile traveled. I was certain that I would be stranded in Chicago. When I watched my clock tick past boarding time and then take off time I resigned myself to my fate. This trip wasn’t going to go as planned.
Twenty-seven minutes behind schedule the small twin-engine plane landed in Chicago. The crew instructed those of us with quick connections to de-plane first. Even though I was sure I had missed my connection I ran off as fast as I could on the slim chance that my next flight was incurring a slight delay. Maybe they were even waiting for me - hey, crazier things have happened!
And so I started high tailing across the terminal. I moved as fast as my little feet could take me across the moving escalator, apologizing profusely to the many travelers I bumped along the way. Up the stairs and to the right I ran down concourse C to the end of the hall. And that’s when I saw it. A massive line outside gate C30 - my gate. 
Over the loud speakers I heard an attendant call out, “Zone 3, United flight 1330 with service to Ft. Myers now welcoming all passengers in Zone 3.” Me! My zone! I wanted to scream it out and run to the front of the line! Had God just delayed my flight? Was the plane waiting for me?
Nope. There was no delay.
But there was a time change.
As I had fretted on my first flight, convinced I wouldn’t make it to gate C30 by the time stamped on my boarding pass, I had forgotten about the time change. Chicago is in the central time zone, an hour ahead, while my boarding pass reflected the eastern time zone. Turns out, I had never been late at all. In fact, with the first flight's slight delay in take off, I ended up being precisely on time for my connection. Not a minute too early. Not a moment too late.
When I paused at the gate to look at the board and the clock the pieces of my jumbled up puzzle began to make sense and I couldn’t help but chuckle. How silly I had been to worry. How much energy I had expended on needless anxieties! The timing worked out perfectly, even sparing me a few extra few minutes to grab a cup of coffee.
I took my seat with a renewed calm and a much-needed reminder: God has my time in His hands. I never need to worry or fret or spend one moment wrought with anxiety because God has my connections perfectly planned. Some days I am convinced that my take-offs and landings are running late. Really, all I need to do is readjust my clock and check my time zones because God’s timing is never off. The schedule is always under His control, unfolding according to His perfect plan.
Worrying about making my connecting flight couldn’t speed up the plane or delay the boarding procedure at gate C30 any more than worrying can or will change God’s timing. But the good news is I have no need to worry. God is master of the clock and setter of the schedule. I may not understand it but, let’s face it, I get confused about time zones so who am I to judge God’s perfect timing?
In the end, leaving the take-offs and landings to God will always work out best because He has the agenda confirmed and my seat on His every plane assigned. I won’t miss a single one of His connections when I entrust my plans and their timing to His care. 
God always get me where He wants me right on time. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Gasping for eternal breath

I gasped for breath that refused to come. I begged for God to let me perish but He wouldn't let me go that easily. Every inhalation felt laborious. I was convinced that the end must have been near. At least I hoped it would come quickly and release me from my agony.
For two hours I struggled through alternating hot flashes and frigid chills. My head pounded while my stomach turned with intense fits of nausea. I shivered under blankets only to be sweltering moments later. The physical distress felt like an inescapable torture.
Silently my heart cried out for deliverance but my lips could barely utter a word. In between shallow breaths I tried to plead with God. "Please, God, please..." were the only words I could speak in the dark of night.
In my helpless state I laid as still as I could in my bed, too exhausted to move. The weight of my body was paralyzing. My body's burden was too much for me to bear. So I gave up. I released my breath and surrendered. I quieted the silent cries of my heart and stopped begging God to intervene.
In that moment a new peace came over me. My breathing was still shallow and my stomach was still in knots but my soul was calm. It was ready for whatever would come next. My spirit was lifted out of that darkness, out of that suffering, and given a serene, soft place. In that moment a new rest, one that transcended my body's burden, washed over me.
I'll never know how many minutes ticked by from that moment until my eyes shut and sleep enveloped me but I know it didn't take long. Although my body wasn't out of its misery, my soul was full of vitality. My heart was full of trust and assurance in spite of the trouble my body was facing. Despite the darkness of that physical and emotional night, my heart was delivered into the light. My soul was given a heavenly place and a peace that transcended my understanding.
And so I slept.
I slept without fits of tossing and turning. I slept without nightmares or terrors of demise. I slept soundly. I slept in peace.
And then I awoke. The next morning God had restored to me normal breathing and released the ache in my stomach. But that wasn't the true miracle of what He did for me that fateful night. More important and lasting than any physical relief He delivered was the relief He brought to my soul. He allowed me to teeter on the the brink of a crisis and, when I cried out to Him, He indeed heard my plea - the most pressing plea of my heart.
As I begged God to release me I thought I was pleading for rescue to deliver me from my physical torture. But God saw my greater need. He saw my need to be rescued from myself. He saw my need for my soul to be surrendered. And He answered that plea. He delivered my heart from the edge of destruction and brought me into His perfect peace. He surrounded me with His spirit and carried me with grace and mercy. When I let my eyes close and my worries go, God swept in with wings like an eagle and carried me,  body and soul, to His perfect and eternal safe haven. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Hello 2017

"Writer's Edition"
The moment my eyes laid sight upon those words I knew the Bible was meant for me. Everything about it was perfect. The hard cover featured a flowing design of soft pink and soothing greens, the same shades of my childhood bedroom. The pages inside felt as smooth as silk. Each one was filled with the gloriously comforting words of God. On each page a series of empty lines was just waiting for meditations and thoughts to pour back in response to the Perfect Author's teachings. I fingered through the Bible and saw more than a book. I saw a beautiful conversation just waiting unfold.
When I had entered the bookstore that frigid, New Year's morning I hadn't anticipated buying a new Bible. I wasn't in the market for a new book of Holy scriptures but God took over my book store browsing and sent it in a new direction. He turned my buying into something so much more than a purchase. He turned it into a step of faith. In purchasing that Bible I laid claim to the promises of God.
I am a writer.
There will be days when my writing feels dry and lifeless. Still, I am a writer. There will be seasons where the words don't flow and the thoughts feel strained. Still, I am a writer. When my mind fails to formulate a message that can be typed I will still be a writer because God has placed in me that purpose. He has given me that promise. Today, with a Journaling Writer's Edition Holy Bible in hand, I claimed it. 
As I walked out of the store I carried with me a purchase more precious than money can buy. I carried reassurance in God. In my hands and within my heart I held the peace and security of knowing that God's promises are true and trustworthy. They may not always unfold in my timing. During seasons of life God's promises may feel void and empty. But those feelings are false and fake. They are a trap of satan. The enemy wants me to question the purpose God has promised me. He wants to shake my confidence in the unwavering faithfulness of God. But today the enemy didn't get that pleasure.
Today I picked up God's Word and took hold of His promises for my life. I bought something money can't buy. I made the purchase with my heart to trust God and lay claim to His promises for my life and my future.
This year I am going forward in the knowledge and confidence of Christ, knowing that God's promises to me are true and are unfolding in His real and perfect time.