Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fallen Leaves

On this December 1st afternoon, I layer my clothing before heading out to the nature trails. The brisk wind bites, and I’m glad I’ve dressed warmly. Entering into the forest, I see the woods are ready for winter. Stripped by the wind, the trees’ bare branches look dark and forlorn against the light-blue, late autumn sky. As I walk, I remember how the trees looked just a few days ago. With more than half their leaves still adorning the now bare trees, the forest looked alive and vibrant. But even then, signs of the approaching winter filled the forest. With each little breeze, thousands of leaves rained from the trees. Walking along the pathway, I experienced a yellow, green, rust and red shower of leaves. Everywhere I walked puddles of colorful leaves covered the path and the undergrowth all around.

Now, all those bright colors have faded to brown. The dried leaves crunch softly as I tread on them.  Except for the crunching of the leaves under my feet, the forest is quiet and bare. Looking around, I see nothing but dry grass, barren trees, and dead leaves. It seems the forest has gone to sleep for the winter. I think about those piles of dried leaves all around and realize they still have a purpose, even though they no longer live.   Those brown, crunchy leaves provide natural mulch for all the young tender plants. With this leafy cover they can survive the cold winter months.     

In our spiritual lives, those of us who are mature Christians provide the mulch for younger, more vulnerable lives.  Instead of keeping our spiritual wisdom to ourselves, we let our green finery fall so that others can benefit from it. Only when we lovingly share our good spiritual gifts with others can they be insulated from the dangers and temptations of the world.   Only then can they grow and flourish in the spring and one day share their own spiritual truths to insulate others.

Romans 15:1 & 2 “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Daily Injections

A few years ago I struggled with a bout of pneumonia. After the doctor listened to my lungs and looked at the x-rays, he prescribed a potent antibiotic to combat the bacteria in my lungs. For a time I felt better; I had more energy,breathed easier, and had no fever. But soon the bacteria proved to be stronger than the antibiotics, and I headed back to the doctor’s office. He explained that some strains of bacteria are especially antibiotic resistant, so I had two options: one, hospitalization, or two, daily injections of a powerful antibiotic. I chose option two. Every day for two weeks I drove to the doctor’s office for my injections. At first I noticed no difference. I was just as tired as before and still had several degrees of fever. Finally, after four or five days, I felt a little better; my temperature was near normal and I breathed much easier. By the end of two weeks my fever was gone and I felt more energetic. After the injections my doctor prescribed another antibiotic to help my weakened body continue fighting the infection.

Within a few months I experienced a new-found energy and sense of wellness. After that illness I am much more conscious of providing energy and infection-resistance to my body by eating right, exercising, and getting proper rest. None of these guarantees freedom from illness, but my healthier body is better prepared to fight any future infections.

This experience also taught me a lesson about my spiritual health. Satan is like bacteria that destroys my spiritual health. He looks for weaknesses so he can attack and weaken my spirit. A constant battle against the forces of darkness rages in the world. Just as I try to keep my body healthy to prevent another infection, so must I keep my spirit healthy to ward off an attack by Satan’s bacteria. Consuming a steady, healthy diet of spiritual food fills my soul with the word of God. Praying to my creator exercises my spiritual muscles. Resting in Him and listening for His voice guides my spirit. I need the spiritual equivalent of a daily injection, for Satan is a potent adversary. 1 John 4:4 gives me assurance of this antibiotic against Satan: "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them [spirits not from God], because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." As long as I "inject Christ" into my life, Satan’s attacks will be controlled and repelled. The medicine is freely available to help me combat all spiritual illness; all I have to do is take it.

Father, thank you for not leaving me defenseless against Satan’s attacks. Thank you that your medicine is stronger; help me to faithfully take my daily injection.

Ephesians 6:12 "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Sycamore

The old sycamore leans precariously over the creek, its top branches reaching far across to the other side of the meandering four-foot-wide stream. The root system, partially exposed, clings tenaciously to the bank of the stream, like fingers clawing into the soil, desperate for a hold in the earth, lest the white-barked tree topple. The gnarled finger-like roots reach deep into the soil, drawing up water. The life-giving water courses through the tree’s circulatory system, sustaining its vigor.

Like the tree, all living organisms require water for life. Without it, plants quickly shrivel and turn brown. Humans require water every day to stay healthy. Dehydration causes a wide range of problems, from dry, cracked skin to hallucinations and seizures. Without water, a human will die in a matter of days.

Jesus said, “I am the living water.” Of course, He referred to spiritual water, not physical. What happens to our souls when they don’t receive frequent spiritual nourishment? Without God’s living water, we perceive the world through earthly eyes. Our connections with God shrivel and the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, no longer thrive. In order to thrive spiritually, we must, like the gnarled roots of the old sycamore tree, cling to the spirit that nourishes our souls, drawing deeply from God’s living water.

Father, give me a thirst for your living water and teach me to drink deeply, and often.

Jeremiah 17:8 “He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Friday, November 11, 2011

So Many Souls

One Sunday morning the members of my Sunday school class went prayer walking.  Several small groups walked the nearby neighborhoods.  Some stopped at each intersection to pray aloud together.  My group walked silently, praying as we went. 

 As my two partners and I walked our route, for me the recurring thought was “so many souls.”  I wondered:  how happy are the people in these homes?  Many, I’m sure are content.  Many have a relationship with God and a church home.  But how many souls are hurting, struggling to survive without God?  How many suffer from shattered marriages?  How many fill the spiritual void with drugs and alcohol?  How many appear happy on the outside but are miserable on the inside?  How many struggle with physical ailments or watch loved ones suffer with health problems?  I wonder how many souls along our walk lack the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  How many carry burdens that Jesus would gladly shoulder?  How many desperately need the peace that only He can provide?

 When we walked, we saw evidence of children living in this neighborhood:  Swing sets, bicycles, and basketball goals.  I wondered about the children.  Are these children learning about our loving God?  Do they know about His awesome power and amazing love?  Are they growing up in homes with loving, Christian parents who teach them about Jesus and model Christian behavior?

 While we walked, God opened my eyes and let me glimpse what He must see in the neighborhoods.  He doesn’t see fine homes, new cars, or stylish clothing.  He sees deep into our souls.  He sees pain and disappointment.  He sees spiritual hunger.  He sees souls lost without Him.

 We who know Christ have a responsibility to pray for those who do not.  We may not know the conditions of their souls, but that should not prevent us from praying.  There are so many souls in our neighborhoods who have not accepted the saving grace of our Lord—so many who need His peace and joy. 

 Thank you God for this glimpse into the souls who are lost and hurting.  May they develop a thirst for You.  Lord, there are so many souls; keep them on my heart and keep me praying for them—so many souls, Lord, so many souls.

Matthew 9:37-38 “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’”

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tapping Along

After two months of participating in tap classes, I’m still loving them. For me, everything about the experience is positive. I meet new friends, get some exercise, and challenge myself to learn something new. At times, I must admit, I find my head spinning with so many new steps and terms: shuffle, flap, buffalo, brush, dig, riff, and many more. And then, when I add the arms, which are doing something entirely different from my feet, it’s like patting my head and rubbing my tummy at the same time. Whew! The mental work is more difficult than the physical. For me, it then becomes necessary to stop and think for a moment in order to learn a new series of steps or add arms. Once those brain connections are made, I can let my brain remind my muscles what to do and I can dance. Even though I’m sometimes frustrated when I struggle to learn a new combination of steps, I’m so glad I chose to take tap classes and challenge myself both physically and intellectually.

While I’m enjoying the challenges from my tap classes, I’m wondering about challenging myself in another area of life. What do I consciously do to challenge myself spiritually? Sometimes I’m so busy with life and getting physically and intellectually fit that I neglect my spiritual fitness. Just as with other types of fitness, I must challenge myself spiritually and not be content with the status quo. Just remembering past times of spiritual growth isn’t enough. I must look for ways to continually stretch my spirit by learning new steps: A new Bible study here, more quiet time there, a different viewpoint to ponder, and a challenging sermon. All these and more can stretch my spirit to learn new steps and new combinations of steps so my spirit can tap in time with my Creator. Once the brain connections are made, I’ve hidden His word in my heart and can allow God to be my life’s choreographer, guiding my every step.

Father God, help me to be more diligent in my spiritual growth than I am with physical and intellectual growth. Keep my spirit tapping Lord, keep it tapping.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What Should I Give?

As I prayed and pondered over what I should give to the church, I searched the scriptures for the things God has given me.

Before my own mother even knew me, He knit me together in the secret darkness of her womb.  He gave me life.  Whatever talents or skills I may possess are gift from God.  When I work with my hands, the strength and co-ordination given by God allow me to complete my task.  When I use my mind, God-given intelligence enables me to think.  Although I sometimes wish for different abilities, different looks, or a different voice, I am a creation of God’s, made exactly as He wants me to be.  He gives me my unique identity.

He gives me protection.  He hasn’t promised a life without troubles, but He has promised to protect me and provide a place of refuge when the storms of life blow.  I have experienced, and will again experience, grief, sorrow, despair, difficulties, confusion, and fatigue.  But God has promised protection and refuge.  He has given me a safe harbor from storms; all I have to do is seek that refuge, go to that harbor.

He is the source of all wisdom and love.  Whenever someone gives me wise advice, that wisdom comes from God.  Whenever I don’t know which way to turn or what I should do next, I ask for His wisdom, for He gives it liberally.  When others act in a loving manner, this is a gift from God, for God is love.  When I am able to do a loving deed for someone else, it is God’s gift of love in me that enables me to act lovingly.     
This wise, loving God has given me the ultimate gift:  He gave His only Son, Jesus.  He sent Him away from His heavenly home to live on earth.  He allowed man to nail His only Son on a tree, for me.  He allowed His beloved Son to suffer and die, to take the punishment for my sins, so that I could be pure, spotless, and sinless.  He gave this gift to me so that I, too, could one day live with Him in this heavenly home.

What, then should I give? Everything I have. Everything I am.                                 

Matthew 10: 8b “Freely you have received, freely give.”

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Walking the Nature Trails

The path opens to a clearing larger than a football field.  Waist high brome grasses sway slightly in a gentle waltz with the nearly imperceptible breeze.  Nearby branches of the trees merely watch the waltz, too heavily laden with yellow-green hedge apples to dance.  On the far side of the field lies a painter’s palette of trees, just beginning to show their colors—green, yellow, orange, brown, and rust, accented by splashes of bright red sumac and strong, dark, tree trunks.  Wildflowers once stood in this field.  Three and four foot high dried stalks now cover the meadow, their seed heads white and full, ready to release millions of umbrella ribs to flower another field.

Eager to get to the bridge and the swollen stream, I risk a quick crossing of the muddy path.  My right foot sinks three inches into the soft black ooze, but I make it safely to the bridge.  The recent rain has forced the creek out of its bed.  Noisily it rushes through unfamiliar territory, over its former banks and around tree trunks, its strength rippling the mud-brown water, carrying foamy bubbles downstream.  The rushing water rocks the dying trees, tipping them on their sides from the water’s force, but their roots hold firm against its assault.  One tree reaches toward the flood, its green and yellow leaves bending toward the water like a girl bending over to wash her hair. 

A man in a bright orange shirt jogs by on the muddy path, his leashed German shepherd loping at his side.  For a moment, I think how alone and vulnerable I am.  But the rushing water quickly lulls me back to my peaceful reverie.  The surface ripples, like a cat flexing the muscles on its back.  Walking to the far side of the bridge, not watching where I am going, I step in the mud again and my foot slips, nearly dumping me on my backside.  Perhaps it is time to head for home?  Reluctantly, I amble across the bridge, promising myself to return soon.

As I walk home, I realize how seldom I take advantage of these nature walks a mere quarter mile from my home.  The peace, beauty, and serenity of God’s handiwork lie just outside my front door to enjoy whenever I choose.  How seldom I choose! 

Lord, forgive me for those many times that my nearsighted eyes fail to see Your grandeur.  Open my eyes to behold Your glory.

Amos 5:4b “Seek me and live.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Be Nice to Your Brother

When my two oldest grandsons were younger, they loved to torment one another: A poke here, a kick there, and a headlock for good measure. While they spent some time at my house, I had a mantra for them, “Be nice to your brother.” That helped them remember to be kinder… most of the time. Today they’ve outgrown that stage and are very close even though they occasionally give one another an “affectionate” poke or kick.

We adults generally don’t torment one another with kicks, pokes, or headlocks. We use something much more harmful: words. An unkind word here, a sarcastic tone there, and some backbiting gossip for good measure. Sometimes our human nature asserts itself and we just aren’t too nice to one another.

When the Pharisees questioned Jesus about which commandments were the greatest, He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37 &38 NIV). I’m sure every one of us is guilty of those verbal pokes and kicks to our neighbors and to our spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ. Fortunately for us, Jesus will forgive us. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  With His assistance we can follow the second greatest commandment and love one another.

Lord, forgive my unkind pokes and teach me how to be nice to my brothers.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


None of us likes to be interrupted.  From a young age, we tell our children, “Not now. I’m talking. It’s not polite to interrupt.” Children, of course, are persistent, tapping the parent on the shoulder until the child has Mom or Dad’s full attention. These interruptions try the parents’ patience, but eventually the child learns not to interrupt.

When Jesus walked on this earth, He was the master of interruptions. He saw society shunning the poor and the ill. He interrupted with compassion and healing. He saw people burdened by an oppressive Roman government. He interrupted their oppression with hope. He saw religious leaders consumed with the letter of the endless list of laws. He interrupted legalism with grace. He saw His people burdened with sin and hungry for righteousness. He interrupted their burdens by bearing them on the cross.

Even though Jesus, the man, doesn’t walk this earth today, Jesus, our Savior, continues to interrupt. He’s tapping on our shoulders, trying to get our attention. He wants us to see the needs of the poor, the ill, and the oppressed. He wants us to open our eyes to legalism, and the pressing need for grace. Tap, tap, tap. Will we allow our lives to be interrupted? How and when will we respond to His insistent tapping on our shoulders?

Luke 14:13 "But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Caring for the Caretaker

For ten years my mother suffered from dementia. Until the last three months of her life, my dad was her primary caretaker. At the age of 80, he learned to cook, since she couldn’t any more. As her mind slipped, he gradually took on more and more roles. He dressed her, fed her, cooked her meals and kept their house clean. My role became one of caring for the caretaker. Every Saturday I went to their house, cooked several main dishes, gave Dad some cooking lessons, helped dress and feed mom, helped with their grocery shopping, and provided dad some emotional support. During the week our phone calls became more and more frequent, as dad simply needed to talk with someone. He needed care so he could care for her.

We all understand how crucial it is for caretakers to take care of themselves. If they don’t, who will care for the one who is ill?

In our society, the church is the caretaker for the community. For people’s physical needs, the church gives money and time to assist those struggling, often providing food and clothing. But even more important than providing people’s physical needs is caring for the spiritual needs of the community. If the church doesn’t do that, who will? It is crucial that we take care of our spiritual needs so that we can be caretakers of others. If we don’t routinely examine our own lives, taking our sins to the throne of God for forgiveness, how can we care for others? If we don’t spend regular quiet time in Bible study and prayer, how can we share the good news with those who hunger for it? During difficult times, it’s even more important to care for our own spiritual lives. In Nahum 1:7a, we read, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” It’s only when we place our trust in God and let Him care for us that we can be effective caretakers of others.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Stepping Out

This morning I attended my first ever tap dancing class. Part of me was excited to try something new, and part of me didn’t want to try for fear of looking foolish. Fortunately for me, I have a friend in the class who encouraged me to come and helped me focus on the positives: the great exercise, the brain challenge in trying something new, and the socialization. By focusing on the positives, I gathered my courage, attended the class, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, fears—of looking foolish and of the unknown—often keep people from trying something new. We get comfortable in our routines and doing what we’ve always done. Knowing what to expect feels good and we settle into our everyday lives. Going on auto-pilot is easier than stretching our brains to try something new or do something old in a new way.

Occasionally, life forces us to try new things: once a child is born, life changes; losing a job forces us to learn new skills; changing health makes us adapt the way we’ve always done things. Those forced changes can jar us out of our ruts and enable us to use talents we never knew we had. When our minister retires, the church is jarred out of its routines. What we have always known has changed, and we are forced to see life differently.

In Philippians 4:8, the Bible encourages us to focus on what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. Instead, we tend to worry: what will happen to our church when our new minister comes? What will this person be like? What kind of new leadership will we have? Looking to scripture, we might think differently: What new skills might this minister encourage? How will I be challenged by a different person? How will God use a new minister to glorify Him through our church? Perhaps it’s time to abandon the worries and step out to embrace the admirable and excellent qualities in the new.

Philipians 4:8 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fields of Grace

During my morning walk on the nature trails, a song kept running through my head: “Dancing with my Father God in fields of praise.” But my mind changed “praise” to “grace.” Over and over I heard those words in my head: “Dancing with my Father God in fields of grace.” My feet kept the rhythm as I walked and contemplated those words. “Grace” quickly moved to the forefront of my thoughts. My grandmother, named Grace, lived graciously. My mother, also named Grace, was a gracious hostess who loved a house full of company. My name, Nancy, means “full of grace,” my cousin named her daughter Grace, and one of my granddaughters is Emma Grace. Grace has become a family name.

The song, of course, refers to a different kind of grace, the grace of God who is willing to forgive all us sinners and allow us access to His throne room. Only through His grace will we be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. The idea of dancing in fields of grace is so joyous and freeing. Can you imagine dancing for joy in God’s presence?

As I continue walking, the words sink home. Isn’t the church our field of grace? None of us is perfect. We all desperately need God’s grace. The church is merely a family of people who’ve accepted God’s grace. But it’s more than that. It’s a family of people who extend God’s grace to others and to each other. Let’s be sure that “grace” is a family name in our church. Just as we’ve received God’s grace, let us all freely extend grace to one another and dance together joyfully with our Father God.

I Timothy 1:14 “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Leafy Canopy

During these hot summer months my time walking has been spent in the nearby Pawnee Prairie nature trails. These trails meander from Kellogg to Pawnee and from Maize to Tyler. Depending on the day and my mood, I can travel through grasslands, through cedar forests, deciduous woods, or along the banks of the Cowskin Creek. My walking time gives me great exercise, a wonderful view, and an opportunity to clear my mind and come to that still, quiet place where I can talk with and listen to God.

Lately, I’ve chosen the trails that wander through the woods, where the overarching branches of the walnut, cottonwood, ash, and other trees provide a leafy canopy that protects me from the worst of the sun’s heat. Under this green canopy I find protection from the sun and enjoy temperatures ten to fifteen degrees cooler than the sunnier pathways.

As I walk, I listen for the telltale breaking of twigs or crashing through the underbrush that signals me to look for deer. (Earlier this week I saw five deer grazing, including two fawns with white spots still dotting their tawny coats!) As I walked on Monday, I heard a different sound, one I hadn’t heard before. At first I couldn’t place it, but then reality slowly dawned: I was hearing raindrops pattering on the leaves over my head. The rain was light and the leafy canopy caught all the drops; I didn’t feel one. All the green over my head protected me from both sun and rain. My protection wasn’t complete, of course. I was still hot on my walk and if it had rained harder, I certainly would have been soaked.

As I continued my walk, listening to the rain pattering overhead, I thought about God’s protection. He protects and shields us from the storms of life, but He doesn’t promise to remove them. Like a leafy canopy, He deflects the heat of life’s difficult moments and shelters us from life’s storms. But, just as I choose to walk in the shade on hot days, we also have choices. We can seek God’s refuge when life gets hot or stormy, or we can walk in the open, on our own. Which path will you choose?

Isaiah 25:4 “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


As I’m outdoors watering my flowers, a ray of sunlight catches my left hand, and the light reflects off my wedding rings. I pause a moment and turn my hand back and forth, watching the colors of the reflected light. Depending on which way I turn my wrist and which facet shines back the sun’s light, I see different colors: warm orange, bright red, cool blue and green, bright yellow, deep lavender, and bright-as-the-sun white.
I’m amazed at the beauty of all these colors reflecting off a gem far smaller than the nail on my pinkie finger. When I think about how the diamond was formed—carbon buried far below the earth’s surface exposed to tremendous heat and pressure—I’m even more amazed. How God can take a common element and craft a precious stone that endures and provides such beauty is beyond my understanding. Once the diamonds are mined from the earth, trained professionals shape them, cutting all the different facets that allow the small stone to reflect the colors of the rainbow.

I don’t understand the physics behind all the different facets on a diamond reflecting brilliant colors. But I do understand this is something precious, something to appreciate and enjoy.

I finish watering my flowers and go back into the house. I think about the differing reflections off the facets on my diamond. Isn’t this how God works in the lives of believers? God is so complex, so multi-faceted, that none of us can fathom everything about Him. Yet we each have God’s light shining into our lives, and we reflect that light back for others to see.

One person may understand a degree of God’s love and reflect God’s warm glow to others. Another person may allow God’s joy to shine brightly in His life. Some reflect compassion or faithfulness. Looking within the church, one can see a rainbow of colors reflecting God’s light. All reflect His light, even though the colors may differ. Just like ordinary carbon eventually becomes a diamond, so ordinary people willing to follow their Savior reflect His glory. Only when those ordinary people allow God to form their character do the various reflections on our multi-faceted God come together. Only with God’s help can so many different people with differing ideas learn to reflect God’s glory in unison, sparkling like a precious diamond for the world to see.

I Corinthians 12: 4-6 "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Watching the Lava

Several years ago my husband Scott and I flew to Hawaii for our niece’s wedding. While there Steve, Blossom, Scott and I spent a couple of days on the big island of Hawaii. One afternoon we visited an area that had recently been covered by a lava flow. Since the lava was now cool, we walked on the hardened lava to the newly formed beach, several hundred yards farther into the ocean than the previous beach. The lava, hard, crusty, and smooth, undulated in small, rolling hills. When we reached that beach, I was startled to see black sand. I thought it would take hundreds of years to erode the lava to create this black sand, but one of the local men informed me how the sandy beach actually had been formed. When the extremely hot, molten lava poured off the land into the much cooler ocean, the extreme difference in temperature caused the lava to explode, instantly creating black sand. 

Eager to see a current lava flow, we inquired about the feasibility of viewing the lava. The breezes blew landward during the day, creating caustic clouds, unsafe to breathe, so we couldn’t go then. We could, however, view the lava flow at night, when the breezes blew seaward. That evening, we drove 20 miles on a curving road far from any habitation. When we reached the barricade, we pulled over and climbed of the car. The soft glow of billions of stars dotting the inky sky provided the only light on this pitch black night.
Flashlights in hand, we walked down the road, and then carefully picked our way along a narrow, rocky path. Small groups of people, all with flashlights lit, stared the same direction. After walking a couple hundred yards, we perched on a large rock, turned off the flashlight, and looked for the lava flow. Across a small bay, about a quarter of a mile away, we saw it. It was absolutely breathtaking. Contrasting with the dark water, a red-orange glow illuminated the land behind it. As the molten lava spilled into the sea, a huge steam-cloud rose into the night sky and drifted slowly over the Pacific Ocean. By watching carefully, we saw the waves crashing against the flow of the lava. We sat spellbound for over an hour, staring at the magnificent sight. Then, in the silence of the still, quiet night, Steve began to sing: Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made….

What a perfect song for the moment, for we beheld the beauty of the worlds His hands have made. Only the brilliance of the starlight and the red-orange glow of the lava broke the darkness. We watched as God created new land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We imagined the new black sand beach being formed by His hand. The beauty and power of our God left us amazed and humbled. Here we sat on a rock, miles from civilization, watching a tiny sliver of His creative power. I see the stars; I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Oh God, keep us ever mindful of how great Thou art!

Deuteronomy 10:21 “He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Will It Ever End?

This summer has been extremely brutal. The 100 degree temperatures started in June. Nearly every day in July was scorching. My yard has turned to a crunchy brownish-yellow, the top three inches of my hedges are brown and scorched from the sun’s merciless heat, large cracks criss-cross the backyard, and even my native Kansas wildflowers wilt in this oppressive weather.
Stepping just outside the front door, I am immediately drenched in sweat. Even in the house, when I am not working, my body sweats. Getting into the car has been an adventure. The steering wheel is so hot I can barely touch it, and I dare not touch the metal on the end of the seatbelt.

The heat—endless days of 100, 105, 108, and even 111—seems as if it will never end. Will I ever stop sweating? Will the rivers ever run full again? Will the gardens ever flourish again? Will this extremely hot summer never end?

But this week finally brings a promise of fall and cooler weather. I awaken to the sound of thunder and rain drumming on the roof. I open the front door and breathe in cool, fresh air. Yes! This summer’s heat will end. Yes! Cooler weather will come. Why did I ever doubt?

How easy it is for mankind to doubt and complain. Thousands of years ago the Israelites loved to doubt and complain. They had God in the form of a cloud and a pillar of fire to guide them. They had manna fall out of the sky to feed them. Their God had parted the Red Sea to enable them to escape Egypt. But they doubted; they complained.

And in this modern day, whenever the weather stays hot or life gets tough, what do I do? I doubt. I complain. What do I have to complain about? Why do I doubt? I serve an ever faithful God. I need to take my mind off the summer heat, take my mind off life’s trials and focus on God and His promises. Psalm 145:13b-16 NIV The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

Lord, forgive my doubting and complaining. Give me instead a spirit of rejoicing in Your faithfulness.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Dry and Thirsty Land

This summer’s heat has been brutal. Even before summer officially began we had temperatures in the 100s, rare for June. In July the heat was oppressive, often reaching above 105. Hearing 108 degrees on the weather forecast became routine, and the actual temperature reached 111 three times. The number of days we’ve reached 100 degrees or more this year is now at 41. Even in our air-conditioned homes we sweat. The heat in the closed up car can literally take one’s breath away.

With just a brief foray outdoors the effects of the heat is evident. Instead of a lush, green lawn, a yellowish brown covers the yard. “Crunchy” is not normally an adjective I’d use to describe my yard, but it is appropriate this summer. The hedges on the north side of my house have literally burned in the sun. The top two to three inches of these hedges are brown and brittle from the sun’s merciless heat.

Large cracks criss-cross the back yard and perennials wilt in the heat. Our tomato plants refuse to set fruit, even with diligent watering. Even the purple coneflowers, native to Kansas, and accustomed to hot summers, fail to flourish in the heat. Their flowers are small and the normally bright purple petals lack their usual brightness.

This morning I sleep in until 8, and wonder whether I should walk. I’m not so sure I can stand the oppressive heat. But when I look out the front door, I see gray cloud cover, a rare sight this summer. I open the door and feel cool, clean wind blow in my face. It feels so good! Immediately, I open windows and let the 74 degree freshness blow into the house. With excitement, I lace up my walking shoes and head outdoors.

Less than ¼ mile from home, I see the first raindrop before I feel others, cool and refreshing to my skin. Drops as large as half dollars dot the street. I scan the sky, looking for lightning. Seeing none, I decide to continue toward the nature trails for my hour-long walk, rejoicing in the clean, cool rain. The rain is sporadic and I’m sheltered by the trees in the nature preserve. With every step I take, I thank God for the refreshing rain and the cooler weather.

We had rain last week, too, a welcome respite from the heat, but the temperatures quickly climbed back to over 100 degrees. Walking on the trails, I see how the previous rain has affected the woods. Instead of brown grass growing alongside the path, green reaches toward the sky! How beautiful the bright green appears!

As I walk, I thank God for the refreshing rain, and ask His spirit to rain on our land. In many ways our people are as dry and thirsty as the Kansas prairie this hot summer. So many souls are dry and parched, thirsting for the living water of God’s spirit. But just as the dry, crunchy grass can once again sprout new, green leaves, so also can souls escape a spiritual dryness.

Rain on us, Lord, rain on us. Fill our souls full to overflowing with your love, mercy, and grace. Green us up, Lord, green us up.

Isaiah 44:3 “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Heat Wave!

This summer’s heat has been unbelievable! As I write this we’ve already had 38 days of 100 degree or hotter temperatures, with no relief in sight. Surprisingly, many of those 38 days have been 105 or hotter, even three days of 111! And we still have another seven weeks of summer. Even in air conditioned homes and cars, we sweat, praying for an end to the heat.
This morning I ventured outside to walk in the shade of the nature trails. Evidence of the heat-stressed outdoors surrounded me. Thousands of dry yellow leaves littered the sandy path. All around me, as usual, the grasses waved in the breeze. Rather than their usual forest green, however, the grass looked brown and brittle, as if it had already been bitten by autumn’s frost. As I reached the bridge over the Cowskin Creek, I saw how the heat has eaten up this little creek. I watched it flow silently and sluggishly, a mere third of its normal size.

Returning home, I ventured into our little garden. The heat has taken its toll here as well. Even though we soak the ground with water, the plants looked wilted and stressed. Tomato plants filled with blossoms refused to set on fruit in this heat. We hope for a fall harvest—when and if it ever cools enough for tomatoes to grow.

We’ve given up on watering the lawn, leaving it to go dormant. The grass crunched beneath my feet as I walked back to the house, praying the yard wouldn’t die. Large cracks break up the soil’s surface as it begs for water. I prayed for God’s mercy, for a respite from the heat, and for life-giving rain.

A scripture pops into my head: “If my people, who are called by my name…” I call myself a Christian, so I guess this verse speaks to me and to other believers. “…Will humble themselves and pray….” Hmm…this sounds to me like God is calling me proud. I have to think about his one. What are the ways I exhibit pride? I’d better quiz myself.

1. Do I…(sometimes, usually, always) rely on my own abilities rather than God? Guilty.

2. Do I…(sometimes, usually, always) think I’m better than those “sinners” out there? Ouch! Guilty.

3. Do I…(sometimes, usually, always) neglect my quiet time with God? Guilty.

4. Do I…(sometimes, usually, always) spend most of my prayer time talking to God rather than listening? Once again, guilty.

The verse continues “…and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways….” Typically, Christians don’t think of themselves as “wicked,” but it sure seems God is saying that about those of us who are “called by His name.” Thanks for opening my eyes, Lord, and help me spend more time in Your word and in prayer. Show me the path where you want me to walk.

Okay, how does the rest of the verse go? “Then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” II Chronicles 7:14. So, this is one of those if…then verses. If I become humble, seek God and pray to Him, He will hear my prayers, forgive my sins, and heal my land? Well, I know the land needs healing. It needs cooler temperatures and refreshing rain, for sure. And yes, I need healing as well. I need humility and forgiveness. I need the refreshing rain of God’s Spirit to fall on me and heal my soul.

Thank You, Father for your healing touch, on the land and in my life.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hiking Up Long's Peak

For years I’ve heard about Long’s Peak. The highest peak in the Colorado Rockies at 14,259 feet above sea level, it looks down on thousands of other peaks. Our son and oldest grandson have climbed to the summit of this majestic mountain. Tired but exhilarated after an all-day hike, they tell of the amazing view from the top. Today, Simeon, 12 ¾ years old, joins them in a hike up Long’s Peak, this time to the Keyhole, a seven mile hike ending near the summit.

His grandparents (my husband and I) overweight, out of shape flatlanders, decide to join in the adventure. We begin early in the morning at a trailhead 9,450 high, in already thin air. Within the first 100 yards, son and grandsons trek past us. We watch and catch our breath, observing their backs disappear around the bend. We won’t see them again until they hike back down.

We hike slowly, enjoying the view. We breathe deeply, enjoying the heavily pine-scented air and the trees towering far above us. The pleasant odor f decayed pine needles tell us why the soil beneath our feet is soft and spongy. The natural rocks and man-placed logs give us steps to climb…and climb…and climb. We stop frequently to catch our breath and enjoy the view.

Looking back the way we’ve come, we see a tell-tale yellow glow above a nearby peak, reflecting its light on the clouds scattered across the early morning sky. We wait. Our breathing slows. We snap photos. Our hearts no longer race. We watch the sun rise over the peak, and then hide itself behind the clouds.

We continue our climb, step after step after step. It seems we’re walking in a pine forest with no end. We wonder if we’ll ever step out of the forest and catch a view of Long’s Peak. With each step the air thins. At this point we are a little discouraged, for the scenery changes little, we are tired, and we aren’t sure how much farther we can hike. We stop more often, not wanting to overwork our hearts.

After another half hour or so, we hear a rushing in the distance. A stream! Our thoughts turn from our fatigue and doubts to the beauty of the roaring stream we hear in the distance. Now with each step we anticipate seeing the mountain stream, filled with last winter’s melted snow, and we eagerly hike up the path.

Before long we round a bend and see our reward. The stream, eight to ten feed wide, rushes down the mountainside, beating the boulders in its path, clear water flying high in the air, running down from Long’s Peak. We stop to rest and eat a snack to recharge our energy. After a rest, we continue our hike, climbing as far as our bodies will allow. Our hope is to hike above tree line.

How many times in life do we plod along, one step after another, focusing only on the difficulty of the path instead of the beauty all around us? How often do we become discouraged when we take our eyes off of our creator? God didn’t promise us and easy path, but He promised to walk it with us.

Philippians 4: 8-9 (NIV) “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Estes Park

I sit at the edge of the amphitheater where the rangers give their nightly talks. Early in the morning I’m the only one here. The sun has just risen above the mountains, and I stare at the expanse of beauty all around me. Everywhere I look, the majestic Rocky Mountains raise their granite peaks skyward. Even in July they glisten with a heavy winter’s snow fall. High above even the highest of the nearby peaks, Long’s Peak raises its humped back 14,259 feet into the bright blue sky, the tallest mountain in the Colorado Rockies. The Eastern face of Long’s Peak looks as if it has been sheared off like a butcher slicing a large piece from a gigantic roast.

My eye travels down just below the lofty peak to a long expanse of grassy tundra still dotted with snow in its ravines. Yet farther down, another, lower pine-covered peak reaches for the morning sun. Still lower, and much closer to the amphitheater, a long, pine-covered green ridge displays a smattering of the rusty brown color caused by voracious pine beetles destroying the tall trees.

Far below that ridge and about a quarter of a mile below where I sit lays the sun-drenched Fern Valley. At 6:30 in the morning, the sun bathes the flat green valley in a soft yellow glow. This valley spans the distance between Long’s Peak, the lower mountains, and Moraine Campground where I sit. The meandering path of the Fern River cuts through this verdant valley. This summer it rushes so rapidly I can hear its scurrying from my perch high above. Heavy snow melt hastens Fern River’s current and caused it to spill out of its banks, flooding large patches of meadow.

On the near side of the river, elk, 17 of them, graze on the green valley floor. Five of them seem to have eaten their fill, for they lie in the grass, enjoying the early morning sunshine. Others step slowly and gracefully across the meadow grasses, and then lower their heads, ready for breakfast.

I watch the elk grazing for a while and then close my eyes and breathe deeply, enjoying the early morning air. Distant rushing water, the echo of a crow’s caw resounding down the valley, and nearby bird call, “chitter, chitter, chitter” are all I hear in the morning stillness.

I open my eyes and drink deeply from the cup of beauty surrounding me. I breathe in the fresh, pine-scented air. Like the early morning, I’m still….I listen….And then I hear it…the silent shouting of nature all around me. “Glorify God, creator of all heaven and earth! Praise the great I Am! Praise His glorious name!”

I bask in the beauty for a few more moments and then head to our campsite, ready for a new day.

Isaiah 55:12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Labyrinth

The labyrinth mutely sits in the middle of the cedar forest. The space above the labyrinth, cleared of trees, provides a clear view of the bright blue sky, dappled with cotton ball clouds. The nearby water of a fountain continually rushes, creating a soothing, watery sound as it splashes to a pool three feet below. The white rocks lining the labyrinth gleam in the bright summer afternoon sun. If I were to step over the rock boundaries straight to the center of the labyrinth, I’d be there in a mere eight steps. I choose instead to follow the labyrinth’s circuitous path. Around and around I walk. My path grows closer to the center, and then it doubles back again, taking me toward the outside edges where I see a sign telling me that the center of this labyrinth represents God or perfection. As I walk in circles closer to, then farther from the center, God and perfection seem very elusive.
While I walk I reflect on how this labyrinth is like life’s walk. God, perfection, lies at the center of life. As I walk toward God and perfection, my path does not lead directly to Him. I curve, drawing near, then my spiritual path doubles back and I walk away from perfection; I walk away from God. As I meditate, I notice the rocks lining the pathways. Rough and rugged, their presence helps me find my way. None of them is extremely large; each is about the size of my hand.

I wonder about the person who placed these rocks in their concentric circles. Although each is small, carrying hundreds of them would be an enormous task! Walking back and forth, lifting, stooping to place each rock on its curved path, standing, lifting more rocks, bending again to place them, an arduous task indeed!

As I near the center of the labyrinth, I recognize the symbolism of the jagged rocks lining the pathway. Each represents my sins. As I walk toward the center of the labyrinth, toward perfection, toward God, I must drop the burdens of my sins. One by one Jesus forgives my sins, allowing me to drop their weight from my soul. As they thud into the dirt, Jesus reaches down with rough, worn hands. He picks up my sins, and places them in rows. These rocks are not placed to remind and judge me, no! They are placed to show me where to place my feet, where to walk next. As I drop my sins, thinking of the grace that allows their weight to fall from my soul guides me ever closer to God. Occasionally I turn around, but Jesus’ gentle reminder that my sin is forgiven and forgotten turns me once again toward my goal, walking toward God. The way isn’t straight, the way isn’t brief, but the way is provided. The way is Jesus.

Friday, July 1, 2011

What Would Jesus Do?

The birds’ singing gradually entered his conscious mind, brushing the last shadows of sleep away. He stretched and uttered a barely audible prayer: Thank you, Father, for a rejuvenating night’s sleep and cheerful wakeup music. Stretching again, he willed his body fully awake. Well, Father, what shall we accomplish today? There is much to be done; I wait on your leading for today’s tasks. After a moment he rose, dressed, and prepared and his simple, yet substantial breakfast. Thank you, Father, for this food. Thank you for the energy it provides my body, ample energy to work for your kingdom and do your will this day.

After breakfast, he walked to his workshop. In the hustle and bustle of the crowded city streets, he wove his way through the throng of humanity, careful not to jostle or push as he navigated the busy streets. While he walked he acknowledged each person, nodding and smiling as he caught someone’s eye. He prayed as He walked, Father, there is much pain in Samuel’s eyes today. Please heal his aching back and make him whole again. Sarah’s face is filled with heartache. Put your arms around her and let her know how very much you love her.

Just before he reached his carpenter’s shop, he stopped at the home of Naomi, David’s widow. How are you today Naomi? I’ve brought something for you and the children. This loaf ofbread and these olives are more than I can eat. I don’t want them to spoil. Won’t you do me a favor and share them with your children?

At last he reached his shop. Walking through the low doorway into the cool, dimly lit room, he inhaled the fragrance of cedar. Picking out the boards and tools he needed to make a table for Ezekiel, he walked out the back door into the courtyard and the bright light. Using his adze to smooth the edges of the wood, he found himself in a reverie from the repetitious, rhythmic work. Running his hand over the smooth wood, he basked in the beauty of its grain. Father, I’m so glad we made cedar trees. Their lovely scent is unlike any other. They provide homes for birds, small animals and insects. They provide beauty and shade for mankind. Now that they’re cut, these trees provide wood for beautiful furniture and a myriad of other useful items for people. How I enjoy working with the wood. It’s fascinating to watch whatever I’m making grow and change. What began as a living tree became rough cut wood that I can transform through the work of my hands into a useful, beautiful object. As it changes in my hands, I think about the people around me. Father, soon my time as shaper of wood will end, and my time as shaper of humans will begin. How ironic that the hammer that joins these pieces of wood will become the instrument to split my hands and feet. Yet I look forward to the completion of Your plan for the salvation of humankind. I gladly make the sacrifice to end separation from you, Father. You have given me the strength and skill to work with the wood, now as my time for ministry nears, give me the strength to finish my work here on earth.

Oh God, thank you for the obedience of Jesus and Your amazing grace in saving us. Guide our thoughts and actions that we too may obey Your every command.

John 14:31 “But the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Can You Hear Me Now?

Everyone is familiar with the mobile cellular phone advertisement. The gentleman walks to various places, asking, “Can you hear me now?” What if God were asking the question, “Can you hear me now?” rather than the man in the commercial?

Your life is great. You work in a satisfying job, making a good salary. You own a nice home, a new car, and have beautiful, smart, well behaved children. You have close friends and a full social life. When life is just perfect, do you hear God asking the question: “Can you hear me now?”

Later your business is not doing well. You get the dreaded pink slip. You’ve had an argument with your best friend who no longer speaks with you. Your children think they know more than you and rebel. You and your spouse don’t communicate the way you used to. Nobody seems to understand how you feel. Can you hear God’s question: “Can you hear me now?”
Your unemployment has run out. You may lose your home. You have been ill and fear it may be something serious. You have to sell your car. Your life seems totally out of control. Can you hear God’s voice: “Can you hear me now?”

When times are tough we listen. When everything is going wrong and we have no out control, we finally turn to God for guidance. Then we ask Him for help. Then we listen for His voice.

Yes, Father, we can hear you now. It’s not the connection that’s bad. We often fail to listen. Help us to listen more.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Thunderous Voice

The bible tells us that God speaks in a still, small voice. But sometimes when I enter a still, small state, His voice shouts and thunders: How can my people be so blind? How can you be so deaf? Open your eyes! Open your ears! My glory is all around you and you ignore it.

Look! Behold my glory in the sky: The brightness of the sun, the vastness of the blue dome overhead. The moon and the host of stars glow at night; all these reveal my glory. Open your eyes to see Me! The majestic, snow-topped mountains and the heaving waters of the oceans, their waves crashing against the shore, are all shouting out my greatness. The brilliant bolt of lightning electrifies the night sky. How can you not see Me? Look in the eyes of an infant, in the caress of a loved one. Look at your own skin and hair. My glory is everywhere. See it, and glorify my name!

Listen! Everywhere you hear testaments of my greatness: The rumbling thunder in the midst of a storm. The early morning songs of the birds and the rushing waters of a mountain stream proclaim My majesty. Listen! You will hear my voice. Listen to the laughter of a child. Listen to the wind in the trees. Listen to music: the piano, guitar, violin, and saxophone all sing of my glory. Hear the voices of those who love you. Listen to your heartbeat. Hear your breathing. All these provide testimonies of my greatness. Open your ears; glorify my name.

O my people, how can you be so blind? O people, how can you be so deaf? Open your eyes; open your ears. My glory resides all around you! See it. Hear it. After you finally see it and hear it, do not be mute. Tell others how great I am. Open your mouth and glorify Me.

Father, forgive me. Forgive me for the countless times I fail to notice your glory all around me. Forgive me for not listening for your voice. Keep my eyes and ears open that I may behold your glory. Let my mouth open in praise of my almighty God.

Job 37:2-5 “Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth. He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heavens and sends it to the ends of the earth. After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back. God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding”.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Seeing the Dawn

After an unusually difficult two months—several lingering illnesses that left me constantly fatigued, my father-in-law’s serious stroke, caring for my mother-in-law—I was feeling tired, stressed, and discouraged. Driving to work, I shed a few tears of self- pity. As I turned to the east, a gorgeous sunrise greeted me. The thin clouds created a golden pink wash against a pale blue sky. Nearer were several larger, thicker clouds. The light behind them, made them appear black.

“Thank you, God,” I whispered, “for the gift of a beautiful sunrise.”

“The darker clouds”, God whispered to my heart, “represent your trials, troubles, and fatigue, tiny compared to the splendor around them. In the midst of your trials I am all around you, surrounding you with my light and my glory—loving you through the hard times.”

As I continued to drive, the sun rose higher, casting its light on the darker clouds in the foreground, turning them a brilliant pink, far brighter than the clouds in the background. “This too shall pass,” the Lord whispered in my heart. “Brighter days are ahead.”

God is with us, through good times and bad. We only need to open our eyes to see him.

Psalm 30:5b “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

My Boat Has Sprung a Leak

Oh Lord, help me—my boat has sprung a leak!

The hole is very small, but the water trickles in.

My bucket scrapes the bottom, scoops the water it can get,

But still the water trickles in; my feet are getting wet!

Oh Lord, help me—my boat has sprung a leak!

The hole has gotten bigger and the water bubbles in.

I fill my bucket full and toss the water overboard.

But still the water bubbles in; my arms now grow like lead.

Oh Lord, help me—my boat has sprung a leak!

I’m bailing and I’m bailing, but the water gushes in.

It’s about to swamp my boat and my back is awfully sore.

Truly I don’t think that I can do this anymore.

Oh Lord, help me—my boat has sprung a leak!

I’m weary from the bailing, and I’m far too weak to swim.

The water churns around me and it takes away my breath.

How do I save myself from certain drowning death?

“Yes, child, I’ll help you—I know about the leak.

I‘ve listened to your prayers, and I know the plight you’re in.

Rest now from your labors; trust Me unconditionally.

You cannot save yourself; salvation comes from Me.”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Growth

I love springtime! Overnight the world changes from dull, dry, and dead to colorful, vibrant, and alive. The trees, which stretched their bare arms heavenward all winter, are blessed with a pale green blush. The Bradford pear tree in the front yard nods its white, blooming head gently in the spring breezes. Yesterday, the grass was brittle and brown. Today it is soft and green. Even the dandelions (which Scott so diligently tried to exterminate last summer) look beautiful nestled in their greenery.

How exciting it is to examine new growth in the gardens! The phlox, low to the ground, carpets the yard with purple. The huge forsythia bushes glow a vivid yellow beside our gray house. Everywhere signs of new life abound. The greenery of snapdragons, daisies, hostas, bee balm, and yarrow all promise future blooms. The clematis vines, recently just dead sticks, sprout new growth at every intersection; some are already three feet long, loaded with buds. Dozens of purple cone flower plants already climb several inches high, assuring a future of beautiful flowers for us and nectar for bees and butterflies to enjoy. Spring is such an exciting time as the perennials burst forth with new life and a promise for beautiful, fragrant summertime blooms.

Do you feel that sense of new growth and springtime revival in your soul? Deep within our hearts we recognize a spirit of growth, its green tendrils growing ever closer to God, seeking His face. The palest green blush of revival is evident in us as we stretch our arms heavenward. While we work, pray, and seek God’s guidance, we can almost feel the buds of future flowers forming on the green plants of our spirits. We eagerly anticipate the new blooms, filling our lives with God’s beautiful purpose and the fragrance of His sweet spirit.

Oh God, our master gardener, nurture the garden of our souls. Eradicate the weeds of doubt, dissention, and fatigue. Enable our garden to bring forth lovely blooms infused with heavenly fragrance, and receive all the praise and glory for the sweet beauty of the heavenly garden of our souls.

John 1:1, 4 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener….Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Glimpses of His Glory

Early in the morning before the phone starts ringing and the demands of the day begin pressing all around, I love to curl up in my favorite glider rocker and just think. Pre-dawn darkness covers everything, but a soft light gradually steals into the room. The house is quiet, not yet fully awake. With my back to the lace-covered bay window, I gaze out the sliding glass window to the south. The branches of the mulberry trees arch toward earth, heavy with their fruit. A bright red cardinal hops from one branch to another, calling to his mate. A small, sky- blue birdhouse, its door flanked by two birch twigs, hangs from the mulberry tree. A tiny wren flits about, and then dives into the miniature house. The potted plants on the patio steps provide a splash of color: red, trailing geraniums, brilliant against the white pots. Arching asparagus ferns reach toward the patio. Bright yellow moss roses, a hint of red at their centers, peek from beneath the greenery. My cat Tigger prowls, seeking prey. The birds chatter and chastise him, but they need not fear. He is too fat to catch them.

As I sit, still and quiet, contemplating the early morning peace and the beauty of nature, I sense the presence of God. It is in this setting, when I sit quietly and let my mind wander, that I can hear God’s still, quiet voice speaking to me. In this calm, contemplative state, I open my heart to hear His voice. In the quiet, before my mind races with obligations and responsibilities, I watch. I listen. He responds. He makes His presence known.

Some mornings I meditate on His greatness. Other mornings I listen to worshipful music. As the beautiful notes wash over my soul, and the words seep into my heart, they speak volumes of God’s power, majesty, and grandeur. When I open my Bible, God speaks to me through the written word. Passages I may never have noticed before nearly jump off the page. “Listen to My words,” God says to my heart. “These words are my special message, just for you, just for today’s circumstances.” As I ponder the words, I feel Him in the room, His love washing over my entire being. I cherish this time with God.

Too soon, it is time to scurry about and prepare for the busy day ahead. I would love to take these special moments with me and live in this state forever, but I know I cannot. Even though I wish I could, I am unable to have this lengthy quiet time on a daily basis. Too often, my quiet time with God is far too short. But I realize that He does not intend for me to live entirely on the mountaintop experiences of His love; He wants me to spend time in the valleys. For it is only in the valleys that I can share these experiences with others. It is only in the valleys that others can see God’s presence in me. It is only in the valleys that I can learn and grow. So I go about my everyday tasks, longing for insight into more of God’s grandeur. Someday I know I will see Him face to face; someday I will behold, in full, His glory; someday I will go to the mountaintop where I will bask in His presence for all eternity. In the meantime, I obediently walk in the valleys and try to stay content with occasional glimpses of His glory.

Lord of my life, thank you for the mountaintop experiences and for the walks in the valley. In your wisdom, allow each experience to mold me into your image.

Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Water from Christ's Side

Some of my favorite memories involve a stream near my childhood home. Allow me to take you there. The clear, pristine stream rushes, fed by winter’s heavy snows. Spray flies high, and then plummets home. Children hop from one rock to another, like a game of hopscotch. Their silvery laughter floats above the water. Downstream, boys skip rocks across a still pool. With a sidearm snap, rocks fly and skip, one, two, three, four times.
Adults enjoy water, too. Many like to swim, boat, ski, or fish. More than recreational, water is essential. After exercise, its iciness quenches. Splash it over your face to cool off on a sweltering day. Boiling water cooks our food. A steaming bath relaxes tense muscles. Water and soap keep us clean. Spill food on your shirt? Rinse it with water.

An anonymous medieval writer who penned “The Anima Christi” found a different use for water: Water from Christ’s side, wash out my stains. As Christ’s lifeless body hung from the cross, one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out (John 19:34 NKJ). The poet asks that this water wash his stains.

Picture Jesus walking toward you, his countenance loving, his manner firm, yet gentle. He carries a large basin, a pure white cloth draped over one arm. As He nears, you kneel, head down, filled with shame because you are stained. Wordlessly, He sets down His basin filled with water from his pierced side. He dips the cloth and oh, so gently, washes your first stain. He rinses the white cloth and cleans more stains: greed, pride, lust, selfishness, laziness, and self-righteousness. You lift your head and gaze into His eyes. Love, mingled with sorrow, gazes back. You rise cleansed, filled with joy and peace. He turns and leaves silently, knowing you will acquire new stains. But He will return to wash your stains, because he loves you more than life itself and his basin is always full.

Lord of my life, wash away every stain; make me clean.

Ezekiel 36:25a (NIV) “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Palm Sunday

One sleepless night not too long ago, I lay awake, imagining what it must have been like to watch a king enter the ancient city of Jerusalem.

I can still see it vividly in my mind’s eye. Before I can even glimpse the king, trumpets herald his arrival. Soon 40 soldiers enter the crowded city, each proudly straddling a high-stepping stallion. Eyes staring at the road ahead, the men ride ramrod straight, armor and weapons glinting in the sun. Between the two groups of mounted soldiers rolls an ornate carriage, resplendent with gold leaf. Four perfectly matched black stallions, crimson ribbons braided into their manes and tails, pull the carriage effortlessly. In that carriage sits the perfectly tailored king, his brocade coat trimmed in ermine. Rubies and emeralds adorn his fingers. The golden crown, encrusted with precious stones, reflects the bright sunlight. As he passes, the cheering throng bows low, each man hoping the king will scatter some coins his way.

How different was our King’s triumphal entry! No trumpets heralded his arrival. No soldiers, no horses came before Him. Instead of an elaborate entourage, He was accompanied by a few simple men, broad shouldered and tanned from hard, outdoor work. They walked alongside Him, wearing roughly woven clothes. Jesus sat astride a young donkey. He wore no gold nor gems, but only a simple cloak and sandals. Although Jesus had no coins to throw to the people, His intangible gifts were far more costly than gold. A slight smile played at the corners of His mouth, but the dark brown eyes filled with sorrow. In spite of His poverty and ordinary appearance, the people sensed something special about this man. They loudly cheered, “Hosanna, King of Kings!” and lay palm branches at His feet.

How quickly the cries of the crowd changed! A few short days later the cheers of “Hosanna” changed to jeers and shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Many of those who had proclaimed Him king now clamored for his death. Even his closest friends ran away and denied they even knew him.

How, I wonder, could these people change so quickly? How could they proclaim him king one day, and not even acknowledge his existence the next? As I sit quietly and think, I realize, with humility and shame, that I have done the very same thing. How many times do I go on my merry way, never acknowledging Christ as the king of my life, never seeking His divine guidance? How many times do I deny His existence by failing to speak out against injustice or not sharing His good news with another? If He is truly king of my life, why do I not get down on my knees every day and praise my spiritual king?

Jesus, king of my life, help me to bow in humble obedience and recognition of your lordship in my life.

John 12:14 “Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, ‘Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’”

Friday, April 8, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Today is the first day of my spring break. I look forward to leisurely mornings, a time to write, to work on some lesson plans, to visit with family, and, yes, to do some spring cleaning (Come to think of it, this doesn’t sound like much of a break, does it?). Even though spring cleaning involves work, I do enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. It’s a wonderful feeling to see a clean, organized house and to smell the freshness of a recently cleaned room. I enjoy taking a throw rug or bath mat out in the brisk spring air, grabbing it by the edges and shaking the dust out. With a quick jerk of the arms the rug snaps and the dust flies out. After repeatedly shaking and snapping the rug, it’s cleaned of the dust, and the pile stands up, making the rug look new again.

Just as I periodically need to shake out the rugs and spring clean my house, so I need to shake out my spirit and spring clean my soul. It’s easy to allow the mind to become cluttered and the dust of disuse to settle over my spirit. If I don’t take the time to meditate on God’s word, I allow the ideas of the world to clutter my mind. If I don’t spend time with others, studying and discussing how to apply God’s word, I allow the dust of apathy to coat my soul. Without this regular cleaning, my spirit can become lazy, indifferent, or self-righteous. When I accepted Christ and agreed to follow him, all the dirt and grime of my soul was washed away. But dust, unseen, floats into my heart, covering it with the grime of sin. I cannot become complacent with my soul; I must shake it out, snap it by the corners and keep it clean.

I can just picture God, sitting on high on his throne, commanding the dawn to pick up the earth at its edges and give it a good shake, just like I might snap that rug to shake all the dust out of it. The wickedness thrives, unseen, in the darkness, just as the dust hides deep in the nap of the rug. So sins lie, unseen by others, deep within the soul. But God sees into the dark recesses of all souls. He knows what dirty places lurk within. Only God can give the command to shake my soul clean.

Oh God, just as I love a clean house, so you love a clean heart. Create that clean heart in me, Lord; spring clean my spirit. Take my soul by the edges and shake the wickedness out of it.

Job 38:12&13 “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?”

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Rising Son

Early in the morning, in the pre-dawn gray light, I wander around the retreat center. As I meander past the ghostlike trees, my feet crunch in the gravel path. The wind sighing high above in the treetops provides an oasis of peace and quiet away from the noise and bustle of the city. While the day slumbers, my feet turn toward Vesper Lookout, the highest land in the area. Short of breath, I soon reach the top of the steep hill and gaze at the beauty all around me. Gently rolling hills dotted with cedars, sycamores, and burr oaks await the new day. Below my feet the buildings of the campground rest gray and colorless, waiting for the sunrise to bring them to light and life. A strong wind blows at the top of Vesper Lookout, whispering God’s name through the cedars at its crest. I turn and face a six foot tall wooden cross fashioned from tree trunks. The cross faces due east, facing the impending sunrise. I kneel at its base, humbly acknowledging my risen Savior, the creator of all this beauty. This is why I’ve climbed to the top of the hill, to view God’s glorious sunrise.
I turn and face the east. I wait…I watch, nearly holding my breath. Gradually the sky reflects the light approaching beyond the horizon. As I wait, the world around me changes, heralding the coming of the light. Gray fades, changing to light blue. Colors become more distinct, details pop out, and the birds sing “good morning” to a new day. Soft pale pink emerges in the sky, spreading from the east around my right to the southern sky. The golden grasses and brown-black tree tops bow low in the wind. I wait…I watch. Gradually the pink wash turns brighter and deeper, rejoicing in the coming of the sun. All around me the clouds turn a vivid pink. The eastern sky brightens, streaks of yellow shining through the clouds. The winds nearly shout, “The sun is coming! The sun is coming!” I wait with bated breath. At last it comes. A slice of the brilliant, bright red-orange sphere peeks over the horizon. The great ball of light rises above the horizon, illuminating a new day.

Just so the Son of God rose on a spiritually dark world. All of creation waited; all of creation held its breath, waiting for the wind of His spirit to blow across the land. The risen Son brought the brilliance of a new spiritual day. The light of salvation now shines for all to see.

Dear God, thank you for the risen light of your Son. Help me to reflect His light for others to see.

II Samuel 22:29 “You are my lamp, O LORD; the LORD turns my darkness into light.”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cleaning the Flower Beds

In last Saturday’s early morning fresh air, I cleaned the flower beds. First I tackled the tall purple coneflowers, whose seed heads had provided the birds with winter food. With my handheld, small shears, I quickly cut. Snip, snip, down they came.

Next came the yarrow: snip, snip, the old dried stalks were quickly removed. From there I moved to the bee balm, then the snapdragons and the daisies. Soon all the dead flower stalks from last summer were cut and removed. Once the dead stalks were gone, the new growth underneath became more visible. Over the next few days, all the tender new plants grew quickly, for they now received ample sunlight.

In the same way that I prune the dead stalks from my flower bed in the spring, I prune away the dead habits from my soul and make room for God’s Holy Spirit to grow and flourish. I take the shears to my independence and pride and cut them down, allowing God’s strength to grow from the roots of my weakness. Snip, snip, down goes the pride. Next, cut down time wasted in useless pursuits. Snip, snip, get rid of the wasted time and allow time for study of God’s holy word and quiet reflection of His greatness. Next, prune a complaining spirit and a willingness to gossip. Snip, snip, down go the negative words and thoughts, allowing God’s love for others to grow strong and vigorous in me. In the last flower bed a healthy crop of doubt and discouragement grows. Snip snip, cut down the doubt and discouragement, allowing faith in my awesome God to grow to a mighty tree.

Oh God, author of wisdom and truth, prune away my dead branches. Eliminate the old, useless vines so your new growth will flourish.

John 15:2 “He cuts off every branch in me that bears not fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Early Spring

As I sit on the brown, lifeless grass, its crispy blades crunch and break beneath my weight. High atop Vesper Hill I can see for miles in every direction, the surrounding gently rolling hills the same dun color as the grass where I sit. Dotted along the tan hillsides, dark green cedars raise their pointed heads skyward. The peaked ends of two white farm houses reveal man’s presence in this pristine world.

The breeze blows through the three-foot-high dried Bluestem grasses, bending and rustling them along its way. The cloudless sky stretches bright blue in every direction, a treat for eyes more accustomed to the gray, overcast skies of winter.

This peaceful setting soothes my harried soul. My heart slows from the frantic pace of the past week, its rhythm now more in tune with the occasional bird call and the soft rustling of the grass. It’s appropriate, somehow. Just four days ago we buried my father-in-law. Yes, he was old and had lived a long, good life. But it’s still hard to say goodbye. And the caring, for years, the waiting for death to release his body has been difficult. All the busy week of funeral plans and a house full of company have left my body tired, drained. Physically and emotionally drained.

The rustling grasses draw my focus back to where I sit. Right in front of me, so close I can reach out and touch its branches, sits a leafless plum bush. At first glance it seems lifeless. Looking closer, however, I notice red in the branches, and small buds growing all along its notches. New life and growth will soon unfurl on this bush.

I examine my own life’s winter. Frequently leafless and bare this past winter, I spent much joy-sapping energy watching my father-in-law’s health slowly decline until finally, after 91 years on this earth, he breathed his last. With a flurry of activity my family and I planned the funeral, prepared for guests, and buried Dad, high on a wind-swept hill much like this one.

But I know the life cycle continues. The plum bush will sprout new leaves and bear fruit, my body and soul will find rest and rejuvenation, and Dad, freed from his feeble earthly body, will live a glorious new life in heaven. The peaceful scene in front of me is appropriate for this difficult time in life. Finally, after a long winter of life, my father-in-law has passed to the spring of his new life.

It’s early march—Spring has not yet displayed her green finery or her bright splashes of flowering beauty. But Spring has sprung early this year for the beloved father recently buried. I look to the distant horizon, beyond the dried grass-covered hills, where the cars scurry, speeding off to some unknown destination and I’m grateful I know my father-in-law’s final destination. The cars hurry. I sit, enjoying the quiet, enjoying the solitude. I am at peace.

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Friday, March 18, 2011

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Great is Thy Faithfulness

The hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” keeps running through my head. Over and over I think of the “new mercies” God provides every morning, and I’m amazing at all the gifts His “hand hath provided.” What a wonderful God we serve.

This evening at 6:30 a van load of people from my church, including my husband, Scott, pulled out of our church parking lot headed for Matamoros, Mexico for a week long mission trip. I was supposed to be on that van with them. Unfortunately, I’m fighting a bug and am tired enough to know I would be of little service to them in Mexico. My service will be one of prayer. I can rest and pray. Envisioning them driving down the highway as the sun sets, I pray for clear vision on the road. Thinking of drivers’ eyes getting heavy with sleep, I pray. I pray with the full knowledge that God is, indeed faithful. He is faithful to bring our loved ones safely to their destination.

As I picture them arriving Saturday morning, weary from the all-night drive, I pray, claiming God’s faithfulness to His servants. He will provide them with energy for their tasks. When, in my mind’s eye I see the shining faces of Sophia, Antonio, Gilla, Rafaela, and other friends we met on last summer’s mission trip, I rejoice at God’s faithfulness to them, guiding and encouraging them in spite of difficult situations. I am so thankful He has brought our small group to join Him in his work in Matamoros. I pray that the work God intended for this group will be accomplished in His will.

Remembering our last trip to Matamoros, I see the eyes of the children, peering through the church windows, shining brightly as they played games, made crafts, heard stories, and sang songs. I thank God for His faithfulness to these young souls and I pray for their salvation. I pray they may live productive lives in service to their faithful God.

To my loved ones in Matamoros, both American and Mexican, may God give you great gifts as you minister. May He give you the courage to step forth in faithfulness. May He give you physical, emotional, and spiritual health and endurance. May you be a blessing to all you encounter, including the young men who visit the drug houses. May our faithful God protect you in all your travels, both in the car and in the church, neighborhood, the city and the mercado.

What a faithful God we serve. Thank you for stepping out in faith. Know that many loved ones back home are praying for you.

“The Lord’s compassions are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

Faith...Mightier Than the Wind

Wind: odorless, colorless, tasteless, yet we know it exists. Even though we cannot hold it in our hands, we feel it. We feel its gentle breezes cooling us in the heat of summer; we feel its icy blast stinging us in the chill of winter. Even though it has no voice, we hear it. We hear it rustling in the cottonwood trees; we hear it roaring across the plains. Even though it has no form, we see its effects. We see the grasses gently swaying and mighty oaks bowing low. In the mightiest wind we see telephone poles snapped, homes destroyed, and a beautiful church reduced to a pile of rubble. Yes, we know the power of the wind!

Faith: odorless, colorless, tasteless, yet we know it exists. Even though we cannot hold it in our hands, we feel it. We feel it in the depths of our hearts, knowing God will meet our every need; we feel it in the quiet confidence that we will live in His presence for eternity. Even though it has no voice, we hear it. We hear it on Sunday mornings proclaimed from the pulpit; we hear it in the quiet voices of prayer and in the reading of God’s holy word. Even though it has no form, we see its effects. We see the eyes of a trusting child holding her father’s hand; we see the peaceful countenance of our brothers and sisters who lean on God in times of need. We see improved relationships, changed lives, and a beautiful new church built to honor God. Yes, we know faith; we know faith is mightier than the wind.

Lord of my life, sometimes my faith wavers. Keep my faith strong, even when the winds of fortune blow against me.

Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wrestling Redemption

A student of mine is an extremely talented wrestler. As a freshman, he placed second in the Kansas state high school wrestling tournament. He was very pleased and proud of himself, and, like many young athletes, it went to his head. He became arrogant. During practice his sophomore year, he was unwilling to listen to his coach, thinking he could win on his own. He thought he was good enough that he no longer had to work hard in practice. He made poor choices in the wrestling room. Before he had a chance to qualify for the state tournament again, he made poor choices off the wrestling mat. As a result of these choices, he was no longer able to compete .He lost his dream of a state championship.
Missing a state tournament cost him dearly and gave him time to regret his poor choices. Fortunately, he got another chance. With a different attitude, he rejoined the wrestling team his junior year, willing to listen to the wise advice of his coach. He was not only willing to work hard in the wrestling room, but he voluntarily worked harder than anyone else. He easily qualified for state, winning his regional.

At state, he stayed focused on the goal of a championship and wrestled well, earning a spot in the finals. In his match for the state title, he was so dominant he pinned his opponent in the first period. His joy at winning the state championship was evident to the thousands of spectators who watched. Repeatedly, he jumped for joy, pumping his fists in the air. He ran to his coach, jumped up and hugged him. Then he ran to an unsuspecting cheerleader, grabbed her in a bear hug, picked her up and swung her around. He exhibited pure, unbridled joy!

The story of the wrestler enables us to better understand God’s redemption. Like the wrestler, we sometimes become arrogant. We think we can handle life by ourselves, instead of trusting God to give us the guidance to develop our God-given talents. Like the wrestler, we make poor choices in life. We refuse to listen to God’s word and instead do what seems right in the eyes of the world. The wrestler got another chance. He recognized his poor decisions and decided to change his ways, to work hard, and to listen to his coach. Fortunately for us, our God is a God of second chances. No matter what poor choices we’ve made, God is willing to give us another chance. If we are willing to recognize our poor decisions (our sins), and change our ways (repent of our sins), we are given another chance to learn from God, our Coach.

Once the wrestler changed his ways and achieved his goal, he was filled with inexpressible joy. When we repent and seek God’s guidance, He fills us with inexpressible joy. We may not jump up and down (some of us can’t!), but following Him can give us overflowing joy in our lives, no matter what the circumstances. Maybe when we get to heaven we’ll jump up and down for joy, then run, jump up and hug our Coach.

Father, spiritual coach, I am so grateful for your wise advice Thank you for giving me second chances.

 I John 1:9 (NIV) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”