Monday, July 30, 2012

If you're having one of those days, too



Our day here started with an emergency call to a plumber.

Then after not being able to reach my husband’s favorite bakery by phone for a couple of days, I went down to the shop and found they couldn’t provide a cake in time for his birthday due to their wedding schedule.

I’ve been having email server problems all week, and today when I checked my inbox, over eight thousand emails had downloaded into my box. And twelve thousand more are waiting to download. Really.

Did I mention the dog threw up twice this morning? And not on the new floor we had installed in the den so this kind of clean up would be easy, but on one of the two small rugs in the room.

So, we hoped we might just have to replace a part in our plumbing. But as it turns out, our fixtures were installed about the same time Noah built the Ark.

The plumbers are in there right now banging around in the crawl space, tearing out a wall in the bathroom, and putting in new copper pipe.  Can you say “Ching, Ching?”
New copper plumbing

All this made me think of a piece I never published which I wrote one winter day awhile back during a similar time when the road of a life was challenging and in a far more serious way.

Maybe your day’s not going well, either.  So here it is:

“I sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way to Atlanta on Sunday, a trip I’ve made countless times over the past few months, and one that is growing tiresome.

I scrolled across the radio dial looking for something to break the monotony. For awhile, I listened to a little of the Georgia State Women's basketball game. I don’t know anybody at Georgia State, I just like listening to sports on the radio when I'm alone in the car, doesn’t matter what kind. My husband finds this a mysterious behavior.

From there, I tuned to Alexander Scourby reading Exodus 17-19. The children of Israel were complaining, and Aaron and Hur helped Moses keep his hands high. Love that story, and Scourby reads in such a compelling way, I hated for him to quit. (Listen to another version here at Bible Gateway)

After that was over, I found A Prairie Home Companion just in time to hear Garrison Keillor sing, “The Plumber is the Man.”

Laughed hard. 

The plumber sure encouraged me on a day that was colder in more ways than just the temperature. He, Alexander Scourby, the children of Israel, and the Georgia State Women's basketball team helped me make it to Atlanta and back without falling asleep or rear ending anyone, praise God!”

Beloved speaker and author Barbara Johnson who tragically lost two sons in a nine year period once wrote, "Wherever Jesus is, there’s a party going on. His grace is the yeast that makes hope and joy rise in your heart…Developing my sense of humor and unwrapping grace daily helps me hang in there even when I don’t get the answers I want. With Jesus beside me, I’ve learned to read the funnies of life and leave the rest of the newspaper lie.”
So, today, once more the plumbers are saving us. When they get through, I’m telling them about the song, because they could need a laugh, too. And I might listen to it a few more times myself. I’m going to need something to do while my twelve thousand emails are downloading.  Maybe I’ll invite Alexander Scourby and the children of Israel over and we'll all have a big party.

Still gonna have to wait on that cake, though.

"...Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10).

Friday, July 27, 2012

In search of the Clapper Rail


“As the marsh hen builds her nest on the watery sod, I will build me a nest on the greatness of God.” –Sidney Lanier

Those of you who’ve read Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees know this quote by American poet Sidney Lanier plays a significant part in the theme development of the book.

I’ve seen the marsh hen—in reference books, during online research, and in my imagination. When I first began writing this story several years ago, I thought it’d only be a matter of time before I saw the marsh hen, the bird ornithologists call a Clapper Rail, in its native habitat.

But I was wrong.

The Clapper Rail is an elusive bird and even experienced watchers sometimes have trouble spotting one.

At times, the bird seemed almost a legend to me--something of nineteenth century lore, only remembered in the writings of Lanier, never to be seen again.

Every time I was in the salt-water marsh area, I’d scan the reeds, searching for any sign of it.  But in all these years, I’ve never even caught a glimpse of one.

This week while out biking, I decided to take a path which follows the marsh on one side. Beside it runs a little creek, which seems to run even at low tide. I stopped a moment beside it to rest in the shade from the intense heat, and caught sight of a bird emerging from the reeds. It walked a few feet, and then it saw me, skittered into the marsh, and disappeared.

Could it be? It had the hen like body, but I wasn’t sure about the beak. It’d all happened so fast, just a few seconds. The photograph I took of it could just have easily been a rabbit as a bird, the picture was so blurry.

Later in the week, I went out again—same path. I stopped where I’d been earlier and sat down, trying to be quiet. Again, I spotted what I thought might be the bird, but it vanished in a split second into the marsh.

Discouraged, I hopped on my bike and kept riding, searching, scanning, and hoping. But not a feather or beak of anything resembling a Clapper Rail.

I turned around and headed back. I surprised a Green Heron, which rose from the creek, and when I turned to see it, I saw not only the Heron, but also another bird preening in the reeds. I gently laid my bike down, grabbed my camera from my bike bag, and crept close. It never even saw me. Just kept grooming.

It was a Clapper Rail, and I had a front row seat.
Clapper Rail or Marsh Hen






I watched for a long time. And when I left, it was still there.

I told almost everyone I met that day about my spotting. Many who’d lived in the area a long time had never seen a Clapper Rail, or it’d been years since they’d spotted one.

I know for some, all this can seem about as interesting as watching paint dry, but for me it’s a real thrill. All this watching of birds isn't because I don't have anything else to do or because my life is free of concern. I don't know how to explain this, but when I take the time to really observe the wonders in this world, it brings healing to me, even if my heart might be breaking.

I think of a verse in “How Great thou Art”:

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great thou Art, how great thou art!

The amazing opportunity I had of seeing the Clapper Rail makes me want to praise God for his greatness. He could have given us a black and white world with a narrow mix of creatures. But he didn’t. On my chart of birds of the water and water’s edge just in this area, there are dozens and dozens.

Perhaps, you won’t see a Clapper Rail today, but all around you are wonders just as compelling. Take the time to observe what God has done and to praise Him. If you're walled in somehow, if your physical circumstances are barren of beauty, look up for the Psalmist said "The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands..." (Psalm 19:1)

And let us join Lanier in building a “nest on the greatness of God.”

Saturday, July 21, 2012

If you're wondering if it's real


Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself.

Because life can have such unexpected blessings, it doesn’t seem real.

We’re at a conference this weekend, and each speaker has challenged and stirred us.

We had the privilege of once more sharing life with Dr. Bob Tuttle over a meal last night (World Christianity Professor, Asbury Theological Seminary, retired) and also hearing him speak today.

Last night at dinner, Dr. Tuttle had a Bible in front of him and told us that every year he reads through the Bible and at the end of that year, he gives it away.

He’s given away forty replete with his notes.

What a wonderful practice. How many Bibles might we have time to give away while we’re still here on this spinning globe? How many lives might those Bibles touch as they circle this planet?

We also had the amazing privilege of hearing Bishop Ricardo Pereira of Cuba. He’s a man who bears on his body the marks of persecution--and he’s a man full of joy and power and the Spirit of God.

To be in his presence is to recall the incidences in the New Testament like Acts 5:15, “…people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered…bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.”

Those kinds of things are happening today in Cuba--in the church suffering under oppression. I found myself wanting just to be in the shadow of Bishop Pereira. Such an honor to sit at his feet.

Then the verse in Luke 12:21 came to mind, “…and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

What does the Lord require after days like this one?

Well, this conference certainly hasn’t been about rubbing elbows with the saints of the church only to write about them, though I am writing about them. And this time hasn’t just been about learning more, though I’ve learned much.

The Lord requires a response. I don’t fully know what that might be right now. But almost always, it means surrendering more of ourselves to God. To once more bend the knee and allow God to root out anything that is not of Him--to be filled with His very presence.

I believe both Dr. Tuttle and Bishop Pereira alluded to allowing God to expand our vision for ministry.

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us” (Ephesians 3:20 The Message).

God's not pushing us around, but He looks to do something new in our lives and hearts—more than yesterday. And by his Spirit he does, as we yield to him.

Yes, sometimes you just have to pinch yourself in wonder at the awesome people God may bring into your life. Then you have to wonder how through the Spirit’s work within us what else God might do that is more than we could “request in our wildest dreams.”

Webster's assigns these meanings to the word "real": not imaginary, essential, genuine, authentic, not to be taken lightly.

So, if what God's doing right now is so out there, you're wondering if it's real.

Trust me. Everything God does is real.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Flashing lights, a long night, and thanking God for sight


Due to the sudden onset of symptoms, for twelve out of the last twenty-four hours I faced the possibility that I might be headed for serious vision loss. Aware of something peculiar in my vision late yesterday, when I turned out the lights last night, peculiar threatened to turn into panic when what seemed to be neon lights flashed in my right eye. A retinal tear or detachment loomed as a possibility.

I couldn’t rest and descended downstairs to read, to find a quiet place with Jesus. Without even realizing it, I found myself reciting Psalm 46 aloud:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, thought the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…”

One of my favorite verses in that Psalm is this one: “God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.”

I thought of all the things I do which wouldn’t be possible without my sight. Well, yes, it was just the one eye, but I'm a little selfish, I'd like to keep both the windows to my soul.

It’s true that those without vision often see the world better than those who have 20/20 eyesight. I think of Fanny Crosby’s testimony, “Perfect submission, perfect delight, visions of rapture now burst on my sight…Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine…” And I thought of several friends and family who live everyday with failing eyesight.

No one signs up for that road, but God’s grace and mercy are undeniable in blind Fanny Crosby’s work and in the lives of many I know who daily and bravely face the possibility of a future without vision.

As I sought peace, I came to those last few verses in Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God…”

I returned to bed,put in my ear buds and listened to several songs, but this one in particular blessed me so. In the midst of any trouble we’re in, declaring our love and praise to God helps take our eyes off our problems and ourselves and put them on the only One who is good. Finally, resting in his care, I drifted off to sleep.

This morning, I’m sure I had to be one of the first callers to my doctor’s office. When I told the receptionist about the flashing lights, she asked how fast I could get there. I assured her I’d be there in five minutes. Never thought I’d look forward to getting my eyes dilated.

It turns out there was no evidence of a retinal tear, and the symptoms I’m experiencing seem to be due to changes in the vitreous gel in the eye.

Thank you, Jesus.

The flashing lights might take months to abate, but I’m not complaining.

It turns out that God within me did indeed help me “…at break of day…”

Right now, I’m watching a Brown Headed Nuthatch (currently on watch lists) arriving for the suet just outside my office window, and I’m giving thanks for the very sight of him.
Brown Headed Nuthatch


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fireworks, Solar Flares, and the Face of God


Took a few pictures with my cell phone at the Fourth of July fireworks in our community.


Fireworks





The explosive display of blazing color seemed impressive until I learned about this past Thursday’s solar flare. According to this article, the flare released “… a billion atomic bombs’ worth of energy into space…”

Did you get that? A billion atomic bombs?


The article also stated charged solar particles expected to reach earth’s magnetic field today and tomorrow may possibly interfere with satellites and power supplies.

And speaking of fireworks—because of the flare, the northern lights are supposed to be dazzling this weekend, perhaps visible as far south as Washington D.C.

These verses come to mind:

“God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon”


“God, my God, how great you are!
Beautifully, gloriously robed,
Dressed up in sunshine,
And all heaven stretched out for your tent


In the Christian Classic, Your God is Too Small by J.B. Phillips, he writes, and “Is it the eternal spirit in a man remembering here in his house of clay, the shining joys of his real Home? No one, of course, can say. But the appeal of beauty, which is universal, however distorted, or debased it may have become, cannot be lightly dismissed. It is a pointer to something, and it certainly points to something beyond the present limitations of time and space. We can at any rate say that beauty arouses a hunger and a longing which is never satisfied in this world.”

John, the revelator, in trying to describe the indescribable, reports the face of God is “like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Revelation 1:16).

Could it be that when we turn our eyes heavenward, we long to catch a glimpse of God’s countenance? Could it be we’re longing for our true Home?

Yes, the fireworks we saw dimmed in comparison to the solar flare. But that won’t stop me from going to see them again.

Until I get home, I’m going to be looking up as much as I can.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When you're feeling black and blue all over


My husband, Jerry, has always had a good fashion sense about him, but recently his daughter, Mari, took issue with a color combination he wore.

She observed his navy trousers and black shoes, and asked, “Why don’t you wear brown shoes with those pants?”

“I always wear black with navy,” he said.

“Well,” she paused for effect, and then said dryly, “You look like a bruise.”

We’ve laughed so much about this comment, and anytime one of us wears black with blue, the inside joke in our family is that we look like a bruise.

The truth is that sometimes we may  not only look like a bruise, we may feel like one as well.

Life has a way of delivering punches that leave us with contusions on the heart.

In fact, yesterday, I rather felt that way myself as I stepped outside onto the patio for a little fresh air.

But, I noticed around the lantana and verbena, a creature also black and blue fluttered undisturbed by my presence.

Pipe Vine Swallowtail







Not a lepidopterist, I did a little research and believe the butterfly to be a Pipe Vine Swallowtail.



The iridescent blue on its wings shimmered in the afternoon sun as I followed it with my camera.



I had to laugh as it occasionally buzzed me with its happy twittering.

When I saw the images on the computer, the pictures astounded me. I am at best an accidental photographer, so I couldn’t believe what I’d captured. The black and blue Pipe Vine Swallowtail gave me joy.

When we’re feeling all beaten down by circumstances, it’s hard to realize that God can bring joy. And that sometimes even bruises can be beautiful.

“But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed” (Isaiah 53:5 The Message).

Through the bruises of Jesus, we find our soul's cure. Through his suffering, we have life.

It's good to remember God longs to give joy even when we’re bruised. And that he can use the black and blue in our lives to minister marvelous joy to others.

These things are mysteries, but glorious ones.

I’ll be showing these Swallowtail pictures to Jerry. He’ll be happy to see that God thinks black and blue go together, too. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

When you can’t stop trying to fix it


After a lengthy time of doing all I know to bring resolution to an ongoing difficulty, last week I knelt down, took a hammer and nailed the painful situation to the cross.

Since then, I’ve struggled not to revisit, and must remind myself daily of that act of relinquishment.
Cross of Nails

And then, this morning, I read from A. B. Simpson: “If we wholly trust an interest to God, we must keep our hands off it; and He will guard it for us better than we can help Him…Things may seem to be going all wrong, but He knows as well as we; and He will arise in the right moment if we are really trusting Him so fully as to let Him work in His own way and time. There is nothing so masterly as inactivity in some things, and there is nothing so hurtful as restless working, for God has undertaken to work His sovereign will.”

It’s hard to let something go into God’s hands. It’s harder still to leave it there. Especially when circumstances seem to be going south.

It feels wrong not to act. To lie still in the face of apparent impending disaster seems nearly impossible. Yet all of our acting to this point has yielded no results.

The truth is God works his will in us through this suffering and adversity.

From I Peter 1, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

The Message says, “…genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine…”

Putting our heartaches into God’s hands and trusting Him with them, helps prove our faith genuine. To lie still, to trust, to allow our hands to be at rest and allow Him to act as only He can in His time will yield a harvest of faith not only in the lives of those for whom we pray but in our own as well.

And if you’re like me and are struggling to stop fixing things, that’s good news.






Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Father of our Country on being a follower


Since the Black Goo incident a few weeks back, we’ve stripped our den, repainted and will have the floors installed this week. All of this involves pulling one million books off the shelves, dusting, and sorting them. In a collection of hymnals and gospel songbooks accumulated over the years, I found a Song and Service Book for Ship and Field. Probably purchased at a garage or estate sale, the inscription inside reads “Neal T. Hart , given to me by Sergeant Menlo on January 6, 1944.” Of course, the year ahead turned out to be the final year of World War II, and would hold huge conflicts all over the globe.

In doing a little research, I found the location where Mr. Hart enlisted, his service number, and even learned he was a semi-skilled craftsman in furniture production on his enlistment. But I find no record of his death on any military or civilian records. I suppose he could still be alive, but since he was born in 1911, that would put him at 101 years old. It’d be great to get this book to one of his descendents.

To the point, on the inside cover of the book I found a prayer derived from George Washington's “Circular Letter of Farewell to the Army” written in Newburgh on June 8, 1783 (includes the creative spellings of that time and was later copied and distributed to governors of each state):

“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.”

 I love that Washington references Micah 6:8 with the phrase “do justice, to love mercy…”

And the words “…without an humble imitation of whose example…” might refer to Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

We often think of the word imitation in a negative way, as merely a facsimile of the original. But the word in Ephesians here, “imitator,” means in the original Greek, “follower.”

Perhaps the one who’d led a revolution a few years before with soldiers whose bare feet left bloody prints in the snow at Valley Forge knew much about justice, mercy, charity, humility, and a peace wrought of sacrifice and service.


I wonder if the first owner of my little military hymnal, Mr. Hart, might have known something about sacrifice and service as well, having served our country in a time of worldwide conflict.

As we celebrate our nation’s birth, let us remember these words from the man called the Father of our Country and commit ourselves afresh to be a“humble imitation," a follower, ” of the “Divine author of our blessed religion.”

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Five Reasons Not to Gossip and How to Stop It


Here at One Ringing Bell, we usually don’t write many “how-to” posts, but a burden on our heart has led us to write about this topic, something each of us deals with almost every day. Hope this is helpful.

Five Reasons Not to Gossip

1.  Gossip makes us untrustworthy. If we gossip, the people we’re in relationship with will wonder if we’re talking about them to others, too. So, they’re less likely to share their heart, and more likely to put up a wall to avoid being hurt. And for that reason—

2.  Gossip erodes relationships. Gossiping doesn’t bind friends together, but puts a wedge between them. Either we have done it ourselves or someone we know has divulged some secret about another thinking it would create intimacy. It doesn’t. Gossip casts a long shadow over any relationship.

3.  Gossip hurts. It hurts the person telling it, the one to whom it’s told, any who may overhear, and of course the poor soul it’s told about. And once it’s out there, it’s out there. It’s too bad we can’t capture our words, and pack them back in a box after we let go of some juicy tidbit. But we can’t, and often sour words take on a life of their own. Gossip doesn’t just hurt for a moment, but sometimes hurts for a lifetime.

4.  Gossip is disobedience. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). If we measured every word we spoke by these standards, many of our words would be edited out by the Holy Spirit’s divine hand. I love how The Message translates this verse: “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.” If we saw the words we speak as gifts to the people around us, would we be giving them beautiful packages tied with lovely bows, or paper sacks of crud?



5.  Gossip breaks God’s heart. When we talk about another precious soul God has created, we hurt the Father. The Message again from Psalm 133, “How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along….that’s where God commands the blessing, ordains eternal life.” God longs for us to dwell together in unity. Gossip fractures that unity, and aborts the blessings that God longs to give us.

So how do we stop it?          

Someone once defined what it means to gossip as passing on personal information about another to someone who is neither part of the problem or part of the solution.
We need to ask ourselves if the person to whom we’re telling someone else's private information is part of the problem or solution. If they aren’t, then we might need to question our motives.

And really, what is anyone’s motive for gossiping? Usually, it’s some crying need of our own heart. Some yearning for acceptance, love, or recognition. God longs to fill these needs himself and asks us to bow in surrender to Him.

The best way to stop speaking words which hurt, is to pray this scripture:


If we pray this prayer, we may be certain that when we start to speak what we shouldn’t, the Holy Spirit will exert gentle pressure. Now, He’s not going to slam us with a two by four, but gently in that still, small voice, we’ll hear Him whisper, “Stop.”

Then we have the opportunity to simply close our mouths and give thanks to the gracious God who cares about every word we speak.

What comes out of our mouths is really all about our relationship with Him.

Oh, to be walking so closely with Jesus, that truly every word we speak would be a gift to those around us. 

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