Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What waiting has to do with strength

(Edited on August 30, our friend T made it through customs early this morning our time and is now back with her sixteen children. We are so thankful to God for this miracle.)

Waiting to see―a phrase I’ve found myself using a lot lately.

We’re prayerfully waiting to see Wednesday morning if after a mandatory exit for visa renewal our friend T. is allowed back in the Asian country where she has lived for almost twenty years. We hope she may finish raising the sixteen children she mothers.

We’re waiting to see when our neighbors on the Gulf Coast may actually start recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and when relief agencies might get in. Dear Lord, let these flood waters recede.

We’re waiting to see if another friend who has finished radiation will need chemo―the result still another week away.

I’m waiting to see what a respiratory specialist says about the breathing problems I’ve been having. If it turns out to be a pet allergy, we’ll have to corner the market on antihistamines because it’s going to take a truckload of medicine for me to deal with the critters here.

Waiting. To. See.

I am not a good waiter. I wish I could say otherwise, but I want to do something.

 Now.

 I want to fix these problems, but I can’t. So, here we are. Waiting to see what God will do.

One of the first verses I think of in regard to waiting is Isaiah 40:31.
 
 
“But those who wait upon God get fresh strength” (The Message).
 
I wondered if I might find deeper meaning for “wait” in the original language.

Though I’m no Hebrew scholar, after checking several sources, it seems that the root of the word has to do with, “a collection of fibers that are twisted together to make a strong and firm cord. This same word is also used for the abstract idea of ‘hope.’”

If you examine a rope, it is composed of tightly twisted strands, therein is its strength. Any of those strands alone might break, but together, they endure. So, in these times when we feel unraveled and worn down by distressing headlines and circumstances,  we wrap ourselves tightly with the Lord, and find hope and power to persist in our waiting. Really, shouldn’t we always be tightly wrapped with Him?

It seems paradoxical to me that we should find strength in waiting. In the natural, it is always the opposite. But God’s economy is not ours. Thankfully.

So, we may have been spinning around one way, fraying thread by thread, but now we reverse our course, as He gathers the threads together in one enduring cord of hope with Him.

If you'd like to make a donation to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey, HERE for Samaritan's purse. They are also urgently pleading for volunteers to help.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

No east or west and our kin


If you were here early this morning, you may have seen a post, which has now been reverted to draft. Only up for a few minutes, there was nothing wrong with it, because you’ll probably see it again next week. But I didn’t want to miss a timely opportunity to respond to the events in Charlottesville this weekend.

In the church, I am not one to hold on to things just because we have always done them that way, but I regret that in many circumstances we have abandoned the great hymns of the church, for it is one of those hymns that has circled through my brain in the last couple of days.
 
 

“In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north; but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”

Written from Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”


Another verse reads, “In Christ is neither Jew nor Greek, and neither slave nor free; both male and female heirs are made, all are kin to me.”

“All are kin to me.”

Priscilla Shirer calls her ministry Going Beyond. I remember her telling a story in one of her Bible Studies about how God goes beyond and beyond on our behalf.

Well folks, these days, I believe God is calling us to go beyond and beyond to heal the hurt in our land and in our hearts.

It’s a time to make an extra effort, and sometimes it begins with the little things like a smile, holding a door, extending a hand as we would with our own family because all are kin to me.
 
Sometimes it means speaking up for our kin.

We don’t need a geography book to understand we all have the same beating heart. Because in Christ, there is no east or west, and he is the pulsing life that makes us one.

So, today, I am humming under my breath and praying for my kin.

Join me, will you?

When it seems you're building sandcastles


I watched the video of the man who builds elaborate sandcastles on Long Island. He bent over his work, sculpting and refining only to have the tide wash it away in a few hours.

Something about that story resonated with me.

A few vintage Varnado pics

All of us want to leave a legacy, a mark that says, “Hey, I was here.” Those of us who are believers want that mark to give glory to God above everything else.

But if you’re like me, much of what you do doesn’t feel enduring. Maybe it feels a lot like building sandcastles.

We work and labor and the first thing we know, it’s all melting in water up to our knees.

Before I start a new writing project, I struggle with this. Am I just building a sandcastle? It’s very likely not to be some piece of great literature or change the course of history. Will anyone actually read it or will it become only another file on my hard drive? The litany in my mind goes on.

However, that man who builds the sandcastles, he’s not motivated to make them because they’ll wind up in Architectural Digest or because he’ll make a million dollars. He builds because he loves to create and use the gifts he has.

That my friends, inspires me.

Dr. Brene’ Brown writes in the Gifts of Imperfection, “If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance decorate, act, sing―it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.”

Building sandcastles is cultivating meaning. In spiritual terms, it means being a good steward of the gifts God has given us, not with an eye on the outcome but with an eye on pleasing Him.

I recently started writing a new novel. I’m using the gifts I have, and I already love the story, however it very well may be another sandcastle. I have a good many of those. We never know when we’re doing something what the results will be. That’s up to God. Our part is to build to His glory.

So, get out your sand buckets and shovels. Let’s get to work.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

See the elaborate sandcastles HERE.

As an update on our friend T. in Asia that I wrote about HERE--She will be leaving her country in Asia on August 26th for a mandatory visa renewal and then trying to reenter the country on the 30th. Please pray she will not be turned back, but will be able to continue her life in Asia with her 16 children. I'll keep you posted. Again, if you know T. please do not mention her name in comments here or in Facebook replies.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

4 a.m. and really free

When the phone rings at 4 a.m., we usually know at the preacher’s house, it’s not good news. When Jerry is chaplain of the week at a local hospital, we’re certain of it.

He groggily picked up the phone and I heard him say, “I’ll be there in a few minutes”

Four hours later, he called me to meet him for breakfast. On the way, I thought about how maybe he needed to give up these rotations at the hospital―especially challenging at his age (don’t tell him I said that). He needed to speak to a high school football team later in the day and I knew it would be hard to prepare and deliver a message in his sleep-deprived state.

When I arrived at the restaurant, Jerry had tears in his eyes, but oddly seemed almost elated.

I sat down, and he began to tell the story.

When he arrived at the hospital, he entered the room of a deceased woman. Her daughter sat beside her praying. As Jerry took a seat, she shared their story. They had lived in a war torn African nation and because of her mother’s determination and perseverance had come to this country. The daughter now had a doctorate and performed medical research. A son was a medical doctor. The mother’s faith and encouragement had been a driving force in their achievement.

The day before her sudden death, the mother had at last finished her final interviews to become a United States citizen. Taking the oath of citizenship only remained.

“Why do you want to be a US citizen?” the daughter had asked.

“Because I want to be free,” the mother replied.

“But mother, you are free,” the daughter answered.

“But I want to be really free,” her mother declared.

How convicting her appreciation of what we often take for granted. What an amazing person she must have been. Jerry agreed, so moved by the story of her life.

“I wish I could have met her,” I said.

Jerry then told me the church she attended

I put down my coffee cup and stared at him.

“Really?”

The server came to offer us refills. “I’m having an epiphany,” I told her.

“That’s all right,” she said, “but do you want coffee?”

As she refilled my cup, I told Jerry, “Don’t you remember last Sunday after church at the restaurant?” A woman had been coming down the aisle toward me, and she wore the most beautiful African dress with petal-like pieces on the sleeves. "I love your dress," I told her.

 She beamed, "Thank you." Then she joined a group of women from the church Jerry had just mentioned.

 “I know that was her,” I said. “I did get to meet her if only for a moment.” I had wanted to speak with the woman further but her group awaited. She had such joy on her face.

“I thought she looked familiar,” Jerry said as we both sat there and marveled at this odd sequence of events and how this woman we didn’t know had touched our lives.

I had to wonder how broad her legacy was, and how many like us were touched by her life of faith even if they had only known her for a moment or two.

So, I’m taking back all that business about Jerry giving up these rotations. He made it just fine and his message to the team that afternoon went great. I'm also realizing that sometimes the news isn't all bad in the middle of the night.

I’m thinking these days on what it means to be “really free.” I have been inspired to do so by the life of a woman I knew for only a few seconds, but whose influence on me I will never forget.

Saint Paul said in Romans 6, “Offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits” (The Message).  Though this woman longed to be really free in this life because of this country she came to love, she now experiences in that heavenly land a freedom, which is truly without end.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The golden hour and what we can almost miss


I joined a half dozen other people snapping pictures of an incredible sunset at a retreat center. I whipped out my cell phone intent on capturing the combination of sun and clouds that made for such a display. As I turned to leave, the thought came to me that often, the pictures I most love are not the obvious ones, so I knelt down on the ground and took a few shots of the coastal marsh now bathed in light filmmakers call the “golden hour.”

It was several days later before I even stopped to look at the photos. The sunset was glorious, and most of pictures turned out the way I thought they might.


But that thought about loving the less obvious shot more turned out to be right.

The coastal marsh picture is the one that drew me in―the print of which I have beside my easel right now as I try to capture it on canvas. This is untouched, folks. No filters.

Almost looks as if the photo is a painting.

In I Kings 19, when God told Elijah He would pass by Him, a wind, an earthquake, and a fire occurred. But God was in none of these. Instead, God came in a “gentle whisper.” It was only then Elisha heard God.

Sometimes in life, we get so caught up in doing what everyone else is doing, we don’t hear that gentle whisper of God leading us in the way He would have us go. We can miss the best  simply because we aren’t willing to turn down the volume of racket in our lives to hear him and be willing to follow a less obvious path. That path is often filled with lovely surprises, just like my marsh picture.

Now, you may look a little strange as I did, sprawled out in the grass turned in a completely different direction from the others, but this is the picture that made me want to tell its story.

So, let’s be tuned in to the gentle whispers.

We don’t want to miss a thing God has for us.

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