Saturday, October 31, 2015

What I learned in October -- It's about hope.

I had an epiphany the other day. 

Here it is:

It isn't about self-esteem.  It's about hope.

People get all fixated on self-esteem.  "We have to improve our self-esteem!" they cry out.  "We have to teach ourselves how to feel good about ourselves!"

Sometimes there are good and true reasons why people don't feel good about themselves.  Sometimes people have done bad things that they ought to be ashamed of, and sorry for.  Sometimes people have made poor choices that resulted in unpleasant consequences and landed them in unfortunate situations.  Sometimes people feel guilty because they should feel guilty, because they have done wrong.

When people feel guilty because they have done wrong, they don't need self-esteem.  They need repentance and forgiveness.

Focusing on self-esteem is not going to fix this sort of problem.

If you take a person who has made a series of terrible choices and ended up in a miserable position, and you say, "Don't worry!  You are a good person!  Believe in yourself!  Be proud!" -- well, you aren't likely to get anywhere, because you are merely trying to sell a delusion.  Even if the person buys the delusion--which he might--it won't help him, because it is a delusion.

People don't need self-esteem, because self-esteem is about personal pride, and personal pride is never a good thing.  (The world does not need more pride.  The world needs more humility.)

People need hope.  People need to be able to hope that they can change, that they can be forgiven, that they can learn, grow and do better next time.  People need to be able to hope that there is redemption available, even for them.

People need hope, and the best, the truest hope comes from God.  God will always love you, always forgive you and always welcome you back with open arms.  God will put His Spirit into you and change you from the inside out.  God will purify you from your past and make you into a new person.  God will make beautiful Spirit-fruit flow from your life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.  God will give you a purpose to fulfill, and He will equip you to fulfill it.

This is hope.  This is what people need.  They need to hear, "There is hope for you, no matter how badly you have messed things up.  Jesus died so that you can be forgiven.  He loves you and He wants to heal you from your past.  He can create beauty from the ashes of your life.  Hope in Jesus, and you will not be disappointed!"

We need to stop looking at ourselves, trying to puff ourselves up with self-esteem.

We need to look to Jesus and hope, for He is the Savior of the world, the God of love who gave His own perfect life to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity, so humanity could one day dwell forever in Paradise with Him.

Hope in Jesus is a sure and steadfast anchor for our souls.

This is what we need.

This is what it's about.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Spiritual warfare, part 2

Here we are on the eve of Halloween, talking about spiritual warfare.

I'd call that appropriate.  I didn't plan it this way, either.  It is noteworthy when things work out beautifully just because they do, and not because you worked hard to finagle a result.  Spontaneous good results reassure me that God is attentive.

We've talked about the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness and Feet Fitted with the Gospel of Peace.  We've seen how the Lord girds us up with the Truth, covers us with the righteousness of Christ, and prepares us to run victoriously with a message of good news.

Today we will look at the Helmet of Salvation, the Shield of Faith and the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

Satan is always trying to disarm us, to make us discouraged, timid and ineffective for the Kingdom of God.

1 Peter 5:8 (NLT)
Stay alert!   Watch out for your great enemy, the devil.  He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

A very real threat exists, but we do not need to be afraid, because God is our hope, our shield and defender.  He protects us, and He equips us.

2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (ESV)
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

Do you see that?  God equips us to tap into His divine power and join Him in destroying strongholds! 

Do you have a battle in your life today?  Is there a place where the enemy is poking at you, taunting you, tripping you up and wearing you down?  There's nothing the enemy can throw at you that's too strategic for God to defend against.

Isaiah 54:17 (NLT)
But in that coming day
    no weapon turned against you will succeed.
You will silence every voice
    raised up to accuse you.
These benefits are enjoyed by the servants of the Lord;
    their vindication will come from me.
    I, the Lord, have spoken! 

God is infinitely greater than any power that tries to rage against Him.  This great and mighty God cares for us, His people, His children.  He clothes us in His own righteousness and shelters us with His wings.

He gives us a Helmet of Salvation to cover our heads.  The head is of utmost significance.  People wear bicycle helmets and football helmets and even batters' helmets in baseball, because we know that above all things, the head must be protected. 

How does God protect our heads?  With salvation.  Salvation.  He steers us away from the road to hell, rescuing us with His mighty arm, and puts us on a path to everlasting life.  This is salvation.

Colossians 1:13-14 puts it this way --
For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. (NLT)

We are rescued, saved from the kingdom of darkness, and transferred into the Kingdom of Jesus.  This is our great salvation.  We have been purchased by the blood of Christ.  We are His.  Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ: not danger, trouble, persecution, hunger, or poverty; not death, life, angels, demons, not the future, the present, the past, or the power of hell (see Romans 8:35-39).  We have salvation from Jesus Christ.  Look at what Jesus says about it:

John 10:27-30 (NLT)
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else.  No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one.

This is the spiritual helmet that protects our spiritual head.  If you're feeling under attack, say it.  Say it outloud!  "I have been saved by the blood of Jesus.  I belong to Jesus.  Jesus, I am Yours, and You are more powerful than anyone!"

Then, He gives us a Shield of Faith.  Faith is the gift of God (see Ephesians 2:8).  We don't whomp up a load of faith out of our own strength.  God somehow grants us faith, and this is a great mystery, but the bottom line is this: since God granted the faith, it is faith from God, divine faith.  It is strong, and it is powerful.  This is actually the message of the book of Job.  God gave Job faith, and then God allowed Job's faith to be tested, because God knew that the faith He had bestowed would not fail. God wanted to prove and display the strength of the faith He bestows on His children.

That same faith is our shield.  It extinguishes the fiery darts that the evil one throws at us.  It doesn't stop our enemy from attacking, but it stands in the gap between us and our enemy.  Demonic arrows hit the shield of faith, bounce back, and fall on the ground without harming us.  Faith is believing that God is real; God loves us; God has wonderful rewards for all who believe.  Faith is being convinced that the promises of God are true and glorious, while the lies of the devil lead to death.  Faith is an invincible shield against attacks of evil.

Psalm 3:3 (NLT)
But you, O Lord, are a shield around me;
    you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. 

God gives us a great arsenal of good, protective equipment.  He thoroughly equips all whom He calls.  He gives us faith, which results in salvation, which includes being clothed and covered with the righteousness of Christ.  He is real, and He reveals truth about His reality to us, which also builds our faith and holds us together.  He fills our hearts with joy about the good news of the gospel, and with wonderful hope as we look forward to the future He promises us.

God also gives us one offensive weapon:  The Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.  The more we read our Bibles, the more we internalize the great truths about Jesus.  The more we memorize, the more we remember in a crisis. Then we can stand against the enemy's schemes.  It is the Word of God that makes us solid on the Truth, and thus we have come full circle.

I could not possibly discuss all the wonders of the Word of God here, now.  All I can say is, read your Bible.  Read Mark.  Read Philippians.  Read Colossians and Genesis.  Read Luke and Acts.  Read the Psalms and the Proverbs.  Read parts of the Bible, and then read all of the Bible.  Read and pray that God will give you a deep love for His Word, and an ability to understand and apply it.

Psalm 119:103-104 (ESV)
How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Through your precepts I get understanding;
    therefore I hate every false way. 


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Spiritual warfare

Spiritual warfare is not my favorite thing to think about.  The term puts me in mind of a certain type of person, praying a certain type of way, addressing the devil personally and binding him in the name of Jesus.

I pray to God and God alone.  If anybody is going to bind the forces of evil, it is God, not me.  I'll ask Him to do that, in the name of Jesus, even, but the Lord is my protector, my shield and my deliverer.

The Lord Himself will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.
~Exodus 14:14 (ESV)

The battle is the Lord's.
~from 1 Samuel 17:47 (ESV)

Yet, I understand that there are times when we have to put our armor on and stand against the enemy.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
~Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)

We are supposed to put on the full armor of God so we will be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 

I am a Big Chicken, so I don't like to think about girding myself up to go out to battle.  There are times, however, when the battle arrives on one's doorstep, and one is forced to respond, and one must take inventory of the armor that God has provided.  (The rest of this post will be based on Ephesians 6:10-18.)

First, God's word tells us to fasten on the Belt of Truth.  I used to think that this meant we must always tell the truth, and even the slightest slip in this area would render us casualties of the evil one. While we must certainly tell the truth, and be truthful, I don't think that's exactly what "Belt of Truth" alludes to.  The devil is a liar and the father of lies.  Fastening the Belt of Truth around us means that we hold ourselves together with the Truth:  There is a God.  He created the Universe.  He loves us.  He is holy, faithful and good.  Nothing is impossible for God.  This is the kind of truth we need: the truth that exposes the devil's lies.  When the devil tells us we are hopeless, we remember the truth that even when we were dead in sin, God made us alive in Christ.  When the devil tells us that our sins are too terrible to escape, we remember the truth that as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.  When the devil tells us that even God can't fix this big problem, we remember the truth that with God, all things are possible.  This is the Belt of Truth.  It holds us together.

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
~from John 8:31-32 (ESV) 

Then, God's word tells us to put on the Breastplate of Righteousness.  Again, I used to assume that this meant I must live a faultless life if I hoped to stand under the Lord's protection.  As I grow closer and closer to Christ, I should find myself sinning less and less, but again, this is not the point of "The Breastplate of Righteousness."  I have no righteousness of my own.  My righteousness is imputed to me through the atoning death of Jesus.  He took on my sin when He died on the cross, so that I could be clothed in His righteousness.  I am righteous in Christ, even on days when my failures pile up and discourage me.  I stand with the Breastplate of Righteousness protecting my vital organs because Christ has claimed me as His own.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and when I wear the Breastplate of Righteousness, I am most certainly in Christ Jesus.  I belong to Jesus.  I am Jesus' treasured possession, and He has clothed me in His righteousness.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.
~from Isaiah 61:10 (ESV)

After the Belt of Truth and the Breastplate of Righteousness, we are told to put our feet into shoes that put on the readiness of the gospel of peace.  Again, in my past, this term put me into a state of guilt.  I wasn't sharing the gospel enough times with enough people; I would never be fit to run in these shoes of spiritual warfare.  Of course we should share the gospel, just as we should tell the truth and be righteous.  But again, I think that is not the main point here.

When you get a new pair of really good running shoes, you put them on and they feel great; it makes you just want to head out on a running trail.  The gospel of peace, likewise, should make us feel really good, joyous, ready to go.  The gospel of peace tells us that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 5:1).  This is great news!  In the battle of good against evil, Jesus has already conquered sin at the cross.  Because of His sacrifice, we are forgiven and can have peace with God, and even fellowship.  The Holy Spirit of God dwells in us now, and at the end of time, we will dwell in the presence of God forever, with never ending peace and joy.  This truth gives us strength, hope and fleetness of foot to run the race set before us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus.
~from Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV) 

How interesting that the armor of God stems from the Truth about Christ and what He has done for us.

Next time I will address the Shield of Faith, the Helmet of Salvation and the Sword of the Spirit, but this is long enough.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Thoughts about reality

Shawn has been a business traveler for the past two weeks, but he is en route home today, hallelujah.

It gets lonely when he is gone, especially after the sun sets, and especially when I am sick.

The upshot: I've watched more HGTV than usual.  For anyone who isn't familiar with HGTV, that's the Home and Garden channel on cable, but I don't think it has much to do with gardens.

With Shawn gone, I had the opportunity to glut myself on HGTV, which I did, until I got sick to death of if and stopped.

HGTV is simply an advertising vehicle designed to make people feel insecure about their houses and frantic to spend all kinds of money on paint and funky furniture so they can be updated in their homes, too!

It doesn't help that I am not enamored of the current trend towards everything cold and white and gray and stainless steel.  That's not a home!  That's a hospital room!

The last night I watched, the people on the show delightedly attacked a beautiful travertine bathroom with a sledgehammer.  They replaced it with something "sleek and modern."  I thought I was going to throw up.  Our bathroom has a beige fiberglass shower unit.  It's not very pretty, but it's in good shape, and it's easy to clean.  As we make other updates to the bathroom, I am choosing simply to ignore it.  I would be very thankful if I had a beautiful travertine bathroom.  I would not smash it out.

I can't stand when first-time homeowners (HGTV has a show called "Househunters") walk into a house with a lovely oak kitchen outfitted with perfectly clean and functional--even matching--white appliances, and say, "Ugh!  It will cost so much to update this!"  Has no one ever considered that cabinets can hold your kitchenwares, even if they are not shaker-styled white particleboard?  Also, I understand that while you love white cabinets, you hate white appliances, but a white refrigerator can keep your milk just as cold as a stainless one (and a stainless refrigerator will get just as dirty as a white refrigerator if you don't clean it).  Has nobody ever thought, "Well, this isn't exactly what I would choose, but it's in good condition, and functional, and it's not even a garish color.  We can certainly live with it until it wears out."

I noticed awhile ago that the HGTV numbers are all wrong, too.  Back in the day, you used to see a list (who had it?  Realtors?  Contractors?).   Anyway, it had things listed in terms of the value of the remodel.  For a kitchen or a bathroom, you could recoup up to 85% of your remodel costs when you went to sell.  A basement was only 50%.  Everyone knew that you didn't get your money back on home improvement projects, and you had to be wise as you decided what you would do with your house.

But now, now that HGTV exists to sell advertising to the home improvement industry, suddenly they are featuring shows about houses where the people start a remodel, find a water problem in their basement, spend half their budget fixing the basement, and end up raising the value of their home by twice what their original budget was.  Seriously.  They make it look like you can waterproof your basement and reroute your plumbing, and recoup 200% of what you spend with the increase in home value you will reap.  Ludicrous.


Yesterday I got the mail.  There was an ad from Vistaprint  about saving 50% on Christmas cards.

Sucker punch.

Nope.  We're done now.  Who knew the nest could empty that fast?  Move in 2013.  Wedding in 2014.  Boom.  No more cute kids to photograph.   No more newsy updates to write.  No more funny family stories to share.  They are all independent adults, living in scattered corners of the country.  Their stories are their own to tell now.  As far as Shawn and me -- ha -- it would be just ridiculous for us to send out a picture of ourselves, at our age.

If we send Christmas cards, we will probably buy them at a store, in a box, and simply sign them.

On a bright note, I made a crustless quiche on Sunday, and it lasted me all week.  This morning I woke up hungry.  The quiche sat in the refrigerator, fully half of it still in the pie plate.  I cut some for myself, microwaved it and enjoyed it with a cup of tea.

Schubert keeps watch at the sidelight by the front door, a constant low rumble in his chest.  Piper sleeps hard on the floor, a melancholy whistle in his chest as he labors to breathe.  I type away at my computer, glancing out the window in front of me at morning sun on autumn leaves, a cold in my chest, but also contentment.

That poem Grandma Rainbow had hanging in her bathroom.  I loved the rhyme scheme: ABCD, ABCD.

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven—
All's right with the world!

   ~Robert Browning 

Well, it's not spring; it's autumn.  
Still, beauty surrounds us.
Even were it not beautiful, 
God would be in heaven.
God is also here, with us, near.
There's plenty wrong with the world, 
but our hope is in the Lord.
The Lord is absolutely faithful;
Hope in Him will be fulfilled.
Peace and joy mark our walk in this life
because we look forward 
to the New Heaven and the New Earth
where everything really will be all right.
Everything beautiful now 

simply points to then.
It's coming.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

On being fine, but searching for purpose

So... I'm sick.  Ferocious sore throat, low grade fever, the beginnings of congestion, aches and pains.  Also I can sing bass this morning!  I just checked: I can hit the second F# below middle C!

I will not be going to work today.  I will be napping and drinking tea.

Shawn is in Boston.  He is sick too.  He may be the source of my illness, although he was hardly home long enough between Boston and Denver to share any germs.  Everyone else around here is sick too, so it could be from anywhere.

I woke up after a miserable night and thought how happy I was not to have parenting responsibilities today, and it put me in mind of a lovely memory.  Once back in New York, I woke up sick when Shawn was out of town, and it was piano lesson day.  I was overwhelmingly sick, and I realized there was no way I was going to be able to get my kids to piano lessons, so I called our piano teacher to let her know, and to apologize.

Somehow I got my kids off to school.

A couple of hours later, I was lying in bed in a disgusting mess of unshowered, virus-tainted filthiness, wrinkled pajamas and stringy hair, when the doorbell rang.  I quailed and tried to hide myself in a scruffy robe.

It was our piano teacher with a large container of homemade chicken soup.

I was, of course, mortified that she should see me in such a condition, but in retrospect I comforted myself with the thought that at least she knew I wasn't just making up excuses about being too sick to go out.

Our precious piano teacher bustled right into my kitchen and put the food away (there was more than soup, but the delicious soup is the part I remember vividly), waving away my apologies and explaining, "You sounded so absolutely miserably pitiful on the phone, I had to do something for you!"

That was a grace.  To this day, I tear up when I think of it.  Such a memory, and the kids were thrilled to eat their piano teacher's soup for dinner as well.  Such a memory.  Such a grace.

I have cans of gluten free chicken rice soup in my pantry now, stocked up for just such a time as this.  I have no chauffeuring duties.  I am fine.

The Lord has been near lately.  I'm hearing His voice.  Above all else, the sound of His voice is the difference between being fine and not being fine.

I've been reading The Grand Weaver, by Ravi Zacharias.  It is a tremendous comfort to me.  I'm in a chapter about how our wills work in synergy with God's design for our lives.  One thing that I read yesterday stood out to me:  "The bane of our lives is getting sidetracked into secondary pursuits. . . [E]ach of us must deliberately choose whom we will serve.  So write down your purpose.  Place it in a prominent spot so that you will continually be reminded of that purpose."

I prayed right then and there, "Lord, what is my purpose?"  And I got up this morning anxious to search the scriptures and find what my purpose is.

There are general purposes, true for all of us: we should love God, glorify Him and enjoy Him.  We should love our neighbors as ourselves.  We should be salt and light to a lost world.

However, within those parameters, is there a specific calling that the Lord has for me?

These are the verses that the Lord lead me to this morning:

Verse #1--

Psalm 145:14-16 (ESV) 
The Lord upholds all who are falling
     and raises all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to You,
     and You give them their food in due season.
You open Your hand;
     You satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Is it reasonable to say that my purpose is to look to God and find my provision and satisfaction in Him?  Could that be a purpose?

That same passage goes on to say that the Lord is kind in all His works, and near to all who call on Him.  Again, this doesn't seem to define my purpose, but it certainly is a comfort to my soul.  Could my purpose possibly be that of bearing testimony about the comfort of the Lord?  (That seems too much to hope for on one hand, and terrifying in its possible implications on the other.)

[Addendum:  After I had finished writing this post, God took me through a circuitous Bible study path culminating at 2 Corinthians 1:3-11.  How could I have forgotten?  Of course, it is the part about affliction that concerns me.]

Verse #2--

The next verse Jesus led me to was Psalm 146:8 (or thereabouts; ESV)

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.

The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.  I am in agony over someone who is spiritually blind right now, enslaved to the lies of the enemy.  The Lord is the one who opens eyes and sets prisoners free.  This is, again, a comfort.  Yet, it still seems to miss pointing out my purpose.  It isn't my purpose if God does it, right?

At BSF yesterday, our teaching leader told us: "Your battle is not with people.  Your battle is with satan."

Between her comment, and Psalm 146:8, Jesus was leading me, prodding my mind to remember...

Verse #3--

Ephesians 6:12-13 (ESV)
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers over this present darkness,
against the spiritual forces of evil
in the heavenly places.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God,
that you may be able
to withstand in the evil day;
and having done all, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6 has never been my favorite passage.  It has always terrified me.  It sounds frightening and exhausting all at the same time.  I actively avoid reading it, even though I love the rest of Ephesians.  I don't want to fight battles.  I do not see myself as a warrior.  I want the Lord to fight for me.  I like Exodus 14:14, Psalm 20:7 and Psalm 33:16-22.

But, perhaps the Lord Almighty, who does fight for me and deliver me, is calling me to
     take up the armor of God
     withstand evil
     and stand firm.

I remember what David said to Goliath as he approached the giant on the battlefield.  David had shed the armor Saul tried to loan him, and he walked forward against the powerfully armed Philistine, wearing only his shepherd's clothes, carrying only a slingshot and five smooth stones.  I get goosebumps every time I read this (and today I do again, and it's not just because I have a low grade fever) --

Then David said to the Philistine, 
"You come to me with a sword 
and with a spear 
and with a javelin, 
but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, 
the God of the armies of Israel, 
whom you have defied.  
This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, 
and I will strike you down and cut off your head . . . 
that all the earth may know 
that there is a God in Israel, 
and that all this assembly may know 
that the Lord saves not with sword and spear.  
For the battle is the Lord's . . ."
(from 1 Samuel 17:45-47. ESV, emph. mine)

I'm not sure I'm ready to hear what God is telling me here, especially if my enemy is supernatural and invisible.  I will need to remind myself continually that Jesus has triumphed over sin and death at the cross, and the victory is certain.
I was hoping I could just end with Micah 6:8 (ESV) --

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

I guess it's there anyway, in the "do justice" part.  I think doing justice is related to undoing the effects of evil.  The thought of doing justice really frightens me.  I think I was hoping somebody else would do the justice.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy thoughts about nice things

I like zinnias and cosmos.  My cosmos didn't do well this year.  Next year I will try to find a sunnier spot for them.

I do not know why flowers make me happy, but they do, especially ones that grow in the ground (as opposed to cut flowers or flowers planted in pots).  I love flowers in red, pink, fuschia and lavender, with just enough yellow and white mixed in to keep it multi-colored.  Orange is not my favorite, and purple tends to disappear because it is dark.  Sometimes when you plant seeds, you just get what you get and thankfully learn to love it as it is.

I like blue blankets and pajamas.  Soft blue is such a nice color for sleeping in, for nestling down in.  Baby blue, powder blue, even steel-gray blue, these are the colors of blessed dreams.

I like white bathrooms.  There is a quartz I've seen used for counters, and it's white with a sparkly diamond speck in it.  I've seen a bathroom done in this quartz, with white cabinets and shiny white porcelain fixtures, and I thought it was the bomb, so pretty it kind of made my chest tighten.  I also like clean, fluffy white towels and gleaming chrome faucets.

I like square rooms better than rectangular ones, the more square, the better.  I don't mind if two square rooms adjoin to make a rectangle (for instance, a living room and a dining room), but I like each furniture grouping to have the luxury of sitting in its own square.  This feels good to me.

I like rectangular tiles better than square tiles.  Also, I like round knobs, not square ones.

I like natural wood and natural brick (it makes me so sad when they paint brick white; sometimes I watch home improvement shows just for the horror of seeing them do this again and again).  Bricks are nicest in adobe red tones, and wood is nicest when it is brown.  These are their God-given colors and we rarely improve on God's design style when we mess with it.  Likewise, pumpkins should be orange, apples should be red, and daisies should be white with yellow centers.

Someday I would love to have a little grand-daughter named Bonnie Mae after my mother and my father's mother, because I think that is one of the cutest names I've ever heard.  Ruby Rose has a nice ring, too (and red is my favorite color).

But what I have is a cozy home with two furry dogs, a blue teakettle on the stove, and a CD player I finally learned how to run, playing a CD of hymns put together by R.C. Sproul.  It really is enough to be quiet and safe and warm in a familiar place, thinking about good things that might happen tomorrow.

This is a mostly meaningless and vapid post, but it feels good anyway; or perhaps I'm the one who feels good.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Little love pats

Today I was walking Schubert, and I saw a blue heron fly over our small lake.   It alighted in a dead tree on the far side of the lake and just perched there, still as a branch.  I never would have noticed it if I hadn't seen its wings extended in the air first.  I stopped walking and just stood and stared at it, waiting to see whether it would move.  Schubert and I were near the little bridge that the Eagle Scout put in for his service project last year, the bridge across the south tip of the lake where the runoff flows down into the Sangamon River.  It was a novel place for Schubert to stop and explore, so he snuffled and scratched at the ground while I watched the heron.

It's a perfect fall day, cool, crisp and warm in the sun.  It's that strange point in autumn where most of the foliage is still green, but the ground is covered with crunchy fallen leaves nonetheless.

The heron didn't move until another large bird flew across the lake and passed it.  That catalyzed a reaction and the heron lifted its wings and glided away to the northwest.  Schubert and I resumed our walk.

Whenever I see a blue heron, I somehow remember that God loves me.  I don't know why this is, but my heart lifted as we crunched along through the leaves on the path in the woods.

I remembered: yesterday I had gone to Hobby Lobby to look for a shelf.  We've been working on the main shared bathroom upstairs, and I wanted to install a shelf on the wall over the toilet.  I'd been combing Amazon, but then it occurred to me that Hobby Lobby might have something, and I wouldn't have to wait for it to be shipped.  I know that Hobby Lobby is, well, Hobby Lobby.  But sometimes I have surprisingly good luck finding useful things there.

So I went to Hobby Lobby, and right off the bat, I pulled into the parking lot, and there was an SUV backing out of a spot literally right in front of the store.  I could not believe it.  I could not believe it wasn't a handicapped spot.  I double-checked and no, it was a plain, ordinary parking spot, smack in front of the store.  I pulled in, wondering whether God was blessing me.

Then, as I was walking into the store, in the vestibule, I saw a small blackish cabinet that was just like what I've been looking for to put in a corner of our half-bathroom downstairs.  I've been looking for about a year and a half, but everything is either too big, or too small, or too spindly, or too art deco, or too something.  But here was a little black cabinet that looked just right.  The price wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible.  I thought maybe I'd consider buying it if it was still there when I was finished shopping.

Perusing the store, I found a shelf that was just what I was looking for, too, and it was half price (sometimes when I shop at Hobby Lobby, the things I need are not half price, and then I hate to buy them, because I know if I go the right week, they will be half price).  At half price, it was considerably cheaper than anything I'd seen on Amazon, and I liked the design better anyway.

I should pause here to say that I despise shopping, and it does not generally go like this for me.  This may be a boring and mundane story for anyone else to read, because perhaps your shopping trips are successful all the time, but it was quite an aberration in my life, and that is why I am recording it.  That is why I remembered about it, after I saw the heron by the lake.

So anyway, I bought the shelf, and the cabinet, and a wall plaque that I thought would be cute in our guest bedroom.  The cabinet fit nicely in the trunk of the car, and I was able to load it easily, all by myself, without incident.

Then I went to Aldi, and (1) I got another good parking spot and (2) when I went to get a cart, although I had forgotten to prepare a quarter, it having been eons since I had been to Aldi, I found that the last cart in the stack already had a quarter in it, and thus was free for the taking.

At this point, I knew that the Lord was smiling on me, telling me that He loves me.  It's little things, you know.  I want my family clustered around me, in peace and love and good Christian fellowship, everyone full of joy and successfully working through their sanctification towards the ever increasing glory of eternal life.  I want grandchildren to dandle on my knee, growing up a mile or two away, close enough that they can nap at my house while their mom is shopping for groceries, then wake up to help me deadhead the zinnias.  I want a new roof and freshly waterproofed basement.  But, you know, a quarter in the cart at Aldi is nice, in the absence of the rest of it.  It tells me that although God will not accommodate my whining, He does like to let me know that He's paying attention, and He does like to thrill my heart in His own ways.

When I finished at Aldi, I went to return my cart to the corral.  A woman was coming towards the carts from her car.  Let me just explain that the cart racks at this particular Aldi are about impossible to navigate, so shoppers are always trying to catch someone before he has plugged his cart back in, in an attempt to avoid the struggle of unlocking and then trying to steer an impossible cart backwards through a crazy-long length of metal corral.  So this woman came running, hand extended with a quarter, calling out to me to please not run the cart into the corral. Her hair was blowing into her face, and in her left arm she clutched a shopping basket that flopped awkwardly against her leg.  I saw myself in her, and I loved her.

I left the cart at an angle for her and headed towards my car.  She came running after me with her quarter, frantic to be a decent person.  It felt so good to say, "Don't worry, there was already a quarter in in the cart when I got it!"  I saw her visibly relax, turning to take the cart into the store, and here, too, I felt the love of God.

When I got home, I put away my food, and the new little cabinet fit perfectly in the spot where I'd been wanting to put it.

There are bad things too, things I won't mention, but the symbol of them was on the middle of the road towards the beginning of my walk with Schubert: a dead squirrel on its back, with blood running out of its open mouth, too gruesome to examine closely, and eighteen inches from him, a flattened chipmunk.  These lay in the road and my stomach lurched as I yanked my dog away on his leash, squinting, picking up my pace to get past.  I don't know the story of how they got there, or why they were both there, so close together and so freshly dead.  I pulled my dog away, and soon I saw a friendly neighbor installing a smart looking new light on his porch, and then I got to the lake, and the bridge, and I saw the heron.

God shows us blue herons, yellow butterflies, a single brilliant red maple in a sea of green.  He helps us find shelves and cabinets.  He gives us perfect parking spaces and free carts at Aldi.  He even gives us opportunities to pass it all forward, if we will just take note.

He is here.  He is near.  He knows.

Monday, October 5, 2015


I have been thinking about the concept of distance lately.

I hate it.

I mean, I really hate it.

Physical distance, emotional distance, geographical distance, even theological distance.  These are the things that keep us from intimacy, from love, from knowing and caring and doing for one another.

So many things in life drive us apart, break our fellowship and our unity in big ways and small.  Children grow up without knowing their grandparents or their cousins.  Time is lost, and relationships with it.  It seems as though these things will never be restored.  What does God mean about giving back the years of the locusts?  When the pain is in the now, eternity seems a whimsy, too far off to carry weight, and within that thought we see yet another curse of distance.  

Leaden hearts weighing down our lungs, we sometimes try to breach distances, while other times we just give up, defeated, because it is too hard to work out the schedule, the money and the tolls on energy and health that result from long journeys.

I hate being far from people I love.  I don't think this is a sin, no more than hating cancer or car accidents or earthquakes or violent crime.  God allows all these things into various people's lives at particular times, for particular reasons.  We have to accept and trust, but we don't have to like the tragedy. 

Admittedly, there are times when you can appreciate a bit of space.  Being quiet and participating in periods of solitude are healing to a burdened soul.

Solitude and isolation are not the same thing.  Neither are space and distance. Perhaps the difference is whether you choose it, or whether it is forced on you against your will.

Then, of course, you have to consider the sovereignty of God, and surrender to what He gives you.  But if distance is a result of the fall, the curse of sin, at least there must be hope that one day distance--like disease, war, fear and grief--will no longer plague our weary hearts.

God places the lonely in families...
(from Psalm 68:6, NLT)

Do not be afraid, for I am with you.  
 I will gather you and your children 
from east and west.
(Isaiah 43:5, NLT)

On that day I will gather you together
    and bring you home again.
(from Zephaniah 3:20, NLT)

I will bring them home again 
to live safely in Jerusalem. 
They will be my people, 
and I will be faithful and just toward them 
as their God.
(Zechariah 8:8, NLT) 

And this most beautiful story:
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
(Ruth 4:13-17, ESV) 

God is near to us.  He is near to all who call on Him in truth.  He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those whose spirits are crushed.  He promises never to leave us nor forsake us.  God made us and placed us in this world, into time and space, in various places at specific times so that we would seek Him, grope our way towards Him, and yet He is not far away from any of us.

God is near.  He is not far.  He wants to gather us together under His soft, feathery wings and shelter us, care for us, comfort us, restore us.

And he who was seated on the throne said, 
“Behold, I am making all things new.” 
(from Revelation 21:5, ESV)


Thursday, October 1, 2015

What I learned in September

I blinked and September was over.

Today is October 1.  Happy October 1!

It's time to reflect back on what I learned last month, what I learned in September.

I learned a new Bible verse.  I like it from the New Living Translation:

I pray that God, the source of hope, 
will fill you completely with joy and peace 
because you trust in Him. 
Then you will overflow with confident hope 
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

I printed this verse on a sheet of paper, and I carry it from here to there and back.

I learned a bit about blood moons.  Or are they Blood Moons?  I find it interesting that we had a blue moon in July and a blood moon in September.  The blue moon was yellow, and the blood moon was brownish red.   Blood moons are a result of a lunar eclipse, when the earth orbits into a position directly between the sun and the moon.  The earth is not large enough to block the sun's light completely, and the rays that bend around the edges of the earth have the longest wavelengths, giving the moon a reddish appearance.

We watched a documentary about blood moons, but it was very poorly executed and I would not recommend it.

We watched the blood moon itself on Sunday night, September 27, 2015.  It lasted from 9:11 until 10:23.  Of course, we did not stay out on the driveway the whole entire time, but we watched its bright edge slip away, and then we watched it for awhile longer.  Shannon texted me while we were observing this astronomical wonder.  "Isn't it cool that we're both looking at it?" she texted.  Indeed.  There she was, outside her house in Massachusetts, and here we were, on our driveway in Illinois, both gazing upwards at the same real, physical thing.  What a nice feeling.

I think a month is, perhaps, a rather ambitiously short time in which to try to learn something.  I continue to learn about waiting and hoping.  I continue to learn about my responses to unexpected life events: company acquisitions, new jobs, new insurance benefits, new doctors.  I continue to learn how far I have yet to go.

I learned how very weak I am.  I had a spell, when multiple issues and circumstances, disappointments, worries and struggles, all piled up on me at once.  I'd thought I was doing better, and then suddenly everything tanked.  There I was, in my quiet spot before Jesus, except His face was hidden and I had no words, no pulsing in my heart to pray.  How to describe it?  It was almost as though I couldn't believe; my faith was stopped up.  Can you feel frantic and filled with concrete at the same time?

I learned that Jesus leads people to pray for us when we cannot pray for ourselves.  And while they are praying, Jesus can drag you through your shower and get you dressed when you don't have it in you to do it yourself, when you can't even sense His presence at all.  

When you can't even imagine the effort it's going to take to get that sock over your foot, and then you find yourself miraculously fully dressed, driving your vehicle down the highway to the next thing, and you have no idea how it happened, but your tears are dry and you're rationally reflecting on your responsibilities for the day.  

It isn't the miracle you were hoping for.  You wanted June back, a fleet of nurses and cosmetologists to pamper and massage, a month at the beach.  A chocolate sundae.  A free roof.  Healed body, healed spirits, healed hearts, shortened distances.  Heaven on earth.  That's what you wanted.  

You were given the ability to get dressed and walk out of your house to face the day, and that is the miracle you need to be grateful for, because it is more of a miracle than you know.