Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pondering Refuge....Follow that Ball!

The storm "blew in" suddenly, or so it seemed. The clouds had actually been threatening something wild and possibly dangerous all afternoon. But it seemed like it came quickly once it started.

I watched from my favorite vantage point...right inside the door. Behind the glass door, with it open just enough so that I could feel a fine mist of rain and experience just a touch of the wild wind, I watched. (I love the wind unless, of course, it is blowing sawdust or furniture.)

I laughed to myself when a large pink beach ball came flying down the alley and made the turn into the street in front of my house. It bounced and flew and jutted from one side of the street to the other at the mercy of the wind and the rain.

The ball was blowing up the street, the rain was running down the street and soon the flighty thing became lodged under the front fender of the old truck parked across the street.

I considered going after it, but had no desire to suffer the consequences, so I continued to enjoy this spectacle of nature from the comfortable dryness of just inside the door.

I was more than a little surprised when, just as suddenly, the ball dislodged itself and began to tumble back down the street, fighting against the wind for all it was worth. It seemed to take on a life of its own, determined, against all odds, to make its way back home. (For, not only did it bounce into the stream of water running back the way it had come, but then it actually turned the corner and flew back up the alley!)

Again I laughed and, when the storm had played itself out, I ran out to try to catch a glimpse of the ball. I found it safely snuggled up against a concrete wall in the alley. Apparently, it had found a place of shelter, a refuge of sorts, hidden from the raging storms...just like me.

For I too, like that ball, have found a refuge, a place to ride out the the stormy gales of life. Regardless, of the storms that come my way, I have a safe place to run to and I am daily pavilioned in praise...

Psalm 27:5

For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me up upon a rock.
Psalm 61:4
I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings
Psalm 34:8
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the woman who takes refuge in Him.
Psalm 46:1
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Psalm 59:16-17
But I will sing of Your strength, in the morning I will sing of Your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I sing praise to You; You, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Defeating Giants

So many times I've had to face a Goliath of my own,
Often I am hurt, afraid, betrayed alone.
and there stands Goliath in all his might and glory,
So sure that he already knows the outcome of the story.

Although Goliath towers so very high above me,
And his confidence in himself is plain for me to see,
All the fiery darts and painful arrows he has hurled,
Are merely useless weapons of this defeated world.

For I am sure that when Goliath boldly faces me,
He doesn't know his enemy is one he cannot see.
For my battles with Goliath are never fought alone,
But by the Mighty Warrior declaring victory from His Throne.

For Jesus is my Shield, my steadfast Hiding Place,
In Him I've found salvation, courage, strength and grace.
He's rescued me from trouble and soothed all of my pain,
And there lies Goliath wretched, defeated, slain.

So I will sing His praises and I'll shout the victory,
It's Jesus who will reign for all eternity.
And when my life is over and earth returns to dust,
I'll be singing there in glory somewhere near the One I trust.

For I am clothed in victory, a child of the KING,
And by the power of His might I can face anything.
No mountains too high, No river too wide,
In the arms of my Savior safely I abide.

written while facing my own giants.... 3.26.89

Saturday, August 22, 2009

We Are a Vapor... For Ricki

Ricki's Mom and his brother AJ

Rarely, if ever do I sleep in. I don't think I know how. This morning, though, I was just pondering the fact that it was already 7:30 and I was hardly even up yet, and what to do with this Saturday-when the phone rang. It was one of "those calls" that you know will, in many ways, change, not only the course of the day, but many lives, as well.

It was my daughter Shawna calling to tell me that her brother-in-law (Ricki's younger brother) had been killed in an accident in the early morning hours. Shock and grief ushered in this day for Ricki's family. Eventually, the shock will settle into reality, but the grieving will hang around for a long time to come...this is life.

So, it is only natural, for me at least, that this event has caused me to ponder and consider the frailty of life. One of my favorite chorus says it so simply....

We are a moment You are forever
Lord of the ages God before time
We are a vapor You are eternal
Love everlasting reigning on high

Holy holy Lord God Almighty
Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain
Highest praises honor and glory
Be unto Your name
Be unto Your name

We are the broken You are the healer
Jesus Redeemer mighty to save
You are the love song we'll sing forever
Bowing before You blessing Your name
© 1998 Integrity's Hosanna! Music

We are a vapor...
We have no guarantee of time. This life is merely a prelude to eternity and I am reminded to make the most of each day, to count my blessings moment by moment, to continue to live knowing, with the Apostle Paul that, "To live is Christ and to die is gain."
We are the broken, You are the healer...
I pray that Ricki and Shawna and the rest of AJ's family and friends know and experience Your comfort and healing in the days to come. May a peace that passes all understanding transcend their loss and bring comfort to their souls.
Psalm 39:11
"...each man is but a breath."

Friday, August 21, 2009



They say the layered earth rose up
Ancient rock leviathan
Trailing ages in its wake
Lifting earth mass toward the sun
And coursing water cut the rock away
To leave these many-storied walls
Exposé of ages gone
Around this breathless emptiness
More wondrous far than earth has ever known.

My life has risen layered too
Each day, each year in turn has left
Its fossil life and sediments
Evidence of lived and unlived hours
The tedium, the anguish, yes the joy
That some heart-deep vitality
Keeps pressing upward toward the day I die.

And Spirit cuts like water through it all
Carving out this emptiness
So inner eye can see
The soaring height of canyon walls within
Walls whose very color, texture, form
Redeem in beauty all my life has been
The darkness and the light, the false, the true
While deep below the living waters run
Cutting deeper through my parts
To resurrect my grave bound heart.
Making, always making, all things new.Align Center

—Parker J. Palmer, in The Weavings Reader

"L' Shana haba' ah b'Yerushalayim!"

It begins every year, in the weeks leading up to the celebration of Easter.
It is this indescribable hunger, this inner desire, this stubborn yearning...
To walk where Jesus walked...
To kneel in the Garden...
To stand on the Mount of Olives...
To look out over the Sea of Galilee...
To explore the streets of Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem...
Every year, and even now, the emotions well up in my heart, the tears flood my eyes...
The desire never fully leaves.
But, after Easter, I place it once again on the back burner of my heart...
The Impossible Dream. It's always been just a dream. Until now! Now the cry of my heart rings... "L' Shana haba' ah b'Yerushalayim!" "Next Year in Jerusalem!" Next year, the Lord willing, I will walk the streets, pray in the Garden, sail on the Sea... and I can hardly wait.

Letters to Jesus: Judas

There is no way to explain it, except to say that the voices in my head screamed louder for my attention that the small voice in my heart! Today, for the sum total of thirty pieces of silver, I sold my soul to the devil himself! For forty days he tempted you in the desert. He promised you all the kingdoms of the world, did he not? And yet, you turned your back and walked away. But me? Not me, greed and the desire for power and recognition and influence have so dominated my very existence that I would betray even my best friend, my only true friend in the whole world, for an amount of silver that would buy no more than a small parcel of land. My fate has been determined by thirty pieces of silver for all of eternity.
What is wrong with me? What has so flawed my mind that these wretched, screaming voices are able to control my thoughts, my will and my very being. If only I could relive this day. If I could only take back that one act of….of….
O God, my sin is so great, my deeds so wicked, my betrayal so profoundly evil. I know it is useless to even ask for Your forgiveness. If only I could explain it, justify it, but I can’t. There is no excuse for what I have done to Jesus the Christ.
I have heard Your teaching. I know Your words of instruction. Oh, believe me; I have even contemplated following Your example. But it can’t be done! I can’t! I don’t know how. I don’t understand. It is as though my mind is clouded, veiled to the message You preach. There is this fog in my head and coldness in my heart. I am totally unable to comprehend this thing You call grace; the very thing that I have seen you extend to others time after time.
The voices in my head tell me I am nothing. I am not worthy; I will never be good enough. I am bad, I am evil, I am beyond hope or redemption. And, for some reason, it is easier to believe the loud, raucous and shrill voices than to believe anything You have said to me these last three years.
Jesus, I want you to know, for whatever it is worth, that I gave back the 30 pieces of silver. “Blood money” they called it, but I feel no better. I read the loathing and hatred on the Pharisee’s faces, as I did on everyone else’s…except Yours. Jesus, how could you continue to look at me with such love? I am shamed by it.
I must go now…the voices….they are summoning me once again…they are calling me to the precipice…to the abyss…it is time to end it. Thirty pieces of silver was my price. One piece of rope is my destiny.

Letters to Jesus: Mary of Bethany

Dear Jesus,

I trust that You will receive this letter before leaving Bethany. I must write quickly, if it is possible, there is so much in my heart that I wasn’t able to share with You yesterday. I must hurry because Martha thinks I am with the other women washing clothes. She is still angry with me because of what I did yesterday! But, I was so absorbed, “engulfed in myself,” (those are her words!) in showing You my love and gratitude and devotion that it was easy to pretend that I did not hear Judas’ words of condemnation and, I must confess, I really did ignore her when she whispered so loudly for me to come to her immediately. She was embarrassed, but I could not help myself, even in the face of his scorn and her fury.

Judas’ reprimand nearly pierced my soul and yet, I know he could never understand the depth of our love for You. He wasn’t there the day my brother lay three days cold and dead, deep in the family tomb. Nor did he see You weep when You witnessed the grief and despair and anguish with which Martha and I greeted You that day. We were so overcome when You finally returned to us in Bethany, but still we feared that it was too late, for even You, to help him.

Judas does not know the despair of one who had so recently lost the only brother she has ever known, the only one who even begins to understand my devotion to You, the only one, besides You, my dearest friend, who comes to my defense when I do something foolish or thoughtless. Nor will Judas ever be able to understand the utter joy I felt when You stood at the entrance of the tomb and called my brother’s name, “Lazarus! Lazarus!” And from the dead, he heard Your voice and today he is with us again, healthier and stronger than I have ever seen him in his whole life. Is it any wonder I fall at your feet whenever I am in Your presence? It is You who has brought such joy, such hope and such freedom into our lives.

Thank you for coming to my defense. I knew You would and that is another reason why I was able to keep silent, even when angry words were on the tip of my tongue. How many times have You defended me when Martha would have liked to shake me for my “thoughtlessness.” Jesus, if she could only understand how impossible it is to stand in front of a hot oven when Your precious voice is so muffled and far away in another room. I can hardly stand the thought of missing one thought, one teaching, one blessed word of love and encouragement from Your lips. I do not understand how her heart keeps from dragging her into Your presence as mine does.

I wonder if Martha and I will ever understand each other. How can two sisters, joined by flesh and blood, be so different in temperament and spirit? Will we always be such a mystery and frustration to each other? (Father God, help me to love and understand my dear sister as You do!)

Martha says that if I would spend more time helping her and less time at Your feet, that I wouldn’t draw so much unwanted attention to myself. I know that would make her happy but, Jesus, when You are with us it is as though I am compelled to sit at Your feet. Martha says my “head is in the clouds” when You are near, but how could I ever explain to her the fear that I feel deep within my heart; The fear that we will soon have to say good-by to You. I have seen it in Your eyes, such unspeakable sorrow, I know You will not be with us much longer.

I think You have been trying to prepare us for Your departure for many weeks now. I know it frustrates You that no one seems to listen to You when You speak of it. None of us can bear the thought of You leaving and we do not fully understand why You must go. (God, give me the wisdom to understand Your will and the strength to accept it.)

I think Lazarus has some inkling of what is to come, there is sorrow in his eyes, as well. By-the-way, he was not at all angry with me yesterday. Unlike Martha, he says the nard belonged to me and how I chose to use it was no one else’s business. He agreed with You, the poor will always be among us and they will indeed be hungry again, but You will not always be with us and that spikenard was the only thing I had that was anywhere near precious enough to pour upon Your tired and weary feet. (Dear God, if I am to be called a foolish woman, let it be for Jesus’ sake!) I am sorry that Martha was angry and embarrassed, but I will confess to You alone, that I would do it all over again just to see the look of pleasure and approval in Your eyes.

And then, as I knelt there before You and my tears spilt upon Your feet, I looked into Your eyes again, and it was as though all the mysteries of the ages were hidden deep within Your soul and I was unable to fathom the depth of Your sorrow…or Your love. Alas, I am not at all like You. You seem to have the ability to look into the heart and soul of any one of us and know what we are thinking and how we are feeling. Sometimes I wonder if you know the words I am about to speak before they even leave my mouth! Martha is so sure that you can “read her mind” that I often wonder if that is why she hides in the kitchen so much when You are near!

I laugh every time I think of the way you hid her broom yesterday afternoon when she wasn’t looking. Even though she rolled her eyes and made that noise she always makes when she is disgusted with me, I know that she was pleased when you grabbed her hand and dragged her in to sit with the men. I know she loves you as much as I do-it just isn’t as easy for her to say it, but every time she cooks a meal or serves you a cold glass of wine or turns down Your bed in the guest room, she is saying, “I love you, too, Jesus.”

Oh dear, I hear her calling me and I do not think she wants to tell me how much she loves me just now! I must hurry, dear Friend, You remain, as always, in my thoughts, in my heart and in my very being. (The aroma of spikenard so fills our home and my hair still, that it is as though Your presence continues to linger with us, even yet this morning. May the sweet aroma of Your presence fill my life forever.)

Your Devoted Servant,

Mary of Bethany

Reminder from Jacob: On Allegiance

Jacob had been with me for several days and fortunately he is able to keep himself entertained for long periods of time, because Grandma had a lot to get done. By Tuesday afternoon, I was so proud of him and pleased to have accomplished so much that I promised to take him to Blockbuster and get him a movie to watch while I had a church board meeting that evening.

Silly me! I should have known better. If I had really been thinking I would have insisted that he pick a movie from the assortment that I already had…what was I thinking? You see, the problem is that Jacob and I have the complete opposite tastes in movies! Radically different tastes.

Jacob is into all things spooky, scary and violent. He loves zombies, monsters and skeletons, ghouls and goblins and blood sucking vampires. And me, as a person who grew up with paralyzing fear and disabling panic attacks, well I was overly cautious about what my children watched and read and saw and experienced. Determined, I was, to make sure that fear never entered their lives like it had mine. Then I find myself paired with a child who loves it all and I have a dilemma of my own making!

So, after we wandered the aisles for at least 30 minutes with no decision made, I began to get impatient with Jacob and aggravated with myself for putting us in this predicament…I should have known better. Finally, I said, “Five more minutes and then we’re outta here.” (Even as I kept steering him away from the “weird” stuff and he kept finding his way back.)

We left Blockbuster that afternoon without a movie. I told Jacob he would just have to pick one of mine. He didn’t fuss much. He was very quiet as we started home, too quiet. He was obviously pondering something and soon it came forth. “Grandma,” he sighed, “Are you ONLY a fan of God?”

I am still not quite sure how he correlated the two or how he pieced that together with our movie selection fiasco, but he did. And you know what? I liked it. I told my kids, “That’s what I want written on my grave marker. ‘Grandma, are you only a fan of God?’”

I pondered that for many days. Where does my allegiance lie in all things? And, is it true that I am “only a fan of God?” Well, pretty much and with good reason. And with that I am content.

Psalm 73:23-26
Yet I am always with You; 
You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel, 

and afterward You will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You? 

And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail, 

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pondering "Favorites"


I was talking with a friend a couple of years ago while we waited for our swim class to begin at the YMCA. Somehow the conversation came to the point where she said, "I don't know about God. I am NOT one of His favorites." I was stunned. You see the One she so coldly and  impersonally referred to as "God," is the One I most often refer to as "Father God." He is my Heavenly Father and I had never considered, to that point anyway, whether or not He had favorites or "played" favorites. 

Okay, so this week I began to ponder this question again. The stirrings began after I left three of my grandchildren last Saturday. My daughter Lolly is the mother of Jacob who will be seven at the end of September and Anna who will be two in November and then in July she gave birth to baby Mary. Trust me...I am crazy about these kids...I love them to pieces and they are only three of a total of eight. At this point in my life I feel truly blessed in the "grandmother" area.

So I love these kids, but the question is, "Do I have a favorite?"
Well, it would certainly appear as if I do. You know that Mary, at just a few weeks old, has simple needs and is only now beginning to smile and respond to those around her. I love to snuggle with her, care for her basic needs and, every week, I am anxious to see how much she has grown. But really, Mary doesn't yet know that I will one day be her favorite grandma.

And then there is Jacob, nearing 7, ready to start full day, all day school. He is busy. He is preoccupied. He barely has time to tell his grandma hello before he is off and running or caught up in whatever it is that has captured his attention for the moment. And, if there are any of his "others" around, like cousin Julia or Lil' Ricki, well forcing a hug and a moment of attention is stretching his patience considerably.

And then there is Anna. When this grandma walks in the door she can't get to me quick enough. She throws herself in my arms and begins a steady stream of conversation. She is learning quickly to know that, she may be "daddy's angel" but she's "Grandma Deb's girl." She wants all of my time and all of my attention. She hasn't necessarily expressed jealousy when I am holding Mary, but she certainly wants me to make room on my lap for her. When I am around even "the momma" (who is probably her favorite person in the whole world) seems to take second place, and she is not above brushing off her other favorites for me, either.

I suppose you can guess how I respond to Anna's overtures of love and affection. And, I suppose, to some, it would appear that Anna is my favorite. But think about it for a moment and ponder why it might just be that someone who feels like, "I am NOT one of His favorites" would come to that conclusion. Consider the responses I receive from these three grandchildren and relate it to how we respond to God.

There are those of us who, like Mary, are infantile in our relationship with Him. It's about our basic needs and not much more. Or we can be like Jacob, busy and preoccupied with other people or other things. Our world teaches self-reliance and all the other "self" stuff.

Now consider Anna's response. Doesn't it make sense that those of us who run into "Father God's" arms, who long to spend time with Him, who are persistent in communication. with Him, who express love and affection in numerous ways....well, no wonder someone would think "I am one of His favorites!" Aren't I? Or does it just appear that way?

I think the bottom line here is this. I believe He loves us all equally, but doesn't it make sense that, if we are responding to God like Anna responds to me, our relationship with Him will be more delightful, more fulfilling and more satisfying...and it might even appear as if we are His favorite? I would love to know what you think.

Reminder from Jacob: On Comfort

Reminders from Jacob: On Comfort
We left early Saturday evening (two of my daughters, Shawna and Lolly, and my grandson, Jacob and I) for the 16-hour drive to Missouri for a wedding.
Lolly had purchased a DVD player that would attach to the headrest on the back of the driver’s seat and brought along all of 2 1/2 year-old Jacob’s favorite movies.
All went well for the first four hours while Jacob watched one movie after another, snacked on all of his favorite treats and played with an innumerable number of toys…his mother was well prepared. And, of course, he had her undivided attention.
Around bedtime we made a “pit stop” and when we got back into the car Jacob grabbed his blankie and pillow and climbed into the back window stating, “I get comftable now,” as he prepared for a good night’s sleep.
To say that he was upset when his mom informed him that he could not sleep in the window, but had to return to his car seat and be strapped in, would be an understatement. He spent the next ten minutes protesting loudly and pouting dramatically, until finally he cried himself to sleep. Ahhh, the peaceful bliss of a sleeping child.
For the next several minutes and throughout the following days, as I pondered that incident and shared it with others, I thought how like Jacob we are, sometimes, with God!
When my five children were small, child car seats were a relatively unheard of commodity. As babies and toddlers, I held all of my children in my lap in the passenger’s seat of the car. I remember them all, at different times, standing in the front seat between us. And climbing back and forth over the front seat into the back was a regular occurrence. I am appalled at the thought today!
Lolly asked me, at one point in the night, when it was so apparent that Jacob was uncomfortable and restless, if I thought it would be alright for her to unstrap him and let him lay on the seat beside her. I could not even stand the thought of him being out of his seat for a few minutes. How would we live with ourselves if anything happened to him because of our negligence?
I continue to ponder the lessons…
Jacob, strapped in a well made child safety seat, was as safe as he could possibly be while riding in a moving vehicle. How like the arms of God! We are invited to rest in Him, to allow Him to shield us and protect us and see us safely through life’s journey. He in the driver’s seat and we along for the ride!
Yet, how often do we pull and tug against the straps, fight against the restraints, fail to yield to the Father’s will? How prone we are to climb out of the safety seat, sometimes even choosing to scurry behind the wheel and take a detour that might be a little quicker or easier and much less restraining!
Or, just like Jacob we want to “get comftable!” And we think we know how to get that way…regardless of what God might have planned, which may even wind up moving us waaaaay out of our “comftable” (and safe) zone!
Jacob, too, struggles with the fact that his mom and dad know what is best for him. At 2 1/2 he is ever so prone to wanting to do things his way, in his time and he wants instant gratification always. When mom or dad say, “no,” the drama begins. Oh Lord, keep ME from willful ways!
Anyway, I keep thinking of lessons to be learned from Jacob…maybe God will speak to you through this, as well! In the meantime, know that He provides the best kind of comfort we need! In His arms we can safely abide.

Reminder from Jacob: On Obedience

It was Jacob’s first “big boy bed.” It didn’t look very big to us, but for him it was a step away from his crib and babyhood. He was excited, after all, this was a whole new dimension of freedom and he loved the Sponge Bob sheets and comforter that his mom and dad had purchased, as well.

But what Jacob liked most about the new arrangement was the arrangement! His big boy bed was strategically placed at the foot of his mom and dad’s bed. The beds were in an “L” formation with about 18 inches between them. Perfect jumping space for a “jumping machine” like Jake.

Well, his dad Mark watched him jump from their bed onto his for several minutes but, after Jacob almost jumped into the wall headfirst, he decided it was too dangerous.

“Jacob,” Mark ordered sternly, “You have to stop that now! It’s too dangerous!” And, as Jacob began to prepare for another jump, Mark said, “Young man, don’t you dare jump again!” Jake looked at his daddy, then he looked at the bed, then he looked back at his daddy and simply went limp and fell like a dishrag onto his bed! (Believe me when I tell you that, sometimes, it is hard to discipline this child without first hiding somewhere and having a good laugh! Do you know what I mean?)

“Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “How often have I obeyed my FATHER just like Jacob?” Looking for a way around or an easier way or a more palatable way to do the hard thing, the difficult task, that thing which I just plain don’t want to do! So, the Lord reminds me through a 2 year olds antics that partial obedience is not obedience. Half-hearted obedience is not obedience and delayed obedience is not the kind of obedience He desires from me, either. And somehow I don’t think that my FATHER is laughing at my antics!

I do hope HE is pleased with me right now, though. I am getting ready to take the biggest step of my life. I am moving totally out of my comfort zone in every way. I am doing something that I feel is completely beyond my realm of understanding and every time I ask myself, or HIM, why I am doing this, the answer is right there in front of me…Because HE told me to and I have chosen to be obedient! And with that recognition, I have the privilege of falling limply into His arms.

“March on, My Soul, be strong!”