Monday, February 12, 2018

Loving Well

Gus (age three): “Daddy, where Nana?”  Daddy: “She left on the plane last night after you went to bed.”  Gus: “Me miss Nana!”  As you can imagine, my “love-o-meter” was on overflow when I heard about that conversation.

My daughter-in-love texted me a picture that Henry (age seven) submitted to his school journal. It showed two stick people, one clearly labeled “Nana” and the other, “me”.  We had our arms wound around each other and underneath the picture he wrote: “My Nana came to town and it was AWESOME!”  (Be still my heart.)

Love. A simple word with so many meanings.  At this time of year we envision flowers, cards with hearts, romance and chocolate.  Charlie and I recently attended a wonderful dinner sponsored by our church, at a local resort restaurant – an early celebration of Valentine’s Day.

I love watching “chick flicks”, at least the ones that honor a moral code.  Nothing like a good romance, with all the complications of the story (assuming the guy and gal end up together!). Of course, Hollywood has tarnished the whole idea of romantic love but, thankfully, through Christian sources there are still some lovely movies available.

Is love limited to those “feel good” moments?  Are we loving each other only when we are smiling and laughing?

I would suggest that love often makes strong demands on us.  Deep love happens in the dark and tough events of life.  The “Jesus on the cross”… kinds of events. The sacrificial loss of life during war…. kinds of events.  First Responders putting their own lives in danger…kinds of events.

Real love means choosing to birth and love the baby in the womb who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.  That one stares me in the face every time I spend time with my six year old grandson, Jacob. Love is being in for the long haul.

Real love means working hard on marriage, sitting with a counselor and walking through the human sin areas to get to the other side. 

Real love may take the form of “tough love” with an errant teenager or a loved one who needs help with an addiction. 

Real love may be choosing to make funds available for a ministry instead of purchasing more ____ (fill in the blank). “Sacrificial giving”?  It doesn’t even compare with the sacrifice Jesus made as he looked down from the cross, praying,” Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

There is an old song containing the words, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.”  I would certainly agree with those words but I wonder if the writer had a clue how much the world needs real love.

There are many verses in the Bible on love; after all, the Bible is the greatest love story ever told. 1 Corinthians 3:13, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”   There are also scriptures highlighting God’s love for us using words like “discipline”, “reproves”, “speaking truth”. (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 2:6, Revelation 3:19, to name a few.)

As we approach Valentine’s Day, let’s turn our hearts toward the God Who spoke love to us through the words of His book.  As we pray for guidance and direction, I challenge us to allow God to reprove and discipline us.  What is He asking me or you to do?  How much do we actually love God?  Is He our ALL or do we place Him out of sight at times?

I love my “Chick Flicks” and romance novels but what I want most of all is to deeply love The One Who created me, the One Who rescued, redeemed and restored me.  You know that picture Henry drew?  I envision God and I wrapping our arms around each other when I step into eternity and I can’t wait to hear the words, “Judy, I love you” as I look at Jesus’ nail pierced hands.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Zoning Out

One of the great blessings of this season of my life is the freedom I have to travel.
Often my travels take me to Portland, OR where 2 of the most wonderful grandchildren live!  (I know, I’m a wee bit biased.)  But my most recent adventure took me to North Carolina.  In the middle of a frigid, wintry Upper Peninsula day, I got an overwhelming urge to visit my BFF.

Thankfully, I was able to get a last minute ticket at a reasonable cost. After running my plans through my hubby, and with no commitments pending that were not changeable, I got online and booked my ticket.

It was a wonderful week, filled with relaxing moments, the sharing of our lives, good food, movies and quiet time. It was a time of refreshment and regeneration that flew by, and before I knew it, it was time to head home. 

VERY early (try 3:15am!) on the morning of my departure my friend drove me to the airport, a tough hour for a non morning person like me.  After checking my bag, I headed to my gate.  Thankfully everything went like clockwork and soon I was on my way.

I made my connecting flight in Detroit (I never just assume that is going to happen per previous experiences!) and by the time I boarded I was tired and ready to be home.  As I was settling in for my short flight the flight attendant got on the PA system; he ran through the usual instructions about seat belts and “in case of a water landing”, how to manage the air mask, etc.  I zoned out having heard that message so many times.

And then a very real thought came to me. “What if…?” What if suddenly there was a real emergency?  I asked myself if I would truly remember all of those instructions when it really mattered.  Would I remember where to find my life jacket?  Would I remember where my closest exit was?  How easy it was to just zone out when I was getting instructions I had heard so many times!

Hmm. That gave me pause…and I connected this experience with my walk with Jesus. I began to ponder over the many times I have heard Bible stories, or read familiar verses.  What about John 3:16?  That verse has been recited and heard so many times that I wonder if it has become almost too familiar?  The story of Jesus’ birth or the description of the Easter events…all familiar for someone like me who has been in church most of her life.

Here is my “profound thought” when the storms of life hit me and I am floundering: Where do I turn when I can’t easily discern direction, and chaotic thoughts abound? As a follower of Jesus, I become desperate for comfort, direction, guidance and peace.  Those wonderful Bible stories and lessons become very valuable, life-saving even.  At that point in time, even if I have zoned out on them in the past, I urgently want to remember what God says in His Word.

In Luke, chapter 24 we read about the women who went to the tomb of Jesus, having no idea what they would actually encounter. They were unprepared for what they saw…the empty tomb.  Two men (angels?) spoke to them, reminding them of all Jesus had told them about what was going to happen to Him.  And the scriptures say, “and they remembered His words”.  I want to remember the stories taught to me over and over again from God’s Word.  Unlike the airplane experience, I don’t want to zone out on God’s timeless Truths…ever again.

John 12:16, “His disciples did not remember these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him.”  Those disciples who had traveled with Jesus throughout His brief time on earth…do you suppose they occasionally “zoned out” when Jesus was preaching?  Or at the very least were distracted by other thoughts?  Praise God for how He brought His Truths into the minds of Jesus’ followers when they most needed them.

What about you?  Have you heard stories and verses over and over again and “zoned out”?  I challenge you (and me) to allow fresh breezes to fan the timeless Truths of the Bible.  Will you join me in reveling in the Truth of God’s Word, no matter how many times you have heard it?  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

HOPE and New Beginnings

I don’t know about you but, truth be told, I’m not one for New Years Eve celebrations.  You know the kind: party hats, Auld Lang Syne, toasting the old and ringing in the new…that.  Oh, there was a time when those traditions were important but as I age, I am content to “celebrate” within the warmth of my own home.

Today is the very first day of 2018 and, true to my previous statement, Charlie and I enjoyed a quiet evening at home.  Actually, it was rather amazing that we both stayed awake long enough to watch the ball drop in Times Square!    

However, something of significance did happen right outside our living room window. We are immensely blessed to live in a community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where trees, lakes and wildlife are inherent in our geographic DNA.  We have snow and very cold temperatures right now, another good reason to stay indoors.

In the midst of the ordinariness of life, I heard the sounds of fireworks.  Yes! Our small city was enjoying its own version of the NYC fireworks and “ball drop”; only here it is a “pasty drop”.  (The pasty is a local food with a fascinating history…not to be confused with pastie!)  Our local park, just blocks away, hosted both events and we loved watching the fireworks from our living room window as they exploded their vibrant colors across the sky.

As we focused on the excitement outside, a word flashed through my mind.  As we basked in the light and warmth of our fireplace, grateful to NOT be outdoors in the frigid air, the word HOPE danced through my brain and around my heart.  A simple word filled with profound meaning.  How is it that in this world with so much sadness and suffering, we continue to look forward with HOPE

So many of my friends and loved ones are struggling in different ways.  Marriages are stressed, finances inadequate, health threatened.  How can we approach a new year with so much HOPE?  If it depends on wealth….well we know how quickly that can disappear.  A phone call after a lab test can change a HOPE that is anchored in good health.  A house/business fire can make worldly goods and jobs disappear within minutes.

1st Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living HOPE (my emphasis) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, …”

Romans 15:13, “May the God of HOPE (emphasis mine) fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in HOPE.” (emphasis mine)

Do you get that?!  We have every reason to celebrate, to set off fireworks, to proclaim and laugh and rejoice. When we truly comprehend that our HOPE is not in the things of this world…then we know the health report, bank statement or even the worst catastrophe we can imagine cannot keep us from the HOPE that lies in Jesus.

He is coming back! (1st Thessalonians, chapters 4 and 5).  Maybe 2018 will be the year of His return.  Why not?!  In Revelation 21:5 Jesus says He will make all things new. We don’t have to wait on His return to experience new life.  II  Corinthians 5:17 promises that when we put our trust in Jesus, WE BECOME NEW!

I can’t think of a better way to look forward to a year filled with HOPE than to sink deeply into the promises God gave us through His Son, Jesus.  What a wonderful way to approach the unknown. We may not know what is ahead but God is already there.  We can hold to the same promise Jesus made to His disciples when he said He had prepared the way. (John 14)
I don’t know about you, but my HOPE is in the One whose birthday we recently celebrated.  Jesus was born into humble beginnings, lived a perfect life, suffered on the cross, died, was buried and then resurrected from the dead. From the cross He declared, “It is finished.”  He paved the way.  His life, death and resurrection means, when we make Jesus Lord of our lives, we have HOPE for today as well as for eternity.   

Have a happy, HOPE filled New Year!  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rules and Mercy

I am a rules keeper. Childhood teachings? Conscience?  Maybe I just take comfort in knowing there are rules and I know what is expected of me. Perhaps I actually like to live by Biblical principles that tell us to respect our laws.

Recently I came head to head with the consequences of broken rules.  It was jarring! I mean, how do you feel when you look in your rear view mirror and all you see are white and red lights flashing?

The past few weeks had been filled with unexpected plans.  A death in the family meant a last minute airplane trip to Portland, OR. While there, the cold that was quietly infiltrating my system, decided to go full force, forcing me to take rest time.  My return flight got me home but drained my low energy reserve rushing from one end of the airport to another to my final connection.

I had a day and a half to turn things around before I headed out on a previously scheduled speaking road trip. My friend/ministry partner/travel companion took care of most of the driving responsibilities, allowing me to rest.  We had comfortable accommodations and we marveled at how God met us at every event, always making provision.

Because Michelle drove my car most of the way, on the last leg it just seemed as though I should take some driving responsibilities.  I took the wheel. Big mistake.

We were not far from home as we cruised down a four lane with little traffic.  I was heavy duty into conversation when suddenly Michelle alerted me to the flashing lights behind us!   I looked in my rear view mirror and ….yes!  My first thought was, “he must want me to pull over so he can pass.”

And then Michelle, in her very sweet way, said, “Judy, you were speeding.”  Yikes! I pulled over to the shoulder of the road and turned to my friend; a word exploded out of my mouth that should not have been expressed! Seriously, we were just coming back from a trip where we were sharing Jesus with women…and there I go! How quickly sin asserts itself when I am under pressure!

This officer of the law approached my window, politely sharing with me how much over the speed limit I was going. GASP!  (Me, the “rules keeper”?!) So what happened?  Simply this…I allowed myself to be distracted (talking!) and paid no attention to my heavy foot on the gas.

I looked this kind officer in the eye and told him I had no excuses. None. I handed him my license, etc. and he went back to his car.  I looked at Michelle and said, “I am totally busted!” Then I apologized to her for the word that had flown out of my mouth.  (I am so thankful for a friend who will speak the truth!)

The officer came back saying, “You have a pretty clean record”. With that statement he returned my license, etc. and told me he wasn’t going to ticket me. WHAT?!  I was totally guilty.  He told me to slow down.  I thanked him profusely.

So, what do I get from all of this?  Two things:
1.      There are times we allow life to distract us; we don’t follow the rules.  Not because we are purposely disobedient but because we are not paying attention. The results can be the same, no matter.  Maybe it’s poor eating habits that result in an unhealthy body.  Maybe it’s using our finances without planning and we run into a crisis.  But sooner or later that light flashes in the rearview mirror reminding us the gig is up.  It’s time to pay attention; time to bring discipline back into the picture.
Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.”
2.     Sometimes there is amazing mercy when we mess up. Honestly, I did not deserve going ticket free.  I was SO guilty! And the mercy that officer gave me was undeserved. We don’t pick those moments; God does.
Romans 9:15 quotes God’s statement to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,…”

Is God trying to get your attention?  Whether it’s consequences or mercy, God ALWAYS approaches us out of His great love. Is a change needed in your life?   Whatever your current situation, maybe today is the day you get on your knees and thank Him for His discipline AND His mercy.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

End of Summer Delights

Why am I surprised at how the most “insignificant” moments can bring about some of
life’s greatest pleasures? 

A few weeks ago, while grocery shopping, I ran into a sweet friend I see often at church. But because our lives go in different directions we hadn’t connected in a while. We stood in the produce section and talked…and talked…and talked!  (Seems to me like a good place to do some catching up!)

Out of that conversation, came a plan to go kayaking together. The summer is winding down which made putting our plan into action feel somewhat urgent.  After a few missed attempts, we made it happen. It was a windy day…not the best introduction for Jamie’s first time kayak experience. But we were determined.

On the designated day we loaded up the kayaks and headed the 4 blocks to the lake. Because of the wind we chose our launch spot carefully so we could quickly get to the protected area of the yacht harbor.

Oh my goodness!  What a great time we had just talking and sharing life as we floated with minimal paddling effort.  You see, Jamie and I share a faith in Jesus and a love for life.  It made no difference that she is a young mom and I am at the grandmother stage of life. Our shared Christian faith broke down the age barrier.

Eventually we decided we had better head back toward our launch area; we had been out for a long time and it was REALLY windy!  Ha! We didn’t care.  We leaned into the wind and away we went.

We paddled like crazy, laughing and encouraging each other all along the way.  Our return route took us under a bridge that acted like a wind tunnel. Before I got to the other side I heard Jamie whoop and holler as she came out the other end.    

As I write this, it is the end of another day (later in the week) and I had yet another wonderful experience out on the water, in my kayak, with six extraordinary women friends.  This morning we all met at a convenient spot and headed north toward Lake Superior.  I had heard about the Au Train River for years and was excited to finally get there!

What an amazing experience.  The day started out brisk and chilly (in the high 30’s this morning!) but we persevered. The weather report called for sunny skies.  

This river was beyond beautiful.  There were a few lovely homes along the way but mostly we were treated to God’s amazing flora and fauna.  We navigated around logs from fallen trees, paddled across shallow areas and circumvented a few large rocks.     

Sometime into our journey, we found a place to stop for lunch. Debi, the organizer of this excursion, opened a devotional book. It was a brief but sweet time of focusing on God and His Word.  Blessings abound.

I believe those kayaking experiences are exactly what God has in mind when He encourages us in His Word to fellowship with other believers. Or maybe it’s about encouraging one another (as Jamie and I did as we battled the wind that day).  Perhaps it’s about having a time of rest, a time when we can pull away from the world and enjoy God’s beautiful creation.
 In Matthew 11; 28 Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jamie, Julie, Judi, Debi, Elizabeth, Cathie, Brenda and I all live real lives, complete with challenges, heartaches and joys.  But God, in His infinite grace, provided those moments on the water to allow us to fellowship, to enjoy His gift of creation and to provide us with rest and retreat from the daily stuff of life.

Please don't miss those moments, those gifts God provides for our mental and spiritual health.  From time to time, consider putting daily life on hold to do something fun or restful or adventuresome.  Connect with others in your community of faith.  You WILL be refreshed!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Out of Control

I knew our local grocery store would be especially busy the day before Easter but the only item I needed for our dinner was our ham, having purchased everything else earlier that week.  How hard would it be to pick up one piece of meat?

Driving into the parking lot confirmed my suspicions but I still had this optimistic belief that this little jaunt was a “no-brainer”.  I parked my car, entered the store and headed straight to the refrigerated ham bin.

Now…this is where this routine grocery errand turned into an “adventure”.  I was among several people going through the selection process (seems others also waited until the last minute!) which included checking out the various weights and sizes of the many hams available.  I was oblivious to my surroundings, though, because of my laser focus on finding just the right hunk of meat.

Suddenly I felt something bumping my leg and in the next instant, I was aware that I was being pushed into the side of the meat bin! I remember saying “ouch” out loud; my foot and my left “backside” hurt!  Instinctively my brain went into escape mode and I started pushing myself sideways to get unpinned from in between the motorized cart (which was still moving) and the meat bin.

While this was going on, I hear a panicked voice say, “It won’t stop! It won’t stop!”  Yes, this poor woman driving a motorized cart was traumatized because her cart was out of control.

Running into the side of the meat bin brought her cart to a sudden stop; she then asked if I was ok.  I reassured her I was and then made a beeline for the checkout; all I wanted to do was get out of that store.  I have to confess, I didn’t even look at her face and would not be able to identify her if she was standing in front of me.

By the time I paid for my meat and was heading for my car, the whole scene struck me as uproariously funny, especially since I escaped real injury. Later that day I shared my adventure on Facebook and the posted replies made me laugh all over again.

One friend, having gone through a time she needed to use a similar motorized cart, described herself at a family gathering where she, too, lost control and wiped out a food table (without injury to anyone, I must add).  Another friend said her mom was in the store about the time I was but adamantly assured her she didn’t hit anyone!  Another asked if my ham had survived.  And one of my delightfully crazy church pastors reported, “Oh how I wish I could have seen it all play out.”

This story, as always, brings me to a more serious memory. There was a time when my life was basically out of control. I was a believer in Jesus, saved, born again…but not really making Him Lord of my life. I was living as though I was pretty sure I could handle life on my own. I was driving/controlling my “life cart” and thinking I was navigating it pretty well.

And then a series of things happened; I had a wake-up call, you might say.  In that moment I realized I was pretty much spinning out of control.  From the outside, it looked like I had my life together but if my heart could be viewed by others, it would have revealed a mess.  I had a string of broken romantic relationships (between my divorce and remarriage) coupled with a sense of failure in my role as an ambassador for Jesus.  Ouch!

I needed to turn the control back over to the One Who created me. Only then could I get that “life cart” going in the right direction, one that kept me from hurting others and disappointing Jesus. When Charlie came into my life, it was like God said…”this guy is going to minister to you as you draw closer to one another.”  As our relationship gathered steam, Charlie established godly boundaries for dating and courtship and we were able to move forward in the way God intended.

I love Proverbs 3:5-6 because it speaks blessing and wisdom into my life. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Amen.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Special Needs/Easter Joy

Psalm 16:11, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

As much as I wish spring could be a bit more dramatic here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, there is much to treasure about this season.  It brings Easter! It is the most significant event on the Christian calendar because without the resurrection, there would be no hope.  Easter is pure joy and ushers in a sense of new life and restoration.  It meets our greatest need….the promise of eternity with God.

Something happened several months ago that painted a picture of Jesus’ tender love. It was a moment that could have passed without recognition.  Praise God, I got that nudge to pay attention allowing God to teach me something valuable through the eyes of my grandson – one who is defined as having “special needs” because he was born with Down syndrome.

Jacob is a solid little boy, 5 years old, operating on full speed unless he is sleeping.  He has mastered sign language, has wonderful cognitive skills and long, involved conversations illustrated by an expressive face.  He has limited words in his vocabulary but Jacob sometimes speaks in ways that only God can make plain…and this moment was one of those times.

Jacob’s daddy (my stepson) lives in a house fronting Lake Michigan. One day Jacob and I were outside on the deck watching the horizon for whatever wonderful sights might appear.  I sat down to get more on his level.  Jacob was “talking” and gesturing and I was nodding so he would think I was engaged in his conversation.

At one point he reached over, touched my chin and pointed my face toward the lake, determined to show me whatever was in his line of vision. I reassured him we were looking in the same direction (again, the head nodding!) 

And then….it happened.  Jacob bent down (he was standing next to me and I was still in a sitting position on the deck itself), cupped my face with his hands and gently leaned into me.  I could hardly breathe for the beauty of the moment.  (As I said, this little boy rarely stands still and makes his wishes known loudly and vehemently.)  However, in this moment, time stood still.  It was so very tender and intimate.  Our moment.  Jacob’s and mine. And God’s.

As we read the Biblical narrative of the events taking place before and after “Easter”, how do we see this man, Jesus?  The people of His day loved Him one moment and called for His death a few days later.  They thought He came to rescue them as their “king” and when He didn’t do that, they were filled with rage.

He surely wasn’t a king in a royal sense.  He said very little when the accusations flew at Him.  He’d had a lot to say throughout His ministry including words of forgiveness as well as conviction.  Jesus healed many, performed amazing miracles and taught the people about God and His kingdom. He will come back as a conquering king one day! 

But I believe, my moment with Jacob out on his deck, was a picture of how Jesus speaks to me in a way that touches my heart.  Just as Jacob wrapped his chubby little fingers around my face, cupping my cheeks as he leaned into me…so does Jesus approach me with tenderness and intimacy. 

The Bible describes the full drama of the Easter narrative but I especially cherish reading about His kind, intimate acts: from the cross Jesus made arrangements for John to care for His mother; when the women discovered the tomb was empty, Jesus appeared to them so they would be assured He was alive;  He allowed Thomas to tenderly touch the nail holes in His wrists. 

Jesus was God in the flesh while on earth and now lives in heaven.  One day He will return to earth with glory and fanfare.  But in the “now”, I love how He sweetly cups my face in His hands, not literally but through His Word, and through the love of His earthly children.  

When my friend calls to say she is praying for me, Jesus is speaking words of love.  When my seven year old grandson tells me that he loves and misses me, I experience Jesus.  When my husband affirms and serves me, I know Jesus is on the move in my life. Easter brings all that to mind.  I LOVE EASTER. Hallelujah!