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!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Black Ice/Hidden Danger

Earlier this week spring was ushered in with 50 degree temps! Here in Michigan’s U.P. spring can be rather illusive; however, if I am being fair, our spring is just different from spring in other parts of the country.

I remember a time (a number of years ago) when the snow was melting and the sidewalks were almost dry.  It was time to begin long walks again! (Love being so close to the lake!)  The surface of the bay freezes over in the coldest winter months, so much that people drive large vehicles out on the ice in order to get to their ice fishing locations.

One especially beautiful day I excitedly put on my walking shoes and headed out the door. As I was energetically moving along on the path close to the water, I became aware of a tinkling sound…magically musical…a bit like glass clinking.  I stood very still, on alert, breathing in the moment. What was the source of this sweet symphony?

Every year there is a small window of time when the ice on the lake starts and completes the melting process.  At a pivotal point in time it breaks up into chunks.  Those chunks go into motion providing the most mesmerizing, heavenly rhapsody.  I think of it as God’s symphony! 

I do enjoy winter (honestly!) and celebrate the snow.  There is nothing like watching rosy cheeked children whiz down the park hill on sleds, whooping with joy.  A few weeks ago the ice boat races brought a sense of winter adventure as we watched them from the picture window of a local restaurant. And there is nothing cozier than a fire in our fireplace on a cold, snowy night.
 
However, one of the hazards of winter is something we call “black ice”, also known as “clear ice”. The ice itself is not black in color but because it is so transparent (and thin) it allows the black road (or the concrete sidewalk) below to be seen through it.  It is visually misleading making it difficult to discern that there is actually ice on the surface.  “Black ice” contributes to nasty falls.

What can “black ice” teach us about day to day life?  Most days I get up with a plan for the day.  My calendar alerts me to what I am hoping to accomplish and I get moving.  And then….I hit “black ice”.  I find myself facing a dilemma that I never saw coming. 

It could be a call from the Drs. Office suggesting I need additional testing (which has happened).  One day I received a desperate call from a friend who needed my attention; I was thankful there was nothing I had to really change that afternoon so I could get her to the ER. There are endless examples of “hidden danger” in the unplanned events that hit us broadside and threaten our equilibrium.

Is there some way to plan for such unexpected moments? I’m not sure there is much we can do to avoid the sidewalk ice besides watching our steps very carefully or just staying off of it.  But I believe we can prepare for the unexpected “black ice” in our lives.

You see, I learned long ago that I could not control all the events of my life. No matter how much I think through, pray through and analyze my decisions…life throws curve balls. I also learned that I belong to the One Who created me…the One Who is sovereign…the One Who loves me and had a plan for me before I was even born. Because of my status as “daughter of the King”, I’m assured the unplanned events of my life are not a surprise to God.

The book of Genesis in the Bible describes the wondrous story of creation and the orderly way God, through Jesus, brought it all about.  In Psalm 139: 16 we learn that His eyes saw our unformed substance and all of our days were written in God’s book before we ever came into being. God promises us in Proverbs 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Life’s “black ice” events do not have to frighten us. As we “seek Him with all of our hearts”, He reveals Himself.  As we delve deep into the love letters He sent us (the Bible) and as we pray and worship, trust grows and fear diminishes.  I am thankful to know I can get up every day, assured I am ready for whatever may come my way.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What Do Sewage and Sin Have in Common?


 We live in a charming, 100 year old dwelling. It’s one that offers us opportunities to regularly deal with “old house” challenges!   One of those challenges presented itself recently in our basement.

As I was switching the wash around, I heard a “drip, drip, drip” and my antennae went up.  It didn’t take long to spot the source; there was ugly sewage water in the corner of the basement due to a pipe backup that we thought was fixed. (This was not the first time!)

This plumbing issue started many years ago and it was the topic of a previous blog post on this site. But, as Paul Harvey used to stay, “now for the rest of the story”!

Oddly enough, our neighbor’s pipe runs under our garage, then joins our pipe, which subsequently becomes a single pipe.  Then it all runs out into the street pipes that carry sewage away to wherever sewage goes.  Due to tree roots, over the years, there has been a narrowing of that pipe and once or twice a year it gets overloaded.  Thus, the backup into our basement. (I know, not a pretty visual.)

Charlie has done much to alleviate this situation: he took out a basement commode, the original source of the backup. After hiring professionals to clean out as much of the pipe as possible, he wrapped the part of the pipe that ended just inside our basement wall.  As much as we hoped we had fixed the problem, it turned out those were just band aids.

The time has come to really, truly make this problem go away. For. Good.  My husband called the experts, got an estimate and this summer our yard will be dug up after which we will write a large check.  We are going to have to invest in a total fix.

But the results will be (we hope!)….no more backups of the smelly, yucky water… resulting in a clean basement and good resale value.  Getting rid of the problem means no more anxiety about what may happen in the basement when we are not looking!

Sin, I believe, looks a lot like our plumbing problem:

·        It stinks and makes a mess of everything in its path.
·        Sin has a tendency to get complicated, like the tree roots growing in our pipes.
·        Ignoring our sin is a bit like wrapping the pipes while failing to address the real issue.
·        Not addressing the problem at the source can ultimately exact a price. Earthly relationships get messy, and sometimes strain under the “stink”.  Even worse, there is a breech in our relationship with Jesus when sin is not dug out and eradicated (or repented of).

BUT….don’t we also have benefits/blessings when we deal directly with our sin just as we do when we finally invest in a real solution with our plumbing mess?

·        Even though there often is a cost involved when dealing with and repenting of sin (revealing to others something we have done, asking for forgiveness, going through the painful process of restoring trust, paying someone back, etc.), true repentance provides great opportunity for reconciliation and restoration.
·        Our lives can shine for Christ and we have the joy of walking a straight path with the Lord.  We don’t have to hide anything and can live openly and honestly with others.
·        We have a peace which may result in a better night’s sleep… or lowered blood pressure…maybe an end to stomach aches… or a reduction in headaches.  It’s a known fact that emotional anxiety often produces physical health problems.

One of my favorite Biblical characters is Peter; he was so full of life and crazy impulsive.  He understood what it was to greatly sin, repent and have a restored relationship with his friend and Savior, Jesus Christ.  He says in Acts 3:19, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.”  BLOTTED OUT!  

When we repent, our personal “sewage” is cleaned up, eliminated and forgotten by God, Himself.  Friends, is there a “personal sewage” issue going on in your life? Maybe the time has come to root it out and get rid of it for good.  May you experience the blessing of restoration as you get right with God!



Friday, January 27, 2017

Good Plans

Jeremiah 29:11 says, For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
We Christians love to quote that verse because of its encouragement.  

I recently heard that scripture read at a funeral….for a man who had not yet reached 69.  Jim was cross country skiing with his wife, Sue, on a Sunday afternoon outing, when a sudden heart attack took him straight into the arms of Jesus. 
 
Jim brought many souls to Christ, mentoring and challenging them to grow in their faith.  He was a published author with unfinished books awaiting their conclusions.  He had served as a Hospice Chaplain, pastored a number of churches and ministered (with Sue) to our local Native American community.

As I walked into the funeral that day a friend expressed her feelings when she said, “This is so hard to believe and to understand.”  I had to agree on both points.

“Plans to prosper you?”  “Plans to give you hope and a future?”

My husband and I first met Jim and Sue over twelve years ago through a seemingly unimportant encounter.  You see, God brings very special people into our lives in very mundane ways.  I had moved back to my home town per my marriage and was going to the dentist.  My hubby had been there earlier that morning and called to tell me Sue (the dental hygienist) was looking forward to meeting me.  Charlie had determined we were much alike in personality and he knew how desperately I needed Christian women friends here in our community!  My husband was right on!  Sue and I began our friendship over coffee two days later.   It wasn’t much longer before Charlie and I met Jim and began a relationship as couples.

Over the years I watched Jim and Sue deeply love people.  They faced major challenges, some of them breathtaking.  They moved away from our area for a time and eventually returned.  As I wrote earlier, they loved on the nearby Native American community and there is no doubt in my mind that lives have been touched for eternity.  One of the young women from that community spoke eloquently at Jim’s service about his amazing capacity to love and how it flowed out from his very heart.

I have fond memories of occasional meals together, times of studying God’s Word together, Super Bowl watching and Sunday morning worship.  It was a relationship that had its spaces and absences, but because Jim and Sue were so relational, it ebbed and flowed and stayed intact.

I remember being part of a small group Jim and Sue brought together to enjoy Biblical discussion.  One night, as we finished up, we were making plans for the next week.  I offered our home, even though Charlie had to be away that night.  Very casually Jim suggested I plan a little discussion for that evening.  That night I realized there were three pastors sitting in our living room; what in the world was I doing, thinking I could lead them in discussion?!  God was very present in the details of that conversation…Jim always knew God was in charge!

Jim’s funeral was incredibly sad but even more, it was incredibly uplifting.  Jim left behind an amazing legacy including a wonderful family and many who were grateful at how God had used Jim in their lives.  I came away with a renewed determination to make my life count for Jesus even more and to love people lavishly.

Jim and Sue were a strong ministry team but because Jim left this earth suddenly, there was no time of preparation for Sue.  She is now faced with huge questions about “what next?”  Her “pastor, mentor and best friend” (Sue’s description) is gone.    


Yes, God did have amazing plans for Jim.  Yes, God’s plan always is for good – Jim would certainly attest to that from where he is right now! And through all of the sadness and grief, Sue also knows God still has a plan for her life.  I am so thankful for how Jim lived his life demonstrating the gospel.  No doubt, that Sunday afternoon, Jim heard the words I long to hear one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Thursday, January 5, 2017

What Lies Ahead?

I have to admit, as much as I love the holidays, I breathe a sigh of relief when they are over. Don’t get me wrong, I love gathering with family and friends to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus through special meals and gift exchanges. There is always a sense of awe and wonder at the Christmas Eve worship service.

And then there is New Years’ Eve.  It’s been many years since I went "out on the town” so to speak; at my stage of life, I am happy with a “quieter” New Years’ Eve observation.  This year my husband and I enjoyed an “at home”  evening but did include a short walk down the street to our municipal dock (three blocks) where there were 10-15 minutes of fireworks!  It was a beautiful brisk, winter evening. We were then happy to head back to our home and the warmth of the fireplace.

Now that it is all over and our home has been “un-decorated”, I have a need to establish some sort of routine.  Of course, “routine” is often overrated but there is a certain sort of comfort in getting back into a rhythm of life.

I am not much for making resolutions simply because the calendar says we are entering a year with a new number.  As a Christian, I want to always be open to shifts and changes as the Holy Spirit moves me, according to His plan.  But, like so many others, all the talk and hype about a new year coming does, in fact, get me thinking.

What is ahead?  Would I want to know even if I could?  During the holidays, Charlie and I went out to his deer camp deep in the woods of the Upper Peninsula and we were overwhelmed by the beauty around us.  The photo on the top of this blog post is one I took that day.  If you look closely, you can tell we are on a 2-track, driving through the woods and you can see a bend in the road.  Anything beyond that bend is “hidden” from our view.
Because I have driven this road many times, I have a sense of what is next. But there are often surprises….like the beautiful mama deer we encountered who stood in the road, staring at us for the longest time.  Or there could be a tree fallen across the road. 

Isn’t it a bit like that as we look toward the future, as we travel down the road of 2017?  We don’t know what is ahead, do we?  Is that a scary thought?  Are you facing a health challenge?  Is your job in jeopardy?  Are you in a personal struggle of some sort?

Maybe you have exciting plans to look forward to and that road is bright and beautiful.  Are you planning your wedding?  Looking forward to a baby/grand baby coming?  It could be a special vacation that will take you to a wonderful destination.

No matter what lies ahead, God tells us in His Word that we can trust Him! One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 3: 5 and 6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  

I have a huge tendency to overthink just about every challenging situation that comes up – and nothing good comes from doing that!  In the middle of the night, when I cannot sleep for all the busyness going on in my brain, I come back to this verse.  Guess what?  When I actually do trust in God’s providence, I sleep better, am much less anxious and my joy returns.  Go figure!

There are many examples throughout the Bible that give us a picture of how perfectly God can be trusted.  In the Old Testament we read about Rahab, a woman of poor reputation, who helped God’s people because she trusted in their God.  And God brought her out of danger.  Or there was that time Peter jumped out of the boat, literally walking on water to get to Jesus.  He took his eyes off Jesus and he started sinking.  When his trust/focus was back on Jesus, all was well!

We have a choice before us, each and every day.  Will we head into 2017 with fear and anxiety about what is ahead, or will we cast our burdens on the Lord (Psalm 55:22) and look to Him in full trust?  Since God is outside of time and space, He is already in the future!   If I have a New Years’ resolution, it is to dig deeper into my relationship with Jesus and offer Him a deeper trust than ever before.  Will you travel down that road with me?