Monday, March 30, 2015

Beauty in the Desert


It is late March and the view from the veranda at our “home away from home” is so very different from what we would be looking at if we were in the U.P. right now. (SNOW!)  There is a beautiful vista that encompasses mountain peaks, scrubby bushes, cacti of many shapes and sizes, brilliant sunshine, blue sky, hawks riding the air currents and winding dusty roads.  When we first arrived here, I told our hosts I felt like I was in an alternate universe!

What a blessing to be able to leave behind a spring snowstorm; gratitude fills my heart that my husband and I can reconnect with precious family members.  Our hosts’ generosity is over the top as they provide great meals and excursions to points of interest.  And then there is the swimming pool right out the back door.

Earlier this week we hiked around the hills, over the rocks, down the dusty road and through the “wash”.  Everywhere I looked it was mostly brown and pale green but here and there, color shouted at us!  The spring flowers are beginning to explode in vibrant spots of color amid the cactus thorns - we even came across a couple of small pools of water.  I am so taken with how dry and arid it is here, at least at this time of year. 

And yet, there is “life” everywhere…. the “critters”.  Bats (swooping around us last night, my least favorite of God’s creatures), deer, snakes, jack rabbits, wild pigs, lizards and tarantula spiders, all residents of the desert landscape.  So far we have actually seen only the deer, bats and a jack rabbit.  I’m ok with not actually experiencing the others!

As I take in my surroundings and experience this unique land, I can’t help but be reminded about how life is a lot like this terrain.  There have been those times my life seemed dry…arid…thorny…. colorless, as in “blah” beige.  Sometimes life has been full of rocks that had to be maneuvered, climbed over or navigated around.  Refreshment (like the scant bit of water we saw on our walk) was rare and minimal.

Maybe today you are in one of those seasons: someone you love is facing serious illness; your husband lost his job; loss has you in a valley of grief.  Maybe your prayer life feels as arid as the desert and attending church feels more like a habit than a joyful weekly event.  Perhaps you sit down to do Bible study and it’s a challenge to apply those eternal truths to the day in, day out rhythm of your life.

Then one day, you look up and God’s love hits you between the eyes….springs out of nowhere like the amazing cactus flowers.  You look up, scan the horizon and see the greatness and sovereignty of God, just like the view from the deck of our vacation home.  Like the critters that bring life to the desert, your “critters” may come in the form of the people God brought to you, at just the right time, to minister to your heart.  Maybe it’s a meal prepared for you, a sweet note in the mail or a phone call from someone unexpected.  Maybe a passage of scripture you have read a million times suddenly reaches into the dark areas of your heart. 

Here in Arizona there are awesome sunsets
and signs everywhere of God’s incredible love and provision.  I love how the saguaro cacti seem to just reach their arms to the heavens; the Bible says “even the rocks cry out” (paraphrase of Luke 19:40)….perhaps those cacti are reaching for heaven!

How is God showing Himself to you today?  Easter is soon upon us.  No matter what is happening in your life today.. if circumstances are difficult and you are in a “desert”, the resurrection of Jesus is all you, or any of us need.  Jesus was/is/will forever be the flower of hope that pushes through the cacti thorns of life.  What a great time of year to celebrate the Son!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Airport Observations


Today started VERY early for me….around 4am.  I wasn’t sleeping very well anyway due to the excitement and anticipation of my upcoming cross country trip.  All kinds of details were running through my brain.  No matter how well I packed and prepared, there was always something that wanted to take up even more space in my brain.  At one point, in the wee hours of the morning, I shuffled off to the bathroom (where I would not disturb my husband) to write those thoughts on paper so I could, at least, try to return to slumber land….to no avail.

Around 4:45 am we loaded up the car (I "generously" packed for this double-header of a trip since I am going on to AZ after the Portland weekend) and headed for the airport with not much time to spare; you see, we live just a few miles from our local, very small airport (love that airport….so easy to reach, no parking fees plus one of the ticket agents is a friend of ours!).  There is a tendency to make a last minute dash, especially at that early hour.

It was great to get there just in time to check my bag and go through security.  But in my haste to board, I left behind my travel pillow.  Before takeoff I texted my ticket agent friend to look around for it and she texted back that it was nowhere to be found.  (I will be thrilled if that is the only “lost” item throughout this trip!)  Maybe another passenger picked it up; I hope he or she had pleasant dreams on that pillow!

It was a short and enjoyable flight from Escanaba to Detroit since I had a friendly seatmate and we chatted the whole way.  Before I knew it the lights of the big city were beneath us and we headed for the runway. First leg, check!

I am sitting in the airport in Detroit as I write this blog and it’s such a pleasant experience….to be here when it isn’t so busy (due to the early hour).  I have enough time to enjoy a cup of coffee, do a bit of people watching, pull out my computer, and write.

Airports are super fun places to observe my fellow
sojourners.  I marvel at how different we all are, at least at casual observation; I am also intrigued by the idea that everyone has a story.  Even though we are each unique, our stories will have similarities woven throughout.  As humans we “universally” experience joy, sorrow, excitement, disappointment, love, accomplishments, failures, etc.  And there is not one person with whom I lock eyes, who does not matter to God.  No matter what he looks like, where she has been, what his/her life has been about….yes, God values each and every person who crosses my path.

So how does that impact my travel experience?.... or my day?  I think I feel less guarded and less apprehensive about my journey.  It adds a sense of adventure to know God has already planned to bless me with interesting people along the way.(God is in the “connections” business, after all.)  Before traveling I ask God to keep me alert to His movement. I want be aware of anyone crossing my path who may need encouragement; that God would give me just the right words.

Or maybe I will meet someone who needs to hear about Jesus, about His saving grace.  I love sharing with others that He is all about rescuing, redeeming and restoring.  Maybe God would have me share my story with someone; how Jesus did all of that for me.

The better acquainted I get with God, the more I realize that He has a purpose for every moment of my life.  In the most “mundane” moments, He can do wonderful things in and through me…. through all of us who authentically claim the title of “Christian”.  The Bible says we were all born to honor and love God; we were all born to be worshippers.   And when my eye is turned to Him, rather than on myself, there is no end to the joy-filled adventure in front of me.

 
Soon I will get on my flight to Minneapolis.  Then it’s on to Portland where I get to love on my son, my fabulous daughter-in-law and those 2 adorable grandsons. I am anticipating opportunities to spread God’s love wherever He takes me.  I want to be in tune with His plan through every moment of my life.

Where has God placed you today?  Do you see His faithfulness, His direction and His purpose playing out?  Someone once said, “If you feel distant from God, who moved?”  He promises to be intimately involved with every part of our lives but, as Anne Graham Lotz has been known to say, “God is a gentleman and He will not force Himself on us”.  Through His Son Jesus, He has provided THE WAY to God and He invites us to be a part of His grand adventure.  The Bible says there is a celebration in heaven every time someone says “yes” to God’s plan of salvation.  Come, join the party!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Well Placed Trust

Travel by airplane is a wonderful way to get from one place to another....unless of course, there are delays.  And delays can be pretty significant.  We have twice had to spend a night in a "layover" city; once we opted for the Denver airport floor as our overnight resting place (my backpack was a less than ideal pillow) and more recently we headed for a motel in Detroit.  Of course, even with those delays and inconveniences (no pj's, no deodorant...thankfully my husband shares his stuff generously!), I must admit, they were adventures we could embellish in the retelling.

I am again anticipating another flying adventure this week with a wonderful destination I mind!  Can't wait to see our grandsons:  Henry (age 5, birthday this week) and Gus (almost 1)...and, of course, their mom and dad!  It's a long travel day with an early check-in time, but my end goal makes it all worth it! After that it's on to Arizona to meet up with my husband and other family members for some R&R, sunshine and family time.

All of this gets me to  thinking about the process we rarely consider as we focus on the "what" and "when" and "how" of making plans.  I have not yet heard of anyone who has asked to interview the pilots before getting on the aircraft: how much flying experience have they had?  Are they rested?  What about the other passengers?  We, of course, have read about occasional issues with passengers but, for the most part, it seems we find our gate, go through the usual preparation and get on the plane.  How do you think it would go if we asked for a background check on everyone before getting on the plane?

What about the food providers at the airports? Do they wash their hands often?  Is the food healthy...prepared in a clean kitchen?  Maybe we should inspect the kitchen before we order.

I know, this all sounds really absurd and yet, every day, we trust others to do their jobs, to perform according to preset standards, and to keep us safe.  Apart from a rare personal crisis or a national crisis like 9/11, we continue to trust in our bus drivers, pilots, food preparers, babysitters, etc. etc.

By now you may have a good idea where I am going.  God asks us to trust Him in all things and He has a great track record!  He promises to never forsake us or leave us.  He promises to get us safely "home"!  (When I get on that airplane this week, I will either land in Portland, OR or I will "land" in heaven. It's all good!)

My Bible concordance lists 26 different verses that include the words trust, trusted, trusts or trustworthy (and most likely it is only a partial list).  Proverbs 3:5 instructs us to trust in the Lord with all our hearts...and that we are not to lean on our own understanding.  If I can place my trust in a swim instructor to teach me to swim without drowning surely I can place my trust in the God Who created me; His Word is trustworthy.

Proverbs 11:28 (such wisdom is found in Proverbs!) warns us to NOT trust in our riches.  It's all too easy to place our trust in the things of this world, thinking enough money, power, charm (fill in the blank) will get us the desires of our hearts.  If that is the case, why are there so many "popular, wealthy, powerful" people in Hollywood who, by those standards, should be happy, healthy, have-it-all-together people?  The  most joy-filled people I know are my fellow Christian sojourners who "get" that a relationship with God, through His Son is what brings true peace and contentment.

Following is a personal translation of the 23rd. Psalm by Leslie Brandt (from her book, Psalms Now)":
"The Lord is my constant companion, there is no need that He cannot fulfill.  Whether His course for me points to the mountaintops of glorious ecstasy or to the valleys of human suffering, He is by my side, He is ever present with me.  He is close beside me when I tread the dark streets of danger, and even when I flirt with death itself, He will not leave me. When the pain is severe, He is near to comfort.  When the burden is heavy, He is there to lean upon.  When depression darkens my soul, He touches me with eternal joy.  When I feel empty and alone, He fills the aching vacuum with His power; my security is in His promise to be near to me always, and in the knowledge that He will never let me go."
Friend, my prayer is that you experience the deep peace that comes with placing your trust in the One Who knows you, loves you and has purpose for your life.  I am looking forward to the pleasures and adventures of travel this week, knowing I can totally trust in God's presence, protection and provision.  But even more, I am trusting God to take me through the perils of this life, to bring me safely home.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Icicles/Winter/Cold

So often I chuckle when my southern friends complain about having "cabin fever" because they have a (as in one) snowstorm or a few days of below freeing temperatures.  (I know, I am going to hear from some of you!)  Here in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) we love to brag that we take it all in stride.  Just throw on those snowshoes and head out the door.  Ha!  It is March and I am DONE with winter!  DONE!  (So much for my "can-do" attitude!)

Since I can't make winter go away, I like to find ways to appreciate and enjoy the beauty that is still all around me...which brings me to "icicles".  Icicles have an amazing beauty; they almost look like fine crystal hanging off the eaves.  The changing formation of icicles can be an indication of what stage of winter we are in.  I often wonder what is the perfect outside temperature and the specific amount of time it takes for water to drip and freeze into those long glassy looking pieces of winter crystal?  As they reflect the light, they sparkle like precious diamonds.

Icicles can be really hard and brittle, yet they melt and drip when the sun's rays bathe them in their warmth.  When the icicles begin to drip, can spring be far behind?  Today we are having above freezing temperatures and I can hear the snow and ice falling off the house in chunks.

There are those winter days of the soul, those seasons of life that are difficult or sad....times when my heart resembles those icicles.  Hard.  Cold.  Brittle.  A heart yearning for the Son (play on words intended!) to warm and melt it.  In those long, cold winter days of the soul (which can happen during sunny summer days too - the heart issues are not specific to weather patterns), the warmth of God's love and His uplifting words are as close as my Bible.  A smile begins to play at the corners of my mouth when I start reading the Psalms, or when I read, yet again, the story of Jesus dying for me!  My heart begins to fill with gratitude.

Another potential solution to a brittle and cold heart is the love of a good friend...one who loves the Lord, who can speak encouragement into my life.  Melting begins, right there in the coffee shop or wherever we are meeting.

Praise/worship music is another great avenue for the healing of a hard heart.  It may be via the radio, CDs or corporate worship on Sunday mornings with the body of believers.  And let's not forget about prayer; I can just envision God leaning down with His ear to  me, beckoning me to come and spend some time with Him.

Are you struggling with a heart that feels like an icicle today?  Maybe it's time to let the Son shine into those dark crevices. What a miracle of healing takes place when the "hard heart icicle" begins to melt!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lurking Beneath the Surface....

The other day was a day like any other....errands to run, household tasks to do and a dental appointment.  Nothing too sinister sounding.  It was the dental appointment that began the topic for this week's blog.  Have you observed that when we look back on pivotal moments in our lives, isn't it interesting that often those "aha!" revelations spring from the ordinary?

That day my dentist friend, Dr. "Scott", did an exam and called attention to an old crown that he believed was overdue to be replaced.  Although I love to put those things off, I trusted Dr. "Scott" to guide me in those decisions.  So, I made a future appointment to get that crown replaced along with another filling.  I don't particularly like going through that process....not because of pain (very little of that)....it's about the whole swallowing thing with the enormous amount of "moisture" (translated: saliva) that accumulates in my mouth.  I know...TMI!  Just sayin...

In a subsequent appointment, the old crown came off and...ta da!...underneath was a gray, dead tooth.  My dentist was amazed I had not had infection or complications in all the years that crown was in my mouth.  Then he said the dreaded 2 words: root canal.  We briefly discussed the whole idea; I was really hoping somehow I could find an out!  However, it was agreed that I would go to a local '"root canal expert".

That appointment was made and very early on a Wednesday morning, with a fair amount of anxiety, I found myself in Dr. "Kris'" office.  ( Dr. "Kris" is a very capable, very bright young man and I have known him for about 10 years.  That helped.)  He explained the process to me and I explained my issues...you know, the ones I described earlier; the swallowing of that small lake that builds up in my mouth at the mere mention of "dentist".

Dr. "Kris" reassured me that I would be able to swallow, and then he started putting all those things in my mouth!  When I was told they would be there for 1 1/2 hours I panicked!  Seriously, I am normally not a "panicker" but must admit, I had a moment!  In his most quietly stern voice, Dr. "Kris" made it clear he needed to get into my mouth and the only other option would be to put me "under".  Well, that did it!  I took a deep breath, told him to go ahead and opened wide.

I felt my heart beat really fast and hard, wondering if anyone ever had a heart attack in his dental chair.  My muscles began shaking after he numbed my mouth and he suggested some of the epinephrine may be the cause...but I knew better.  I knew I was just having an attack of fear!  Well, that hour and a half (actually longer because he had to build up my tooth after the root canal was done) crawled by.  I prayed, remembering that the Bible says fear is a lack of trust in God.  Yikes..more to confess!  Then I realized I had a blog in the making and started writing (this one) in my mind.  Or, I imagined myself in other places.  It was imperative that I distract myself.

I had to stay away from all of the "what ifs"!  What if I get nauseous and want to barf?  What if my occasional acid reflux issue picks this moment to show itself?  In the meantime, the dentist and his assistant just carried on a conversation like it was a normal day.  (The discussion, from what I could actually hear above the sound of the drill and other instruments of torture, was primarily about the procedure going on in my mouth.)

Well, obviously I survived!  I lived to tell about it.  It truly wasn't painful, except for the slight pinch of the needle in the numbing process.  I was my own worst enemy! When it was all over Dr. "Kris" informed me that he ran into some "challenges"; one of my roots went way down and he did not want to go to the end of it for fear of causing other problems - but he was pretty confident it would be fine.  I looked at those x-rays and am really amazed at the depth of those roots.  One of mine had calcified and the word "bacteria" ominously became a part of our conversation.

Isn't that what sin is like?  I don't know about you but I can look back at times in my life when everything seemed fine.  I was doing all the normal stuff of life; nothing traumatic going on.  And one day, something was a bit off.  Just like that old crown in my mouth that was hiding a dead tooth, my outward life and "good works" had covered up deadness in my soul....often brought on by sin I had been ignoring.

Sin sometimes begins in small ways, then grows roots that reach into the many crevices of our lives.  And those roots, when they are not healthy, will bring deadness to our spirits, just like my unhealthy roots caused my tooth to die.

I believe getting a dental root canal done is a LOT easer than dealing with a "sin centered root canal"!  But it must be done!  Dealing with sin is essential to staying spiritually healthy.  Like my tooth roots that had calcified or filled up with bacteria, my spiritual roots, when overrun by sin, will fill up with the ugliness of life and make me ineffective for the Lord.

Praise God that He puts people in our lives to help us with our spiritual root canals...other Christians who bring the Truth of God's Word into our hearts. As thankful as I am for the work Dr. "Kris" did, I am that much more grateful for those brothers and sisters in Christ who walk alongside me, who encourage me to stay with the process of repentance so I might experience renewal! Being free from the chains of sin brings the kind of joy akin to the (it's all done!) "happy dance" I wanted to do walking out of that dental office!!

Jesus, of course, is the One Who offers the best healing of all.  "Dr. Jesus", when invited, comes into our hearts and performs a spiritual root canal!  Won't you make an appointment with Jesus today and give Him access to your heart? When you do, I know that you will do the "happy dance" for the rest of your life!