Being Silent

Have you ever gone hiking with a backpack?

In the backpack is the necessary gear: a few water bottles, a granola bar, bug-repellent wipes, phone and/or camera, perhaps a light jacket. You’ve learned that these are the basics.

At first, you barely notice that you are carrying a load. Around every corner is a new photo opportunity. The scenery unfolds before you in quiet serenity, just what your body and mind require.

Then the trail gets rocky, or less groomed. Sometimes the path becomes only a shadow, and you feel you might be guessing as to where the trail leads.

walking down the road

Since the first of this year, the path of life has felt that way for our family.

Our oldest daughter, mother to our two oldest granddaughters, received a diagnosis of breast cancer. Though life moves forward with work and church, the weight of cancer, surgery, chemo, and radiation impacts everything. Even though it was her battle and she and her doctors conferred on the strategies of treatment, we were her support troops.

Don’t get me wrong! Our community was wonderfully supportive in providing meals, rides, even care for the girls when needed. Even the costly medical treatments were generously supplemented by the local cancer fund.

But just as the backpack gets heavier as the hike gets long, I became weary. My time in the Word of God was just a snack to get me through.

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Now the treatments to rid her body of cancer are complete.

My body has responded with deep exhaustion. My spirit is craving a feast of God’s Word. I long for solid Bible teaching and fresh insight as I walk through this world.

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I’ve learned that I need quiet, not constant noise of radio or TV, to restore my soul.

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I’ve discovered that sometimes it is easier to block out issues rather than process them.

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God is inviting me to come away with Him, learn from Him, sit as His feet, and soak up His love and healing.

Join me as I unpack the lessons that He is ready to reveal to me.

Saving Our Lives

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” Luke 9:23,24

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These words and ideas don’t make any sense, but they are what Jesus did for us.

He sacrificed his comfort, his leadership, his position with the Father, in order to save you and me.

How do we give up our selfish ways?

For many years, I thought that filling my schedule with good deeds, and thoughtful words was giving up my life.

Until I realized that I was trying to draw life from those to whom I “gave” myself. Without a conscious decision, other people had become my idol, my focus, my false god.

It was never enough. People disappointed me. Even when I received the compliments and recognition that I so desperately wanted, the “high” didn’t last long. I even made a “Warm Fuzzy” file to try to refill my empty soul.

I ended up drained, hopeless, with feelings of despair and loneliness mixed in for good measure.

After a long season of pain and the sin of demanding my own way, I asked God to give me a heart that was ready to repent.

 

It took time. More pain. Looking at myself and despising who I was. At the end of my rope, I was willing to submit. Willing to give up everything—reputation, safety, even family, if necessary–to fall under His Lordship.

It wasn’t easy, but it is simple. Lay down my life to follow His leading.

It wasn’t instant, but He is patient. Asking again and again for a fresh start, washed in Jesus’ blood.

It isn’t perfect, but He is faithful, even when I am faithless.

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The Lord wants us to draw our life from Him, to lose ourselves in love and worship.
To breathe in His words, His mercy, His graciousness.
To exhale our own wounded pride and ambition.

Pray that you will learn to let go of your personal agenda and learn to be fully open to His love so that it spills over to the ones around you.

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Reminders of His Promises

When I got to the end of the driveway this morning there were thick gray clouds stacked high in the west. Like a wary dog growling deep within, the rumbling of thunder was distant toward the hills.

So thinking I could beat the rain, and preferring to walk in the fresh air, I set off.

The pink edge of the sun peeked above the horizon at 6:31 and was completely visible two minutes later before sneaking behind bluer and grayer clouds just moments later.

Then raindrops began falling.

But I was nearing my set point, so I walked faster, dodging most of the wetness.

Reaching my spot, I turned to go home. And there, in its silent splendor was a complete rainbow! So high and wide that my phone camera could not capture all of it in one shot.

Praise was my response.

And then, unbidden, almost like the Holy Spirit’s whisper, was the reminder “God put the rainbow in the sky to remind himself of his promise to never again destroy the entire earth with water.” (Genesis 9)

If God the Eternal needs reminders, I certainly do. And I find the best reminder of all his promises to me is to be in his word consistently.

Take time today to read his promises!August 16 2ndAugust 16 2016

I Will Pour Out

I have always loved the miracle in 2 Kings 4. A widow, whose husband had served Elijah, was threatened by a creditor and she had no resources. She and her sons fell through the cracks of the culture.

So God stepped in with a miracle.

But she and her sons did the hard work.
They humbled themselves to ask their neighbors for any empty containers.
They did the hard work of transporting those containers to their home.

Even as a child, I wondered how crowded their little home was with containers.
Did they have a table covered with jars?
Did they collect larger pots that sat on the floor?
What did they expect would happen?
Did they wish that they had collected more containers?
Did the neighbors give their empty containers cheerfully or with questions?

empty vessels

The containers, and their work in collecting them, were the limiting factor on the oil.

Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, used in consecrating priests (Exodus 29:7) and used to comfort the sheep (Psalm 23).

Honestly, I’d never made the connection between this miracle and my own life.
What do I do to leave space (empty containers) in my life for the Holy Spirit?
Am I willing to do the hard work of making this space for the Holy Spirit?
Do I ever shut the door and block out all the cares of the world, focusing on the work the Holy Spirit wants to pour into my life?

poured out

While the widow’s oil stopped pouring out when the last container was full, God promises to pour out His Spirit on all flesh. “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)

One of the things on my bucket list is a spiritual retreat. While I should be able to do that in my lovely, quiet, country home, I find too many distractions. The weeds in my gardens, the ever-present laundry and dirty dishes, the stacks of returned piano music that hasn’t yet been filed, the books that are on my “read ME” stacks, even the daily delivery from the postal service.

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Part of me longs for taking 24 hours away, and part of me is a bit frightened by what the Holy Spirit will show me.

And today, as I think about the widow and her sons, I have more respect for her and fewer questions about how much more oil she might have had if they had collected more jars.

 

Elijah said “Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and your and your sons can live on what is left over.” (2 Kings 4:7)

It was enough.

And whatever the Holy Spirit reveals, He empowers us to be obedient.

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Bringing Courage and Hope

Ruth 1 through 4:12
The book of Ruth is one of my favorites. Even though it has a lot of grief and sorrow, it reveals the responsibilities of the kinsman redeemer. Most often I have focused on Ruth, her loyalty to her mother-in-law’s God and her submissive response to what Naomi tells her to do.

Yet today, Ruth 1:19 caught my attention. “….When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.”

While we don’t know exactly how long Naomi lived in Moab, it was more than ten years.

Her little boys grew up into young men.

Her husband died,.

Her sons took wives from Moab.

Her sons died, bonding her with these young Moabite women in the sisterhood of widowhood.

In our modern era of instant communication, it is difficult to imagine that the women of Bethlehem hadn’t heard about the tragedies in Naomi’s life. It appears that they didn’t know of her devastating losses.

But they remembered Naomi. For all the many years that Naomi was in Moab, the women of Bethlehem still spoke of Naomi, who went with her husband and young sons when the famine was intense.

They remembered Naomi with joy. They celebrated her return, happy to have her in their neighborhood again.

But Naomi’s experience had changed her from a joyous, fun-loving young bride and mother, to a bitter, cynical widow.  She had given up on life and had come home to die. Or a place to stay bitter and withdrawn.

But bitterness cannot last long when it meets the impact of genuine love and compassion. Before long, Naomi is orchestrating a way to introduce Boaz to her daughter-in-law, Ruth.

Perhaps it would have gone like this anyway. But the women of Bethlehem, with their warm encompassing welcome, “greased the wheels”. Their love and attention gave Naomi the willingness to take a chance again.

 

After life’s difficult, painful journey, looking to the future with hope takes a transformation. God is love, but we are his hands and his feet, his ambassadors of love.

In what ways are you extending a warm, compassionate welcome to people that come into your life?

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How a Yoke Can Be Easy

“Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29

napping w Grandma

What is more restful than snoozing with a little one, fresh from the womb laying on our chest?

But whenever I hear this quote of Jesus, I picture two animals, usually oxen, straining together with a plow behind them.

yoke and cattle plowing

And this visual makes it hard to hear the rest of the verse. How can that hard work give us a place of rest?

The yoke itself is heavy, but necessary for accomplishing the task. But the quality of the yoke or tool can make a difference in the work.

Have you ever tried to cut fabric with a dull scissors? Or slice bread with a dull knife? Or paint with a roller not suited to the texture of the wall?

The yoke is important to how much energy the animal expends to do the task.

The yoke the Jewish leaders laid on the people was layers and layers of laws and rules. While many of the common people looked forward to the Messiah, the customs and foundations overburdened and discouraged them.

Sacrifices cut into their already meager existence.

“Clean” was determined by not doing some tasks that were part of daily life.

Strict enforcement of Sabbath rules were strait jackets rather than restful practice.

As Jesus explained how His ministry was a fulfillment of John the Baptist’s work, Jesus demonstrated a release from disease, hunger, and spiritual darkness. His loving acts, and gentle compassion introduced a new style of yoke.

A yoke that connected the people to God the Father.

A yoke that led to intimacy with God through Jesus.

The promise of rest.

The yoke is still there, not as a burden, but as a foundation to base our lives on, the tool that helps us

cut out the excess,

slice into useable portions,

effectively refresh the dingy old ways,

lets us rest on the Father’s lap.

I need the yoke to guide my days, but Jesus is the yoke and He is gentle and humble.

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Rather than rule after rule, his instruction is “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’  The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30,31

As we begin Advent, take this yoke, this foundation, as you prepare your heart for welcoming Jesus into the world.

God’s Promise to the Exile

Earlier this spring, Kenne and I went to a farmers’ market in Washington DC. It was fun to see the wide variety of wares, including cherry and pineapple ketchup. Among the many things we sampled were stuffed figs. Oh, were they delicious!

Farmers Market

Kenne and ice cream

Jeremiah’s vision has a basket of good figs–delectable–and bad figs, which I can only imagine to be disgusting!

The good figs represent those who are carried away into exile, watched over by God. While there, God tells Jeremiah to encourage them to make Babylon their home, plant gardens, have children, pray for their adopted city.

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Sometimes, though most of us don’t choose being uprooted, it is the very thing that helps us realize our dependency on God.

This spring we had a single row of trees dug out of our field. While we still value the windbreak value of them, the larger widths of updated implements was too wide for the stretch of soil between the trees and the edge of the field.

For two days the big equipment toiled in digging them up. Then for another week, Kenne hauled the trees home for future fuel. There are still four big piles out in the field that will have to be dealt with after the harvest.

Uprooting is not an easy process. It is hard. It is messy. It takes a long time to come back to a new “normal.”

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God encourages the exiles with these words: “For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jeremiah 29:11,12

This verse is often taken out of context, used in good, uplifting ways. However, when I realize that this verse is written to exiles, families uprooted, people who had been marched off through the barren wasteland between Jerusalem and Babylon, the impact of this promise multiplies.

What is the burden you are carrying today? What have you lost? Do you need the reassurance that God has a plan for you, a plan for good?

“For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jeremiah 29:11,12