Monday, October 29, 2007

TOADAL FRUSTRATION -- (With sincere apologies to Mr. Toad, from the gardener)

I’m not much of a gardener—mainly I’m a get-excited-in-the-spring; abandon-the-garden-in-the dog-days-of-summer kind of gardener. Like the spring rains, I nurture my flowers, watering frequently, weeding, cutting off the dead flowers, weeding, watering. And like the heat of August, I quickly fizzle when I sizzle, retreating to the comfort of my air conditioned house where I relax, sipping a cold glass of raspberry ice tea.

It’s mid September and I’m proud to say that I’m still making an effort to tend my precious babies, although this dry spell is testing my devotion. My routine involves spraying myself thoroughly with bug repellent and throwing myself to the mosquitoes who are not to be fooled by a little chemical barrier and are soon attracted to my sweat as it swiftly washes off the repellent. I fill up my watering cans and lug them to the front yard where I give each flower a generous drink of water. I know that there is an easier way to accomplish the task, but I continue to fill, lug, and quench. I love to be outdoors, so I don’t care that I’m not being time-efficient.

One afternoon, I noticed something floating in one of my watering cans. Thinking that it was a leaf, I ignored it and kept to my task. After I was done, I placed the can back in it’s rightful spot by the hose caddie—and noticed a scratching sound coming from the can. Low and behold, what I thought was a leaf was actually a toad!

Just imagine what Mr. Toad’s tenure in the can must have been like! There he is, minding his own business, quietly contemplating toadly concerns, when all of a sudden, he finds himself in a deluge of water riveting down on him from my highly specialized nozzle which, by the way, I have set on “jet.” Up he floats, as the water rises, to the top of the can, finding himself smooshed between can and the churning water surface, precious little breathing room to boot.Much to his relief, the water level begins to drop, eventually depositing him safely on the bottom of the can once again. Oh, oh! Look out below! Water once again pellets him, and slowly floats him to the top amid the roiling waters. And the cycle repeats itself again and again.

Finally, the can is dropped to the ground where it tips over, allowing an escape. While toads can hop quickly, avoiding capture, they can also be tentative in their actions. Mr. Toad takes his time, resting cautiously on the threshold. He listens patiently as I offer my condolences and apologies for the traumatic experience I have caused him to endure.

As I continue my yard work, I peek back occasionally, to see if Mr. Toad is still debating whether to stay or flee. Yes, He’s still debating… and debating… and debating… and finally I look and the watering can threshold is toadless. But he’s not ventured far. I can see him hiding out in the shade under the heat pump.

I’ve had days like this, haven’t you? Life in the watering can can be a tumultuous wash, can it not? Such days you just want to say, “Can it!” and go back to bed. I could go on and on with my canny humor, but I won’t. Gotta’ go water my flowers!But before I do, I’d like to share with you David’s words of blessing for difficult days:

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
Psalm 20:1-2


“He spoke, and there came swarms of flies, and gnats…”
Psalm 105:31

Ah, nature! While I’m partial to furry, fuzzy, cuddly critters, occasionally my attention is taken captive outside the woolly realm of mammalian warmth:

During the heat of summer, I relish the opportunity to light the Tiki torches on the mossy-bricked patio, where our domestic domicile meets the wooded cliff, and curl up on my swing to read in the pleasant coolness of the evening. As my eyes scan the pages illuminated by my tiny book light, my mind absorbed in images and ideas, the pungency of citronella stinging my nostrils, my senses are double-tasking, on the alert for a snap of a twig or a wiggle of leaves in the absence of a breeze, signs that a four-footed visitor may be cautiously approaching. An eerie “whoo-o-o-o-o” mingles with a whispered whistle of an approaching train, the drone of a single-engine sand-piper taking flight from the nearby airstrip, and the chorus of cheers from the parent-infested bleachers surrounding a ball diamond on the far side of the river.

Despite the citronella oil, and its renowned reputation for warding off insects, bugs are beckoned by the irresistible gravitational pull of my battery-powered high intensity light rays. The literary leaves now function as a landing strip for all sorts of bugs wooed and enamored by the light. My longing for enlightenment is compromised by my winged friends’ hunger for light. Who’s to say that my needs are more important than those of the bugs! Granted, books are created to impart knowledge and provide entertainment, but I delight in the creativity and ingenuity of the tiny critters sunbathing on the beaches of wisdom. My environmentalist within relishes and welcomes the opportunity for my light to serve a dual purpose.

Absorbed in a book about grace, nothing was further from my mind than investigating bugs. Nevertheless, after brushing away a truly amazing array of “pests,” my focus begrudgingly shifted to this tinker-bell ballet—a command performance staged under the floodlights of Grace—for this hand-picked audience of one. In spite of my irritation with this seeming interruption, I had to laugh. Was God trying to get my attention? What was I missing?

Always intrigued and amazed by God’s infinite and outrageous creativity, in this particular moment of grace, I marveled in the sampling of bugs sharing my light. I was especially captured by how tiny some of the bugs were and wished that I had a magnifying glass at my ready to get a closer look. And where do all these bugs come from? Do they live here in my yard, right under my nose, yet invisible, undetected? (Or is it I who is crashing the party in their yard?)

Why on earth does God need so many different kinds of bugs? It must be that God has the insatiable desire of a curious child, hungry for more, and more, and more!!! Are bugs to God like toys are to children—you can never have enough? Is God a compulsive, bells-and-whistles-out-of-control creator, never knowing when “enough is enough, already!”?

I am awed and tickled that a parallel universe populated by a myriad of tiny creatures flits and flutters around me, and—intelligent though I be—I am obtusely oblivious to its intricate, bustling existence. I have been reading about bees[1]—another universe I have been blind to, except for when a bee buzzes too close for my comfort—which undoubtedly has sensitized my mind to the winged world at this moment in time. What parallels might I see between my life and the life of the night creatures buzzing my reading light?

Spiritually, I am drawn to the Light and the warmth of God’s love. Intellectually, I revel in bathing myself in new ideas and perspectives, basking in energizing enlightenment. Emotionally, I occasionally find myself enveloped by the darkness of depression or loneliness and seek out people and experiences that lighten my heart. Relationally, I like to gather with others of my species to cheer on the Little Leaguers or absorb divine Light amid the buzz of fellowship. Light is essential to my existence on many levels, and like my light-crazed companions on this sultry eve, I am bewitched and bedazzled by Light wherever I may find It.

I wonder, in these moments when I am drawn to the spotlight of Grace, am I, also, a tiny creature crashing unceremoniously into another being’s universe, inviting them to shift focus and experience God's grace in a new way? Do they marvel over my intricacy and chuckle over my pesky presence? Am I the light of another being’s world, as Christ has called me to be? Am I most like a beetle, well protected by a shiny, iridescent, impermeable shell, or am I like the teeny-tiny, delicate bug whose wings and body are vulnerable and transparent? Am I satisfied to rest in the Light or do I flutter about, seeking who knows what? Where do I go when the source of my light is snuffed out?

Gracious God, may I always have the good sense to rest in your Light
and may I be a reflection of your Light, to those around me.
[1] The Secret Lives of Bees, a delightful novel by Sue Monk Kidd, led me to The Queen Must Die and Other Affairs of Bees and Men (be honest now, who could resist such a title!), by beekeeper, William Longgood.


“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation:
seed-bearing plants and trees on the land
that bear fruit with seed in it,
according to their various kinds.’
And it was so… And God saw that it was good.”
Genesis 1:11-12

One hot, summer day, when I was a little girl, my daddy introduced me to the delicious hunt for strawberries. We were visiting Grandma and Grandpa Reuman, my mother’s parents, in Attica, New York. Their large home—hand built by Grandpa—overlooked a picturesque valley. I doubt that Dad and I talked much out there in the field behind the house, but just being with him and having him all to myself was a real treat. I couldn’t resist popping a few of the reddest and juiciest sun-warmed treasures into my mouth right there in the field.

Suddenly, the muted, country quiet was broken by an alarm sounding from Attica State Prison, far off in the valley, alerting the community that a prisoner had escaped. The harsh sound scared me to death, and I just knew that the escapee would come get me! Dad tried to allay my fears, explaining that the occasional escapee was usually a “trustee,” a prisoner who was trusted enough to work outside the wall. Such prisoners were typically due to get out of prison soon, but the security of what was familiar was more appealing than freedom, so they’d head downtown to a bar and wait to be captured, successfully extending their tenure. My fears were soothed and we enjoyed our berries with Grandma’s homemade shortcake.

Strawberries have always been a vital part of my summers, even when I did not have easy access to a strawberry field. During the summer, our neighborhood was frequented several times a week by a truck laden with berries. I got just as excited when I heard this truck coming as I did for the ice cream truck (well, almost). These luscious, locally grown berries sold for the tempting price of four quarts for a dollar. Mom would make shortcake and we’d top it all off with a generous spritz of Reddi-Wip. Dad registered his appreciation with groans of delight and lots of lip-smacking.

Before moving to Anderson, my husband and I lived in Northern Michigan where I went berry picking around the 4th of July. When we returned to Indiana, I couldn’t wait for July to come around, only to discover that I was a month late! You can bet I didn’t make that mistake twice.When my parents retired and moved to Anderson to be near my family, Dad and I took up pickin’ once again. For several years, we went to a local fruit and vegetable farm, oftentimes accompanied by my kids, Matt and Beth, who were as young as I was when I picked my first berry. Later, Dad put in a big garden next to his condo, a generous portion of it dedicated to strawberries.

Bethie and Grandpa loved to trek out to the strawberry patch where Beth would load up her t- shirt with berries and bring them in, thrilled with her payload. It was a special time between little Beth and Grandpa, reminiscent of my own special times with my strawberry-loving papa. I plan to take my own grandkids pickin’ someday!

Exodus 20:5-6 tells us that God promises his love “to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Just think: when we receive God’s love and respond with obedience, we pass God’s love on to the next one thousand generations! Is “a thousand generations” simply a metaphor to emphasize the abundance and availability of God’s love? I don’t know. But if the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Indiana can impact the ecosystem in China, then I certainly think God’s love has its own eternal “butterfly effect.”

Just as we receive a legacy from our Heavenly Father, our own family legacies are also passed on. Enjoying strawberries together is a love-filled legacy, a crimson thread in the enduring weaving that is my family. Such a simple act of grace! Every Father’s Day—appropriately celebrated during strawberry season—I fondly remember my strawberry-loving father, Frank Elmore. Thanks for the legacy, Dad!


I am the gate;
whoever enters through me will be saved.
He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
John 10:8-10

One summer afternoon, while soaking and floating in Adams Lake with my school day buddies, Lea and Kathy, we engaged in storytelling about—what else—our kids. “My favorite story of Matt,” Lea announces, chuckling, “is of how Rex and Linda had to gate him into his room at night with THREE gates!” I’m sure Kathy has heard this story before, but it is also one of my favorites, so I readily share the details.

Matt learned to walk early (way too early, in my opinion!) and strongly objected to any form of containment. Climbing in and out of (or on top of) just about anything was his forte’ at a very early age. At around age two, he decided that the crib was more a vehicle than a stationery object best utilized for slumber. By shaking the crib, he discovered that he could masterfully maneuver it across the shag carpet to within arms reach of the dresser. His goal: the jar of Vaseline, which works quite nicely for creative expression on all sorts of surfaces.

Not to be outwitted, Rex and I craftily removed the wheels and chuckled with delight as we lay him down for his nap. Not a problem! Matt quickly learned that he could escape the crib by climbing over the bars with the wall at his back to keep him from falling. However, without the wheels, he would become stuck between the wall and the crib and we were afraid he might hang himself. So, it was back to the drawing board.

Feeling somewhat defeated, yet ever hopeful, we removed the crib from his room, placed the mattress on the floor and tried every psychological trick we could think of to convince Matt that he was now a big boy and ready to sleep in (and stay put in) a big boy bed. Matt reveled in his new-found freedom, wandering the house from the minute we put him down. Not to be outwitted (yet, again!), we placed a baby gate in his doorway. No problema! He loved to climb and joyfully took the challenge like a squirrel to a squirrel-proof bird-feeder.

The gauntlet was thrown! A second gate was installed above the first gate. But freedom still remained a mere scramble away. Rex wanted to just close and lock the door, but I couldn’t bear the thought of locking my child up or of not being able to peek in and check up on him. So a third gate was purchased and the doorway was now impenetrable. We definitely won this round, but at quite an emotional cost.

Have you any idea how guilty a parent can feel upon discovery of one’s two-year-old curled up on the floor, by the gated doorway, tightly hugging his blankie and stuffed monkey, sound asleep, looking so sweet and innocent? Trust me, it’s traumatic. But hey, incarceration worked! We could work through the trauma.

The new nightly routine now became a process of setting up camp for Matt at his doorway, settling him down for a story and prayers, the designated parent of the evening sitting cross-legged in the hallway. After kisses, gates one, two, and three were installed. Some nights, the inmate would scream and holler and other nights, he accepted his incarceration peacefully. Eventually, the gates were no longer needed (I can’t remember if this was when he was around four – or sixteen…)

Twenty-five years later, the parental guilt has abated, and Matt does not seem to have been too terribly traumatized. We look forward to having grandchildren—we just hope Matt has a child “just like” him!

I wonder, do our Heavenly Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit ever hang out, like Lea, Kathy, and I—floating on a cloud, perhaps—swapping stories about their children?

“Hey, did you hear that Linda locked her keys in the car again—that makes three times this summer! And this time the dog was in the car! What on earth would she do without our rescue service?”

“Oh, I can top that! Did you hear the one about when Rex…?”

“If you think that’s funny, just listen to this!”

I imagine that, from God’s perspective, we often act like two year olds, in need of constant parental vigil and ingenuity. Does God get exasperated with us, impatient with our immature behavior? (Just check out some of the Old Testament stories about the Israelites and you’ll know that he does!) Does God heave a big sigh of relief when we’re safely tucked into bed at night, knowing we’ve made it through another day of shenanigans?

Daily, I am tempted to climb over the gates erected by my heavenly parent to keep me safely contained. Sometimes I actually make an escape. But like the time when I was five or six and climbed over the backyard gate—and caught and tore my pants on a picket—my escapes are less than graceful. While I crave freedom, and desire to be my own boss, ultimately I know that living in God’s gated community is in my best interest.


"Love bears all things..." I Corinthians 13:7
I know, I know! I’ve gone too far this time, stepped over the line of decency, causing Emily Post to turn over in her grave. Could I have chosen a more disgusting topic? To put things in perspective, unless you’d like to hear some of my brother Michael’s stories about autopsies and cadavers (during his tenure in medical school I had to endure such information over dinner!), then I suggest that you give me a few paragraphs to see what I can do with my less than savory topic. I have a couple of vignettes that demonstrate how tolerance for snot is a sure sign of grace:

Awhile back, I was visiting with my good friend, Sandra, and her two young children in the living room of their home when Caleb, her youngest, unobtrusively sidled up to his mother, as we were chatting, and rubbed his snotty nose on her sleeve. Now, you could say that he didn’t know any better, which perhaps he didn’t, but the crucial point, I think, is that a mother’s love “bears all things,” including snotty sleeves, saliva-soaked shoulders, a lap full of runny poop (on her Sunday suit, of course), a face squirted with warm pee, and the volcanic eruptions of a child’s partially digested stomach (of candy, pop, corn on the cob, and cotton candy following a hot, hectic day at the carnival). And she gracefully bears such indignities with dignity and grace. A Congressional Medal of Honor is definitely in order.

My second example transpired one warm, sunny, summer afternoon while boating. Rex had just boarded the boat dripping wet, having slalomed around the lake, and was toweling off when our newly acquired daughter-in-law, Kristy, informed him that he had snot on his face. Now, snot on one’s face following skiing—especially if you’ve done a nose dive and taken in a face full of lake water—is not uncommon. But passing on such delicate information to one’s new father-in-law is significant, to say the least. Obviously, Kristy felt comfortable enough with “Dad” to broach the subject and take it upon herself to inform him that he needed to wipe his nose. And “Dad’s” gracious acceptance of her remark was equally as significant. I remember commenting, as we all laughed, that this was a sign that Kristy was truly one of the family.

And so, I believe I’ve quite adequately demonstrated the subtle, graceful connection between snot and grace. Metaphorically speaking, life is full of moments when our noses run, catching us unawares and unprepared without a tissue or handkerchief handy. How we handle those moments, both as the one caught in the act of being human, and as an observer of the flaws and frailties of others, reflects our ability to give and receive grace.

I can’t think of any passages in the Bible that talk about snot (thank goodness!), but Scripture certainly has a great deal to say about God’s abiding love and grace. The realization that we are loved and of great value comes, on rare occasions, in the form of an eye-opening, lightning bolt experience – a dramatic exclamation point lighting up the sky of our hearts. Much more frequently, though, a slowly dawning awareness that we are deeply loved is nurtured in the day-in, day-out showers of tiny droplets of human love reflecting God’s incredible love for us. To be able to rub one’s nose on Mama’s or Papa’s sleeve, or to feel secure enough in one’s new family to be forthright (with tact, respect, and a dash of humor, of course), speaks of love on the grassroots level. This is love that grows imperceptibly, day by day, rooting itself firmly in rich, well-prepared, sun-warmed, heart-soil: embodied grace.

Isn’t it good to know that even when we’re feeling or acting snotty, we can sidle up to our Heavenly Father and… well, you get the picture!

"GEZUNDHEIT!" -- "Snot and Grace" Part 2

In May 2003, Rex and I traveled to Costa Rica where we were to meet up with our daughter, Beth, who had already spent ten weeks there student teaching at the Country Day School in Brazilito. The three of us were to participate in an eye care mission and we were excited about celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary in a tropical paradise. The fact that we would be able to combine a personal vacation with a mission trip was an added blessing.

While I was “out of the country,” my “Pondering the Crosspoints,” entitled “Snot and Grace,” was to appear in our church newsletter. I was a little bit anxious about the reception of this piece, anticipating a few “Oh my gosh!”es and “Well, I never!”s from the more conservative members of our congregation. Several times I thought I heard my ears ringing, but as it turns out, this physical phenomena was totally unrelated to the buzz I thought I was creating back home.

Before publishing “Snot and Grace,” I sought, and received, the blessings of all the major players mentioned in the snotty scenarios. I spoke with my pastor, John Young, and received his blessing as well. Even so, I felt like I was climbing out on a limb and had invited him out there with me. I was an avid tree climber as a child, but over the years I’ve developed a fear of heights, and I did not relish a “fall from grace” among my peers. But up the tree I went! While perched together precariously on what felt like a very bouncy, flimsy limb, John spoke to my reservations: “Well, if anyone has difficulty with your writing, they just need an extra dose of grace.” More grace-filled words I’ve never heard!

Evidently God was not finished with my “Lessons From Snot (not to be confused with Lessons From Morey by Mitch Albom).” Two days into our trip, my sinuses unleashed a flow of drainage for which there were not enough tissues in all of Costa Rica to contain. Tissues are a third-world luxury and, as a member of the “Kleenex Generation,” I panicked when my supply from home quickly ran out. Having experienced a cold during her stay in Costa Rica, Beth tipped me off to the paper towel dispensers, which very few rest rooms provide (it’s so HOT there that one’s hands air dry before you can reach for the door knob).

The Costa Rican paper towels, thinner that what we use in the U.S, proved to be better snot-catchers than anything thus far developed by the combined efforts of Kleenex, Puffs, and Scotties! But, as I alluded to earlier, these heaven-sent dispensers of grace were few and far between, and I had to filch and hoard whatever I could of the valuable commodity whenever possible. I did find a few miniature boxes of actual “Kleenex” brand tissues strategically placed around one of our lodgings, but these pour excuses for tissues could not even handle the emission of one of my tender nostrils.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find uncontrollable fits of sneezing, coughing, and blowing my nose in public a bit embarrassing. Even though I know Emily Post would be aghast at my public display of nose control (Mom having taught me that it is impolite to blow one’s nose at the dinner table), I was at the mercy of my out of control proboscis. If I had excused myself from the table every time I needed to clear my nostrils (Doesn’t that sound “politically correct”?), I would have missed entire meals at a time and missed the opportunity to get acquainted with many of the mission team members. Fortunately, my traveling companions looked on me with pity and accepted me, snot and all, with grace and aplomb.

It wasn’t until I was back home that it occurred to me that God had given me my very own “snotty” lesson on grace. Once again, my fears of rejection—rooted in long ago childhood experiences—were proven false. Every day, several people would ask me how I was feeling and express empathy for my condition. Jeanine had gotten sick during our mission trip to Kenya in 2000, so she was especially compassionate and supportive. Tom, her husband, informed me that I could request a medical consult at the hotel desk. Jeanette’s husband is susceptible to pneumonia, and she was so concerned about my cough, that she thought I should be Med-Jetted home. Nuria, our Coco de Playa Lion’s Club hostess, took me to a farmacia for cough medicine (nasty tasting stuff—like what I imagine turpentine to taste like!). Bob gave me a supply of better tasting Americano cough syrup that went down much easier. And Rex and Beth were so loving and sweet. I couldn’t have felt more loved and accepted.

While I wish I’d not been sick on our trip, between all the coughing fits, sneezes, and blowing, I did manage to enjoy being reunited with Beth, the beauty of God’s prolific handiwork—Pacific sunsets, itsy-bitsy sand crabs scurrying on ocean beaches, exotic butterflies and birds vividly accenting the Cloud Forest, brilliant orange lava trickling down Mt. Arenal—and the companionship of many wonderful people. Once again, grace came through.

Ah… Ah… Ah… Excuse me… Ah… does anyone have… Ahhhhhhh… a tissue??????????????

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you,
and give you—a tissue (peace).”
Numbers 6:24-26


You yourselves are our letter,
written on our hearts,
known and read by everybody.
You show that you are a letter from Christ,
the result of our ministry, written not with ink
but with the Spirit of the living God,
not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
2 Corinthians 3:2-3

When I was a child, I attended Martin Luther Elementary School in Buffalo, New York, and during my second and third grade years, I had the most wonderful teacher. Miss Albers was the prettiest, smartest, kindest, most fun teacher ever created! Midway through my third grade year, my family moved to Indiana and I had to say goodbye to Miss Albers.

My parents were fond of my teacher, as well, and I was delighted that they kept in touch with her. I was so excited when the news came that she was to be married and that she and her husband were to be missionaries in New Guinea. I have a picture of the happy couple with their baby girl, Debra, and a second picture of their two little girls sitting on a blanket with grass huts in the background. Miss Albers was now more wonderful that ever—and I wanted to be “just like her” when I grew up!

Could it be that the seed for missions was written on my heart, so many years ago, by the example of a woman who created a safe, warm, nurturing environment in which to learn and grow? I think St. Paul would say a resounding “Yes! Yes, indeed!” I am your letter, Miss Albers, and because of you, the Spirit of the living God is written on my heart.

C. S. Lewis, one of my favorite writers, had a great deal to say about love and vulnerability.[1] I believe that we all come into this world with tender hearts vulnerable to the touch of the Spirit, open to the love of God. When someone like Miss Albers writes upon our hearts, we learn to be open and vulnerable, willing to risk love.

However, when someone with a wounded heart, wields the pen of rejection, criticism, and discouragement, our hearts become hardened lest we be hurt again. Most of us have experienced both kinds of etchings, and a battle ensues within: Should I reach out, risk, be vulnerable? Should I withdraw and protect myself from hurt?

I am very thankful for Miss Albers, as well as the many other wonderful people, who have written upon my heart with the Spirit of the living God. I am their letter. I, too, have written upon the vulnerable hearts of many individuals, and they are my letter. I pray that, more times than not, it is God’s Spirit who guides my pen, yet all too often I flinch with shame for a wounding mark I have carelessly left. It is an awesome privilege and responsibility—and an amazing gift of grace—to be both the pen of Grace and the tablet upon which Grace is written.

[1]C.S. Lewis, “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”


“Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah,
the Root of David, has triumphed.”
Rev. 5:5

Annie Dilliard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek, advises us “to wear crash helmets to church because God is a madman. He is not a domesticated puppy, cornered and corralled under our control. He is the wild-maned Lion of Judah, untamable, unchainable.” [1] And Joy Sawyer, in Dancing to the Heartbeat of Redemption, while contemplating a “lifelong spiritual safari,” speaks of a “woolly, holy wonder” that “roars around every corner.”[2]

I don’t know about you, but for me the image of Jesus as a roaring, wild-maned lion is quite intimidating and less than inviting. It’s also hard to reconcile with my long-time favorite image of Jesus as Shepherd. Of course, there is that passage in the Bible that predicts a time when the lion will lay down with the lamb – a popular Christmas card picture – but this is really hard for me to cuddle up to. It’s beyond my comprehension and experience.

Many years ago, my good friend, Lea, who was studying to be an elementary teacher, and avidly devouring children’s literature, introduced me to The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The “mane” character, Aslan, is an inhabitant of Narnia, an unseen world penetrable only to innocent, imaginative children whose hearts are open to mystery. This delightful fantasy, enjoyed equally by children and adults alike, is rich with spiritual metaphor. The saga of the children’s experiences in Narnia parallels our own “spiritual safari” and relationship with Christ, the Lion of Judah.

I read Narnia before having children and loved it for its wonderful characters and adventure-filled story, as well as for the spiritual message encoded in its imagery. And I have since read it to both of my children when they were young. I think I need to read it again before I put on my crash helmet and go on safari with this madman Annie Dilliard speaks of!

While I can’t remember much of the story line and few of the names of the characters, I do remember the feeling of safety and security that grew in me as I journeyed through Narnia. It was a spiritual safari deeper than I’ve ever traveled into the tangled jungle of trust and faith. Aslan was powerful and scary, but also gentle and loving. My encounter with Aslan, if only as reader and voyeur, nurtured my trust in God, and I wanted my children to know Aslan as a door into understanding God.

I invite you to strap on your crash helmets and venture, however tentatively, into the jungle with a wild-maned madman. I imagine Jesus, the master of metaphor and parable, a broad smile stretched across his face and a twinkle in his eye, exclaiming, “Now, why didn’t I think of that one!”

[1] Dillard, Annie, referenced in Dancing to the Heartbeat of Redemption, by Joy Sawyer, InterVarsity Press, 2000, p. 153.
[2] Sawyer, Joy, Dancing to the Heartbeat of Redemption, InterVarsity Press, 2000, p. 153.


“Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28-30

Panda has had a restless night. She’s jumped up in bed with me repeatedly and each time she obediently gets down when I tell her to, only to hop back up within just a few minutes. Rex got up with her to let her outside, which usually solves the problem, but not this time. It’s obvious that I’m not going to get any peace, so I finally get up with her. This time when I let her out, she stands on the deck woofing deep, even, single barks, at what, I don’t know. It’s not her typical fit of excitement announcing a visit from a neighborly raccoon, nor her high-pitched defense warning system when an unknown human is nearby. No, this is definitely different. Due to the blanket of snow and half moon, I can easily see far down the cliff into the woods, but I see only snow and barren trees. Whatever has Panda riled remains a mystery to me, and maybe even to her.

I let her back in, a blast of frigid winter air rushing in with her. We’ve had a cold streak plunging the temperature to zero and below for days. Panda’s dogging me now, following me closely as I turn on the coffeepot, traipse to my closet to grab my terry cloth robe and slippers, and I know this means no going back to my warm bed and cuddling up with Rex. So I situate myself in my favorite living room chair, rest my achy back against a heating pad, and cover up with my mom’s soft, pink throw to sip my coffee and write.

It’s not long before Panda-Dear is peering up at me, patiently waiting for an invitation to take over my lap. We play our little game in which I coax and she pretends indifference, until she says, “Well, if you insist!” (No, of course, she doesn’t really say this – it’s printed in the little comic strip bubble above her head.) Having saved face by making me beg, she is now curled up safely in my lap drifting back to never-never land. I, on the other hand, am AWAKE! My legs are beginning to ache from her weight, but I know from experience, that in just a few minutes, she’ll abandon my lap, stretch elegantly and luxuriously like a dancer warming up before a performance, and settle peacefully onto the carpet a few feet from my chair.

My mind alert for a spiritual application, I smile as I picture God curled up in a Lazyboy chair, dressed in rumpled, flannel PJs and robe, hair all matted from sleep, sipping a latte (heaven’s kitchen is a wee bit more gourmet than mine). I’ve awakened Grace and she graciously invites me to join her, yawning deeply and rubbing her eyes as I climb gratefully into her generous lap. I realize that it is Mama-God who rises with me in the early sleepless hours before dawn and sits with me, a comforting presence when I’m ruffled and restless. I just need to sit in her lap for a bit, just long enough to synchronize my breathing to hers, like I used to do as a little girl curled up contentedly on the sofa next to my daddy.

Just a few minutes in the lap of Grace is all I need.
Quality time, PRN.


Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk, poet, and contemplative writer, wrote a poem entitled, “There Is No Road to Grace’s House.” The inspiration for his poem was a picture of a house sent to him by a young child, Grace Sisson. Grace’s picture was typical of many pictures created by little girls: house positioned on a hill, smoke rising from the chimney, windows with curtains, knotted trees with animals peeking out of the holes… Of course, there was a huge, brilliant sun and a sprinkle of clouds in the sky and, oh yes, a friendly, smiling dog.

My first-best-friend, Mary, and I spent hours together coloring such pictures, one after another. We were like the artists who paint for the starving artist art sales—painting essentially the same picture over and over again, with minor variations. We wouldn’t stop until all the scrap paper my mom provided was converted into works of art.

What caught my attention in Merton’s poem is that he mentions four times that Grace has not included a road. No driveway; no brick path winding from the picket fence gate to the inviting front door; no way at all to get to Grace’s beautiful house. Merton’s repetition of this seeming oversight offers implications for our spiritual walk.

Sometimes there are days (or weeks or months) when, try as I might, I feel like I can’t find the road to Grace’s (God’s) House. There’s got to be one! The Bible talks about the “straight and narrow” road to the Kingdom of Heaven: “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”[1] It sounds like I’m definitely not alone in my struggle!
Wouldn’t it be nice if finding the road to Grace’s house were as simple as doing a Mapquest search? With map and step-by-step directions, I could navigate myself right up to the heavenly mansion—with nary a wrong turn—and approach the throne of God with my complaints, questions, and numerous requests.

But could it be that there really is no road?

Perhaps no road is necessary because Grace knows exactly where I am and comes to me, before I even send out a distress signal. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, states, “We do not come to grace, grace comes to us. Try as we might to obtain grace, it may yet elude us. We may seek it not, yet it will find us.”[2] What wonderful news for those of us who are directionally challenged!

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus posed this question: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” [3] And then—get this—the shepherd rejoices and throws a party! Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…” [4] When we wander far a field and lose our way, what comfort it is to know that our Shepherd is seeking us.

Maybe no road is needed because Grace’s path mysteriously intersects with, my own. "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” [5] I can visualize myself standing expectantly at the crossroads, where my life intersects with Grace, my eyes straining for my first sight of her.Grace coming to me; I like the sound of that!

And Grace will come again: Hours before he died, Jesus told his disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also…" [6]

When I was an adolescent, we sang this scripture in choir and the verse and tune are a promise firmly planted in my heart. The morning that my father died, sitting on the foot of his hospital bed, I picked up his Bible from the bedside table and opened it to the page he had marked. Highlighted in yellow was this very passage. I surmised that only hours before he died, he read this passage, knowing that Jesus was coming for him soon.

“So, is there a road to Grace’s house?” rational, inquiring minds want to know! As I bring a close to this pondering, I’m remembering the final scene in the popular movie, Back to the Future. “Doc” (Emmet Brown, played by the zany Christopher Lloyd) has returned from the future to get Marty (Michael J. Fox) and his girlfriend, Jennifer, because, “Something has to be done about your kids!” Marty and Jennifer trustingly climb into the De Lorean, Doc’s time machine. “Hey Doc, we better back up, we don’t have enough road,” Marty advises. “Roads? replies Doc, as he coolly lower his futuristic sun glasses over his eyes. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Is there a spiritual parallel here? I’ll let you chew on this awhile…

[1] Matthew 7:14
[2] Peck, M. Scott, Recovery Devotional Bible, “The Welcoming of Grace,” p. 1182
[3] Luke 15:3-7 NIV
[4] Isaiah 53:6 NIV
[5] Jeremiah 6:16 NIV
[6] John 14:1-6 KJV, C.S. Lewis, “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Sunday, October 28, 2007

WILDFIRES -- October 27, 2007

In years past, my husband, Rex, and I have enjoyed gathering up fallen branches and cutting up dead trees in our woods and burning them. I was initially hesitant about doing this, not wanting to do harm to the environment that I love so much. The government’s proposal to reduce fires in national forests by clearing away the highly combustible dead wood got us thinking about doing the same. Our efforts were further inspired by the professional opinion of an arborist Rex knows who advocates clearing away debris to allow new plant life an opportunity to thrive.

Metaphorically and spiritually I also need to periodically clear away the “dead wood” in my life—those thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and actions that clutter my path and trip me up on my spiritual journey. I consider myself to be a “good person, certainly not someone who needs to chain saw my way through massive fallen-ness, like major addictions (do chocolate and Dr. Pepper count?), infidelities, criminal conduct, etc., but, truth be told, I have some logs, not only in my eye, but in my life!

Since the fire that destroyed the home next door, and threatened our own home, I feel no desire to smell burning leaves and wood this fall. What used to be a charming aspect of the ambiance of autumn is now an all too vivid reminder of tragedy. As I write this, I am watching the latest news report on the California fires. My daughter, Beth, just recently moved back to Indiana after living and teaching in San Diego for three years. I am SO THANKFUL that she is not out there right now, but I share her anxiety for her California friends and their families.

This national disaster also takes me back to my two weeks with the Red Cross in Louisiana, following Hurricane Katrina. A part of me would like to go and help, but I do not feel the call, like I did with Katrina. I knew then, without a doubt, that I was supposed to go. It’s so unlike me to step out of my comfort zone, to go into the unknown—and all by my lonesome. That was obviously a God thing!

Wildfires have roared across the California landscape, fueled by the Santa Ana winds, for hundreds, maybe even million of years, and will probably continue to do so. Fires, floods, and other monumental disasters have ravaged the earth for eons (Despite the current controversy over humanity’s culpability in global warming!). So, too, “wildfires” will roar across the landscapes of our lives, sometimes due to our own carelessness in not attending to “dead wood,” and sometimes simply because lightning strikes. Most, if not all of us, bear the scars of having been struck by divorce or the death of a loved one, struck by a car—or cancer, depression, job loss…

Like Yellowstone National Park, in which 988,975 acres of forests were devastated by fire in 1988, we, too can survive the searing heat and destruction of life’s wildfires. I was awed and inspired the second time I visited Yellowstone and witnessed the rebirth that is taking place among the charred, lifeless spires of once thriving trees. Fertilized by ash, and miraculously re-seeded from pine cones programmed to release their seeds only under intense heat, Yellowstone’s forests remind me that God wastes nothing and uses everything, in nature and in human life, to bless His creation and his creatures.

When have you risen from the ashes of wildfire? How and where have you reseeded yourself, proving that God works all things for good for those who love him and live according to his ordinances? As we rise out of the ashes in our lives, we are uniquely enabled to offer support to others in the midst of their fire storms. We can empathize, respond with compassion, offer encouragement, and be living proof that grace can and will prevail.

The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud
to lead them along the way,
and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.
Exodus 13:21

Can you see God in the fire?

Sunday, October 21, 2007


O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me too lofty for me to attain.
Psalm 139:1-6

When you are in a wondering mood, what captures your wonderment? Can you recall the last time you were enthralled by the mystery of grace? As adults, we’ve little time in our busy lives to stop and indulge in childlike wonder. Sadly, like an unused muscle, this precious, life-giving ability seems to atrophy.

As a new grandma, I love to watch baby Evan. In between his two primary activities—eating and sleeping—are brief episodes of wakefulness. His beautiful, wide eyes gaze around intently, taking in his surroundings. For three week old Evan, the world is fresh and captivating, just as it was for Adam and Eve when they opened their eyes for the first time in the Garden of Eden.

Just imagine experiencing things visually for the very first time, unencumbered by memories and interpretations. I wonder, does an infant see things exactly as God created them and exactly how he wants us to experience them—free of fear, skepticism, judgment... Imagine being completely open, without expectations, hidden agendas, or mixed motives… Just pure, unselfconscious communion and oneness with God’s creation and with our Creator. Just the thought of this makes me want to sing,

“Open the eyes of my heart Lord, open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see You. I want to see You.”
Paul Baloche

The eyes of my heart. I wonder, do the eyes of baby Evan’s heart see with such spiritual clarity and discernment?

We are surrounded by the wonder of God’s creative frenzy, yet somehow we often see right past it. Bouts of fear, worry, resentment, complaining, lethargy, grief, anger, sadness, _____________ (you fill in the blank) cloud our vision. The challenges of life, and the emotions they unleash, are crosspoints on which we teeter between growth and retreat.

Often it is in the very midst of a crisis that we encounter God’s living presence in life-changing ways. In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning, states that “the spirituality of wonder knows the world is charged with grace, that while sin and war, disease and death are terribly real, God’s loving presence and power in our midst are even more real.”

Recognizing a subtle, spine-tingling charge of grace, and responding with wonder, is sometimes even more elusive as we deal with the ordinary, mundane activities of daily life. For me, little children, furry animals, and nature are gifts of grace that, in the words of Joy Sawyer, “help me return to the sense of wonder at common, everyday events.” (Dancing to the Heartbeat of Redemption)

Little children are enthralled with the itty-bitty. When my daughter, Beth, was a tot, the sight of a daddy-longlegs was cause for excited squeals and uncontrollable bouncing, and all action came to an abrupt halt while she paused in rapt attention, fully absorbed in her latest discovery. Then would come the non-stop questions about every minute aspect of the newly discovered creature. And this process would be repeated with each-and-every daddy-longlegs she spied—every day—for an entire summer! A child’s wonder can be exhausting for a busy toddler’s parent! Oh, to have such vision!

Our heavenly parent welcomes our questions and delights in our curiosity and is never exhausted by our wonder. Whether you are in the midst of an overwhelming crisis or trudging through the tedium and frustrations of an ordinary day, I pray that you will have the eyes of an infant, the curiosity of a child, and the attentiveness of the psalmist, discovering anew a “world charged with grace.”

“I pray…that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.”
St. Paul, Ephesians 1:18

"JUST LIKE ME" - October 13, 2007

“Hey, Mom,” my son said, while rocking softly in the glider in his living room, “do you still hope I’ll have a kid ‘just like' me?” I gave him my Mona Lisa smile as I let this question sink in. In a split second, I time-traveled twenty-seven years back to the family room of our first house:

“Just put this one last block in the basket – just this one,” the fatigued and frustrated father said. The blond-haired two-year-old, sitting on the floor next to him, contemplated the one remaining brightly colored Fisher-Price block. Glancing at his father sideways out of the corners of his vivid blue eyes, he heaved the block across the family room where it bounced off the paneled wall and tumbled to the floor. The obstinate, PJ-clad toddler and the twenty-something, highly educated, professional-by-day father had been locked in this scrimmage for control for at least an eternal half-hour.

“Why can’t he just obey? Why won’t he put one lousy block in the stupid toy basket, for Pete’s sake!” my frazzled hubby exclaimed to me later that evening. Upstairs, his worthy opponent lay sleeping, secured for the night, the epitome of innocence and sweetness, his wiry arms enfolding, and his sweaty, rosy cheek resting on, his beloved stuffed monkey. Suppressing a smile, I pondered silently how alike father and son are in so many ways, including their “tenacity.”

“He’s so unbelievably stubborn!” Rex proclaimed as he fell into his recliner, his energy spent, his spirit sagging. How is it possible, he wondered, for a mature adult capable of abstract thinking, logic, and other sophisticated intellectual skills to be bested by a mere child who thinks concretely and can’t tell the difference between make-believe and reality? We both sighed deeply and turned our waning attention to the TV. My sigh was one of relief, so, so glad that it wasn’t my night for bedtime duty!

Returning from my reverie, I contemplated my son and his question. For years, we’ve teased Matt—in moments of his obstinacy—that we hope he has a child “just like” him. There are other qualities that we’ve jokingly wished upon his progeny, like his proclivity for climbing and his love for disappearing into clothes racks while shopping, all the while scaring his mother to death. His favorite Sesame Street character was Ernie—which should give you a glimmer of his lively personality.

So, do I wish that Matt has a kid just like him? Be careful now, Mom. This is a million dollar question. Do I want to call a friend or poll the audience? Nope. I’m on my own here. What’s my final answer? What makes this such a tricky question is that cradled in my son’s arms as he rocks, is his very own newborn son, Evan. (Late, breaking news flash: I interrupt this article to announce that I am a GRANDMA! Evan Jason Teeple was born at 7:35 p.m. on September 28, weighing in at 7 lbs. 3 oz. and measuring 20.5 inches.)

Oh, yes! I do most definitely hope that Evan is a chip off the old block, but in oh so many more ways than I meant when I have teased Matt in the past. Matthew (his name means “Gift of God”), this precious, precocious boy of mine, has grown into a fine man. I love him dearly and am very proud of the son and husband and father he has become. While I do hope that Evan will give Matt a taste of what it was like to raise him (so that Matt will deeply appreciate our heroic, parenting efforts all the more, and hopefully take care of us in our old age), I hope that, amid the challenges, he will enjoy this little guy as much as we have enjoyed raising him.

Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. Psalm 127:3 KJV

By the way, the name Evan is the Welsh form of John, a Hebrew name meaning “God is gracious.” I hope my daughter (in-law), Kristy, will keep this in mind in those moments when Evan causes her to utter, “You are just like your father!!!”

Saturday, October 6, 2007

A STAR FOR A STAR - October 6, 2007

My husband, Rex, recently ran into someone who was very significant in our son’s life. Many of you who read today’s column may say that this woman was also significant in your life, or that of your child’s. For 29 years (and still counting), Mrs. Doris has been a daily substitute teacher at Anderson High School. Every time she runs into us, she eagerly asks about Matt and Beth. She not only remembers them, she also remembers who they hung around with. This is pretty amazing, given that Matt, our oldest, graduated from AHS in 1996—11 years ago!

Matt has fond memories of Mrs. Doris, not just from classroom and hallway encounters, but also from her presence at his football games and track meets, his graduation, his graduation open house… Goodness! Mrs. Doris must be the busiest person on the face of the earth on open house days! Everyone wants her to come to their house, and come, she does, with camera in hand. If you run into Mrs. Doris, it’s likely that she’ll dig into her purse for a picture she took of you and your friends that she’s been meaning to give you.

The year that Matt graduated, Mrs. Doris was awarded her very own letter jacket. The student body went wild, rocking the Wigwam with joy, as Mrs. Doris modeled her coat of honor. Mrs. Doris “lettered” in encouragement, enthusiasm, compassion, attentiveness, inspiration, loyalty, commitment, kindness, humor, hugs, smiles and twinkling eyes. An encounter with Mrs. Doris is an encounter with grace.

I am very thankful for the Mrs. Doris’ in my kids’ lives. There is so much in life that wears our self esteem thin and we need mentors and encouragers who love us and believe in us, who show us there is goodness in life, and who model for us the qualities that make a person truly great. If I could sum up in one phrase the gift that Mrs. Doris bestows on kids, it’s the message that, “You are significant.”

Even more important than conveying to children that they are significant to us, is our responsibility of conveying how very significant they are to their Heavenly Father. The psalmist, David, captures this beautifully in the 139th psalm:

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. ... you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

David understood, from the inside out, that he was significant in God’s eyes and that God had a plan for his life. We can each be a Mrs. Doris in the life of a child, conveying to them their significance to us, and most especially, their significance to God.

Mrs. Doris loves to tell the story of how touched she was when our Matt gave her his captain’s star to put on her jacket. Like Matt, please let the Mrs. Doris’ of your life know that, in your eyes—and in God’s—they are a shining star.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

RISING FROMN THE EMBERS - September 29, 2007

If you were afraid that your house was going to catch on fire, what would you grab as you headed out the door to safety? I know what I would grab: my two dogs, Panda and Hope, my children’s baby albums, my wedding ring, the necklace my husband gave me as a wedding gift, my mom’s antique watch, our passports—and this laptop on which I am typing. I know this with certainty, because at 1:00 a.m. this very morning, I did just this.

“Linda. Get up!” My husband said with urgency. “John’s house is on fire!” Instantly I was fully awake and quickly dashing out the front door, as Rex called 911. As we hurried across our lawn into John’s yard, a firm voice instructed us to, “Stay in your own yard, please!” “We just want to know if they got out of the house!” my husband shouted from behind me. They did! John and Donna were safe and the fire department was already there.

There was little we could do, except be present with them as they watched the beautiful log home, that they and their five children had built together thirty years ago, be devoured by fire. John had heard the smoke alarm and wakened Donna. As they descended the smoke-filled staircase from their second floor bedroom, they were scared that they would not make it out of the house.

As I sit here writing, thirteen hours have passed since my husband woke me. There are still fire engines and numerous other emergency vehicles lining the street, and I can hear heavy equipment at work. A massive plume of smoke is still rising from the hole in the ground where three levels of rubble are piled atop burning embers. The heavy equipment is raising the rubble up out of the hole so firefighters can extinguish the remainder of the fire.

In the wee hours of the morning, our yard was teeming with concerned neighbors and John and Donna’s family members. We all stood helplessly watching their beautiful home disappear before our eyes. As one of the tall trees standing between our two homes caught fire and burning embers drifted over our house, I became afraid that our house would also catch on fire. Rex hosed down our roof while I dashed around inside our house grabbing a few things, in the event we should fall prey to the fire.

When the firefighters turned their attention on our home, hosing down the roof, I felt guilty that precious water was being diverted to our house while my neighbors’ house was engulfed with flames. That was when I realized that their house was beyond saving.

Surrounded my by neighbors, I thought about all the crises that our few families have dealt with during the last year. The protective denial I live with—that surely my family is immune to tragedy because, “those things only happen to other people”—was juxtaposed with the reality that cancer, the death of loved ones, fires, car accidents, job loss, divorce, and on and on, ARE a part of life.

There is no immunity, for any of us. But in the midst of strive, there is grace. God’s presence was palpable this morning, embodied in the love and concern of neighbors and in the dedication of the many wonderful volunteer firefighters.

So what crossed your mind as you pondered my opening question—what would you grab? I bet that, like me, you immediately thought of things that connect you to your loved ones. A home is so much more than four walls, a roof, and the things housed within. It is a throbbing heart full of memories of the past, experiences of the present, and dreams for the future. A home is a haven of love and security. Home is something we carry in our hearts and I have no doubt that John and Donna have all that they need to create a new family haven.

Crises are powerful reminders of what is truly important in life. Hug your loved ones today. Tell them you love them and how very much they are a gift of grace in your life. Don’t wait. And, please, make sure your smoke alarms are in working order!

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.
Jeremiah 29:11

OUR GREATEST EXPORT -- September 22, 2007

What is America’s greatest export? I’ll give you a little time to ponder this… dah, dah, dah, dah…. DAH! DAH! DAH! DAH! Dah. Dah. Dah.

OK! What’s your final answer?

When I ask GOOGLE this question, I got 1170 hits, and what I found was quite eye-opening—sometimes encouraging, sometimes disheartening, and sometimes shocking. After searching just seven pages of hits, I discovered a diversity of responses:

· Most frequent responses: music, the American dollar, freedom
· Most comprehensive arena: commerce and finance: the American dollar, services, fast food, American jobs, junk debt, the disease of consuming, intellectual property, Capitalism
· Culture: jazz, blues, rock and roll—and Bob Dylan himself, arts, entertainment, fame, the culture of hip, Hollywood, our image
· Patriotic: the Constitution, freedom, security, democracy, Manifest Destiny
· Most inspiring: dreams, creativity, ideas
· Most pessimistic: weapons, war, bombs, death, exploitation, mediocrity
· Most unique: The expression "O.K."
· Silliest: Clowns
· Most shocking: a Godless culture
· Most encouraging (to me): the nonprofit social sector

Did your answer make the list? What surprised you? If you had to choose just one export from this list that you believe represents what the average Joe and Jill America think, what would it be?

I was inspired to ask this question by a true story recounted by Tim Kimmel in Grace-Based Parenting. Kimmel attended a luncheon where the question, “What do you think is America’s most strategic export?” was being discussed. Among the many responses was one given by a WWII recipient of the Medal of Honor (which had been presented to him personally by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a White House ceremony): “The greatest commodity we have to offer the world,” he said, "is freedom.”

When I surfed the web, I truly expected to see this same answer come up repeatedly, but as you can see from the above list, freedom is wedged into the list like a tiny volume of wisdom misplaced in the more popular paperback sections of romance or sci-fi.

Kimmel used this story as an illustration to set the scene for another question he wished to invite his reader to explore. Several Englishmen, in the mid 1900s, were deep into a discussion on comparative religions when one diner asked, “What separates Christianity from every other religion in the world?” Again, how would you answer this question?

Answers were proffered by these learned men of academia: the Incarnation, the resurrection of Christ… Walking in on the debate of his Oxford colleagues late, none other that C.S Lewis declared, “Oh, that’s easy! It’s _______.”

While Tim Kimmel acknowledges Jesus as the very core of Christianity, he challenges us to dig deeper with yet another question: “What is it about Jesus that inclines us to cast our lot with a simple carpenter from an obscure, ancient village?”

Both Lewis and Kimmel are in agreement:

“Oh, that’s easy!” says Lewis. It’s grace.”

“It’s because of His grace,” offers Kimmel, “grace He has shown us by first purchasing us from the depths of our lost condition. It’s His grace that loves us when we’re being foolish, or stubborn, or selfish or mean-spirited.”

Imagine what the world would be like if every Christian imported grace into their hearts—and then exported it to even just one other person. Music, money, and freedom are life-enhancing, God-given gifts, all usually attainable, if we work hard enough—and yet, all can be snatched away or lost. Grace, however, is a unique and priceless gift, one that we cannot earn, or buy, or attain on our own, no matter how hard we try—a gift that is eternal, and always available. With grace, there’s an endless supply, more than enough to go around, no coupons needed, no limits on how much you can take, no restrictions, no small print, no lines, no waiting,.. Grab grace with gusto and go!

We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment
that he has already thrown open his door to us.
We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—
out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory.
Romans 5:1 The Message

What is your greatest export?

Kimmel, Tim, Grace-Based Parenting, W Publishing Group (division of Thomas Nelson, Inc.), 2004, pp. 27-30

DREAMIN' -- September 15, 2007

“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."
Jeremiah 29:10-12

Surely you remember the Disney movie, “The Swiss Family Robinson,” about a family shipwrecked on a seemingly deserted island in the South Seas. The father and two oldest sons, Fritz (James MacArthur) and Ernst (Tommy Kirk) built the tree house-of-every-child’s-dreams out of the local natural resources and whatever they could salvage from the shipwreck. As a child, I loved that tree house and lolled away many an hour imagining myself as Bertie/Roberta (Janet Munro), the “cabin boy,” who Fritz and Ernst rescued out of the clutches of pirates. Ah, the adventure! Oh, to have James MacArthur and Tommy Kirk fancy me!

Besides the appeal of the adventure and love story, this movie offered me a model of how to cope with crisis. Here was an average family, like mine, who proved strong, creative, and resilient in the face of great adversity. Granted, this was a rather unrealistic rendition of reality, but it nurtured a tiny seedling of hope in my own resiliency, should I ever be shipwrecked—literally or figuratively.

As Red Cross Volunteer in Louisiana, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I was astounded by the resilience I witnessed in the evacuees in my shelter. I’ve been thinking a great deal about the people I met there because it’s been exactly two years this week since I set foot in Louisiana as a Red Cross mental health counselor.

Along with the massive material loss and uprooting, I think about the dreams that were swept away by the violent winds and rising waters of Katrina. Dreams dashed into millions of pieces and scattered about, all mixed up with the wreckage of other demolished dreams.
Last Sunday, Pastor Jim Lyon challenged the members of Madison Park Church of God to be open to the dreams God has for us. Our dreams are small in comparison to God’s dreams: “God-dreams often take us to places we have not imagined or call us to face challenges that, at first blush, are easier to pass by. Be prepared to receive a dream you may not fully understand or comprehend. It is likely that a dream received will be fulfilled in ways you cannot foresee. God's dreams often are ‘over the top’ and way outside our comfort zones.” Whoa! Talk about adventure!

I don’t know about you, but my dreams do not include obstacles and pain. But when I look at Biblical accounts of God’s big dreams for, say, Abraham, Joseph, or Mary, I see long, drawn out journeys fraught with blood, sweat, and tears, discouragement and despair. “No thanks, Lord! I’m gonna pass on this one!”

Of course, even if I seemingly play it safe and opt out of God’s dream, there’s no guarantee that life will be smooth sailing. In fact, if there were a lifetime guarantee, it would be that life will be hard at times, and not just hard, but HARD! Hmmm… Maybe it would be more prudent to accept God’s dream for me rather than face the inevitable obstacles and challenges of life all by lonesome on a path poorly chosen. Hmmm…

God is the epitome of patience. While I “hmmm…” and haw around as to whether to accept God’s dream for my life; while I pitter-patter around picking up the pieces of my tattered dreams, attempting to fit them together this way and that—until I’m ready to pull my hair out, God leisurely taps a tune with his fingers and hums pleasantly under his breath, as if he has all the time in the world (or eternity) to wait on me. Eventually, I’ll give up in exasperation and cry, “OKAY, you win! I’ll try it your way”—while adding the caveat, “but if I don’t see some signs of success soon, I’ll…”

Hmmm… Do I really want to settle for a make-shift lean-to (I’m a disaster with a hammer and saw!) when I could dwell in God’s love story in a super-fantastic-out-of-this-world-too-good-to-be-true tree house on an idyllic isle? What would you do?

Sweet dreams!


Greater love has no one than this,
that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, Abe Zelmanowitz, an employee of Blue Cross Blue Shield, was at his job on the 27th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center when American Airlines flight 11, hijacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists, slammed into the tower. Abe could have escaped the inferno, but he chose to wait in the stairwell with Ed Beyea, his wheelchair-bound, paraplegic coworker and good buddy, who was unable to make the trip down the many flights of stairs. Patiently, Abe stood by his friend’s side as hundreds of people from the upper floors fled past them on their way down, and as rescue workers passed them on their way up to assist with evacuation. In Abe’s last call to his family, he indicated that everything was OK because a firefighter was there. Abe, Ed, and Capt. Burke of Manhattan’s Engine 21 perished together when the tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m.

My stomach lurched and tears stung my eyes as I first heard this story while listening to Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonders in my van. Shocked, stunned, and saddened, my first thought was, “Could I be that brave, that sacrificial, and give my life so another human being would not have to perish alone?” For the first time, I was able to actually picture myself trapped in a WTC tower, flooded with adrenalin, panic-stricken, and overwhelmed with fear.
My next thought was a silent, wordless prayer. I depended on God to decipher the gut-full of feelings. Slowly, the thoughts and words took shape. I wondered, do I pray, “Lord, please spare me and my loved ones from ever having to face such agony,” or do I pray, “Lord, if I’m ever in such a situation, give me the courage and strength to not put myself first and abandon someone else”?

I picture me choosing to take care of myself, and I detest and shutter at this ignoble image. If I were to survive, I think I would never be able to forgive myself. “What if it had been me – or one of my loved ones – in that wheel chair?” No. I could never forgive myself.
Years ago, while our family was hiking through a sun-baked riverbed on Manitoulin Island, in Lake Huron, Beth, who was around four at the time, spotted movement among the rocks. Pointing in the direction of the rocky riverbank, her voice laced with fear and curiosity, she called our attention to what she had seen. Rex began removing the rocks to reveal the lurking presence – of a big, black snake. I abhor snakes and immediately turned and began to put as much distance between me and that horrible reptile as I could. Then, just as quickly, I remembered Beth and rushed back to get her.

How could I have forgotten to protect my child? How could I have thought only of myself? “Terrible mother!” “Bad mother!” the voices in my head screeched and howled. Rex’s assurance that the snake was harmless did nothing to assuage my guilt. It didn’t matter that the situation turned out to be benign. I had just proven myself a disgrace as a mother. If my maternal instinct to protect my child was so easily preempted by my own instinct for self-preservation, I can’t imagine myself behaving any more honorably on behalf of a stranger or acquaintance. If a snake could instill such fear in me that I would abandon my own child, how much greater would be my fear and cowardice in the face of unimaginable danger!

“Oh, Lord, please spare me and my loved ones from ever having to face such agony,” and, “Lord, if I’m ever in such a situation, give me the courage and strength to not put myself first and abandon someone else.”

Of this I am certain: If I am courageous, and die, Grace will be present; if I am courageous and survive, Grace will be there; and if I flee in fear and self-preservation, Grace will seek me out and be with me in my shame and inability to forgive myself. Grace will be there.