Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Seasons of Waiting

“For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose." ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1
Ours was not your typical storybook romance.  Yet when you truly love someone, distance and time barely matter.
We lived down the street from each other half of our lives.  One of my earliest memories is playing ‘Dance, Dance Revolution’ with Julian and kissing him on the cheek.  He got mad and said "If you do that again, I'm going home!"
He was a bit shy but I continued to have a crush on him as we grew up.  Did I mention that he became ridiculously good looking in his teens?
One night at a high school football game, he mentioned that he’d enlisted in the U.S. Army.  For whatever reason, we began messaging each other for hours on end; conversations that eventually revealed our mutual attraction for one another.  Before the season ended, Julian asked me to be his date for the Homecoming Dance.
Following graduation, he left for basic training.  While learning how to communicate with him by snail mail, he was becoming a dedicated, hardworking Infantryman.  We fell in love ... one letter at a time.
His first deployment lasted 11 months.  Little did I know that when I went to welcome him home, Julian asked me to marry him right in the airport.  I learned later that he designed the ring while in Afghanistan.  He even showed me the date on the receipt to prove it.
We were married before he returned overseas.  Not exactly an ideal way to start off a marriage.  He'll be back in the U.S. for good in 10 months.
Yes, the restricted communication when he's away is tough.  Yes, the "see you soon’s" are excruciating.  But when we reunite and I get to jump back into his loving arms, I'm convinced it's worth it.  Because every heartbreaking goodbye is NOTHING compared to each heartwarming hello.  Anything worth having is worth waiting for.
Waiting is a part of life.  Even if you marry young, like we did, you still end up waiting.  There’s always something on the horizon, just out of your reach.  Graduation, a job, an experience, a dream you’re working toward — the list is endless.
The trick is to learn how to wait well.
More important than finding your spouse is becoming the kind of person who’s ready to get married.   All we can do is work hard to become the kind of person Jesus calls us to be.
Waiting is active, not passive. Trust God, do good, dig in, get comfortable with who you are, enjoy every sunrise, commit, be still — 7 staccato commands (Psalm 37) all leading to “wait patiently” for the Lord to reveal His plan for you.  God uses seasons of waiting to make us more like himself.
Father, did You hear my prayer?  Please forgive my impatience.  Still my mind as I await Your presence and divine intervention.  Your timing is always perfect and, even as I pray for what I think I deserve, You always bless me with what’s best.  Amen

Monday, November 11, 2019

Sometimes Looks Deceive

“Give respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed." ~ Romans 13:7
Under the wide brim of his ‘Smokey’ hat, perfectly squared-away uniform and almost caricature-like demeanor, Sergeant Porter is one imposing figure.  As a drill instructor for India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, he’s with his recruits every waking moment until graduation.
Putting on the belt and campaign cover transforms a regular Marine into someone he probably feared as a new recruit himself.  Now Porter understands how much time and dedication his own drill instructor (DI’s) devoted to the job.
As a recruit, they seem downright psychotic.  These men and women subject recruits to endless hours of “incentivized training.”  It's another way of saying abrupt bouts of burpees and pushups.
They don’t even sound like normal people.  They literally scream so hard that they can pass out, give themselves hernias, or do serious and permanent damage to their vocal cords.  That's why they spend a lot of time at DI school learning to project from their diaphragms in order to develop that raspy "frog voice.”
It's masterful performance art, but with a twist - the enormous personal responsibility they feel for building maggots (slang for raw recruits) into disciplined Marines.  Despite their gruff, borderline hostile interaction with recruits, DIs are real people with real emotions and tremendous dedication to molding young lives.
Sergeant Porter is one tough Marine.  But even he couldn't say “no" when his wife arranged a surprise photo shoot with their four-year-old daughter Ashley, who was dressed like a princess for a special tea party.
Told only to show up in his uniform, he had no idea what was going to happen until he showed up for the shoot.  He was a bit hesitant at first but after a little persuading, his wife was able to convince him.  He’d do anything for Ashley.
Although the two are really close, Ashley often misses out on one-on-one time with her Dad due to his rigorous work schedule, deployments, and most recently his job as a drill instructor.  So, with the Month of the Military Child approaching, this seemed like a perfect time to arrange something special for them both.
The magical event was captured by a local photographer surrounded by trees and foliage.  There, the two shared a magical tea party, sitting in tiny chairs across the table from each other.  Ashley wore a long white, lace dress; her head topped with a crown of pink flowers.
The proud Mom and wife wanted pictures to help show that military officers have softer sides to them and she also wants people to realize how resilient military children are to have their parents away.  It seems that’s just what we Americans need to see on this Veterans Day as well.
Dear Lord, today we honor our veterans, who gave their best when called upon to serve and protect our country.  Bless them for their unselfish service in the continual struggle to preserve our freedoms, our safety, and our country's heritage.  Amen

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Many Ways to Serve

“I have plans for you." ~ God
Randall woke abruptly, as if sleeping had become a dangerous thing.  He was so ready for this mission work!
From his very first mission trip 20 years earlier, it had always been Randall’s goal to be the hardest working, most productive, most skilled member of any mission team.  Now in his mid-60’s, he still sought the hottest, most demanding jobs.
This trip had taken him to Cusco, Peru.  Over a million people lived in the surrounding area - only 4% were Christians.  Poverty was rampant among the Quechua Indians, a largely unreached group scattered throughout the Andes.  Randall and his team would be constructing a small church.
Randall had that tingly feeling today; the buzz of the new, the thrill of the unknown, the call for new answers that pushed his limits.  At an elevation of over 11,000 feet, Cusco presented just the challenge.  At these elevations, the air’s thinner; each breath contains less oxygen.  He’d have to breathe faster and pump blood more rapidly in order to take in the same amount of oxygen.
His roommate Geoffrey had had a rough night, complaining of dizziness, nausea, and insomnia.  His uncharacteristic loss of appetite at breakfast set off more than a few alarms.  A quick trip to the ER confirmed high altitude sickness.  Geoffrey would need to remain hospitalized for several days until his oxygen levels stabilized and he could move to a lower altitude.
Someone would need to stay with Geoffrey at the hospital.  Randall became that someone.
While the others marched off to their mission, Randall had plenty of down-time for reflection and prayer.  He’d never been on a mission trip without lifting a hammer, pick ax or paint brush.
He remembered the words offered by his Pastor before they left: “Serve as Christ served.  Be humble and accept your role.  Your ability, skills and training are less important on the mission field than your willingness to avail yourself to God’s will.”
Randall smiled.  “The joy of serving others glorifies God,” he understood.  When we give of ourselves, we show the passion, mercy and love of Christ.  God had used him for a completely different purpose – and he felt blessed to have answered His call.
If we're honest with ourselves, sometimes we have ulterior motives for going on a mission trip. We want to travel.  We want to be a hero.  We want to look like a better Christian at home.  Or, more positively: we want to learn about other cultures or something about ourselves.  We’re complicated creatures with complex motives.
Regardless of your reasons for signing up for a mission trip, its essential to prepare your heart for the trip and open yourself to what God may have planned for you through the experience.
Loving God, let me not doubt the things that You can do in me and through me.  Let me simply be a vessel that You fill with Your Holy Spirit so that I can pour into every person I meet and give all glory to You.  Amen

Friday, November 1, 2019

How Sweet the Sound

“Shout to God with cries of joy." ~ Psalm 47:1
On a sunlit spring day, the sky held a soft blue glow.  Tara eyed flowers yet to color her world for warmer days coming, waving in the breeze like a pleasant smile in brilliant shades.
Tara sat on a cool rock overlooking the valley allowing the stress to leak from her bones.  Final exams over forever, she savored the moment, hoping this feeling would never end.  For the first time in 4 years, her body and mind relaxed; no expectations, no deadlines and no schedules to meet.  With her mind’s mental clutter on hold, she sensed everything more clearly.
Tara heard a symphony of fresh melodies: rushing wind through scented pines; two and four-legged creatures welcoming new birth; a swollen stream crashing over random boulders – all witness to God’s majesty.  It got her thinking, “What IS the world’s most beautiful sound?”
Could it simply be just taking time to listen and enjoy in your own carefree happiness?  Or maybe it’s the laughter of children playing without care until tomorrow brings another sunny day.
Sometimes just savoring her boyfriend’s warmth while he gently hugs her close enough to hear her heart’s contentment was more than enough.  Perhaps even a chorus of melodious voices overlaying a Wagnerian orchestra that cradle every bit of your being in its embrace.
Maybe the best sounds symbolize life, like her puppy’s heartbeat, or something more abstract like rainfall on the metal roof of her childhood cabin?  Sounds are some of the trickier fragments of memories, at times instantly recognized (the hook of a song half-remembered); others lost when our recollections dim.
Of course, Tara’s list could go on as she thought about all noises experienced in a day: the hopeful bubbling of a coffee machine, the crisp echo of a new book’s pages, a restless wind just before a thunderstorm.  This competition was indeed personal.
Her choice for “most beautiful sound” was one that melts her heart and energizes her soul.  It can’t be touched, tasted or even seen.  It’s the human voice.
Far from being rendered redundant by modern technology, the human voice has enormous and enduring significance.  Our voices are the personal and social glue that binds us and makes the most important sounds in our lives.
Your voice is a gift to be used wisely and intentionally, not just to add noise.  Use them to shape people’s understanding of issues you’re passionate about.  Use them to champion causes, comfort the suffering, share the Gospel.  Use them to add value to conversations, but also to start new ones.  Use them to encourage, respond, embolden, warn, inspire and teach.
And if you want to hear the sounds that heaven makes, take the time to turn around and just remember all of God's blessings.  You’ll quickly realize they make the loudest noise.
Father, help me use my voice to bless Your name and teach others of Your Word.  Allow me to glorify You by boasting of Your goodness and grace.  And finally, bless me by the confession my sins.  Amen

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Kindness Cure

“People who are right with God take good care of their animals." ~ Proverbs 12:10
Josh sucked in the rich autumn breeze as he hiked a rocky trail up the mountainside.  He was in a zone … one of peace and serenity; perfect for his morning conversation with God.
From the stillness rang a meow that seemed to originate from among the thorny gooseberry bushes lining the path.  Josh stopped in his tracks.  When the cry came again, this time shriller, he started rummaging through the sharp branches looking for its source.
Then he saw her - a small cat trapped among the barbs.  Her piercing amber eyes cast a frightened expression.  Cats are certainly adept at communicating when they’re angry - hissing, flattening their ears, and fur standing on end is hard to miss.  This one just looked scared.
Josh tried to reach in and calm the terrified kitty.  But even though they sometimes seem smarter than us, cats are still animals.  She scratched at him and as he instinctively recoiled, the gooseberry thorns tore into his skin.
Scratching is a natural behavior for cats.  Cats scratch to sharpen their claws, mark their territories and defend themselves when attacked.  Even declawed cats retain the instinct to scratch.
Bleeding, wounded and determined, Josh reached back in again and again.  Each time the cat scratched him.
Another hiker trekked by noticing the bloodbath.  “Leave it,” he suggested.  “Cats only do as much as needed to escape.  They don’t deal in revenge.  She’ll eventually find her own way out.”
Josh ignored the uninvited suggestion and continued trying to free the cat.  Finally, he succeeded and placed her on the dusty path and watched her scamper away.
Noting the warm blood flowing over Josh’s battered hands, the hiker couldn’t help but shake his head.  “You must be some kind of animal rights fanatic,” he chuckled.
“I guess I could have just left her there,” Josh hesitated.  “But forever I will be in this moment; my hands scarlet and sticky.  Yet there’s an exquisite pain that educates in a way nothing else can.”
“You’re correct sir,” he continued.  “Cats are animals that scratch and attack intuitively.  But compassion is a human instinct; a natural, reflexive response that has ensured our survival throughout history.  Our brains are wired to respond to all of God’s suffering creatures.  It’s about giving all the love you’ve got for the blessings received.”
Slightly embarrassed, the other hiker stood frozen; in awe of Josh’s assurance.  “Guess you’ve given me a few things to consider this morning.”
Darwin wrote that “communities which include the greatest number of the most sympathetic members will flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.  We need people to be kind to each other to ensure that our species continues to grow successfully over time.”
O God, may the great beauty and strength of Your love fill the hearts of all creatures with comfort and compassion, as we work and wait for Your Kingdom of light, beauty and kindness upon this Earth.  Amen

Monday, October 21, 2019

He's Waiting

“God remains forever faithful." ~ 2 Timothy 2:13
In the tiny cafĂ©, he sat alone at a table for two.  Hundreds rushed by it – few stepped inside.
The waitress returned to his table for the umpteenth time.  "Would you like to order yet?"  (He’d been waiting almost half an hour).  "No, thank you," he smiled.  "I'll wait a little longer.”
His blue eyes stared through the flowered centerpiece.  Sounds of light chatter and soothing music filled his mind.  He’d dressed up enough to make a companion feel significant, respected, loved.  He’d taken every precaution to make her feel at ease.
Something tugged at her curiosity.  "I don't mean to pry, but..." her voice trailed off.
Go ahead," he encouraged in a confident, yet sensitive voice.
"Why do you keep waiting for her?" she blurted.  Said the man quietly, "Because she needs me."
“No offense, sir,” she pressed, “she sure isn't acting like it.  She stood you up 3 times this week."
The man’s eyes shifted towards his folded hands.  "Yes, I know, but Andrea said she’d be here."
"She's said that before," the waitress protested.  "I wouldn't put up with it.  Why do you?"
Now the man looked up, beamed, and said simply, "Because I love her."
The waitress retreated, wondering how one could love a woman who stands him up repeatedly.  He doesn’t look crazy.  Maybe this lady has unique qualities.  Or maybe the man's love is stronger than most.  Reflectively, she moved on to another table.
The lonely man sipped at this coffee.  He’d been stood up many times but he’d never get used to the hurt.  He looked forward to this evening all day; so many things to share with Andrea.  But, more importantly, he wanted to hear her voice, celebrate her triumphs, share her pain.
He requested the check after almost two hours, leaving enough for 5 cups of coffee and a healthy tip.  He passed a laughing couple on the way out; his teary eyes pondering the good time they could’ve had.  Stopping at the front, he made reservations for tomorrow.
"Seven o'clock tomorrow for party of two?" the hostess confirmed.  “I hope she’ll come.”
"She will … someday, and I’ll be waiting."  Buttoning his overcoat, he left alone; shoulders hunched.  One could only guess if they were bent against the wind or a broken heart.
As the man walked on, Andrea crawled into bed, tired from an evening with friends.  When she reached toward her night stand to set the alarm, she saw the note she’d scribbled to herself last night.  “Tomorrow,” it read, “spend time in prayer.”
“Darn, I forgot again” she thought casting aside a twinge of guilt.  She needed that time with her friends.  She can pray tomorrow night.  Jesus will forgive her (again).
Loving God, thank You for being the One constant in my life.  No matter what happens, no matter what I go through, or whatever may change, You are still there, and You stay the same - faithful and true.  Amen

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Pure Grace

“God rejects the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” ~ James 4:6
During 1977’s Christmas holiday, Sen. Hubert Humphrey returned home to his home northwest of Minneapolis.  He’d just completed a brief trip to the nation's capital to personally deliver farewells to the men and women with whom he’d served for almost 30 years as U.S. Senator, then Vice President under Lyndon Johnson.
His remarkable political had come to an end.  Emaciated by cancer, Humphrey was dying; the press already forming a death watch nearby over Minnesota's most famous political son.
His legendary energy now receding like an ebb current, Humphrey began calling old friends and colleagues around the world to offer season's greetings.  Everyone knew these were his final goodbyes.
On Christmas Eve, he reached his old adversary, Richard Nixon - the man who in 1968 had given Humphrey his most bitter defeat.  He learned that the Nixon’s were both ill, depressed and alone for the holidays in California.
With only days to live, he told the former president of the events that would follow his death: his lying-in-state in the nation’s Capital and his funeral and burial in Minnesota.
Humphrey invited Nixon to attend the ceremony that would conclude his lying-in-state.  He wanted him to be received at that ceremony with the full honor due to a former President.
Nixon, had resigned from the presidency in disgrace only three years before.  The scars of Watergate were still fresh.  Liberals, moderates and conservatives alike viewed Nixon as deserving the humiliation that made him unwelcome in Washington.
Sensing Nixon's exile and deep depression, Humphrey fashioned a credible excuse enabling his old rival to return to Washington.  He advised those in charge of Presidential ceremonies that Nixon was there at his personal request and should be treated respectfully and with dignity.
Hubert Humphrey died on Friday, Jan. 13, 1978 at his home on Lake Waverly.  President Carter immediately dispatched Air Force One to return Humphrey's body to the Capital.
On Sunday morning, with President Carter, former President Ford, Vice President Mondale and many of the nation's political leaders in attendance, a concluding ceremony was held in the Capitol Rotunda.  To the surprise of most and the gasps of many, former President Nixon was escorted, as promised, to the place of honor near the flag-draped casket.  Nixon could feel the ostracism ladled at him.
President Carter, known for his humility and integrity, noticed Nixon standing alone.  He walked toward Nixon, extended his hand, and smiling, said, “Welcome home, Mr. President!  Welcome home!”
Hubert Humphrey's gift that winter to Richard Nixon had been delivered with compassion and love.  Nixon had done nothing to deserve it.  It was an act of pure grace on Humphrey’s part.
God’s blessings speak exactly the same way - never a reward for good behavior but of pure, unadulterated grace.
Dear God, who gives grace to the meek: grant us the virtue of true humility, that we may never by our pride provoke Your anger, but rather by our gentleness receive the riches of Your grace.  Amen

Friday, October 11, 2019

God's Chosen

“Few of you were wise or powerful or wealthy when God called you." ~ 1 Corinthians 1:26
Naomi was poised to give the most important speech of her career.  It wasn’t every day that one got the privilege of delivering the Commencement Address at their Alma Matter.
She felt special today – deeply satisfied by all she’d accomplished.
A single Mom from Chicago’s inner city, she worked two shifts to send her kids to school.  Naomi worked hard, eventually earning admission to this college.  Upon graduation, she joined a large retailer as a summer intern.  Diligence, passion, and determination eventually paid-off when she became the company’s first female CEO.
Her speech would be straightforward, crafted with clarity and precision; painting simple pictures with strong subtexts.  She’d rehearsed the text so as to allow freedom to look around and build rapport with the graduates.  Her practiced use of pitch and rhythm would surely move the listeners’ hearts and minds.
A cheerful man greeted her upon arrival at the auditorium.  Naomi sat down in the back row to review her notes and absorb the enormity of this day.
The man busily went about checking the microphone and adjusting the stage lights.  Taking a broom and dustpan, he then proceeded to sweep the floor before the crowd arrived.
 As Naomi watched the man, a question came to mind.  “Lord?” she wondered. “Who’s more valuable today for this program, him or me?
As she pondered the question, the answer became clear – “Neither!”  They had equal value, just different functions.  Which prompted a second question: “Lord, who is most pleasing to You?”
Its answer came quicker than the first.  “The one who does this with the greatest amount of love in their heart for God.”
Sometimes we confuse value and function.  We don’t get value from what we do; we bring value to our work.  Each individual has intrinsic value before God.
We also make the mistake of trying to win the Lord’s approval by how we perform our jobs. People-pleasers never end up as God-pleasers.  It’s never the height or even the breadth of our task, but the depth of our love motivating us to serve that catches God’s eye.  It is not how we serve, but why, that gets His attention.
Those who serve in the shadows in roles that don’t bring much public adulation just may be God’s heroes.  Remember there aren’t many wise, mighty, or noble.  The next time you walk past one setting up chairs in your Church without taking notice, you may have missed an opportunity to interact with one of God’s chosen servants.
That day, when Naomi spoke in that auditorium, the most honored servant may not have been the one speaking to the crowd … but the one sweeping the floor.
Heavenly Father, forgive us for falling so short in loving You like you deserve, and thank You for covering this grievous sin by the precious blood of Jesus. Give us the grace to love You, your Son, and your Holy Spirit with all our hearts.  Amen

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Legos, Gummy Bears and Cheerios

“How wonderful and pleasant it is when families live in harmony!" ~ Psalm 133:1
Sandra pushed the front door open against a tide of objects wedged against it from the other side.  Tiptoeing across the room, she tried to avoid the cacophony of Legos, raisins and Cheerios that littered the floor.  Her eyes and mouth froze wide open in stunned surprise as Sandra absorbed a more panoramic view.
An antique lamp had been knocked over.  The Cartoon Channel blared loudly from the TV.  Kid’s toys and various clothing items ‘decorated’ the family room.
Dirty dishes filled the kitchen sink; breakfast remnants cluttered the counter.  The refrigerator door was open and a broken glass lay under the table alongside the dog’s morning ‘business.’
Out of the corner of her eye, Sandra spotted their twin boys, still in their pajamas, playing outside in the mud.  She couldn’t wait to hear the story of how “they were enjoying nature in the backyard, when, POW!  A mud puddle jumped right out of the tree and landed on them.”
She flew up the stairs, hurdling toys and more clothes, looking for her husband.  Daren had taken on the role of full-time dad after the twins were born.  Sandra worried that he might be ill, or that something serious had happened and met a trickle of water making its way from under the bathroom door.
She peered inside and found wet towels, scummy soap and miles of toilet paper lying in a messy heap.  Expensive lipstick covered the tile and mirror.
As Sandra rushed to the bedroom, she found Daren curled up in bed reading a novel. He looked up at her, smiled and asked how her day went.
She looked at him bewildered and asked, “What happened here today?”
He again smiled and answered, “You know every day when you come home from work and ask me what in the world I did all day?
”Yes,” she replied suspiciously.
He answered, “Well, today I didn’t do it.”
Sandra, a busy executive who spends nearly most waking minute grappling with strategic issues, focusing on cost reduction, and devising creative approaches to new markets, understood immediately.  Despite being busy, she rarely found time for purposeful, family reflection.
She stopped looking at the dirty dishes, assuming that they were evidence of Daren sitting around all day.  Instead, Sandra started washing the dishes.  She realized that this was not his mess, but their mess, and started pitching in more.
She stopped worrying about the house, and paid more attention to the children’s development. She observed how happy they were, and marveled at the kind of relationship they shared with their father.  She noticed at times a cluttered house, and really happy, bright kids.
Father, thank You for the gift of family.   Bless them with Your favor.  Provide for all their needs.  Protect them from harm and evil.  Surround them in the shadow of Your wing.  And help them appreciate the special skills they each bring to their family.  Amen

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Praying for Grace

“His grace is sufficient." ~ 2 Corinthians 12:8
Her mind rolled like the ocean - calm on the surface yet so many dangerous undercurrents.  Today marked 30 days – of waiting, of hoping, of praying … desperately.
An auto accident had left her 23-year-old son comatose in the ICU across the hall.  Yet she remained positive and stoic.  During brief visitations, Camilla whispered calm reassurance to her unconscious boy.  There was no sign that he could hear her, but she never gave up.
Her devotion was interrupted by a loud wailing that pierced the eerie silence.  The air was so brittle it could snap.  Whose life just changed forever?  Who’d received the fatal news now?
But that wasn’t the case.  This was another mother; another frantic, exhausted soul who cried out in pure misery; seeing reality for what it is.
“Why?  Why?” she sobbed as a nurse led her to a chair.  Everyone’s eyes turned her way.  Another visitor gently reached out to pat her hand and console her.  “Don’t worry.  He’ll be alright.”
That exacerbated her cries.  “No!  Don’t say that!  Enough!  Please let him die now; he can’t take this anymore.”   Startled gasps filled the waiting area - loud enough to reach her; further igniting her raging furor.
“I shock you, do I?  What do you know?  What do you know about how much he suffers every day for the past three years?  Every day a battle … every breath a struggle.  You can sit there and judge me, but if you had only an ounce of compassion, you’d join my pleas.  Let him die now!”
The agony in her voice seared every listener in the room.  No-one wanted to hear more details.  No-one wanted to answer the questions that arose in their minds about themselves.
For the first time in months, a crack appeared in Camilla’s controlled veneer.  Her pallor went grey.  Pity, disgust, anger – they all left the visible trace of an unpleasant frown.  But as she continued watching helpless tears flow, she began to change.
She was gripped by the woman’s pain.  One mother to another ...one soul understanding another.
A single tear appeared at the corner of Camilla’s eye.  She didn’t wipe it away.  Moving slowly, she went sat beside the weeping lady.  In one empathetic look they exchanged stories of a lifetime.
Steeling her trembling voice, Camilla extended both hands and said, “Come, let’s pray.  I’ve prayed for my son to live and you – for your son to die.  But God has been trying to take mine away and keep yours alive.  Perhaps we’re not hearing His answer.  So, let’s change our prayers today.”
“Let us pray for His boundless grace.  Let us pray for the strength we need today.  And let us pray that His will be done in our lives.”
Lord, thank you for Your abundant, abounding grace.  Thank You that we don't have to earn a drop of the mighty river of grace that flows freely for us today.  Help me put myself in the path of Your love and grace.  Amen

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Adult Camp

“Just remember kids, you are your ancestor’s wildest dreams." ~ Deborah Roberts
Dear Mom,
How are you?  I am fine.  They made us write a letter; which is so 1970’s.  Txting would have been so much easier.  You should follow me on twitter.  Wait!  Never mind.
Camp Adulthood is okay.  They make us work a lot, but weekends are fun.  We’re learning about responsibilities and paying bills (on time).  #boring!
For me, adulthood is a lifestyle option.  I can take up adult responsibilities, or I can just pick up an Xbox and decide not to start a career or have a committed adult relationship.
I’m learning how to balance my checkbook.  Honestly, I don’t know why that’s important.  I just put money in and hope enough money comes out.  Isn’t the bank supposed to keep track of my money?  Adulthood is so monopolus.
Our Camp Counselor insists that we develop a budget.  #Pointless!  I spend money on clothes and food, going to see overpriced movies, and sipping delicious drinks at downtown bars.  Worries about rent, gas and the practicalities of life came in dead last on my budgetary to-do list.
We’ve learned few laundry tips.  Did you know that whites and darks should not be washed together?  Or that laundry needs to go from the washer to the dryer in a reasonable amount of time, or it will mold?  #Whoknew!
Some stuff is fun – like driving a car.  But most is plain stupid like basic car care (changing a flat tire, using jumper cables, replacing wiper blades).  That’s why Uber and Lyft were invented.
The food here isn’t as good as your cooking.  After doing my laundry and finishing a few other chores, I’ll skip cooking and pick up fast food at the fancy Thai place down the street.  And why bother making coffee?  It’s far more chic to pay a professional.
Trying to ‘adult’ is wildly confusing.  I can't figure out if I'm supposed to start a non-profit, get another degree, or somehow travel the world and make it look effortless online.
I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this and I don’t think being an adult is going to work for me.  Please come get me – this camp feels like foreeeeeeever!
Marriage, children, a paying job and a home are the traditional signs of adulthood. Take an economic collapse that targeted young people, combine it with a growing culture of individualism and narcissism, and the result is that these markers are fading.
And while its easy (and admittedly fun to poke fun at Millennials sometimes), here are a few additional truths.  Research shows that Millennnials are: (1) more likely to be employed due to the rapid growth of female employment, (2) more likely to obtain higher levels of education, (3) more ethnically and racially diverse, and (4) learning that accruing too much “stuff” is its own burden.
Millennial, I pray that you wake each morning knowing you have work to do that this world desperately needs.  Never shy away from giving it all you’ve got.  Amen

Friday, September 20, 2019

Our Father

“God sent his Son into our hearts; we can rightly speak of God as our Father." ~ Galatians 4:6
There’s a path through a wooded area near our cottage where I often take long walks.  It’s partly for exercise but mostly to clear my brain of earthly clutter and unresolved thoughts.
Amongst the carpet of autumn leaves lies tranquility; one perfect for solitude and prayer.  The Lord’s Prayer came to mind today – not the words, but their deepest meaning.
“Our Father” – two simple words, so rich in context that it’s hard to overrate their importance.  Too often I’ve glossed right over them, barely thinking.
OUR Father - the Father not only of Christ but of all of us; not mine alone - but ours.  This makes me less selfish and more conscious of those around me and extends to everything I see, hear and feel: the birds, the trees, the loam under my feet.  We’re all connected to “Our Father.”   When we pray, we worship with all creation: people of all colors, ages, tribes, tongues, customs and personalities.  I can’t say OUR if I keep my faith only to myself and never share it with others.
To call God “FATHER” means, that he is near us, intimately concerned with us, fond of us, even crazy about us.  He’s not a distant god created to instruct by virtue of natural law.
No, the God whom Jesus calls Father, cares about us and knows each of us personally.  He loves us more than we love ourselves and knows us better than we know ourselves.  He longs for us know Him not merely as an Almighty Power, but a living, loving person; not merely an alluring destiny, but a father who delights in the love of His children, who wishes to shape us into His own likeness, and make us fellow-warriors.
When we pray, “Our Father,” we’re appealing for an intimate relationship.  My own daughter refers to me as her father, of course.  But there are precious times when even as a grown woman, she still calls me Daddy (and not always when she wants a favor).  It never fails to warm my heart and, yes, make me even more willing than ever to make her dreams come true.
I can’t say FATHER if I don’t trust Him, forgetting that He always answers prayers how and when He knows is best.  A good father doesn’t protect his children forever from the harsh realities of life, but helps them as they progress through various stages of development to face the challenges and grow through the difficulties.  But He’ll never leave us to fight our battles alone.
With each stride my mind becomes clearer; more resolute, more in step with Our Father.
May He bless you and keep you, may His face shine upon you and bring you peace today.
Our Father in heaven: May Your holy name be honored; may Your Kingdom be revealed; may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen (Good News Translation)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Pizza Man

“Let love be genuine; cling to goodness." ~ Roman 12:9
According to Ron, there was no pizza on earth better than Valentino’s.  Its dough was the perfect combination of light inside yet crunchy on the bottom.  The toppings were fresh and odorous; the mozzarella was fresh within a few hours of when it was made.
It’d been the only place he could think of to take Emily for their first date.  Not so classy she felt intimidated and not so down-market she felt cheated.
So for husband’s 56th birthday, Emily planned a trip back to Omaha to treat themselves to their “gold standard’ pizza parlor.  No matter how many pizza options were available in Des Moines, they never stopped dreaming about Valentino’s, the place they used to splurge on decades earlier when they were struggling to make ends meet.  It had never faded from their memories, or their taste buds.
The couple's planned nostalgic getaway was interrupted by a trip to the ICU, where they learned Ron's battle with cancer was nearing the end.  The oncologist’s words cut deeper than the Mariana Trench.  “Terminal ... hospice ... comfort care only.  No more walks in the park, no more birthdays to share, and of course, no more Valentino’s pepperoni and mushrooms.
Knowing how much those cheesy slices meant to the grieving couple, their son Aaron made a call to the restaurant and explained the situation.  "Maybe they’d send a card or even an overnight frozen delivery,” he thought.
But instead of a note, he got a question:  “What kind of pies would you like delivered?”
Dalton, the 18-year-old boy on the other end of the line, seized the opportunity to get the couple their pizzas, regardless of the 150 miles separating them.
True to his promise, Dalton packed up 4 pizzas after the store closed at 11:00 p.m. and hopped into his car.  When he finally reached the hospital more than two hours later, he merely dropped the pies off, turning down payment, gas money, and offers to stay the night at a hotel paid for by the family.
Instead Dalton drove home because he had to work later that day.  His manager only found out about it when Ron's son’s Facebook post went viral; Dalton had wanted it to be kept "kinda low key.”  Remarkably kind and humble – you don’t see enough of that these days.
Anne Frank, a young girl who knew wartime darkness, once said, “How great it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
It reminds me of the power of random acts of kindness, and how through each act, hope is reborn every time.  The great news is that generosity doesn’t command expensive gifts or herculean efforts like Dalton’s epic middle of the night pizza delivery.  One simple act can bring unexpected sunshine into someone’s life.  It’s a gift we can all afford to give!
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is doubt, faith; where there’s despair, hope; where there’s darkness, light; where there’s sadness; joy.” ~ St. Francis

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Cathedral Thinking

“Don’t store treasures on earth; save them in heaven instead." ~ Matthew 6:19-20
Eighteen years ago, Pat Tillman was living a life that most young men only dream of.  He’d married his high-school sweetheart and accepted a multi-million dollar contract to play professional football for the Arizona Cardinals where he went on to become one of the team's fan favorites.
But in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11, Tillman's priorities changed.  He decided to forego his NFL career and fight for his country instead, made him a hero to some of the people he used to admire - U.S. Army Rangers.
Tillman and his brother Kevin, who had been a Major League Baseball prospect, joined the service together.  Both men were deployed to Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
At age 27, Tillman was killed in a firefight near the Pakistan border as he was leading his team to help comrades caught in an ambush.  The Army initially claimed he was killed by an enemy attack, but it was later revealed to be friendly fire.
The reaction to Tillman's death shook the nation.  Tributes and donations poured in.  The Cardinals retired #40 and ASU, his alma mater, retired #42 in his honor.  But the most lasting testament to his legacy is the Pat Tillman Foundation, which provides academic scholarships to veterans and their spouses to this day.
Pat Tillman believed that serving his country in a time of crisis was of greater importance than sports, even if it meant losing his life for it.  His selflessness and bravery remind us of what it looks like when someone makes a tough decision after seeing the bigger picture - a “Cathedral Thinker.”
Cathedrals are incredible testaments to human endeavor.  The idea of Cathedral Thinking dates back through to medieval times, when the architects, stonemasons and artisans laid plans and began construction of the soaring, cavernous structures knowing for certain that they’d never see them finished.  They knew only that they were creating something glorious which would stand for centuries, long after their own names had been forgotten.
As Christians, we have the same challenge. We make daily decisions that affect our own lives and the lives of those around us.  It’s not always easy to know what decision to make; choosing the right job, marrying the right person, or serving in the right ministry all have lasting consequences.
That’s where having the right perspective can make all the difference.  When we focus on the here and now or focus on “What’s in it for me?” we do so at the expense of eternity.  An eternal perspective is like looking at the bigger picture; you sacrifice something today for the greater reward you will reap tomorrow.
Almighty Father, in today's hustle and bustle, it’s too easy to move through the day disconnected from our capacity as humans to be kind and caring.  Teach me to become fluent in kindness; compassionate to others, to the earth and to me.  Amen

Friday, September 6, 2019

Collision Course

“At the proper time, we’ll reap a harvest if we don’t give up." ~ Galatians 6:9

They were on a collision course of sorts.
DeAndre started a car-cleaning business when he was just 18 years old.  He rented a garage, hired helpers, and created advertising brochures.  The business prospered.  He intended to sell it and use the proceeds to pay for college, so he was thrilled when a buyer expressed interest.
After some negotiations, it seemed that the transaction would happen.  But at the last minute, the deal collapsed.  DeAndre felt like an undertaker watching a man being swallowed by a shark.
“God must have a better plan,” he thought without much conviction.  It wouldn’t be until almost 17 months later that a new potential buyer came forward with a unique idea.
Luke, it turned out, had done time in prison.  Illegal drug use had left him a shell of a man.  His marriage had failed.  And after multiple charges, he was sentenced to 9 years behind bars.
He knew that he needed to change but also knew that he was powerless to change on his own.  He enrolled in Prison Fellowship’s spiritual development classes.  It was there Luke came to realize he’d been given unique talents and abilities.
With God’s provision, Luke improved both his life skills and his character.  But that was only the beginning.  He learned how to create the business plan, and once paroled, shared it with DeAndre.
With a small business loan and the backing of his Prison Fellowship sponsor, his plan relied on ex-cons.
Sure, he’d heard all the reason not to hire former prisoners.  But his heart (and some research) suggested that employees with criminal backgrounds were much less likely to quit their jobs and no more likely to misbehave or get fired than non-ex-offenders.  And he knew from personal experience that a failure to obtain legitimate employment is one of the strongest correlates to criminal recidivism.
This collision course had a very happy ending.  DeAndre went on to earn his diploma.  Luke earned the respect of men who he’d give a second chance.
It’s normal to be disappointed when God’s timing and design for our lives don’t match our own expectations.  But what’s more important - achieving our hopes and dreams, or our love for God?
DeAndre understood the true nature of life, that you can't judge any event as the "end.  Our life doesn't play out like fictional works.  There aren't definite breaks that separate one moment from another; there's always tomorrow.
There are a million effects which can arise from one event.  Good and bad are interconnected.  They’re two sides of the same coin.  If things seem perfect, they aren't.  If it seems like a disaster in your corner of the world, it's not.  Things can change in an instant, at all times.
And they will … at some point or another.
Lord, give me the patience to wait on Your plans.  Silence my racing thoughts and self-imposed time limits.  Thank you for showing me that putting You first is what’s best for me.  Amen

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Life's Collection of Moments

“Be beautiful in your heart, with the lasting charm of a gentle spirit." ~ I Peter 3:4
Laney sank into the recliner, feeling its soft leather mold around her as she prepared for the long day ahead.  She let her head roll back and eyes pull to a close.  Her feet dangled over the edge just like they had when she was small.
Just the slightest nudge from her imagination and she soared amongst the clouds, off down a path of distant memories.  Her first semester in Kearney had her feeling depressed, alone, and isolated.
She missed her Appalachian Mountains back home.  Laney loved walking in their forests of Maple, Oak, and Hickory trees.  She loved how the leaves turned a thousand shades of green in the Spring and then became a sea of red, gold, and orange in the Fall.  The sweet smell of clover and wild flowers shot through her like adrenaline right to her soul.
Nebraska was flat.  The grass looked burnt.  All she could smell was a mixture of corn, mud, and cattle.  How she had longed of being home again … until she saw her first Prairie Sunset.
She watched the sunset at the horizon, spreading its largess into a grateful sky.  Rich hues of gold, red, orange and purple flowed together in a picture painted by Heaven's own hand.  It took her breath away; filled with a distinct oneness with God.  All the loneliness, insecurity, hurt – gone!
She’d been foolish and judgmental.  The vast prairie had its own special beauty.  It too was a part of God's Creation.  Laney took a moment to imagine what God was whispering about her current situation as her faith stirred again.
She readjusted her position now in the infusion chair.  Today marked her 4th chemo treatment.  Her hair had fallen out weeks ago.  People tried reassuring her that she’s still beautiful.  But as a product of western culture and custom, Laney wished she could believe them.  Every time she looked in a mirror, her appearance reminded her of all that’d happened since her diagnosis.
Most disturbing was that hair loss unmasked her as a cancer patient.  With pitying eyes, total strangers would ask what kind of cancer she had, how treatment was going, and how much time she had left.
Suddenly, God’s message crystalized.  Physical attractiveness has no relation to goodness, character, or godliness.
Like nature’s infinite wonders, each of us has special beauty as well.  We each have unique talents, abilities, and dreams.  Each of us has a powerful love, a vibrancy, that only we can share.  And God wants us to share it.
May you always do so then.  May your life always shine bright.  And may love radiate from your soul like a sunset on the Prairie.
Dear Lord, thank you for creating me in Your image.  Please help me to embrace even my flaws, and imperfections too.  Forgive me for the times I spent too much time complaining about my physical appearance and changing what you created.  Amen