A Chance

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This year, for the first time in my life I felt I was to observe Lent.  I found an Ash Wednesday service and went to it.  The minister talked about how we would now be pilgrims on a journey of repentance, reflection and self-denial.  When he was done talking I followed him and the congregants along a path made of crosses marked out on the floor.  It led to a chapel where we stood in line to approach the minister.  When it was my turn he dipped his finger into a mixture of ashes, made the sign of a cross on my forehead, and declared quite sternly “Remember, from dust you were made and to dust you will return.”  I was surprised by what he said.  I thought he was going to give me a blessing.  Well, maybe it was.  Maybe this reminder of my humanity, this reminder of my humble beginnings, and of my certain and humble end, was a blessing.  I went home pensive.

The next morning I woke up at 4 a.m. with the minister’s words racing through my mind.   “And to dust you will return.”  I was frightened.  My heart sped up.  Am I going to die today I wondered.  Is that why I felt led to the Ash Wednesday service (the first Ash Wednesday service I had been to in my life).  Is that why the minister told me that?  Or… was this instead a Scrooge-like experience.  A chance.  A chance to reflect on my life.  A chance to consider and confess my self-absorbed attitudes and actions, even my self-absorbed prayers.  Maybe this was a chance to try denying myself some of those small things so that I could live a truer, larger, more loving life.  Yes, I think that’s what it was, a chance to see a better way to live.  And give.  A chance to say not just “God bless me” but “God bless us, everyone!”          

                        “For dust you are and to dust you will return.”  Genesis 3:19 NIV  

Ka-linga-linga

Possible Not Impossible

When I was living and working in Lusaka, Zambia there was an area of town known as Kalingalinga.  Kalingalinga was considered a bad and dangerous neighborhood.  And although I drove thru there to get to work each day, I was warned never to go thru there at night.  There was no telling what might happen.  Even the Zambians were afraid of it.  I learned this first hand when a friend of mine gave Huey, a Zambian, a lift home one evening.  For the sake of time, my friend cut thru Kalingalinga.  And even though Huey made jokes about us passing thru there, I could tell he was genuinely uncomfortable (he wasn’t the only one).  The whole time I lived in Zambia I never gave Kalingalinga much thought.  To me it was just a place to avoid or be afraid of.

 Fast forward 22 years.  I am living in Roanoke, Virginia and my husband finds out that some Zambian singers will be performing at our Jefferson Center.  Since he and I met in Zambia, we decided to go and hear them sing for old time’s sake.  The Zambian Vocal Group was delightful.  And their music was so uplifting.  Most of the songs were spiritual and introduced with words of faith.  During the intermission we talked with the group members and bought a CD.

When the concert was over and we were driving home, I did what I always do when I get a new CD, I read the cover jacket.  And as I did, I stumbled across these words, “Our vision is to make a difference in the community we came from.  This community called Kalingalinga….”  I caught my breath astounded.  I felt humbled, convicted, and happy all at once.  A little neighborhood I judged God-forsaken, God had come to.

The concert was over, but the lesson was just beginning.  What was God saying to me?  I think he was saying that every day while I was driving thru Kalingalinga and judging it hopeless, he was speaking a different word over it.  He was saying, “You just watch.  This story isn’t over yet.”  When I read that cover jacket and realized where those singers had come from, it was like God had flashed me a smile and winked.  It was like he was inviting me to find the Kalingalinga in my life today, to find that place I avoid, or fear, or dread.  And instead of doubting, trust.  Maybe even trust enough to stop the car, get out, and join him in turning the tide.

See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.                                Isaiah 43:19 NIV

 

Click on this link to hear a song from the Zambian Vocal Group   

 

Reader,

Do you have a Kalingalinga story?  I’d love to hear it!    

 

 

Perfectly Knit

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Wanting to make a scarf I went to a small shop for supplies.  I bought some knitting needles and chose a soft yarn in pomegranate red.  Now, imagine with me that while I am delightedly knitting my scarf, it develops an attitude, finds a voice, and begins saying things like…  “What are you making me into?  A little scarf for a little neck?  I’d rather be a sweater.  And who picked this color?  Didn’t you see the yarn with the shimmers in it?  I want to shimmer.  Will I be a long scarf?  Because if I have to be a scarf I want to be a long scarf, a very long scarf.  Will I have a fringe?  All the scarves have fringes.”

Of course my little scarf did not, and could not, say such things.  But if it had, I would have offered this rebuke, “Whoa now, let’s remember something.  I am the knitter and you are my creation.  I like scarves.  Don’t you understand how beautiful you are to me?  I have plans for us.  One day it will be very cold and I will need you.  I will wrap you around that little neck you mentioned and go out in the chilly air and you will keep me warm.  You’ll be perfect.  You won’t be so long that you get caught in my car door or drag on the ground.  And, you will feel nice against my skin.  Shimmery threads can be scratchy.  Besides keeping me warm you will provide a cheerful burst of color in a cold dreary season.”

Have you ever scowled at the way you are made?  Wished you were made of tougher fiber?  Wished you had a more glamorous quality?  Or just wished you were… different?  Your Creator would have you know that he thinks you’re beautiful and that he designed you the way you are for a special purpose.

O Lord, you are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Isaiah 64:8 NIV

David and Goliath: A Battle of Beliefs

bigstock-David-Goliath-4883362When I am facing a battle, whether it’s in my world or in my heart, I often turn to the story of David and Goliath for wisdom and instruction.  You know how it goes.  God’s people have something special and Goliath wants to take it away.  Day and night he intimidates and taunts them.  Morning and evening he goes after the peace in their hearts, the hopes they have for their families, the promises God has given.  God’s people begin living in dread of what might happen.  Until a boy named David shows up and shows them how to win.

David wasn’t bigger and stronger.  He was younger.  And smaller.  He didn’t have a big gun.  And he didn’t have a big bank account.  There was nothing in his possession that appeared impressive.  So what was his secret?  What was it that gave him the power to face and conquer an enemy that had everyone else biting their nails?  His secret was his faith.  And his faith was the victory.

So what did David believe?  First, he believed that God had given him and his people something wonderful, land.  He was sure God wanted them to have it.  And defend it.   “Wait a minute,” David said of his enemy, “Who does he think he is defying God and coming against us?  That’s not right.” (1 Samuel 17:26)

Second, David believed in God’s favor for his people.  He believed in it so much that it didn’t matter what others said.  When Goliath mocked and belittled David, he wasn’t even rattled.  He didn’t get embarrassed and retreat.  He didn’t get enraged and act rashly on his own- and outside of God’s grace.  David believed in God’s favor.

Thirdly, David was convinced that his life was in God’s hands, not his enemies.  So when Goliath calls up with a death threat, David not only answers the phone, he replies with some words of his own.  “Yes you are twice my size.  Yes your sword and your spear and your javelin are enormous.  But none of that matters in a fight like this.  The Lord will win for us.  And when he does, everyone will know that he is real and that he lives among his people.”  Click. End of phone call, beginning of down fall.

What battle are you facing today?  Don’t let your enemy shout you down or talk you out of the life God is calling you to live.

“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down… and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s.”  1 Samuel 17: 45-47 NIV

Tracks in the Snow

0001We finally got a snow.  I peered out the upstairs window at the end of my hall, looked down at the beautifully blanketed backyard, and was surprised to see animal tracks all over the place.  What shocked me were the rabbit tracks.  They were everywhere.  So that’s what’s really going on around here.  I smiled as I took it all in.  I had no idea so much was happening right in my own backyard.  That’s just one thing I love about snow.  I get to see evidence of all that is going on while I’m not watching or paying attention.  And I am reminded that God is at work in my life more than I realize.

Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”                                                                                                John 5:17 NIV

A Fork in the Road

Oct2013 013I was finishing up the book God Is Not Mad at You by Joyce Meyer.  In the end she was talking about how to move from being milk drinkers to meat eaters in our spiritual lives.  She was saying that we are milk drinkers when we live on the messages of God’s love and grace all the time.  And that we are meat eaters when we eat for ourselves and then do something, like give instead of receive.

For years I was a milk drinking Christian just as Joyce confesses.  I lapped up the messages of God’s love and grace to me.  It was like I really wanted someone to give me a warm bottle all the time and if they didn’t I turned my heart away.  I was so needy.  And I was afraid.

Finally I started to pick up a fork.  I got out the Bible and began reading it on my own.  It was hard at first.  I didn’t always know where to begin.  But as I did it I started to learn a lot.  And I started to grow without even realizing it.  When I read a story about forgiveness, I didn’t turn my heart away.  Instead I listened.  God never shoved anything down my throat.  He simply held out the fork of meat.  In a sense saying, “Would you like a bite of this?  You will have the strength to go a lot of places with me if you swallow these truths.”  And in a sense I would say, “Ok, I’ll try a little of that.  Where do I need to forgive Lord?  And just how can I do it?”

And so a life long relationship of eating at the table of the Lord began.  It really is the richest of fare.  There I am strengthened to face the challenges in my life.  There I am filled with the energy to go the distance with God and to enjoy myself as I do.

“Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity..”   Hebrews 6:1 NIV

 

Cold Hot Fudge Sundaes

file931279076990I was out to eat with my husband and two friends of ours.  Everybody except me ordered hot fudge sundaes for dessert and the waitress brought them out.  After a few moments I took a taste of my husband’s and was surprised to find that the fudge was cold.  Instinctively I spoke up, “A cold hot fudge sundae?  I can’t believe they gave you all cold hot fudge sundaes.  I mean what’s good about a hot fudge sundae is the HOT fudge, right?”  The sundae eaters frowned a little as if just realizing that their desserts were somehow flawed.  I could tell they were considering my words, and I was feeling a little smart for noticing such a problem when one of the friends said, “That’s okay if it’s not hot.  It’s good.”  His words surprised me.  They were genuine.  And they were spoken without rebuke.  Everyone went back to enjoying their desserts and I shut my mouth.  What else could I do?  Grace had poured on the scene.  The gospel had come to dinner.  Mercy was triumphing over judgment right before my eyes.  The atmosphere at the table went back to being pleasant.  The waitress was not summoned.  And her tip would not be cut short.  As I watched my husband and my friends finish their desserts I found myself wishing– wishing to be a person who eats cold hot fudge sundaes with the same grace.  What is the gospel if it is not lived out in small things?

 

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

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My mom was recently admitted to the hospital with internal bleeding.  They were thinking that maybe an artery got punctured when a tissue sample was taken the week before.  She was being given blood and waiting.  Waiting for the next day when they would go in and look around, and hopefully find and solve the problem.  While they waited I worried.  I was thinking about how another family member had not fared well under a similar circumstance.  I was 1,000 miles away and in a state of anxiety.  Running rehearsals for impending disaster.

After about a half hour of fretting something came over me.  And I started thinking that maybe it was wrong to focus on what happened to my mother’s family member, what happened in her physical family line.  I began to feel a challenge before me.  A challenge to focus on her heavenly heritage instead of her earthly one.

I got my Bible out, but wasn’t sure where to turn.  I was looking for the passage about the people walking in darkness seeing a great light when I stumbled upon these words of Isaiah in chapter 8.  The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does.  I was gripped.  I felt the words were for me.  I felt like God was warning me to think about him, to think like his child.  I flipped over to the Psalms looking for words about my spiritual heritage.  I found these in Psalm 77 (NLT) Oh God your ways are holy.  Is there any god as mighty as you? You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. By your strong arm, you redeemed your people… When the Red Sea saw you, O God, its waters looked and trembled!  The sea quaked to its very depths…  Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters- a pathway no one knew was there!  Wow.

I could rehearse human frailty or I could recite Holy wonders.  That would be my choice going forward.  It took me a moment to realize that it would not be an insult to my mother if I chose not to worry and fret my way through this.  That instead it would honor God, invite Him in.  It would be one way I could “prepare Him room” this season.  And wasn’t that what I had been singing about?

 

“Dah Who Dor-aze”

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It was one of those days when all seemed wrong in the world.  A day when you wonder if you will really win the fight of faith you are in.  Darkness was rising, my hopes sinking.

As I got ready for bed that night I was just plain heartbroken.  I fell to my knees in prayer and could say only one thing, “Lord, do we really win?”  Then I cried.  I cried for what upset me that day and I cried for the sorrows of the whole world, as best I could know them.

After that I crawled into bed.  My husband, a pastor, had recently preached about Paul and Silas singing hymns at the end of a hard day.  The shoe fit, so I put it on and laced it up the best I could.  I found some hymns on my iphone and tried to sing along.  Then I reached over and turned out the light.

I had been lying in bed for twenty minutes and was just ready to drop off to sleep when I heard it, a voice in my heart.  It said one thing, an odd thing for a hot August night.  “The grinch will not stop Christmas from coming.” it said.  The voice was so matter of fact.  And the message was given as a doctor might give a simple diagnosis.  It was given as if I was to, in light of that diagnosis, go to sleep, rest well, and rise to live in hope.

“The grinch will not stop Christmas from coming.”  I began to think about that old Dr. Seuss story.  I compared it with my own day.  The grinch crept into Who-ville with plans of spoiling everything.  He snuck into “Who” homes, snaked across “Who” floors, and cursed “Whos” under his breath, as he stole what they had hoped for.  He even swiped the “Who hash.”  He took it all!  Or did he?

Suddenly in my mind’s eye I was zeroing in on the end of the story.  The part where all the “Whos” great and small, in spite of it all, hold hands and…. sing.  Sing like Paul and Silas.  Sing like I had attempted.  “Dah Who Dor-aze” they sang.  I never understood that song.  Until now.  Now I know what it means.

It means that our enemy can take from us a lot of things, but he can’t take the big thing.  He can’t stop God from showing up.  He can’t stop God from filling our hearts with hope today, and he can’t stop Him from setting everything right on that Great Day.

As I began to fall asleep for the second time that night I heard that voice one more time- quiet, calming, true.  It said, “Keep singing Cindy Lou.”

 

“Just when I need Him, Jesus is near.

Just when I falter, just when I fear.

Ready to help me, ready to cheer.

Just when I need Him most.

 

Just when I need Him, Jesus is strong.

Bearing my burdens, all the day long.

For all my sorrows, giving a song,

Just when I need Him most.”

 

-William C. Poole

The Best Thanksgiving Dinner

DSCN0046Thanksgiving.  We arrive hungry and leave full.  If all goes perfect, we sit down with family around a table beautifully set and a meal lovingly prepared.  And hopefully, for a moment, cares and sorrows and disputes are set aside.  Empty plates and full bowls sit before us.  Grace is said.  And we dig in.  Delighting the host or hostess who has sacrificed for this special moment, we partake ravenously.  And rapturously.

As good as this gets, there is yet a better table.  Where people pull up from all walks of life.  Yellow and brown.  Weary and worn.  Cares and sorrows and disputes are cast aside, along with fears, and mistakes, and pretending, and pain, and labors of every kind.  Here, the Lord says grace.  Over you.  Here, the Son washes feet.  Breaks bread for broken people.  Serves up… himself.  To give you peace, forgiveness, a second chance, another helping of mercy.  This is the table of abundant love.  Won’t you sit and stay awhile?  Delight your Host and partake ravenously.  Rapturously.

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.  I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love…”  Isaiah 55:2-3 NIV