It’s Not Too Late

Man Waiting on Bench

I like the story of Jacob and here’s why. Because even though he started his journey on the wrong foot, God let him know it wasn’t too late to put the right foot forward. Now that’s good news for everybody.

Jacob left home on the run. He lied to his father, schemed against his brother, and is on about a 500 mile walk to his uncle’s when he stops to rest for the night. With a stone for a pillow he falls asleep. Now you’d think with all that’s gone on he’d have a nightmare about his brother catching up with him and killing him right? Instead he has the most wonderful dream. And the dream is from God.

In the dream God does not give Jacob a lecture, though he may have earned one. In the dream God does not tell Jacob all the things he should do to make amends, though that is probably what I would have done. In the dream God does a surprising thing, he gives Jacob his blessing. He says, “I will give you and your offspring the land on which you are lying. And many people will be blessed through you. I am with you and will watch over you and I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised.”

When Jacob woke up he was amazed. And his thoughts went something like this, “Wow. God is here? God is giving me His blessing? God is making me these promises? Well then, I accept Him as my Lord and will worship Him.”

When Jacob got up from that place he was still on the same journey. He still had a long way to go and many steps to take. But he was a changed man. When he put his next foot forward I think he was encouraged instead of afraid. I think He was hopeful instead of doubtful. And I think he was thinking about how everything would somehow work out, because God had said so.

Here is good news. Good news for a person who has started anything on the wrong foot. All is not cursed. It’s not too late to find God on this journey you’re on. He’s still there for you. Watch for Him. Listen to Him. Trust Him. Worship Him. This is truth for your travel pilgrim. Will you lace up these mercy shoes and walk on?

       “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go…”  (Genesis 28:15 NIV)

 

The Missing Lady Slipper

Every year I look forward to a little spring event.  It’s the appearance of a single Lady Slipper on a bank of our property in the woods of Craig County, Virginia.  It’s that time of year and for the last three weeks we’ve hopped on the four-wheeler and headed out in hopes of seeing that single pink jewel that grows in the middle of some thorny vines.  And for the third time we’ve come up empty.  We can’t find it.  I’m worried because the power company came through and killed a broad path of foliage right next to where she blooms. Or was it right over where she blooms?  I don’t know.

Why do I like that Lady Slipper so much I wonder.  What does it matter to me if she shows up again?  Well, for one thing the Lady Slipper is Minnesota’s flower, and Minnesota is my home state, so we have a little kinship.  Also, that wild orchid is a mystery, a wonder, a flower of fortitude.  She blooms alone.  None of her kind are anywhere in sight. And she is the only Lady Slipper I have ever seen in real life.  How did she get there I always wonder?  What is her story?  I would love to know.  Anyway, the last time we went to look I was feeling a little sad thinking that she would probably never come back.

It was dusk back at the cabin and we were lounging around watching TV, snacking, shooting the breeze.  The weather was drizzly and we were all pretty tired when Jake surprised me by saying, “Do you want to take a ride out and see the flowers I found on Tub Run?”  Tub Run is a road behind the cabin that Jake had jogged earlier that day.  After my disappointment over the Lady Slipper he told me that he had seen some new purple blooms on Tub Run.  “Sure,” I said.

I put on a Carhartt jacket, pulled the hood up and we headed into the drizzle.  It was a nice ride on the four-wheeler; snaking our way through the forest on that gravelly road.  Every here and there Jake would stop and point out what looked to me like small but spunky purple Irises.  I was surprised.  In all our rides up and down Tub Run, I had never seen them before.  The Irises liked it on the steep bank of the road.  They were getting their footing, even sort of taking off in spots.  I took a picture.  We had the best ride on Tub Run, getting a little wet, pointing out moss, talking about swollen creeks, deciding on an Iris to take home for my terrarium.

That night I was washing my face before bed.  I was thinking about the day. A good day.  I was thinking about the gone Lady Slipper and the new crop of Irises, sad on one hand happy on the other, when this verse came to mind.  “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.”  I smiled.  It was a great way to sum up the day’s flower hunt.  It was great way to sum up some other things I was looking at, looking for, too.  It was a good verse to go to sleep on.  And, to wake up to.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  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 43:18-19 NIV

How to Build Anything

In the book of Nehemiah the people of God have a huge task in front of them.  They are rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.  From rubble.  Halfway through their work they are attacked by a powerful weapon.  Words.  “What are those feeble Jews doing?” the enemy says.  “Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble?  If even a fox climbs on that wall it will break.”  Do you feel the sarcasm?  Do you see the shame and doubt those words carry?  As Nehemiah counters the attack his method is noteworthy.  He doesn’t speak to his enemy, he speaks to God.  In prayer he lets out his hurt and frustration.  Then he and his people return to the task at hand.  That’s called focus.

When God is doing something in us or through us, Satan will oppose it with his words.  The words will attack our mind.  They will ridicule and aim to shame.  They will cause doubts to rise up.  “Do you really think you can change?  It didn’t work the last time you tried?”  “Look at the situation you’re in.  Do you really believe God can make something out of it?”  When thoughts like these enter your mind, don’t argue with yourself.  Pray to God.  Ask Him to address what assails you.  Then return to the task he’s called you to do.

“Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.”  Nehemiah 4:14

Prelude and Chapter 1: The Dream and the Dreamer

I will never forget my first view of Africa. I saw it from the plane window at about 1200 feet in the summer of my twenty-third year. It was a land so flat, so desolate, so endlessly dry I wanted to cry… to water it with my tears… Where were the coffee plantations, the grasses, the jungles? Was there nothing green? Things were not as I had imagined. So I should I have known then that Africa would be full of surprises, heartaches, discoveries… things that would change the landscape of my heart and leave me longing to one day return.

African Sunrise

The cricket cries, the year changes.

-African Proverb

I remember when it all began, when I got the notion that I must go to Africa. I wish I could say that I had longed for it since childhood, or that I had acquired the dream in a noble way, but that would not be true. I was not wanting to go to feed the hungry, spread the gospel, or to do some peace corps kind of thing. I was a dreamer not a lover of reality. I was a poetry reader and a wish maker. I was always hoping for what was unrealistic and longing for the stuff fairy tales are made of.

I was twenty-one and should have been done with dreams when I saw the movie Out of Africa. I sat in a green velvet seat four rows from the screen. It was a sad movie, but I paid no attention to the sadness. I was lost in the scenery. From the moment Baroness Blixen first tried to “shoo” the elephants to a final scene with her reciting over Denys’ grave “The time you won your town the race, we chaired you through the market-place…” I wanted to pack up my Limoge, my crystal and my beautiful starched cotton outfits (though I had none of these things) and go myself to plant coffee, and to dance with Denys Finch-Hatton on New Year’s Eve. My dad said I just wanted to go and have Robert Redford wash my hair in a river.

Hannah was my best friend, and the sister I never had. When I would spend the night at her apartment we might end the evening in the bathroom where she would lay pajama clad in an empty bathtub loudly reciting Robert Frost’s poems, while I sat on the vanity soaking my ever cold feet in a sink of hot water. Hannah could always be counted on to embrace my dreams wholeheartedly. We had both memorized lines from Out of Africa and when we would see each other on the cold and snowy campus of the University of Minnesota, we used those lines to greet one another. How funny people must have thought it was to hear us saying, “Oh let it go, this water lives in Mombasa anyway” or “Insurance is for pessimists.” Yes, that’s how it all began.

For a year I held tight to my dream of going to Africa. I purchased khakis and put a carved zebra on my Christmas list. While working at Trout Lake Camp I often skipped lunch in the dining hall to eat Wheat Thins and underline beautiful phrases in the book Out of Africa. (“If I know a song of Africa… does Africa know a song of me?” page 83.)

And so I longed for Africa, but how would I get there? I had no money. And what would I do? I certainly didn’t know how to run a farm.

I had just finished my degree in elementary education when it dawned on me that I might be able to go to Africa as a teacher. So, I signed up with an overseas placement service in order to receive vacancy bulletins for teaching positions around the world.

But, my hopes were soon dashed as I repeatedly read the awful words written by each listing “two years experience required.”  Discouraged I stopped opening the bulletins and began throwing them away as soon as they arrived.   With reality encroaching in the form of bills to be paid, I moved my zebra to the bottom shelf, replaced my khakis with jeans and went to work at a daycare since the teaching market in Minnesota was saturated. My dream of Africa began to die.

The pleasure of the true dreamer does

not lie in the substance of the dream

but in this: that things happen…

all together out of his control.

(Out of Africa page 91)

Weeks went by then months. I spent my days wiping runny noses and monitoring nap time, but each night I found myself on my knees by my bed talking to God. I felt small as I asked Him what I should do, where I should go. I asked God to give me the courage to go anywhere and the willingness to be pushed to my limits. And I ended each prayer by saying “Dear Lord, please give me the courage to keep praying this prayer.”

The prayer was not without effect. For one day when another vacancy bulletin arrived, without really thinking, I opened it.  And I found a position available at The American Embassy School of Lusaka, Zambia. “No experience required.”

Could it be true? And Zambia? That sounded kind of African. Was it? My heart began to race as I stood on my chair and fingered my way across the giant blow up globe my father had given me for graduation. Was Zambia in Africa?

It was! There, right smack in the middle of Africa, was a “vacancy!”

My dream began to stir.

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I had no resume, but I quickly developed one and sent it, along with a letter, to a Dr. Keller who was in Wisconsin taking applications for the job. I was not expecting the call I promptly received.

The night Dr. Keller called is etched in my memory as we had a most unusual conversation beginning with his question, “Are you promiscuous?”

Did I hear him correctly? Wasn’t there supposed to be some kind of question about classroom management or how to meet the individual needs of students? “Excuse me?”

“Are you promiscuous?” Silence.

Somewhat flustered, slightly offended, and unsure of how to respond I said, “Well… I don’t believe in premarital sex… and I have never had sex… if that is what you mean.”

Dr. Keller went on to explain that according to the state department, since they were responsible for hiring me, this was a priority issue. “We cannot be hiring people who run around breaking up family units overseas,” he explained.

“Oh,” I said.

Next, he asked me about being a Baptist. He noticed on my resume that I had taught Sunday School in a Baptist church. He thought this was good as there were some Baptists my age, “Journeymen” he called them, working in Lusaka. He suggested I might hang out with them since finding a social life in Zambia could be a problem.

That was it. Dr. Keller didn’t ask me any questions related to teaching and having discussed those two items he ended the conversation by telling me that he would get back to me for an interview if my transcripts checked out.

That night the girl I shared a house with gave me the news that her parents were moving back in and I would have to move out.

I then knew two things. God had heard my prayers. And I was going to Africa.

I wonder How She Caught His Eye

how-she-caught-his-eye

I am dark yet lovely, do not stare at me.”  (Song of Songs 1:5)

She wasn’t a homecoming queen or pageant princess. In fact, other girls found her appearance unacceptable. But they were not casting votes for the highest love in the land, and so this maiden won the kings hand. I wonder what he saw in her don’t you?

In Song of Songs she is called the Shulamite woman. We might call her the original Cinderella, because her brothers had authority over her and put her to work in the vineyards. And so this maiden bore the mark of lowly labor. Not dish pan hands, but a sun tan. Back then tans were frowned upon, considered low class. The fair-skinned girls whispered, “The king has chosen her? She who is so blemished?”

Yes, the king had chosen her. I like this king don’t you?

From this snapshot of King Solomon and his bride, we learn two things about God. Number one, to the lover of your soul, you are lovely. It doesn’t matter what other people say. It doesn’t matter what harsh conditions you have endured, or how the wrath of your past has taken its toll. You are lovely to the lover of your soul. Remember that.

Number two, don’t scorn the beauty of another. Don’t gossip about someone else’s appearance, problem, or predicament, for God sees her and loves her dearly. Learn to cultivate a heart like the heart of your King, a heart that understands where others have been and sees through the blemish to beauty.

“Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear: Forget your people and your father’s house. The king is enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.  Psalms 45:10-11 NIV

Greetings Daughters of the King

Two Smiling Girls

I love this photo of my nieces. (See the castle in the background?) When I see this picture I think of the hopes and dreams I have for all Daughter’s of our God and King. I hope they find true joy and true love! I hope they find real peace, and realize… their high purpose.

What I share here is for the young ladies coming behind me on this journey of faith. Here I offer, counsel and encouragement, cautions and a challenge or two.

Ladies, you are God’s darlings before you are anyone else’s. No one loves you like He does. Follow Him and be blessed. That’s a promise!

“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”   (Deut 30:19-20 NIV)

My African Journey: Introduction

african-journey-introIntroduction

After graduating from college, I signed a two year contract to teach 2nd grade at The American Embassy School of Lusaka, Zambia. Living in Africa was quite an adventure for me, seeing the animals, climbing a mountain, meeting a handsome guy…

While in Africa I kept a journal, which I tried to turn into a story. Not long ago I found myself in the attic rummaging around, looking for that story. As I began to read it, I couldn’t help myself. I found I had a soft spot for the young lady who lived it and wrote it (me). I will post the chapters here as they unfold.