Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Perfect Christmas Gift

If you were God, how would you introduce yourself to your creation?

I’d be 27 years old, a perfect size 8 with flawless complexion, no white hair and an IQ of 145.

I would not show up as a baby, completely helpless and totally dependent upon two people who arrived in town after all the motel rooms were taken and had to sleep in a lean-to. Or a cave.

Good thing I’m not God.

But why a baby?

It’s simple, really. God wanted to become a human, and there is only one way to become a human and that is to be born.

Humans can’t get away from sin. It’s an inherited trait – in the blood, so to speak. God chose to become a human so he could stop the endless cycle by paying man’s long-overdue sin account himself.

So He played by the rules and was born. But he bypassed the blood-born pathogen of sin through birth by a virgin – the virgin who conceived through the seed of God, not sin-filled man. The embryo she carried developed its own blood system, as do all human embryos, and since the mother’s blood does not mix with her baby’s, the baby inherited no sin.

A perfect human.

This god-man lived a sinless life, so when he was killed, his sin-less blood was undeserving of death, and in the eyes of God, that blood paid the penalty of sin and washed away mankind’s debt.

A perfect sacrifice.

Only God could come up with a plan like that.

But He didn’t just pay and run. He conquered death and lived again to walk beside us in our own life-living.

So, you see, Christmas is really all about sacrifice. Maybe that’s why red and green are such prominent seasonal colors: the blood-red ribbons that flow from our evergreen boughs remind of us the Perfect Life that gives the rest of us eternal, ever-life.

If we accept the gift.

And who could refuse a gift like that?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Unanswered prayer

Have you ever prayed for something so long that when it finally showed up you didn’t believe it?

Zechariah did. He was a Jewish priest in 1st-century Judea who prayed for years that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child.

This man knew the miraculous stories of barren women giving birth to such giants of the faith as Isaac and Samuel. But they had lived decades earlier, not in the modern times of the Roman Empire, and so far, no tiny fingers had ever grasped his own.

Maybe he just quit praying. Or quit believing. Or maybe he figured that God’s answer was “no.”

And maybe that had something to do with his reaction when an angel stepped up and took his breath away with news that Elizabeth was going to have a baby boy.

I wonder what I would say to an angel like that – if I could get the words out. If I didn’t pass out. Hopefully I wouldn’t say what Zechariah said: “How can I be sure of this?” (Luke 1:18 NIV)

Hopefully the sudden and inexplicable appearance of an unusual figure telling me about something no one knew but God would, in itself, make a believer out of me.

But for whatever reason, Zechariah doubted, and because of that doubt he ended up speechless.

A few months later the same angel told a teenage girl that she would bear the Messiah for whom Israel waited. This girl Mary said what the more experienced and well-versed priest should have said: “OK. I am the Lord’s servant.”

Young Mary had a question, yes, but it wasn’t one of faith, it was a point of understanding. She knew how children were conceived and she knew she was still a virgin. And when the angel explained, Mary said, “OK.”

I want to be like Mary. I want to say, “OK, God,” when He sends an unbelievable event my way. I don’t want to recite every reasonable obstacle to my faith and say, “I don’t know about this, God.”

I want to say, “I’m your servant, Lord. Whatever you say.”

But the truth is, I’m more often like Zechariah – knowing God’s faithfulness and still wondering how He will do the impossible. And that’s why I’m encouraged by God’s choice of this man, the man whose first spoken words after months of silence were praise to a faithful God.

Yes, he knew the history of his people; yes, he had grown weary in his faith. But God had not given up on him, and He knew that Zechariah was the one to teach this child of “the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77 NIV).

God gives all of us opportunities to say, “yes,” whether sooner or later. What will your choice be this Christmas season?

What will you say?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

No second-hand days

I love a good bargain. And I love finding surprises in unexpected places like thrift stores and garage sales. Those discoveries make me feel like the Proverbs 31 woman who brings her treasures from afar.

But when I looked out the window above my desk this morning, I realized that God isn’t always that thrifty. Sure, I saw the same old cottonwoods glittering in their autumn gold, and the ridge tops wore their familiar oak silhouette, but the day itself was unique.

“A brand new day,” I thought. “God has done it again; He’s given us a brand new, never-been-used-before morning.”

There are no second-hand days with God.

If the Creator'd had only one day to give us, I believe He would have. I base that judgment upon how He’s handled other valuable gifts, particularly His son.

God has one perfect son, Jesus, and He gave Him for our imperfect lives. Do we even begin to understand the depth of that giving?

Not only do we have brand new lives because of Jesus, we have a sparkling, new hope because of Him.

And we have never-been-used-before mornings for which to praise Him, every single day.

Now there’s something to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Veterans of a different battle

After two days of excruciating pain and two more of mind-numbing drugs, I learned several things.

1. It is not wise to ignore new, inexplicable pain – it’s trying to tell you something.
2. I can walk and work more slowly and the world will not fall off its axis.
3. Breakfast in bed is not all it’s cracked up to be.
4. And if that bed is “in the depths,” God is still there (Psalm 139:8b).

As I wrote in my last posting, many of us do more than we should, and need to cut back.
But more recently I learned that everything can be cut back, and life does not come to an end.

Sickness was not part of my plan last week, but as hour after hour stacked up more and more unfinished tasks and beautifully orchestrated expectations, I was forced to let go of each and every one, lie back in the arms of the Lord, and let Him carry me.

I found, again, that He is there. And I remembered that He is a veteran of pain.

As we look this week to our military veterans who have offered and often laid down their lives for our freedom, let us also consider the silent suffering by those of whom we may not be aware. They, too, are veterans – veterans of knowing that God is there, even when they don’t understand the why’s of their situations.

I have heard the dear mother of one such sufferer say with deep conviction, “O our God … We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You” (II Chronicles 20:12b).

Indeed, Lord. Our eyes are upon You

Saturday, October 24, 2009

When Enough is More Than Enough

“I’m exhausted,” a friend said, collapsing into a chair. She was considering cutting back on some of her activities.

“You can’t do everything,” I offered.

In no way was I preaching to her; I was simply repeating my own personal mantra: I can’t do it all.

The old anti-drug slogan, “Just say no!” is hard for me to apply to a worthy cause. My friend had the same problem. There are so many worthwhile activities that need our participation, not to mention all the work required to keep our homes up and running.

When my children were small, I read a wonderful little booklet titled, Tyranny of the Urgent. I learned that urgent tasks are not the same as important tasks. Urgent tasks may scream at me to be completed, but they are things that I wouldn’t mind having someone else do, like clean house, shampoo the carpet, or wash the car.

But important things are those that I would not let someone else do: read bedtime stories, make brownies for a family picnic, or care for a sick loved one.

The urgent can usually wait; the truly important cannot.

But what about all those important things outside my home that vie for my limited time? How do I choose?

Jesus told the parable of 10 young women who waited for a traditional wedding celebration to begin. They waited all night. Five were prepared with extra oil for their lamps, and five were not. When the call rang out at midnight, all ten got up, and the five without enough oil asked the others to share.

Jesus said the five with extra oil did not share with the others. Gently, but wisely, they said, “No.”

The point of the parable was to be prepared. But I believe the Lord was also trying to show us something about personal boundaries. Sometimes we have to say no rather than use up everything we have and then be caught short.

I believe that applies to our energy, time and emotional strength as well as oil.

Will the world come to a premature end if I don’t attend that workshop? Do I really need to serve on another committee? Will anyone care if my floor isn’t mopped today?

Psalm 16:5, 6 says, “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; … The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; …”

That portion and those boundary lines denote limits for our blessing and for our good. Life without limits can be dangerous.

So what do we do as Christians who want to do the right thing? Do we give up all our charitable efforts?

Absolutely not.

Instead, we pray about the demands and requests on our time, and ask God what His priorities are for our lives.

After we know for certain, we “just say no” to everything else. The Bible tells us to speak the truth in love. That would include a gentle “no” without impatience or hatefulness.

And finally, we must not let guilt rob us of our rest. The Lord tells us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt.11:28).

If you end up with an extra afternoon and “nothing” to do, spend some time outside enjoying the cooler weather and fall sunshine. Go for a walk, or just talk to the Lord, praising him for leading you in your decisions.

And be sure to thank him for helping you to “just say no.”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What Rocks Your World

It started with an antique tea canister in the kitchen and the tinny tune it played as it rattled back and forth.

Why was it moving?

Soon, other canisters joined in the song, then the cupboard doors, the framed pictures on a shelf, and a deep rumbling beneath my feet. Earthquake.

Within 20 minutes, two smaller temblors struck, shaking our hilltop home, reminding me that this world is on shaky footing at best. However, the hands that hold it are steady as a rock.

“The Lord is my rock,” wrote the Psalmist. “Who is the Rock, except our God?” (Psalm 18:2,31b).

It’s difficult to picture a rock as comforting, but frequently scripture uses the metaphor to help us understand a spiritual principle.

Isaiah wrote of “the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land” (Isaiah 32:2b) I can’t help but envision a treeless plain with no refuge in sight – until a weary soul stumbles upon a rock big enough to offer shade from a blazing sun or shelter from a blistering windstorm.

Again, the Psalmist wrote, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2b) That is exactly what I need when I am in need – something, Someone bigger than myself.

When Moses asked to see the glory of God, the Almighty said to him, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by (Ex. 33:21,22).

That’s where I want to be – a place near God where I can stand on a rock while He hides me with His hand. How grateful I am that He is that close, that He is the shade that protects me from the heat of oppression and the wind of torment.

Jesus is the Rock of my salvation. He is the sure foundation upon which I base my trust, my life, my hope. Whether earthquake or soul-quaking news, when my world is rocked, thank God He is the Rock that is higher than I.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Walking in the Light

When my husband and I were first married, we had a two-in-one flashlight. It was equipped with the standard high-beam light that shone from one end like most models, but it also had a softer, more radiant light that spread from a second bulb along the top.

One evening I took the flashlight outside for a trek to the barn. The standard beam lit the path ahead, punching through the dark toward my destination. I switched to the second light and it illuminated my steps and the area right around me, spreading into the shadows on either side. But I couldn’t have both lights on at the same time; I had to choose one or the other.

As I walked, the Psalmist’s prayer came to mind: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). Suddenly, I understood the metaphor. God’s wisdom shows me the path ahead as well as the ground beneath my feet. But unlike my hand-held flashlight that required an either-or choice, His word sheds the light of understanding in both ways at the same time. His word is indeed a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

The Psalmist also wrote, “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (Psalm 18:28).

And that’s exactly what I need in life – a never-failing power source that faithfully shows me the way to go and how to get there. The Lord’s light cuts through my darkness, and the lamp of His love envelops me with the comfort of His presence.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Grandparents Day

Tomorrow is Grandparents Day. Mine are long since gone, but I’ve taken their place. And it’s still a wonder to me when I recognize one of my children peeking out through the eyes of their offspring.

As a teacher, I meet a lot of grandparents, those who have picked up where their sons and daughters left off. Sometimes the family has fallen apart, and one young parent is in jail, in hiding or incapacitated. Often, grandparents help out with babysitting when both parents must work to meet financial responsibilities.

And sometimes they are just interested. They like being involved in the extended lives of their children and grandchildren.

I know of a boy named Tim who had a grandmother like that. She helped steer him into the right path when he was a youngster, and taught him that God was faithful and could be trusted.

Tim never forgot her words, and he grew up to be a leader among men and the close companion of a mighty man of God. The Apostle Paul encouraged young Timothy, writing, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice” (2 Timothy 1:5 NIV).

As a grandparent, you never know what influence you may have on a child – even those not of your family. Your patience, your joy, and your faith can stabilize a young life and point to the Savior.

It’s never too late to begin, for “today is the day of salvation,” not yesterday or tomorrow. Ask God to show you how to share His love with the little ones around you – even if they’ve grown up and have little ones of their own.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Where Are You Looking?

Rodeo again? you ask. Absolutely. How can I resist the irony of a bull rider landing face first in the arena dirt as an announcer yells, “Where you look is where you go!”

Following your eyes is a pile-driving concept well known to those who wrap their courage, rope and legs around a bucking Brahma crossbred for eight seconds.

But a first century fisherman knew it too.

As one who rode the waves of the Middle East Sea of Galilee, Peter was likely the equivalent of a modern rodeo cowboy. He met life head on, wore blisters on his hands and creases into his face. And then he met the Tempest Tamer.

While drifting on a familiar but stormy sea, Peter watched that man walk across the water toward his boat. “If it’s really you, call me to you,” he yelled at what his companions believed to be an apparition.


Peter climbed over the edge, locked his eyes on the one who called, and stepped onto the water. No one else had the courage to even try it, much less get out of the boat. Imagine defying the laws of nature and walking on the roiling, dark sea known so well to those whose living was found beneath it.

And then Peter looked away.

He looked away from the one who called him and gazed into the crashing waves. Fear sucked him down into what he beheld, and but for the outstretched hand of the Water Walker, Peter would have drowned in that fear.

Can we relate to that? We who neither ride bulls nor fish for a living? Might we know what it feels like to glance toward our fear and fall into the choking waves of loneliness, abandonment, or depression?

The Water Walker still walks today. He who tamed the tempest calms the storms of our heart. “Come to me, all you who are weary,” he says. “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

Set your heart on Him. Lock your eyes and your hopes on Jesus. He will lift you with his outstretched hands, and never let you down.

Matthew 14:22-33

Think about it: Did Jesus carry Peter back to the boat, or did they walk back together?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mom Arms

I have Mom Arms. You know – those upper limbs that come complete with built-in bat wings. I’m beginning to understand why my mother never wore sleeveless shirts in public.

As a writer, I do more heavy sitting than heavy lifting and my biceps and triceps have atrophied. Not the skin surrounding them, however.

I know exercise is important for a balanced life, but I detest going to the gym. I just can’t bring myself to drive 17 miles to town so I can work up a sweat in a big former Safeway supermarket with people I don’t know, slinging dead weight around and trying to hold my stomach in at the same time.

So I walk. Most mornings before sunrise, I tramp out a two-mile hike down the road and back again. But that doesn’t help my arms.

This morning My Son The Body-Builder put together a home-front workout regimen for me based on his own weight-lifting exercises. Since I don’t have to attach 100-pound weights to my lifting, a gallon of water or a loaded laundry basket will do just fine, he said.

“Resistance is what you want,” he explained. Demonstrating with a long rubber jump rope I bought years ago from Avon, he stood on the band, a handle from each end in each hand, and effortlessly stretched his arms above his head.

“Keep your elbows close to your head, and push slowly upward.”

I‘m good at slowly. I barely moved, so he showed me how to reduce the resistance for now and how to increase it later as my strength grows.

I don’t enjoy this resistance-pressure thing, but I know what little strength I have left will fade even more if I don’t do it. God knows it too, and He uses the human body as a great object lesson for the human spirit.

“You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors,” says The Message. “Don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (James 1:2-4)

Well-developed: that’s how I want my Mom Arms to look. I guess it’s going to take a little workout.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


What’s RODEO got to do with the Faith Walk?


When my husband was a rodeo clown and bullfighter, faith was the main course for every meal. Along with extra helpings of prayer and trust.

During those exciting years of crisscrossing the country from one rodeo arena to the next, we had faith that God was taking care of us as we traveled and worked. We prayed for His protection over our children, our vehicle, our animals and ourselves. And we trusted that He would lead us in the direction of His choosing.

A rodeo bullfighter is a great metaphor for Christ: he puts his life on the line to rescue the bull rider from certain injury or death. He is the “savior” who pulls the rider’s hand free from a twisted rope, or throws himself between a fallen cowboy and a charging bull.

“It’s my job,” my husband Mike once told a grateful rider who nearly had his bell rung.

“But there’s someone else who’s done a whole lot more for you,” Mike continued. “Jesus died to save you and give you eternal life.”

Today we no longer rodeo, so what could it possibly have to do with our life when there’s no more bullfighting, no more arenas, no more all-night, red-eye drives from one state to another?


Rodeo reminds me how to face the bucking, twisting circumstances that often charge into my otherwise orderly life. Rodeo reminds me that I’m not in control, but God is. And rodeo helps me keep my concentration where it needs to be:


Putting my faith in God means trusting Him to give me the strength I need.

So, saddle up!

II Corin. 4:8,9

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A favorite verse

Due to a family member's upcoming surgery, I will not be posting this week. However, as a thank-you for stopping by my blog, I'd like to offer you one of my favorite verses:

Because You are my help,
I sing in the shadow of Your wings. (Psalm 63:7)

What a great comfort!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Do you hear it?

Just before the sun climbs Hatchet Peak behind our house, songbirds announce the pending dawn and cows call their calves from grassy beds.

Such a chorus greets me each morning that I walk. It’s an hour unlike any other – cool, for one thing, not yet drenched in the greater San Joaquin’s triple-digit heat.

Campbell Creek meanders through the lower ranchland, past massive oaks and shady willows. Bullfrogs bay from their pond-side hideaways, and I imagine the unusual cacophony as a chorus of praise, wondering if God understands the language of His creation better than we do.

“Give thanks to the Lord,” trills the high-pitched voice of a red-winged blackbird.

“His love endures for ever,” drums a deep-throated bullfrog.

Could it be that we humans don’t take time to listen to the song of nature around us?

Could it be that we are missing out on creation’s ultimate worship music?

But what if you live in the city? What if you can’t walk where there is no traffic to clutter your eyes and ears and lungs? What if all you hear is the noise of people and their busy-ness?

Then find a place.

Find a place in the bedroom with the door closed and no sounds coming through. Find a place on the living room sofa while the kids are outside playing.

Go to the park, sit in the backyard in the shade, drive to the country in the evening after sunset, but wherever you go, quiet yourself and listen. And see if you can hear an anthem of praise, whether it is the voice of nature, the song of silence, or the simple offering of your own grateful heart.

Worship Him, and let His presence surround you.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Too busy to hear

He wasn’t exactly the type of employee I expected to see at the neighborhood nursery – a tattooed giant in dark glasses and a big straw hat – but he seemed to know all about ice plant and aptenia and what drought-resistant groundcover would work best for my hillside landscaping project.

He also had great hearing.

While I pointed out which flats I wanted, a young boy peddled down the lattice-covered patio path and stopped next to us. The man greeted him cheerfully while continuing to wait on me, the paying customer.

“Look at the new bike seat my dad bought me,” the boy said proudly. He followed us to the cash register where the man took a moment to admire the gray and white camouflage-patterned seat and comment approvingly. Then he pointed out a bottle of anti-pet spray that might keep my dogs and cats out of the new plantings.

I hadn’t expected this giant of a man to be so gentle, thoughtful or adept at multi-tasking. He didn’t hurry me through the shopping process, nor did he brush off the child or speak to him in a harsh leave-me-alone-can’t-you-see-I’m-busy tone. The little boy was so at ease around him, I began to wonder if riding into the nursery was a daily ritual.

I like to think of myself as a caring, child-friendly person. After all, I’m a schoolteacher and – oh, yes – a Christian. However, my demeanor isn’t always what it should be and I know for a fact that I would have been more inclined to tell the little boy to come back later when I’m wasn’t busy with a customer.

I might not have heard his heart.

The disciples of Jesus, in their sincerest efforts to provide their leader with a break from the pressing crowds, scolded parents trying to get closer with their clinging toddlers and wailing infants.

“Go away,” they said. “Can’t you see he’s busy?”

Jesus also had a keen sense of hearing, not to mention impeccable timing. “Don’t prevent them from coming to me,” he said. “God’s kingdom is made up of people like these” (Matthew 19:14 The Message).

I need better hearing. I need to stop and listen to those who call out for attention, affirmation or affection. I need to be more like Jesus when others intrude on my hurried life – whether they are my own children or my spouse or a stranger who just needs a friendly greeting.

I need to be more like the tattooed man who wasn’t too busy to let a child know he was just as important as a paying customer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Managing stress without stressing

“I don’t know how you did it,” she said. “With everything you had going on, I never saw you stress out.”

My friend was referring to the biggest event of my life in the past few months – my daughter Amanda’s May wedding – planned and carried out in tandem with a full time teaching job, full time position on our church’s worship team, full time calling as wife and mother, and on-the-side writing career.

Wonder Woman I am not, but I had a strategy for stress that saw me through those busy days.

Begin before the beginning

It started with a plan. As a teacher, I’m a binder freak when it comes to organization, so creating a tab-divided binder for the wedding was cake.

As soon as groom-to-be-Brandon ringed Amanda’s finger in diamond and silver, I printed out full-page calendars for each of the next five months. On the calendars, I notated all major steps leading up to and including the wedding, such as, “Order Invitations,” “Bridal Shower,” “Meet Photographer,” etc.

Tab dividers for Flowers, Food, Rentals, Site, and other items helped me record information in easily retrievable fashion, and pockets on the front and back cover held every single receipt for every single penny spent. I can tell you exactly what it all cost, but I won’t. Let me just say, don’t be dismayed by the national average of what “experts” say a wedding should cost, because it doesn’t have to be even close to that.

However, this column isn’t about planning a wedding; it’s about not stressing under stress. Having a frame in which to work helped me keep mishaps to a minimum and, at the same time, see where I was going.

Balance - it's not an act

It’s easy to let something take priority in your life, especially if it’s a very important event. But there’s a critical difference between a priority and an important event. Our priorities are important, but not every important thing should be a priority.

Having a workbook let me see where I was headed, but keeping my priorities in line helped me keep my balance. And for me personally, a time of quiet and prayer every morning is a priority.

Not everyone is a morning person. Not everyone craves quiet as much as I. But I have identified quiet morning time with the Lord as a critical part of my day. It helps remind me that regardless of what is going on in my life, God is still in control. And I’m encouraged by learning of others in similar situations who let God work things out for the better.

Ever read in the Bible of the parent who invited party guests that didn’t show up? Or of the wedding in Canaan without enough wine? What about the great feast called the Marriage Supper of the Lamb? By looking into all of these, I kept my balance by realizing that God cares about such events – even my daughter’s.


And finally, my escape. Immature? Irresponsible, you say? Childish to run away in the face of overwhelming responsibilities?

Absolutely not, if the escape takes you closer to the One who gives balance.

I am a fan of award-winning novelist Lauraine Snelling. She has written more than 50 books, fiction and nonfiction, but I am particularly fond of her historical novels dealing with the Red River Valley of Dakota Territory in the 19th century. Every evening after a day of teaching and an afternoon of shopping – whether on the web or at the mall – I retreated into a Lauraine Snelling story. For an hour or so, I escaped to the golden prairies of the north, the challenges of my favorite character, Ingeborg Bjorklund, the sites and smells of food prepared on a wood-burning stove, and her hard but simple life lived without electricity and television.

The books are not Snelling’s most recent releases, but they are dear to me for how they provided a critical mental escape during a stress-filled time. Amanda read them also, and we discussed plots and characters and surprises. I even gave her Ingeborg Bjorklund’s Red River Cookbook, and tucked it into the big crockery bowl I passed on to her at the bridal shower.

But it wasn’t just the escape to a different landscape and a different set of problems; it was how Snelling’s characters faced those problems, how the women in those books looked to the Lord in a matter-of-fact way for their strength and protection – their balance.

Mornings in the Lord’s presence with his word, and evenings relaxing with a Snelling novel gave me the mental and physical relief I needed to think clearly when it came time to pick up the binder. I was tempted to believe that I didn’t have time to spend praying and reading, but thank God, I didn’t fall for that lie this time.

As it turned out, I didn’t have time not to.

Learn more about Lauraine Snelling’s books at and