Saturday, December 24, 2011

What is Your Perfect Gift?

Tradition teaches us that 2,000 years ago three Eastern kings journeyed to the land of Israel to see the foretold Christ child. But scripture mentions the number of gifts, not the number of kings.

When the Magi found Mary, Joseph, and the young Jesus, “they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matt. 2:11b NIV). Unusual gifts for a little boy.

Gold was the currency of kings. As a first-century Judean carpenter, Joseph probably had seen very little of it and so prized it accordingly. No doubt it helped finance the family’s flight to Egypt when Joseph was warned to relocate.

, or frankincense, represented the adoration of God’s people. Priests offered it in the temple to symbolize prayer rising to heaven. This costly commodity was harvested by collecting the sap from slashed and bleeding Boswellia trees.

Myrrh is also a fragrant resin obtained from tapping a specific tree, one whose thorns can pose a considerable challenge. It served medicinal purposes, and was used in burial preparations, as when Nicodemus wrapped the crucified body of Christ in linen and myrrh and aloes (John 19:39-40).

These gifts are nothing like those I received for my newborns and toddlers, but they were highly fitting for the Son of God—our King, our Priest, and our Sacrifice.

This Christmas as we open our treasures and consider what to give, we probably won’t find gold, incense and myrrh. But we will find representations of them: faith refined like gold, the sweet savor of worship, and the sacrifice of praise.

Never doubt that you have something of great value to give our Lord. For you bring the one perfect gift He wants above all else, the one which only you can give—yourself.

For Christmas reading: The Other Wiseman by Henry Van Dyke.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Are you full of it?

Writing assignment: Evaluate yourself as a friend.

I told my students to measure themselves against criteria that defined a good friend, and then write a short essay, supporting their findings with evidence.

Though it was a college composition class, some students had more difficulty with spelling than anything else, and as I read through their papers I noticed an unusual standard listed by one young man: faith fullness.

I knew he meant faithfulness, but the way he wrote it made me see the term differently—perhaps with the significance intended by the word’s originator.

Faith fullness.

I wondered about my own quota. How do I measure fullness of faith? Would it be the same way I measure a glass of water, a tank of gas, a heavy meal of Italian lasagna?

Would it be to say I am full of faith, half full of faith, hardly at all full of faith?

I want to be full, yet Jesus said a mustard seed-sized drop would do.

Whew! I’m so glad.

Sometimes when I look into the glass, a drop is all that’s there.

(Image creator: winnond)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Home alone on Black Friday ... and loving it

So it’s Black Friday—the day merchants’ ledgers run from red into black as Americans flood sale-sloppy stores for bargain prices on Christmas trappings.

Since I am not most Americans, I stay home on Black Friday. A bustling crowd in my kitchen for Thanksgiving dinner is one thing, but hustling through a crowd of strangers—perfect or otherwise—is quite another. It’s not for me. I’d rather settle into the sofa with a leftover-turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich and a good book.

Merchandizers do a fine job of telling me what I should buy for Christmas, as well as when and where I should buy it. But as my son says, Black Friday isn’t even in December, and Christmas shouldn’t begin until December.

I like that. Why rush things? Valentine’s Day will be here before we know it, and retailers will start reminding us by December 27.

However, my son obviously has not been the Christmas-gift-purchaser over the years, so he has no idea of what it means to spot that perfect something in March or September, and then hide it away for later. Which, of course, is why I don’t have to worry about Black Friday.

I also appreciate the fact that some people plan ahead for The World's Biggest Shopping Day and make it a fun outing with relatives or close friends.

But rebelling against the commercialization of Christmas is my way of occupying the season, and the current season is still Thanksgiving. I plan to stay home and be thankful on the day after I over-stuff myself on stuffed turkey.

Thank God for leftovers.

And a safe refuge of peace on Black Friday.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Life is so unfair

I recently posted a fill-in-the-blank request on Facebook in the form of a question I’ve heard many times:

“What in the world did I ever do to deserve ____?”

I expected answers like:

a wrecked car
an unfaithful spouse
getting fired
this ridiculous interest rate

Surprisingly, not one answer was a complaint. No whining. No resentment or grumbling. Instead the answers were:

God’s love and favor!
The perfect children that God blessed me with.
Such a cool and thoughtful Auntie!
My beautiful family.
All the blessings this life has given me.

One respondent said he knew it was a loaded question. That’s good. It means he has already confronted himself with what matters most in the face of life’s unfairness. And it is unfair, you know.

I haven’t done one single thing to deserve the privilege of walking along the river on a clear morning, or marveling at the beauty of a silent snowfall, or coming home to a warm house and a hot cup of coffee. I’ve done nothing to deserve my family and good health, a job I enjoy, faithful friends and God's grace and forgiveness, but I’m thankful for it all.

Yes, life is unfair. And I am extremely glad that I don’t get what I deserve.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sing to the Lord all the earth!

“Sing to the Lord, all the earth.” So said the shepherd boy who became king.

But does the earth have a voice other than the sigh of a breeze, a river’s whisper, or the crunch of new snow on the path? Does it sing as it warms to the dawn and birds twitter in the light?

I see the earth’s voice in the changing leaves of a Rocky Mountain fall. Yes, see. Not only can I hear the earth praising its Creator, I see it in the blaze of yellow trees once green, in a cerulean sky, and the brilliance of a billion stars on the darkest night. Even the heavens declare his glory.

A song by Mercy Me invites us: “And all of creation sing with me now / lift up your voice and lay your burden down.”*

That’s an amazing exchange, to lift one thing and lay down another. After all, my burdens are so heavy, I can hardly carry them at all, much less lift them up. Maybe I’m not meant to. Maybe I am supposed to drop them and simply raise my hands.

The earth praises God all around us in the manner, and with the purpose for which it was created. We, the crowning jewel of God’s creativity, choose to praise him.

Will we?

*“All of Creation” from The Generous Mr. Lovewell
1 Chronicles 16:23 NIV

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What if God told you to do something weird?

What if you were in a real tight spot—like the desert with no water, and God told you to dig ditches. Would you do it?

Three men set out across the desert and didn’t prepare for the trip. They ran out of water. One of them suggested they check in with God and get his help. God said, “Dig ditches.”

“But there’s no water!” they could have said. “Why in the world would we dig a ditch?”


What if you were about to lose everything—like your children and your home, and God told you to collect jars. Would you do it?

A woman’s husband died and left her up to her eyelashes in debt. Bill collectors were banging on the door, and God said, “Get all the jars you can find.”

“I have nothing to put in those jars and no money to buy anything to put in them,” she could have said. “Why in the world do I need a bunch of empty jars?”


In both situations, these people had only one thing left: the capacity to obey.*

What if God told you to dig ditches or collect jars? Would you?

Reason says, “Get real.”
Obedience says, “Okay, Lord,” and starts digging.

Reason says, “You’re kidding, right?”
Obedience says, “Okay, Lord,” and starts gathering.

What is God telling you to do? Are you familiar enough with His voice to recognize it? Do you trust Him enough to do what He says—no matter how peculiar?

Times are tough. What if all we have left is the capacity to obey?

*To find out what happened, read these stories in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings, chapters 3 and 4.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Peace Like a River

Thanks to my guest blogger last week, you know where I spend most mornings: trotting down the trail along the Arkansas River near our home.

The river is a seasonal host, rushing past in summer, swollen with snow melt and churning red or brown. But now it has laid itself down for autumn and whispers by, laughing only in the rocky shallows or at the bulwark of the bridges.

"We made it,” the waters declare. “We made it over the rocks. They didn't stop us. Praise the Lord!"

If I could truly decipher the voice of nature, would I hear it speak in such a way that praises its creator? What a beautiful declaration—one to which I should add my own voice. But that’s not what usually happens when I’m dashed against a boulder blocking my way.

If you doubt that nature praises Him, read Psalm 148. You can almost hear the water singing.

Maybe that’s the secret to the peace I find at the river—praising God in all things.

Even when I’m pressed against the rocks.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Blue on the River

Hi, I’m Blue, the guest blogger. You’ve probably heard of me: “Me and you and a dog named Blue,” or something like that.

D’s busy getting ready for what she calls a women’s retreat up in Larkspur, Colorado. She’ll be gone about three days talking a lot. No dogs. Sounds boring.

Anyway, she asked me to do a blog for her about the Arkansas Riverwalk where we take a pull almost every morning. She doesn’t call it a pull, but that’s exactly what it is because she’d never make it without me. I’ve gotta pull her all the way along the river about a mile or so and then pull her all the way back again. I’m either going to have great shoulder muscles or no hair on my neck, one or the other. She gets such a tight grip on the leash that I have to strain to get anywhere.

I still have a good time, though—there’s so much to smell! D’s not as fond of the bushes as I am, and only occasionally lets me follow my nose. But that’s how I find out who’s been there. Chihuahua, female, 4 years, 5 pounds. (A little chubby, if you ask me.) Collie, 9 months, male, way too excitable. Pit bull, 8 years, male, nonaggressive. And that big white one that makes me nervous. D says not to worry, he’s just poofy. Lots of hair. I could take him, she says. But she sure chokes up on my leash when we pull by.

Some of these fellas look just like the people they’re tugging along the trail. Like that white poofy one. The woman on the end of the leash has white poofy hair too. I’m black and white, a fairly even mix of both. And D.? Well, I think she has a little more white than black. Come to think of it, she … Never mind.

This morning we crossed paths with one of those little mops on a stick. All bark and no bite. Like some cowboys I’ve met: all hat and no cows. I should know; I’m a cow dog, a Queensland blue heeler, though I don’t see too many cows anymore. Lots of deer at the river—skinny, long legs, big ears. I know better than to heel one of them. They’d kick my lips off.

Occasionally I smell a bear. This morning I heard one gruntin’ in the Russian olive shoots along the back water where the bull frogs hide. I don’t think D noticed because she just kept going, mumbling something about “river of life” and “the voice of many waters.” I don’t pay much attention until she says “no.”

Besides, I’m too busy checking out the squirrels that run de-lib-er-ate-ly in front of me and dash under a rock on the river bank or up a tree. You think I get to chase ‘em? Nope. And the Canada geese squat over on the other side of the river, honking and raising my ears. I can’t get at them, either. There’s just no swimming that river; it’s too fast. Sometimes it pushes people along on big plastic floaty things—bunches of ‘em, like they’re all out there on purpose with one guy holding a paddle up front.

Well, that’s all I have to say about the Riverwalk. It’s just about my favorite place to go, except when she makes me jump in the back of the truck to get there. I don’t get enough bacon treats for that trick. I like the car better. It’s closer to the ground for these old bones.

You probably figured out that I can’t spell D‘s whole name. Who has a name with three syllables, anyway? Every self-respecting mammal I know has a short name. Blue, for example. Duke, Red, Jack, Buck, and so forth. Of course there are plenty of others like Lady and Junior and Fluffy, but I don’t hang out with those types if I can help it.

Then there’s Mike. There’s a good, solid name. But that’s another blog.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

You are worth the wait

I just completed another draft of my inspirational romantic-suspense novel and laid it aside to let it simmer. In a few weeks, I will go back to it with fresh eyes and work through it again.

The manuscript is not perfect. I need to grind down a few rough spots, flesh out certain scenes—do the whole nip-and-tuck thing. I will cut away entire sections and breathe life into others. It’s not ready for the publisher, maybe not even for an agent, but I’m not giving up on it. I believe in it.

I believe in the story’s message: that Christ cares about individuals. That He went out of His way to talk to people one-on-one and still does. That He imparts peace through His presence.

Considering the value I placed on this story, I was a bit surprised by the almost parental zeal I felt. And that’s when I realized that God believes in me the same way. I am His work.

I am not perfect. I have rough edges ready for grinding, places that need to be fleshed out, and others than should be surgically removed. But He believes in me. He’s not giving up on me. I am not yet perfect, but by the time He’s finished, I will be.

Someday I’ll be published in paradise. God will say, “Look what I did. Look what My son’s blood bought.”

I am His workmanship created in Christ Jesus.

So are you.

Don’t give up on yourself.

He hasn’t.

Ephesians 2:10

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Please, bug me.

Some people don’t want to be bothered. God is not one of them.

Jesus told his followers of a man who banged on his neighbor’s door in the middle of the night because he needed extra food for an unexpected guest. The neighbor said, “Go away. It’s late, everyone’s in bed, I’m not getting up.” But he did. He got up and gave the man what he needed.

Why? Not because he liked the guy, but because he kept banging on the door.

Do we pray like that? Do we go to God and pound on the door until we get an answer? Jesus said we should. He told us to ask, seek, and knock.

Jesus didn’t speak English, so I don’t think He lined the words up like that so they’d spell out a neat little acrostic. I believe He was showing us three levels of communication—and commitment.

When I worked as a reporter for a mid-size daily newspaper, I used these levels nearly every day.

“Is flagpole one word or two?” I could shoot out a question in the newsroom while sitting at my desk, and hear someone throw back an answer. Asking required very little effort.

Seeking took a little more work. I had to stop what I was doing, pick up the Associated Press Stylebook and look up the answer. It meant searching, hunting, discerning, discovering.

Knocking involved total commitment. If I wanted to see the chief editor or general manager, I had to get out of my chair, go to his office and knock on the door. That was the only way to talk to one of them face to face to get my answer, find direction, lodge a complaint, or pick up an assignment. It took the most effort.

So what kind of prayers do we pray? How much effort do we put into talking to God? Yes, the Lord knows the very thoughts of our hearts, unlike the editor or general manager. But I believe Jesus gave us a bit of vital information when He said to ask, seek and knock.

How badly do we want to hear from God?

Are we pounding on the door?

Luke 11

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Catching Up in the World of Not

I just bought a Nook. I used to think they came with a Cranny, but this one didn’t.

It took one entire afternoon to get the thing powered up, set up, registered, online and everything else because I come from a different world. In my world, people watch TV on their television, not their telephones. They listen to music on stereos not earplugs. But I’m learning: I’m now reading via something that is Not a bOOK.

The most unsettling thing about my Not bOOK is the touch screen. Of course there’s not actually anything on it to touch, and after being told all my childhood years to keep my fingers off the television screen and the windows and the mirrors, I feel like I’m breaking some kind of universal law by touching it in the first place.

It depends, however, on what part I touch. Not that I can feel what I’m touching, like keys on a keyboard or a piano. It’s more like pointing than touching. I point my finger at an icon—a word that used to mean little statues in grottoes—and voila! the screen changes. Touch it for too long, like say, a second or more, and it changes again into something I didn’t want. I aim for nano second—that moment in time that is Not a second.

Another Not with a Not bOOK is the page. They’re called pages but it takes more than one screen’s worth to hold all the words on what was once a page, so when I “turn” one by barely touching the edge of the screen, I may get two or three screens before the used-to-be page number actually changes. So they’re not really pages on my new Not bOOK. Not that I care, mind you.

In a way, it’s fun playing catch-up in the Not world. What I need now is Nice-cream: dessert that does Not have sugar, fat or calories.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

F.R.E.T. part 3: Suicide by Stubbornness

In this final installment on what it means to fret, resentment and envy take center stage. These two were the core of my personal acrostic, bookended nicely by fear and turmoil (see two previous posts).

In those dark days of depression I turned to the book of Job because I wanted to read about someone else who felt beat up, someone with whom I could relate. I was stunned to find my R and E falling from the lips of Job’s friend.

“Resentment kills a fool and envy slays the simple” (Job 5:2 NIV).

The very things I had been clutching were killing me. Suicide by stubbornness?

When I resent someone who has not lived up to my expectations, or resent an unforeseen situation that alters my plans, I fill up a place in my heart with poison. When I envy others who have succeeded at that to which I aspire, I add bile to the mix: a deadly concoction.

Confession broke the vials of resentment and envy; brokenness was the big break I needed.

Do not fret. Do not fear, resent or envy, for turmoil results. It’s a simple directive not easily carried out unless I follow His instructions. And I find them in Psalm 37 where this whole fretful journey began for me. It tells me over and over that God is with me in this struggle, and it tells me what to do. How can I have time—or space in my heart—to fret if I am trusting, doing, delighting, committing, listening and waiting for Him?

For me as a writer, it is a war of words and the battlefield is the mind.

Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The ancestor of every action is a thought.”

A hard-nosed Jewish lawyer waylaid by the living God said, “… we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (II Corin. 10:5 NIV). That’s the winning catch phrase for me. Because of Jesus and His power, I’m no longer a prisoner fretting my life away. When I fix my mind on Christ, and remind myself what He has said and what He has done, I find freedom.

Thank God, I don’t have to fret.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


In my personal acrostic of the word “fret,” fear was the first and most obvious element. It took up most of the room, so I had to push it out, make a conscious effort to get rid of it—something I could not do on my own. Of course that realization led to more fear, so I turned and ran straight to God’s word.

The breed of fear I battled was not the kind we read about when we’re told to fear the Lord. And we shouldn’t be surprised to find two different meanings, just as we do when we say we love our spouse and we love lasagna. Not the same thing.

I found wonderful things in the Bible about fear: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and sound mind” (I Tim. 1:7); “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18); “I sought the Lord, and … he delivered me from all my fears” (Ps. 34:4). These tell me God didn’t send the fear, His love will chase it off, and He’ll snatch me from its clutches.

I also read a fabulous novel by J.M. Windle titled Betrayed. I highly recommend it. In the book, the main character hears the biblical story of Sarah and how her husband’s fear landed her in a harem. The character learns that God rescued Sarah, and that she can be like Sarah if she will “do what is right and do(es) not give way to fear” (I Peter 3:6). I won’t say more because it’s a great read and I don’t want to spoil it for you, but did you notice the “do” and “do not”?

The “do” part fills in the vacuum of the “do not.” Psalm 37—where I first discovered “fret”—is full of “do’s.” Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell, enjoy, delight, commit, be still, wait, refrain—all this in just the first eight verses.

Fear is a paralyzing poison that immobilizes us into doing nothing. Why do you suppose the big cats roar? The intimidation tactic turns their targeted prey into hotdog-on-a-stick.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said we have nothing to fear but fear itself. He may have been thinking of Psalm 34:4. John Wayne said courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway. Sounds like the first eight verses of Psalm 37.

But Jesus said, Don't be afraid, I'm here.*

In the middle of the night when all I see is darkness and all I hear is the beating of my own heart, what Jesus said wins out over the platitudes of men who once lived.

When I need help, give me the words of the God-man who still lives—the One who will back them up with His presence.

*Mark 6:50; Matt. 14:27; Matt. 28:20

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Don’t worry. Chill. Relax.

The singing King of Israel tells us three times in the 37th Psalm, “Do not fret.” He’s not suggesting we shouldn’t play the guitar—he’s talking about an attitude of the heart and mind.

“Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong … do not fret when men succeed in their ways … do not fret—it leads only to evil” (Psalm 37:1, 7, 8 NIV).

That is exactly the kind of teaching I need: clearly repetitious.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines the word fret: to cause to suffer emotional strain: VEX. The Hebrew language defines the word with more sensory detail: to glow or grow warm; to blaze up, burn.

The dictionary definition summons images of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. The Hebrew version sounds more like me.

The “frets” of this Psalm crystalized for me one day when I went openly to the Lord and confessed my sin. My journal entry that morning read, “I have three bed fellows: fear, resentment, and envy.”

The confession had a cleansing effect, as if the Lord had said to me, “Come clean.” When I did, release began.

Further journal entries examined the objects of my fear, resentment and envy, and as I wrote—a process akin to prayer for me—the recorded words of Jesus spoke in my heart:

“The truth will set you free.”

Only then did I see that the ancient acrostic poem in Psalm 37 had become an acrostic for me: Fear, Resentment, Envy—the first three letters of the word fret. So where was the T?

“Torment” was a possibility, considering the way I felt. But I found what I was looking for in the book of Job, the last two verses of the third chapter:

“What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

That was the word—turmoil. Turmoil and peace cannot coexist in one’s spirit. Turmoil and quietness do not walk hand in hand. Turmoil does not allude to the restful presence of God.

Turmoil roiled in my heart.

If you know what it’s like to heave on the waves of turmoil, join me over the next several weeks and dig deeper into what it means to FRET—and what it doesn’t mean.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What Are You Neglecting?

If you Google “intentional neglect” you’ll find an array of complex information and discouraging news. It’s not light reading.

However, that phrase lodged in my mind several weeks ago when our pastor encouraged his Sunday-evening congregation to intentionally neglect those things that keep them from their goals and purposes.

He was not talking about neglecting people or responsibilities, but activities that grab hold of our attention and devour our time. Email. Television. Computer games, and other misplaced priorities that aren’t necessarily bad.

He shared the story of a violinist who felt compelled to complete all her household chores before practicing. Her compulsion to clean took precedence over development of her gift. She finally realized that she would never become a virtuoso until she put her gift first.

Though I am not a violinist, I can relate with this woman’s compulsive behavior for tying up loose ends. As I work at my writing, stealing hours and minutes throughout a busy day, I am constantly tempted by uncompleted chores around me—things that should be done.

The “shoulds” are deadly.

In personal application, intentional neglect means that I do only one household chore per day when I am under deadline, check only important email, and click off the Internet before I’m tempted to read the latest headline, gossip or gadget report.

Our pastor biblically encouraged us through Nehemiah 6, a chapter which outlines the distractions Nehemiah faced when trying to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem in the 400s BC. He had many detractors, yet he maintained his focus. How?

“But I prayed.”*

Nehemiah’s constant contact with the Lord kept him on target. He knew he was called, he knew his purpose, and he knew the source of his strength.
We have this same access to the God of creation, repair, and redemption. Do we use it?

We all neglect something because it is impossible to do everything. The question is, are we neglecting the right things?

*(Neh. 6:9b NIV)

Thank you, Pastor Brian Withrow.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

You Never Know

It’s a puny planet, a wee world.

A limited venue.

Okay, okay—so much for trying to avoid the “small world” cliché. But it is so true.

We meet unexpected people in the most unexpected places. Coincidence? Hardly.

As in my recent acquaintance with a deceptively soft-spoken woman named Joy.

I say deceptively soft-spoken because she is a warrior. As author of the book Identifying the Hierarchy of Satan: A Handbook for Wrestling to Win! Joy A. Schneider is not to be underestimated.

Joy was one of my roommates at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference in Estes Park last month. I was there hoping to interest an agent or publisher in my proposed devotional book, Sometimes Life’s a Rodeo. In the process, I learned more about how rodeo has impacted people who have nothing to do with the cowboy world.

Like Joy.

One Sunday morning 35 years ago, Joy turned on a televised broadcast from Calvary Chapel in Denver, Colorado and heard the testimony of a man with a painted face, baggy pants, striped shirt and red suspenders. No, he was not the preacher, nor was he with the circus. He was rodeo clown Wilbur Plaugher, co-founder of the Cowboy Chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, today known as the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys.

Joy trusted Christ as her savior that morning, right there in front of the television set and the rodeo clown. She has not been the same since.

So you see, you never know. You never know who may be listening to your life on this spinning speck, weighing your words and changing their course.

Regardless of how heavy your makeup and mismatched your clothes.

For more information on the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys, see

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Not Today

Some are touting today as The Last Day.

I do not believe that today will mark the end of the world, the rapture (departure) of Christians, or the return of Jesus. I believe all of these events will take place, but not today.

If I am wrong, cool. I'm ready. If you live near me (and are not a believer) you may take my piano, guitar, car and anything else left behind.

If I am right, I still plan on being ready. Isn’t that the bottom line?

The Bible tells us that we won’t know the exact date of the above mentioned events, because they will come “as a thief in the night,” and as in the days of Noah—when no one is expecting anything out of the ordinary.

We do not know how many days we have left—individually or collectively. But we can know if we are ready to meet our creator and savior.

Are you?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Like Mother, Like Son

Easter was two weeks ago. Already, it’s Mother’s Day.

I don’t recall Easter ever falling so close to Mother’s Day, but the confluence of the two is wider than merely this year’s calendar.

Consider Mary, the mother of Christ. She never experienced our American custom of maternal recognition. She didn’t even know anything about Christmas, the season that usually brings her to our western minds. Easter? Nope. But she is intricately connected to all three observances.

This year, as I ponder the influence of mothers on their children, I wonder if the mother of Christ somehow helped prepare him for his calling as the sacrificial Lamb of God.

On the night of his blood-sweating prayer and ultimate betrayal, as all creation held its breath, did Jesus remember something he had heard at his mother’s knee? Did he consider what she had told him about a choice she made as a young woman? Did her words from three decades earlier influence him when he said, “Not my will but yours be done”?

Mary, in essence, had said the same thing. When she heard that God had chosen her to bear his son in human flesh, she said, “Okay.” Did she consider the cost? Had she known what she would face – the whispers, the wagging heads, the possible threats to her very life?

What does it cost to say, “Not my will, but yours be done”?

Obedience is a rare and precious gift that we can present to our Lord. But we can also give it to our children as we demonstrate our faith in God. Without the faith to obey, Jesus might have turned from the cross, and Mary might have said, “Not me.”

For both of them, obedience brought the miracle.

I wonder: What miracle will spring from my obedience, if any?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Jesus: Dead or Alive

Slip out of time with me and consider:
Jesus is dead.

Crucifixion will do that.

But it was just his body that died.


I don’t know too many people who aren’t doing everything they can to protect their bodies from death. Most of us try to avoid it at all cost, sometimes at great cost.

Jesus did not. He gave his body.

But all things are possible, right? Isn’t that what the angel told Jesus' mother 33 years earlier? She proved it to be true when she believed the message, conceived the word, and bore a child.

Imagine how thrilled she must have been when her boy made water jars pour out wine, and blind men see the light, and crippled children dance. She must have thought Yes! when he rode into town through cheering crowds. All things are indeed possible!

Yet what did she think at Golgotha where a cross bore her babe and his hands poured out blood and the demons danced? O God, this can’t be possible!

Was his death the finale of her faith?

What of the promise?

What of the miracles?

What of that great, cheering crowd?

Yet, don’t we respond the same way during our darkest days of entombment?

“Everything was going so well.”

“I was so close to victory!”

“What happened?”

“Did I miss God?”

And then the third day dawned. Morning and men found the tomb empty. Jesus’ body was gone - walking gone. Instilled anew with life.

Indeed, all things are possible.

And we, like his mother and others across the ages, cry, “Jesus is alive!”

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Too much information. The clamor is killing me!

I want to run screaming from my computer and all the visual noise of earthquakes, floods, budgets, celebrity divorces and over-paid athletes. Will it never end?

As a matter of fact, it will. As soon as I turn off the Internet, the television and the radio, and put down the newspaper.

So this morning I picked up my Bible and began reading Psalm 46.

“God is our refuge and strength ...” Ah, yes, this is what I need. But soon the turmoil came: the earth gave way, mountains fell into the sea, the waters roared and foamed, mountains quaked with the surging.

Oh my gosh, Japan! And every other place that has ever been racked by earthquakes.

I kept reading, and for a brief interlude saw a peaceful river flowing through the City of God before things churned up again. Destruction brought images of Libya, Sudan, Egypt and Afghanistan, but God stepped in to break the bow and shatter the spear, and burn the shields with fire.

And there was the answer: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Could this be what I need, to simply still my heart and the noise in my life? Could these old, old words apply even to my modern life?

Regardless of what nature sends, regardless of how men and nations boast and threaten and stage themselves, God is still God.

He is still there.

Still waiting for me.


And when I still myself, I hear him.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sometimes life’s a rodeo: Expect the unexpected

Have you ever felt like you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, about to be pummeled through no fault of your own? Have you ever asked, What did I do to deserve this?

An Old Testament king named Hezekiah looked through his window one day and saw the Assyrian army camped outside. The biblical account says, “After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah” (II Chronicles 32:1 NIV).

Seems unfair, doesn’t it? Hezekiah had been so faithful. How could God let the enemy get so close? What had Hezekiah done wrong, that such a large, seemingly unbeatable force could close in around him?

Hezekiah fell on his face before God and said, “If you don’t save us, it’s all over.”

I’ve seen the same thing at a rodeo.

When my husband was a barrel man, he often went head to head with a big lanky bull called The Grizz. This long-legged monster could step right over Mike’s red and white striped clown barrel and camp on the bullfighter behind it. Or isolate him in the middle of the arena.

One particular day everything stopped, even The Grizz. The bullfighter, down on one knee, looked Grizz in the eye and the crowd knew what to expect.

The big bovine swished his tail to one side, snorted, blinked … and walked off toward the out gate.

The bullfighter leaped to his feet and dashed for the fence, and with one collective breath, the astounded audience cheered.

Maybe ol’ Grizz saw an angel behind the kneeling clown.

That's what happened with Hezekiah: the Lord sent an angel to annihilate the Assyrian soldiers and their king withdrew.

Adverse circumstances can make us doubt that God is paying attention. However, he still intervenes today in the lives of his people - and more important than that is his presence in the lives of his people on an even deeper level than Hezekiah experienced.

The Lord is with us in everything we face and has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV).

The next time we ask, Where are the blessings and benefits? Where are the good times and abundance? How can God let bad things happen? let’s remember that the Lord himself walks with us.

Even though our challenges may be bigger than we can handle, they are never bigger than our God.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

“The Lord answered Job out of the storm.”

Wouldn’t you rather hear from God in church, where it’s safe and dry and predictable? Or from your sofa while you’re relaxing after a long day.

How about when everything is going you way? Wouldn’t that be a great time to hear the voice of God?

I’ll admit there have been times like these when I heard the Lord speak to my heart. Those moments of the still small voice have filled me with comfort and hope.

But when God speaks to me out of the storm, there is no doubt about who’s doing the talking.

No other voice can reach me above the roar of the crashing waves. No one else can find me in the debris, or lift me from the fallen facades of my life.

No one else can calm the fear and bring peace.

He is bigger than the storm.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Who's at the end of your rope?

Praise is the rope by which
the Lord lifts me from the
dark pit.

His hands grip one end,
strong to pull me up
as I cling to the other.
His face grows closer
as I rise
and I see his smile.

Clean me off, Lord.
Set me on a sure and solid place.
Show me which way to go.

And Lord,
may I sing for you
this new song in my heart?

Psalm 40:1-3

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tomorrow: By the time you get there it's today

After driving our pickup home on icy roads with snow blowing sideways and a semi bearing down on me, I had a much deeper appreciation for the phrase “white-knuckling it.” I was just grateful to make it to our driveway without sliding off the highway or adorning the hood of the semi.

My husband calls snow the Great Equalizer. It slows everyone, covers everyone. All of us are the same: travelers struggling to make it safely to our destinations, whether in semis or pickups.

As much as I love the beauty of the falling flakes, I’ll admit I groused about dashing through them from the parking lot to the grocery store that day. “My hair will frizz as soon as it dries,” I whined.

My world is so immediate. I took the pickup that morning without much thought of a snowy day. Didn’t take a muffler. No umbrella. No extra coat in the back seat.

This is Colorado; I knew better.

Remember when your mother said, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today”? People credit Thomas Jefferson with those words, but I don’t believe it. It had to be someone from Colorado where the weather can drop 30 degrees in 10 minutes and you can use sun tan oil and snow boots on the same day. It had to be someone like me who put off taking her broken glasses into town on Saturday because she was going on Sunday so she’d do it then and save a trip.

Ha! Not here. Not when a winter blizzard can blow in hours before it’s predicted, clog your driveway with snow and coat the highways in sheet ice.

Guess who spent three days trying to read and work at the computer in a white-out?

Procrastination cost me a lot, but it also gave me something in return: blurred vision and a killer headache.

Some people put off going to the doctor. Others put off saving money, exercising, eating right or talking to God.

Snow isn’t the only equalizer, so it time. We don’t get tomorrow. We think we do, but by the time we get there, it’s today.

Whatever it is you need to do, from saving money to talking to God, do it today. It’s really the only time you have.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Out of Control

A small natural disaster created a major inconvenience here the other day. On national radar it was a blip; locally it was a rockslide.


Seven thousand tons of rock slipped off the mountain and across U.S. Highway 50 like a string of broken beads. The 20-foot swath closed the two-lane road west of Canon City for nearly a week. Commuters, tourists and delivery trucks had to reroute more than 100 miles out of their way.

Twenty feet doesn’t seem like much, roughly the length of a modern living room. But when individual boulders are themselves 20 feet across, there’s no getting around the issue.

Road crews broke, blasted and drilled the boulders into more manageable pieces before loading them into trucks. Three hundred truck loads, by the way, to clear the main artery that flows through Colorado’s Arkansas River canyon.

It doesn’t take much to stop our forward progress: a big rock, downsizing, a disabled refrigerator, a disabling illness, rumors of war, death.

How startling to discover that we are not in control.

How dare those rocks slide into our path. How dare our boss fire us. How dare we get sick now, when we’re so busy.

How dare the carefully threaded beads of my life come tumbling down around my feet and roll away.

And how glad I am - truly - that it’s not all up to me after all.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

They've Come!

At last, the finches and sparrows have come to my feeder. It took a foot of snow, freezing temperatures and chilling wind, but they came.

The feeder hung outside my living room window for months while the birds skittered and scratched around beneath it, ignoring its luscious fare. Finally, when they couldn’t work things out on their own, couldn’t find enough to eat, couldn’t reach through 12 inches of snow with their twig-like legs, they looked up and there it was. Full and easily accessible.

This sounds an awful lot like my personal journey with God. Does he, in his infinite wisdom, see the storm coming and know it will work something good in my life? Does he use deep distress, frozen circumstances and chilly relationships to show me he has a better way?

Does he know that when I can’t make things work on my own, I show up at his window sill?

He’s always there, waiting there for me.

Why don’t I just go to him in the first place?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Got a bullish problem in your life?

Do not be afraid of their faces,
for I am with you to deliver you says the Lord

(Jeremiah 1:8 NKJV).

Jeremiah was a biblical prophet called by God to preach to his backsliding countrymen - not exactly a coveted career. He argued that he was just a kid, prophetically speaking, not a public orator. He might have said, “Look at these people, God. They’ll never listen to someone like me!”

But God told Jeremiah not to be moved by what he saw, not to be intimidated by the scowls, frowns and threatening looks. He encouraged Jeremiah to focus on what he didn’t see.

“I am with you,” God said.

That’s a promise we can count on today - whether we’re facing down a mob of opposition or an ocean of apathy.

Cowboys often stand around before the rodeo studying the horse or bull they’ve drawn to ride, asking others who have ridden the animal how it moves, which way it turns. Does it cut back, spin, kick? Animals, like people, are creatures of habit. They usually follow a pattern, and riders feel better prepared if they know what’s coming.

But a rider can psych himself out by focusing too much on his opponent. It’s easy to look a bull in the eye, watch it paw the ground, and let its reputation rip you apart. It’s better if a cowboy is prepared, geared up and outfitted properly with his head on straight. Then he’ll have an opportunity to ride for the full eight seconds and get off safely.

It’s the same in life’s other arenas. Where is our focus? Is it on the opposition, or our support system? Is it on the evils and accidents of this world, or our loving Creator and Defender.

Instead of allowing what we see to frighten us into a stupor, let’s remember that God is still with us today. And he is bigger than anything we may face.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Rest of the Story

“Rest. O God, I need rest.”

I’ll give you rest.


You’re tired, overloaded.

“No kidding.”

Come to me.


Here, put this on.

“Wait a minute--“

It’s mine; try it.

“But this is a …”

Learn from me.

“Learn what?”

Undemanding gentleness and humility.

“But doesn’t this mean more work?”

It is soul-rest.

“I could use that.”

Put in on; I’ll be right next to you.

“But it’s a yoke.”

My burden is light.


I am the Light of the world.

“I see.”

You will.

Matthew 11:28-30

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Only the Clean and Unbroken

I drove past the local flower shop, and cringed when I read the sign.

“Only the Clean and Unbroken.”

I knew the store owner was recycling floral vases and encouraging people to bring them in rather than throw them away. I knew the sign referred to the inexpensive glass containers used to deliver bouquets and rosebuds.

But somehow the words felt like a personal indictment: I was anything but clean and unbroken.

“Oh, God,” I thought. “What if you required me to be unsoiled and whole before coming to you? What would I do with the stained and broken pieces of my life?

Israel’s great shepherd-king wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17 NIV).

The Message version puts it this way: “Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”

King David cried out in Psalm 51 as a broken and sin-stained man. He had not only stolen another man’s wife, but also had that man killed. As a result, an innocent child died. Not exactly a pristine situation.

Yet David knew he could run to his God in spite of the blood on his hands and the blackness of his heart. He knew the Lord would look on his brokenness and repentance and forgive him, wash him, and make him whole again.

Centuries later when Jesus was accused by religious leaders of hanging out with the riff-raff, he replied, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit.” (Mark 2:17 The Message).

God is in the recycling business, but unlike the local florist, he restores and recycles human wreckage.

Yes, he wants to use us again, but first he will do what we cannot: put us back together and wash us with the sin-cleansing blood of Jesus.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

There is a spot between a rock and a hard place
called a cleft: a crack, crevice or fissure.

I’ve been there. Have you?
It’s not so bad. In fact, it’s rather secure and protective.
Nothing can reach me there.
Nothing but the hand of God.

That’s where Moses was when desperation backed him up against the mountain.

He was arguing with God because everything he had worked for so long and hard had shattered around his feet.

He was arguing with God because things weren’t going the way he planned. People had disappointed him. He had disappointed himself. Life was not good.

“You said you’d go with me -- where are you?” he shouted.

Had he forgotten the Red Sea?

“I am with you,” God said.

“Prove it. Show yourself.”

A death wish? No one sees the face of God and lives to tell about it.

Have you been that desperate? So desperate that death seems better than what you’re going through?

I have.

But God said,

“There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.”

And he hid Moses in the hard place - the cleft - and covered him with his hand.
The hand that held a man of clay,
and held back the sea,
and would one day hold the nails.

And as he passed by, Moses peeked out and saw the back of God.

Have you been that close to God?
In the hard place?
Where fear and fatalism die?

It is the sweetest place I know.

So why do I wait for pain to push me into his presence?
When I can choose to be in that place

near God.
On a rock.

“And I will … cover you with my hand.”

O God, cover me.

Exodus 33:21,22


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ever feel like you’re missing the performance because you’re stuck under the bleachers?

When Mike was rodeoing, our first Fourth of July run into Montana took us to Red Lodge - an Old West type of town tucked up against the mighty Bear Tooth Mountains. As was our custom, we parked our rig back of the holding pens and unloaded our menagerie: Mike’s clown mule Ike, our border collie Bobbie, four guinea hens, two chickens, and a little pound-found mop of a dog we called Fifi.

Busy with our routine of making camp, we failed to notice the meandering mule work itself underneath the aluminum bleachers bordering the backside of the arena. We didn’t see how Ike had gotten in there, but when we noticed his predicament, we knew it wouldn’t be easy getting him out.

Ike’s hankering for the tender mountain grass lured his muzzle and the rest of him over and under the aluminum crossbeam supports. Leading a horse to water is one thing, but leading a mule through a maze of metal proved to be something else altogether.

It took most of the afternoon, a bucket full of grain and a strong lead rope to drag that mule back out from under those bleachers. Mike and couple of cowboys would coax it down on its knees and pull it under one beam, then it would jump to its feet and they’d have to start all over again. It was a lot harder on Ike coming out than it had been going in.

I can relate to Ike.

It’s a lot more fun getting into trouble than getting out.

Most of us don’t notice where temptation is leading, especially when we’re just taking one little curious step at a time. But when we finally stop and look around, we see we’re trapped, just like that mule, with no way of getting out of our predicament on our own.

Our good Lord never leads us in the wrong way. But when we wander off, if we ask for his help, he’ll sure get us back on the right path - even if the going might be a little rough.

James 1:13

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Follow through on that good idea

“I’m drawing a blank,” said the caption beneath the girl’s empty cartoon frame. She smiled up at me. “Funny, huh?”

I had to admit it was funny, but a cop-out, too.

“The assignment is to draw a cartoon: single frame with caption below, or four-frame strip with bubbled dialogue inside.”

What a great class, I thought as I strolled through the seventh-graders, reading over their shoulders, encouraging their creativity. As a substitute teacher I’ve seen just about everything, including an eighth grader launching a calculator across the room at her ex-boyfriend. He ducked and it shattered on the linoleum. It was the teacher’s calculator.

So comics were cake, as far as I was concerned. And a viable means of communication as well. Did I, myself, not turn first to the political cartoon in the daily newspaper? And what about my collection of B.C. comic strips? A lot can be said with stick figures and a witty remark.

A group of boys at one table came up with the idea of cereal killers and they snickered over murderous spoons and poisonous milk. They loved the play on words, or homophones as those in pedagogical circles call them, but one bemoaned the pun as too obvious.

“Someone else has probably already thought of it,” he said.

Yes, I told him. There are very few truly unique ideas. Most of what we cook up has already been contemplated by someone else.

“There are a lot of ideas, but not everyone acts on them,” I said. “Do something about it. Be different.”

I once heard a literary agent tell a group of aspiring writers that ideas were a dime a dozen. (The worn cliché surprised and disappointed me, but then again, we are all susceptible on the spur of the moment.)

“Write the book,” she said. “Don’t just send me a paragraph with a great idea; write the book.”

In other words, act on it. Follow through. Be different. And so I continue to pound away at my keyboard when I’m not teaching, wrapping bone and sinew and muscle around my ideas to make them into some thing, some thing that is more than just some idea.

What ideas do you have yet to act upon? Move on them. Take action! Follow through and create as others before you have done - those to whom we owe buckets of gratitude.

Consider the zipper. Microwave. Sticky notes. Toilet paper. All ideas that someone - probably many someones - had, that some one acted upon.

In the words of one of those seventh-grade, commercial-savvy cartoonists, “What’s in your head?”

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The trees are raining

Diamonds wink
from every branch
and at the touch of sunlight,
in liquid crystal.

I hear it
beneath blue morning sky
where moments before all
in silent frost.

Sun breath
melts the glaze
into a dripping,

Just like my
and hardened heart
beneath the breath
of God.