God Can’t Make You But You Can Let Him

Just when you think there’s going to be a breather between some professional sports championship or another, a new season starts. Remember the Sweet Sixteen in basketball? Done. Now we have baseball to think about. Our Seattle Mariners have already played several games—they’re about even for wins and losses—but I still can’t get used to it.  In my mind baseball is a summer sport, but the April weather in the Pacific Northwest says anything but summer. No matter; our M’s are used to the rain and sunshine so they travel here and there, swinging at pitches, throwing, catching and striking out. It’s practice, practice, practice.

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Little League baseball wasn’t around when I was little, we just had our neighborhood match-ups, usually boys against the girls. I’ll never forget that fateful day when my head collided with a bat. I was playing catcher; my friend Colleen was up to bat and when she swung through her pitch, I ended up getting knocked ‘thwap!’ in the head. I fell down unconscious and the next thing I remember was sitting in the front seat of our station wagon, a rag held to my pounding head, my mom frantically driving to the hospital. We made it to the emergency room where I received a multitude of stitches. I still have the suggestion of a mild lump right above my left eye and a very, very faint scar. That’s a fun story to tell but there is nothing fun about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

* * * * *

   God’s not using a bat these days but he is budging me ever closer to playing my own position in the correct game in the season where He’s called me to practice. Because, boy, can I get in the wrong place. The field of Christian bloggers is a big one, the voices out there are many and the messages come thick and fast. I fall prey time and time again to wondering what all the other players are doing.  I don’t want to just be outstanding in my field, I want to be outstanding in everyone else’s field—looking at the uniforms, admiring the bright colors, noticing the cheer of the crowd when a star player is up to bat.

Then I hear the voice of The Coach hollering at me from the dugout, “Keep your eye on the ball!”

“No, your own ball, not that one!”

I am prone to want to be everywhere else instead of exactly where God has called me to be.

I want to sound and look like the homerun hitters, the crowd pleasers. I imagine the cheers and attention of onlookers applauding my brilliant plays. Wouldn’t it be grand to have all those followers?

And there He is again, an aside this time, just He and I standing at the edge of the grass as the sun goes down.  A whisper, “You weren’t made for the big crowds, the nameless faces. You want a personal touch when you swing your words out into the world, connecting with people one at a time. That’s who you are.”

The reminder rings true deep down.

I wasn’t called to be playing the field out under the lights, waving to the fans in the stadium. I’m more of a snack bar conversation kinda gal, chatting one-on-one with the folks in front of me in line waiting for their hot dog and coke. You know, where we can talk about the weather and our kids and our week.

I come alive when I’m sharing in an intimate group around a living room or kitchen table, talking in a small chapel or chatting with friends on a front porch. I feel the pleasure of God and the most like myself when what I have to say is welcomed bit by bit, little by little, one friendship and one connection at a time.

* * * * *

When a principle or phrase is being drilled down into our spirits, don’t we often say God is really “driving it home?” Maybe it’s because He knows how many times we have to run the bases to come around again and again to what we know is true. And I’ve been running the bases a lot.

I know my propensity for distraction, the mixed-up desires I have to be like everybody else, but I’m turning again in the direction of the dugout early and more often. When I consider the corner of the world where I’ve been given a chance to bring light to others, when a bat goes swinging and a ball comes my way, I’m learning to stand my ground and yell, “not mine! Not mine!” and let another player catch it.

If I start complaining about my position on the field, or glance at the scoreboard to see who’s ahead, I remind myself to stay tuned to the Coach. My prayers are changing from, “God please help me hear you,” to, “God, I give you permission to speak. As many times as you need to, remind me this patch of grass, right here at short stop, glove in hand is where I need to stay.”

“And if you need to, yell like all good coaches do.”

I’m keeping my eyes on the ball, and if it connects with the bat and gets knocked out of the park, I’ll let God decide who sees it. I’m just going to keep on swinging.

A Letter to My Son After a Visit With His Children

“Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,  Who finds great delight in his commands.

His children will be mighty in the land;  The generation of the upright will be blessed.” Ps. 112:1,2

Dear Aaron,

After several days looking forward to seeing you and your family this weekend, it seems like I blinked and our Easter visit was over. Next thing I knew, your Dad and I were comparing notes on the three hour drive home, like reporters who’d been at the same baseball game only on opposite sides of the field. I’ll go with the baseball metaphor here; although the nine of us were in and out of each others’ dugouts, most of the weekend we were there I hardly had a chance to talk with you. Dad was filling you in on all the particulars of his old pick up truck that we were giving you or you were tending to one of your brood.

It was clear we’d each missed some significant plays on the field, what with all the player movement and such. (Argh with metaphor. Blame it on the pre-season Mariners game you and Dad were listening to.) Of course with four grown ups and five children aged 14 years to 5, there are a lot of moving parts to our visit; it was impossible to be everywhere all at once, privy to every conversation.

Somewhere on the I-5 between the capital in Olympia and the main gate at Ft. Lewis Army base, I told him about my interactions with each of the kids and Dad shared the various conversations he’d taken part in.

We thought you’d like us to fill in some of what you missed and may not know about your wonderful kids. Your investment in their lives is pouring out in God-honoring ways.

  • Friday night while Dad was going to pick you up from work I waited for the kids and Courtney to arrive and join me at the hotel. They anticipated a pizza dinner and a swim at the pool. That hotel apartment with the full kitchen was a godsend, especially since we needed a place to cook two pizzas! After cutting and serving various portions of combo or pepperoni, we finally sat down at the table together. Although some of the kids were several bites in, when I said, “let’s stop and pray”, everybody stopped to link hands. Peter and Abi each announced, “I’ll pray! I’ll pray!”

Peter was first and poured out a grateful heart, thanking God for “not being homeless” and “having Grandpa and Grandma give us a truck.” He also told God he was happy about the pizza. The ease of his words and his ready attitude showed me he was used to talking to God about just about anything, which will do him well in his almost 11-year-old life.

  • As we were driving along, I remarked to your dad about the pizza dinner prayers. “Well, you should have heard Abigail later on,” he said. “I was talking about my ear recent surgery to help me hear and she offered to lay hands on me and pray for me.”

“Oh, Grandpa, I’m sorry you’ve had so much trouble with your ears,” she said. “God thank you for making a way for Grandpa to hear better.” She didn’t hesitate a bit; it was clear that a conversation with Jesus was a very natural thing to have.

You and Courtney have done a great job modeling for your children how to pray.

  • While you and Dad were finally catching up on pizza in the hotel apartment we all took to the pool to swim. I was amazed at 7 year old Paul and the way he took to showing me all he could do in the water. “Get your phone, take a video, Nana!” And he proceeded to jump off the edge of the pool, cannonballing into the water and waving his arms Olympic style when he rose up to the surface. He was so proud of himself; I remember on our many past visits over the years that he was often the one sitting on the pool steps, too timid to even get wet.

Good job investing in all those YMCA swim lessons for your kids—it’s made Paul a confident young man.

  • I remarked to Dad also about the way your oldest, Hanan, hung out with him and enjoyed all the car talk. He loved being with both of you guys, taking part in all the particulars of tires and engines and carburetors. Clearly the male bonding over speed and fast cars is a real thing. You may not have noticed, but we did. That 14 year old likes being around you. That is no small miracle.
  • Sunday morning after church we offered to go pick up all the kids from Sunday School so you and Court could visit with friends. Luke, the 5 year old, showed me his cross picture he’d made. “That’s Jesus there on the cross, Nana. I drew Him.”  “And this here” (scribbled orange color) “is the Holy Spirit,” and this (scribbled green color) “is God,” “and this” (scribbled brown color) “is the devil.” “Jesus beat the devil and He won.” “That’s why we have Easter.”

Feeding and clothing your family and getting yourselves to church each week is no small feat. Courtney and you do an amazing job making it a priority—the truths your kids are learning are sinking in and making a difference in your childrens’ lives.

~~~~~

Most people have photographs of their family on Easter morning, but this weekend I have memories instead.  We packed a lot into twenty four hours–pizza night, swimming time, church together, Easter brunch, and Dad’s crash course about the pick up we were gifting you. It’s impossible to recall when we were all actually still long enough for a photo, so I’ll have to close my eyes instead and remember.

Sunday morning, Grandpa in his ponytail and cool shoes, you with your new spiffy hat, Paul’s bowtie, Hanan’s towering frame or us girls in all our Easter finery. Peter snuggling that afternoon with his mom for a nap, favorite stuffed toy next to him.

Photos can gather what’s seeable but they’ll never catch what’s invisible—the respect, love and care families have for God and one another.

Those are just as real as any picture on my frig or in my phone. Your dad and I rejoice and applaud you for the way you and Courtney have kept the first things first.

Those are the memories we take with us; I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

I love you son,

Mom

~~~~~

Sunday night as I scrolled through Instagram and Facebook on our drive home from Portland to Seattle, I smiled at all the Easter family photos I saw. This year we had none–except my daughter in law at the pool with my grandkids. (oh, and Paul’s Olympic jumping video). I was pondering what to write for a blog post and this came to me….I’ll send it to my son, but wanted to honor him here and share with you, too. I hope you don’t mind me inviting you into our family–thank you!

 

 

 

Christian Bookstore, Holy Week

Jesus and I are on an outing the week before Easter.  We pull up to the strip mall; He unbuckles his seatbelt as I turn off the ignition.  As we climb out of the car and walk towards an open door He remarks, “Oh, a Christian bookstore; let’s see what they’re selling.”

We step inside and nearly run into a banner displaying ‘Resurrection Eggs.” The table holds cardboard cartons with plastic egg-shaped containers inside.  A sample shows Scripture verses are tucked inside.

“How are these used?” He ponders, puzzling as he holds one in His hand.
“They’re eggs. Are they for farm children?  And why are they called ‘Resurrection Eggs’?  I wasn’t hatched on Easter morning.”

He has a point. I hesitate.
“Well, Lord, they’re witnessing tools. Kind of a combination of the pagan traditions around Springtime mixed with Biblical truths.”

“Oh…I wonder why they had to mix things up like that.  The truth can stand on its own.  Why did they have to put it in such a fancy package?”

I have no answer.

He picks up several items on the table–a Resurrection banner, a “He is Risen” coffee mug.
“I see they’re made in China. Actually, everything’s made in China–are there that many Christians in China, to make all this?” He sweeps his arm through the air, surveying the store.

“Well, Lord, the labor’s cheaper there so it’s a wise use of money, I guess.”
“Cheap labor?  That sounds like exploiting people and taking advantage of their station in life.

“I didn’t die for that.”

We peruse the shelves and I mention the names of Christian friends who have new books out.  We look for their titles in the front of the store but have to wander a few aisles before we get to the Christian Living section.

“Why are there sections?” Jesus asks.  “Isn’t it all Christian Living?”

The book titles are interesting and some are a bit of a surprise.
He pulls down a volume titled, “Wounded by God’s People.”

“Oh, it’s by Anne Graham Lotz.  I know her father, Billy.  I gave him many, many messages to share with the world and he always went wherever I asked him to.  He has always told people how I loved them so.”
A sad look comes over his face as he fingers the title.  ‘Wounded by God’s People.’

“I didn’t die for that.”

We look around for my friend’s book.  I mention her name–Jennifer.  “She’s a reporter from Iowa,” I tell Him.

“Oh, I remember giving her that book to write.  She decided to call it ‘Love Idol’.  Let’s go see if they have it.

We turn to the Women’s Section, thinking the little yellow book should be there.
“Again with the sections,” he laments. “Why all these divisions? I died for everyone.”

We ask a clerk about the title I’m looking for; Christ’s eyes widen at the response.
“We couldn’t stock the book, I’m sorry.  It had the word ‘idol’ in the title.”

“But this is a Christian bookstore, right?  Where you want to shine a light on sin and tell the truth, right? That’s what her book is about–setting people free.”

The puzzled clerk simply repeats, “I’m sorry, sir, we can’t carry it.”

I can tell the Lord has had enough.
“Maybe we should go,” I suggest.
Jesus agrees and decides He won’t purchase anything, having paid for it all already.

As we walk out the door and look towards the lightening sky over the cars He mentions the days ahead, Easter on the horizon.

“Perhaps we can find some people tomorrow who are truly Christians living.
After all, that’s what I died for.”
~~~~~~~~~
The seeds for this post began when I went to look for a book by Jennifer Dukes Lee at a Christian bookstore during the week before Easter. I hadn’t set foot in one for some time as I had been overwhelmed on my previous visit with a kind of sick feeling at all the commercialism and not-like-Jesus displays.
I couldn’t help wondering what Jesus would have thought of the kinds of marketplaces Christian bookstores have become.
Shouldn’t they be different than a secular bookstore, maybe sharing truth and shining the light–ALL OF THE LIGHT that Jesus brought into the world?
~~~~~
this is a slightly edited version of a post which first appeared in April 2014

Why Rear View Mirrors are Better Than Windshields

“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,

Shining ever brighter till the full light of day.”

Proverbs 4:18

When I began this year, God gave me a word–“adjust.” Last year I spent time ‘abiding’, year before that it was ‘dwell’ (very similar) and the year before that, my word was ‘fit’–how does what I’m doing in my walk with Jesus fit with what He says?

When I heard the Holy Spirit say “adjust,” I had the sense that I’d be moving in a particular direction–writing a book this year–but as I was moving God would have to make some course corrections.

About the same time, our pastor’s New Year’s message was from the book of Nehemiah about the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem. The rebuilding task was overwhelming, but Nehemiah was undeterred. As a result of that word, “start small, start now” became my mantra. I couldn’t make overnight changes in any of the areas I wanted to see growth or movement–my health, my writing, my spiritual walk–none of it. But I could see change over time.

At the end of each day, I document what little steps have been taken in those areas on my “foursquare.” Some days I write one or two things down, some days it’s blank. The areas of growth have changed over time as well, now one of the square says “heart & soul”, one says “body”, one says, “writing” and one says, “spirit.” It’s not a journal so much as it’s a recorder.

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Little by little, there’s progress.

~*~*~*~*

I’ve also been documenting the progress of the perennial flowerbed out in our yard—one photo a month since January, on the 20th day of the month.

I had the idea because, come June, no one would ever believe that the explosion of greenery and color that is my flowerbed was once an empty spot of soggy, blank dirt. I would like to encourage myself along the way that one, something beautiful WILL grow out of that unsightly rectangle and two, it will take some time.

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This first photo makes it glaringly clear just what a ‘winter view’ is in my Seattle suburb—with no foliage on shrubs and trees, you can see miles away. Of course, the shades of gray, brown and silver bark in front of me leave me with an impatient ache. They’re hard on the eyes; I long for them to bloom.

But I need to wait a good six months.

The next month, February, I chose a different angle, illustrating the size of the bed, and giving one the impression with my rake propped against the bird feeder, that I was actually working out in the mud. Smile. There are a few suggestions of greenery against the dirt, but they are only suggestions, an ounce of earth being displaced by life.

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You’ll notice the Yellowtwig Dogwood shows up nicely against the monochrome background of the greenbelt. There is hope in the color of those bare branches, a bit of golden against the sky when we’re desperate for something to keep us going.

A few days ago I took Month Number Three’s photo—March.

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Can you see the gradual growth, the mini fireworks sprouting from the dirt? When I stand back and look from this perspective I can see a difference from last month’s photo-something is happening! Look at all the yellow–forsythia! And, if you were able to get up close, you’d see new leaves curling out in the asters and clematis at the base of that dried up piece of driftwood by the gazebo bird feeder.

You have to look closely, though.

*~*~*~*

I am always learning lessons from my garden—long, slow lessons about life.

Right now I’m preoccupied with writing a book. I told you about that last week and God’s gentle (not) way of getting my attention in the process so I could readjust my expectations.

I am reminded again that anything difficult, beautiful or creative requires three things—work, attention and time.

I cannot expect to be finished with the process unless I put in the time and attend to God’s words to me along the way. And I need to remember that although I am bounded by the constraints of the rising and setting of the sun each day, God is not. He sees the end from the beginning all at once. He knows where we’ll be….maybe we need to pay attention to the getting there rather than the being there.

Maybe you’re working through something like that now—a challenge or promise or project that is taking a frustratingly much longer amount of time to bring any progress.

May I encourage you? Rather than looking at the emptiness outside your window every day (figuratively speaking) check once a week or once a month or once a quarter and ask God, “How are things going now? How about now?” Or, “God, please give me patience for this process.”

You may find when you look back at the end that whatever was preoccupying your thoughts or worrying you went more quickly than expected. And some day you’ll look out your kitchen window at the vines and shoots and branches spilling all over the back patch of dirt and wonder, “Wow, how did those flowers come up?”

A lot of work, paying attention, and giving things time. God’s time.

~*~*~*~

For what are you waiting on God? Share in the comments.

 

When Your Life is Under Construction

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view of our backyard, early Summer, from the upper deck

I have been pondering the tension lately between between the image I project to the world about my life and what is ACTUALLY going on.

Every morning I stand at my kitchen sink, I see a variation of this view above. I often post the photos on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, giving folks well, a certain kind of impression.

Some mornings the view looks like this:

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(we’re a little nuts about birds)

or…..depending on the season, the scene outside my window might look like thisf983e-p1200391

or this

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Our backyard is pie-shaped as our lot sits at the back of a cul-de-sac; lots of grass, shrubs, garden area, roses, trees and so on

Summer garden, obviously…..

If I cast my eyes in the right direction, looking OUT….I see beauty in every direction; that’s what I want to focus on.

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