LIGHT, WHEN THERE IS NONE

Though small in stature, he was the most noticeable to me. Gray speckles dotted his white coat. Long white eye lashes rimmed eyes that stared deep into my soul. The other horses were beautiful, too, but there was something about this one that made an immediate heart connection with me.  I met him when my husband took me to a magical place that offers horse therapy for cancer patients.

After having travelled through two and a half years of treatment, I am grateful to draw breath. I am grateful to have survived so many hard things. I am grateful to my God for being with me through the journey.  But, despite the positives, my battle with cancer led to a dark place. I felt drained, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  A long stretch of lowered immunity caused by cancer drugs left me with a condition, that though not life threatening, was a daily torment. It had magnified the negatives.

Frustration, discouragement and darkness had enveloped me in such a way I couldn’t see truth, even though I knew all the right things to think and believe.  Children of God aren’t exempt from depression, anxiety, discouragement and darkness. People who say you shouldn’t feel those things aren’t being real, or helpful.

When I again visited the white horse, I held his face in my hands and told him I hadn’t done a good job of being happy.  As I poured out my struggles to him, he pressed his face against mine and stood there in the quiet gentleness of a horse hug. Peacefullness draped over me like the velvety touch of his cheek. When I left him, I felt calmer than I had in a long while, but I knew I needed deeper peace.

I’ve been searching the Word for words that bring peace.  I’ve opened my Bible many times in the last few months, only to find myself distracted and discouraged. This morning, however, words came like a gift, wrapped in the smooth cool air of early fall – ancient words, brought to new life by the Spirit.


Psalm 139: 11-18 (The Jesus Bible) (bold italics, mine)

“If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. “How amazing are your thoughts concerning me, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand – when I awake, I am still with you.”


As I contemplated those words throughout the day, it became clear that my dark places are light to my God, my heavenly Father, because He sees things with an eternal, universal, spiritual perspective that I simply do not have.  He knows the details of my life, my every anxiety, sadness and torment. My thoughts, words, actions, heart and heartaches are known to Him, and most importantly, He thinks of me.

I can only understand that at the human parent level.  I think of my girls often.  I know their joys and anxieties, their fears, challenges and sorrows.  Although I don’t know every detail of their thoughts and lives, I know them better than anyone else on the planet.  I am privileged to teach, shape, nurture and  guide them.  I delight in blessing them, especially when I know they are struggling.

My spiritual parent, the same God who wove the cells of my body together, knows me better than anyone else on the planet.  He teaches, shapes, nurtures and guides me through the valleys that come with life in a broken world.  He delights in blessing me with a devoted husband, amazing kids, friends and even the sweetness of a horse hug. 

God sees my anxieties, fears, challenges and dark places in terms of who HE is, not in terms of my circumstance.  It’s a non-human perspective that has to involve trust on my part.

Darkness enveloped the land, and the sun stopped shining on what was the darkest, yet lightest, time in history.  That event marked the death of the Son of God, who came to die for the lost and rebuild the way back to the Father.  In the deepest, blackest darkness, God saw light in terms of who HE is, not in the terms of the circumstance. 


Luke 23:44 – 45

“It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.”


The light of salvation resulted from that dark event.  The torn curtain symbolized the removal of the sin barrier between us and God.  The friends of Jesus who saw it and lived through it couldn’t see past the darkness until later.

Sometimes, tragedy, disease, and darkness are beyond our understanding, and light becomes impossible to see in the circumstance.  There is One, however, who sees beyond and through the circumstance. Grip that truth with every available fiber of your being.  Then, read Psalm 139.  Read it carefully.  Dwell inside it. It’s about your God. It’s about YOU.

NEED

Cancer has taken a lot from me, but it has left me with one thing I desperately need: the unshakeable certainty that I need Jesus.  I thought I already knew that, but cancer is a teacher like no other. Now, after a two year cancer fight, this truth yells from the structure of my core that without Him, I will fold in on myself like a beach chair without joints.

I need Jesus to grip my hand as I trudge through the side effects of preventative drugs.  I need him to wrap me in His embrace during dark, sleepless nights when the worry that cancer will return entangles me like strands of barbed wire cutting into the flesh of a warhorse on a battlefield. I need Him to wipe away the tears when disappointments and discouragements of just living life seep into my brain like poison into a wasps nest.   I need His energy when I have none.  I need Him to cover me in hope when all I feel is sadness.  I need to be bound to Him, so He can hold me up when I step into the future, and sometimes, even just to step into the next moment of time.

I need Him like the cracked ground begs for rain, like growing things need light, like the universe needs gravity, like the ocean needs the sunrise.

I need Him so I can patiently love my teenagers and work on a marriage that has thankfully lived through the survival mode brought on by illness, tragedy and family changes.

I need Him so I can look beyond the remnants and see the fabric of a future.

It’s a hard fought lesson.  It’s a hard fought choice.  Even the choosing, I cannot do on my own.

But, in His power, I will choose. 

I will be empty, so He can fill me up.

I will be without purpose, so I can live for His purposes.

I will walk without the compass of my choosing, so that He can be my true North.

I will be a blank page, so that He can write the story He wants.

Philippians 4:19

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”

DEFIANCE

Cracked

The longest crack is 36 inches. There are a dozen or more in addition to that one. They streak across the surface of the coffee table lovingly made for me, by my husband, almost ten years ago. He crafted it with boards from the small farmhouse I grew up in, old even before I was born. We pried pieces of American Beech away from the corner that made up my room, before the bulldozer came to bury the house in the past.

(You can read the back story of this table and the cat who signed it by scrolling down to July 20, 2014.)

Once the table was finished and set inside, the laws of physics slowly took over. Boards, accustomed to high humidity and cooler weather, dried out in the heat of our home, expanding, cracking and adding new features to what was once a smooth surface, marred only by cat scratches.

My husband was devastated. The table he had designed, crafted by hand, inscribed with a sweet message to me on the underside was, in his eyes, ruined. This piece was more than furniture to him, it was a memory, a bit of my history and a love note all in one. It was a reminder of the times I climbed out of my corner window to gaze at the stars from the roof of the henhouse. It was the smell of lilacs that drifted into my room through the windows on a fresh, spring night. It was the very wall, that, though worn and drafty, sheltered and protected the little girl who would one day be his bride.

The time, effort and love put into that piece, made with an eye to perfection, was now, to him disfigured and imperfect; broken, a source to remind him of what he should have done: cured the wood before he crafted the table, finished both sides of the planks, instead of leaving the underside rough, designed and constructed it differently, with discreet spacers that would have accommodated expansion and limited cracking. For a long time, he couldn’t look at it without immediately looking away.

I too, was devastated. Cat scratches were bad enough. This was so much worse.

My husband did consider cutting out the cracked boards and remaking the table, but we decided against it.

The cracks remain, but the table still stands defiantly strong in the center of our living room. The border of wood my husband bonded around the edge serves to hold the cracked boards together. Withough that border running perpendicular to the inner planks, the table would have collapsed.

TEst

Bonded and held together

Inspite of the cracks, our coffee table is used and useful, not because of what it’s made of but because its maker designed it in a special way. It’s been a surface for chemistry and physics lessons during school co-op. It’s held cookies for Santa, pizza and popcorn for movie night, clutter from everyday. It’s had water spilled into the cracks, from tipped over vases of flowers. New scratches and nicks have crisscrossed the old cat scratches, which have actually taken on new meaning. They serve to remind me of Chloe and how much our girl loved her.

Our table has become more significant because of its character and story. In profound ways, it has come to symbolize not just where I came from, but also the journey that’s led to where we are now, individually, and as a family. The fact that the boundary holds it all together represents our faith in Jesus, for He has held us together in times of tragedy and sickness.

It’s also symbolic of the life journey we, who share this earth, are all part of. Jesus knew we would have trouble, as did He. His trouble was completely undeserved, but He chose to stay on task and endure the pain, separation and the disfigurement of sin that would cause His Father to look away. In the end, He overcame sin, restored the cracked relationship between us and God and establisehd a boundary for death, which guarantees us eternal life with the Father.

As a believer, you have the Spirit of the Overcomer bonded to you, suporting you, working through you and holding you together. God does this, not just because He loves you, but because He designed you in a special way and has a purpose for you: a purpose that needs the character that comes from the journey. A purpose that uses the cracks, regrets, tragedies and the illnesses to add depth, maturity, compassion and humility to the story that is your life.

satan wants you to focus on the cracks, and all you should have done, or all that’s been done to you. If he suceeds in that, then a collapse is inevitable. God wants you to focus on the purpose He has for you and the things He can do through you, because of the Spirit in you. There are people outside His family who need to see Jesus in YOUR words, YOUR care, YOUR touch, YOUR story. Imperfections, hurts and the living of life make stories painfully REAL…

…and God uses REAL to reach people.

You have a Designer, the God of the Universe, who loves you AND has given you a directive. Stay defiantly on task.

Pray that you will be used and useful. Open up to the plan He has for you: one that will unfold, not inspite of the cracks or because of the cracks, but in defiance of the cracks.

Our table, fulfilling the purpose for which it was made

James 1:2-4 (NIV)

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Romans 4:25- 5:5 (NIV) Italics, mine

“He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Prepared, Part 4 (Mystery)

Dusk settled softly around us, as my husband, daughters and I approached the hen coop. Zulilly had been in her courtyard with the two hatchlings, Phoenix and Plum, all day. Now, she was nestled in the soft hay of the nest box in the coop my daughter had made for her. The babies were hidden beneath her feathers.

Two days before, when we knew Zulilly’s third egg would not hatch, we had hurried to the farm store to acquire four baby chicks, with the hope she would adopt them into her family. Now, we stood, with the box of babies in hand, ready to slip them in with the new mama. The sound of their cheeps carried through the box. They sounded cold and afraid.

Having grown up on a farm with many chickens, I knew that sometimes, a mother hen would accept orphan chicks, and sometimes not. Occassionaly, hens became so protective of their offspring, they would peck other babies away without mercy.

Olivia carefully set each new chick into the nest box. I stood, ready to intervene, if necessary. We watched intently as the scene unfolded.

The fluffy yellow chicks, so different from Zulilly’s own, continued cheeping pitifully. They pressed their tiny bodies against the sides of the nest box. Having had only a heat lamp for a mama, they didn’t know what to do.

Zulilly stretched out her neck towards the nearest chick. Quickly, she nudged it under her feathers. Without hesitation, she carefully guided the other three to her feathery breast. One by one, they burrowed beneath her. Their frightened cheeps quickly subsided into the warmth of contentment. Zulilly fluffed and clucked, welcoming the new babies home.

We watched her proudly. This beautiful little hen had far exceeded our expectations for mothering potential. Because of her pecky nature, she had not been our first choice of hens to set. However, she had clearly proved her merit, demonstrating a new nature that was compassionate and mericful.

The next morning, it was clear that not only had Zulilly adopted the new chicks, but they too, had adopted her.

If you have accepted Jesus as Savior, then you’ve been adopted into God’s family and can take refuge beneath the warmth of His wings. They are strong and mighty wings that have room for many.

God, the Father, who by His very nature is the definition of compassion and mercy, made this possible through Jesus, the Son. Born into a family of God’s chosen people, the Jews, Jesus wove a mystery, spoken to Abraham and explained by the teachings of Paul:

“The mystery was revealed and came back full circle to the promise God made to Abraham, that through him, and because of his obedience to God, all nations would be blessed.”

– Ephesians 1:3-10 (NIV)

(Read the backstory to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis, Chapter 22)

The mystery and blessing Paul spoke of was that salvation would be available to all people, Jew AND Gentile, through Jesus Christ. The tiny, three letter word ALL became global in its significance. Jesus, who is the Way, has made His way into the hearts of people of every race, ethnic group and nationality.

A world of people, orphaned by sin, are loved by a merciful God and invited into His family through His compassionate Son.

Is there someone you know who needs to feel loved, included and cared for, especially during the holiday season, when lack of family becomes painfully acute?

Our world is hurting and splintered. Political reform and societal change is not enough. It will never be enough. Only true adoption into God’s family, through Jesus Christ, will create changes in nature and heart.

God’s wings have sheltered and comforted me so much. I’m praying that God will put people in my path who need to be nudged into His family, so that I can show them the Way. I challenge you to do the same. May God open our eyes to an orphaned world!

Prepared, Part 3 (Knowing)

(Scroll down for Part 1, 8/1/20)

 

Waiting is harder than knowing.

After 23 daysof waiting, we knew that only two of Zulilly’s three eggs were going to hatch.  She eventually rolled the third egg out of the nest and focused on the two hatchlings.  Olivia found the egg with a crack that revealed the lifeless chick.  She sadly buried the little egg with the chick inside.  At least now, there would be no more waiting.

Knowing is easier than waiting.

Maybe it’s because our creative  minds turn waiting into scenarios where what-ifs run rampant.  The “what-ifs” can swirl around with merry-go-round intensity that isn’t “merry” at all.  Waiting can become the devil’s playground or God’s classroom, depending on what our focus is.

While waiting for results about a suspicious lymph node, I have had feet in the playground and the classroom.  Nighttime seems to be the time when I am most likely to get caught up in the spin of what could be.  Mornings, when I sit with coffee and Bible, are when the classroom becomes the easier choice.

God, whose timing is perfect, recognizes when to turn the waiting into knowing.

Four doctors told us that the suspicious lymph node probably could not be removed; nestled under my breast bone, it was in a location where the  sternum might have to be broken.  Recovery would be too long and delay treatment for what appeared to be cancerous cells. God, however, steered us to a young thoracic surgeon who specializes in robotic-assisted surgery.  

He was able to smoothly remove the lymph node. A couple of painful, hard to breathe days were followed by a quick recovery –  God’s healing mercy in response to an avalanche of prayer!

The suspicious cells were cancer. Knowing, followed by more waiting.

I just finished day seven of radiation.  Twenty six more treatments to go.

This journey, that started in the spring of last year (scroll down to June 6, 2019 for the beginning); has been a series of ups, downs, waiting, knowing, dealing, (and not so dealing) with realities. 

Knowing IS easier than waiting. It ends, at least for awhile, speculation.  Action usually happens after knowing, and that feels a bit more like progress.

In a different context, we are sometimes disappointed when we see others being rewarded in some way for WHO they know instead of WHAT they know.  That reality can leave us with a sour taste.

In a spiritual sense, that unfair world phenomena applies, but the taste of it is sweet.

It isn’t WHAT we know that counts, or in some cases, what counts against us:  a diagnosis, election results, mandates we don’t agree with, news of unrest nationally and globally, monster hurricanes, wildfires and disease information overload.

What counts is WHO we know.

Proverbs 30:4 (NIV)

“Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the winds in the hollows of His hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in His cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name and the name of His Son?  Tell me if you know.”

I know!  I know! I know!  Me, me, pick me!  I know! 

It’s God.  Healer, Savior, Redeemer, Appointer of all rulers, kingdoms and powers: the One who stands in the flames, calms the winds, and holds the stars He created in place with the gravity of His nature. 

He rewards those who know Him with comfort, peace and eternity.  The “whats” that we know – or don’t know – lose power over us in the power of His name.

I need to remind myself constantly of that. 

Maybe you need to remind yourself of that, too.

After Olivia came in from burying the egg, I made a quick decision. “Let’s go to Tractor Supply and see if we can get a few more babies.  If we slip them under Zulilly tonight, maybe she will adopt them,” I said.

Olivia’ s face brightened as we hurried out the door.  

Fortunately, the store had a tub of fluffy, yellow chicks.  Olivia selected four tiny puffballs.  She cradled the box on the way home with the cheepers inside. 

When daylight slipped into dusk, we carried the babies to Olivia’s hen coop,  ready to slide them quietly under Zulilly.

Would Zulilly adopt the babies?  Would they bond with her? Would the natural siblings accept four new, completely different looking chicks as their sisters? 

Tune in next time to see! (Hopefully, it won’t be soooo long before the next post!)

Prepared, Part 2 (Waiting)

New life within

Waiting.

People wait with agitation or patience.

I have done both.

Agitation takes on various levels of intensity and emotion, depending on what we wait for.

We wait for many things, ranging from the small (our turn in line) to the large (medical test results).

I’ve waited for an MRI…scheduled for June, but delayed until August because of COVID.  Test completed; then another wait for results.  Results, that hopefully would have given me an “all clear” from the cancer journey I’ve been on.

The waiting ended with results that were less than I had hoped for.  Suspicious activity in a lymph node under my breast bone was highlighted.

Upon hearing the news, I felt myself sliding down the slope of disappointment into the abyss of fear. Since I got the news on a Friday, I had a weekend to wait until I could start making calls and getting information.

I was scared, disappointed, even angry at how COVID had delayed my test.  It felt as if I had just finished a marathon and was now being pushed back to the starting line to run it again.

My husband and I prayed through it.  I read passages of the Word that reminded me of who God is.  I immediately asked for prayer from my closest circle of friends and prayer warriors.  When I found myself dwelling on the “what ifs” in the middle of the night, I tried to replace those thoughts with  memory verses.  I poured out my fears  to Jesus.  I tried to focus on what God had walked me through already instead of what I might have to walk through in days to come. I praised Him for all the ways He had blessed me.  I praised Him because He is good, He is in control and His timing is perfect.

I’d like to say  by Sunday night the waiting had taken on a completely different face and  I was calm and peaceful as a dove; but that wouldn’t be real.  I was, however, feeling that the Holy Spirit had stabilized my way of thinking and brought me to a better place.

It was a place that lasted for a span of time, before the worries crept in again.  I’ve gone through the process of worry/fear and crying out to the Lord multiple times.  He is always there, always ready to stretch out a hand to me, always ready to calm me until the next time the waves are higher than my head and I look at them instead of Him.  One has to wonder when do our eyes learn to lock on to the Lord with spiritual acuity that can not be buffeted away by the winds of trouble?  I believe it is a life long process!

God has walked us through a week of appointments, insurance and scheduling glitches and fears that keep rising up.  He has guided and directed and smoothed out frustrating situations.  I know it is He who has worked through it.

Now, at the end of another week, we wait again.  A PET scan tomorrow should reveal more information about the suspicious lymph node. There will be a wait for results after that, likely through the weekend.

Are you waiting for something? Something, perhaps,  that can easily generate fear. In our fallen world there are many such things.  Don’t waste time beating yourself up if you think your fear shows lack of faith.  That’s a tool of the devil.  Instead, let the Spirit use the tool of fear to push you closer to the Lord.  Give Him your fears, once, twice, a thousand times, if need be.  Each heart-cry of fear should rush us to our Father, “Abba” (“Daddy” in Hebrew) so that He can  scoop us up as a daddy would his crying child.

Then, in the Father’s arms, there is just to wait.  Isaiah 40:28-31 (NASB) reads:

“Do you not kow? Have you not heard?  The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not become weary or tired.  His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.  Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

Those who WAIT on the Lord…..

The word wait in that context carries with it the sense of expecting.  Isaiah used those words to refer to the Jews who were captive in a foreign land and had no hope of rescue, except from the Lord.  The words speak to us, too, when we are captives of fear, sickness, disease, grief, anxiety. Some translations use the words hope or trust instead of wait.  Waiting without hope or trust in the Everlasting God is a chain that can quickly strangle.

Hope and trust  add an element of perspective, because of whom we hope in and whom we trust in.  He  is The Star Breather, Redeemer, Healer, Savior, Master, Lion of Judah, Eternal King.  He is the One who spoke the Universe into existence and knows the detail of our lives. He is the God who gave us His Son, who endured  the fear of the cross and waited on the resurrecting power of the Spirit.

All of that, for YOU.  You, who wait. You, who fear.  You, who cry in the middle of the night because life can hurt.  You, who grieve. Jesus died for YOU.  Died, to overcome death, so that the tribulations of this world would not have the last word.  Salvation is one thing you shouldn’t wait for.  It’s available NOW by confessing your sin and accepting the gift of life from Jesus Christ.

John 3:16 (NIV)

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

1 John 1:9 (NIV)

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteowsness.”

Romans 10:9 (NIV)

If you declare with  your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

God is waiting for you.  What are you waiting for?

 

Olivia waited patiently for Bumpkin to go broody. As spring neared its close, Zulilly  was the one who did.  Olivia revealed that she had actually made the coop FOR Bumpkin. Since that was the case, should we deny Zulilly and wait even longer on Bumpkin? Soon, the weather would be too hot for any hen to endure brooding.

We discussed the dilemma and decide to give Zulilly a chance.  We set her on three eggs, just in case Bumpkin went broody soon after. (6 new baby chicks was our previously established “max”).

With three carefully selected eggs, Zulilly was nestled into a nest box of soft hay and Oliva took on the task of pampering her for the next 21 days.

Bumpkin did not go  broody.  Zulilly, having achieved her desire,  became calm and devoted to her eggs.  Trust developed as Olivia cared for her by bringning  fresh water and special treats to the nest, multiple times a day. Zulilly’s peckiness stopped and a new realtionship between the two was forged.

Then, the waiting took on a new quality – the eager anticipation of life to come.

 

 

 

 

PREPARED, Part 1

Stella: our feathered Easter Bunny

 

It was a sad time for all of us.

Within two weeks, we lost three of our favorite hens.  Sickness took Stella, a fun and gentle hen.   Ginger, our matriarch, left us shortly thereafter.  She, nearly twelve, rested on a nest of hay covered with flower petals until it was her time to go. (Read her story by scrolling down to ( Not Trampled, Part 1, March 2, 2018)

Celeste, Ginger’s best friend and constant companion, died a few days later.  She, too, was advanced in years.  It’s the girls’ unrelenting belief that Celeste hung on simply for Ginger’s sake.

Our flock was then diminished to 13 hens and one feisty roo, still more than enough for our family of four.

My youngest, however, had been asking for more chickens, even before the loss of the three.  Her desire was to allow a hen to hatch eggs.

“We have too many,“ I told her, multiple times.  “No more chickens.”

Olivia is persistent in a subtle and creative way.  She stopped asking and started building.  Beneath her 13 year old hands, an elaborate chick coop took shape.  She amazed us with her construction project.

Years ago, she built a birdhouse for me with her dad.  She’d also made a shelf for her room and, as a small child, used every found thing she could obtain to create some fantastical invention.  This project, however, required bigger skills: framing, cutting, using power tools and following the blueprint she visualized in her mind.

After we saw her determination, my husband, Brian, showed her how to use a jig saw and gave her a couple of tips, but she built the coop herself, using recycled fence boards and pallet wood.  As the project neared the end, he taught her how to lay shingles on the roof of the nest box.  She stretched chicken wire over the coop and we both watched our girl in amazement as she painted the finished project.  Complete with a mini courtyard and a separate room for the nest box, it looked like a coop one would buy at the feed store. Prepared with love from recycled materials, it was beautiful.

We praised her effort and skill; waiting for the question we assumed would come.  But, it didn’t.  We moved the coop to the side of the existing hen courtyard. It sat empty, prepared with hope, prepared for a dream.

Even though she didn’t ask THE question, my mind was whirling.

“Brian,” I finally said, “how can I say no to baby chicks again after all the creative energy and hard work Olivia has put into making that coop?” He agreed that a reward was in order.

Shortly thereafter, the three hens died.  Olivia’s sadness hung around her like a gray cloud. Our chickens are not just egg layers.  They are pets, each with a unique personality.  On the night Celeste, the last of the three, passed away, I sat on the edge of Olivia’s bed.  I knew I couldn’t take away the grief, but I could offer hope.

“If a hen goes broody,” I said, “you can set some eggs.”  Her face lit up.  Hope ignited, hard work rewarded. She immediately started talking about which hen was her preferred choice.

“Zulilly went broody last year (we did not give her eggs to set), so she will probably go broody again this year; but, I’m not sure I want her to be a mother,” Olivia said, “She’s very pecky, and I’m afraid she will pass those behaviors on to her chicks.  Bumpkin would be my first choice, because she is such a sweet, fluffy hen.  She would be the best mama.”  The words kept tumbling out and we talked about various hen characteristics and motherhood qualities until it was time for lights out.

I went to bed thinking about the profound lessons playing out in my home: the benefit of patience, the rewards of quiet determination and hard work, taking risk by preparing for something you hope for that might not materialize.  After an incredibly difficult year in the life of our family, the simple joy of seeing hope spring up in the midst of my daughter’s grief and the fun of planning for something I knew would give her pleasure was worth savoring.

Olivia had prepared a place.  Now, all we needed was for a hen to go broody…

Jesus prepared a place  for us to be with His  Father now and  in the future.

Before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms, if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me that you may also be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas (one of Jesus’ disciples) said to Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

– John 14:1-6 (NIV), Italics, mine

We are bound by space and time.  God, having created both, is not.  In those verses, Jesus wove time and place together with His words. We do have a place in heaven to look forward to – a future, eternal residence with the God of the universe, and Jesus will return to usher in the new heaven, but scripture is clear that once someone becomes a believer, they become God’s home here on earth, in the present.  Believers have the Spirit of God living in them; a profound and life changing truth.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.  You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies”

– 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” – John 14:23 (NIV)

(see also: 1 Corinthians 3:16, 2 Corinthians 6:16)

Everyone who believes in Jesus becomes a unique dwelling place, a room, so to speak, for the Spirit of God, a presence that stretches out through eternity.  Collectively, all the individual believers, or “rooms” for the Spirit, become God’s house here on earth: His church. His house does have many rooms:  all those who believe, mortared together by the Spirit of God.

God designed the way for this to happen with a redemptive blueprint, laid out in perfect detail for the craftsman who would prepare the finished work.  Jesus was that Craftsman.   Every stroke of God’s plan was fulfilled through Him. He is the Way. 

Jesus took our sins, crafting holiness out of unholy material.  Prepared with love, we are spiritually recycled.  Our old natures are made new, our spirits able, in Christ, to co-exist with the spirit of God.  We are made beautiful and designed for new purposes by the Architect of our existence.

He enables us to fulfill those purposes by decorating the rooms of our lives with the gifts of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfullness, gentleness and self-control.  The Spirit that bestows those gifts also provides us with bravery and  power, helping us choose to use those gifts instead of the burdens that came with our old, fallen nature: anger, regret, anxiety,  impatience, selfishness and fear.

Too often, believers focus on what used to be instead of what is.  The day to day clutter and trouble of the world makes them lose sight of how they have been recyled into new construction, designed for new purposes.  I am guilty of this, are you?

When I find myself caught in the clutter, I purposefully ask God to sweep it away, so that His Spirit can permeate every nook and cranny of the “room”  of my life  that Jesus prepared for Him to fill.

If you are feeling “cluttered,” ask God to sweep away the fears, anxieties and remnants of human nature that get in the way of fulfilling His purposes for your life.  Those purposes are consistent for us all: to glorify God despite what the world brings, to praise Him, especially in times of trouble, to share the Truth of God with our  words and our lives so that others can have eternal life. How we fulfill those purposes are powered by the Spirit and are unique to each of us.

You are the dwelling place of the Most High God!  Consistently ask Him to clear the clutter. Then, stand prepared, ready, hopeful for what He will bring.

Prepared. Ready. Will Bumpkin go broody?

 

 

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JOURNEY

A high crag near Lake Odessa, Colorado Rockies

 

Last year around this time I was about to step foot across the threshold of one of the most difficult times in my life.  Then, it wasn’t possible to imagine the challenges that a journey through breast cancer would involve.

The emotional stress of a diagnosis, the fear of outcomes, the ravages of chemo and the exhausted steps of moving through life were not just things I experienced.  My family experienced them, too.  At one point, family tragedy compounded the difficulties of sickness. Jagged edges of grief sliced us all to the core.

Families are families because they intimately share life.  Joys, celebrations, laughter and success are celebrations that weave like golden strands through families.  Sickness, fear and tragedy weave strands as well.  I am fully convinced that without God as the Master Weaver, my family would have slipped over the precipice before this journey was fully underway.  At times, we clung with a fingertip grip along an impossibly sheer rock face, knowing there was no way to hold on or move forward.  Letting go of our tenuous hold and crying out to God for His merciful grip was the only way to survive.

God is the One who wove faith into our picture of fear, calm into our fabric of panic, and hope into the garment of dread that satan wanted to shroud us in. Only God can turn devastation into development and panic into peace.  Only He can bring healing from hurt and hope from hopelessness.

As satan did with Job, I believe he asks God, here and now, for permission to inject difficulty into the lives of believers, which he obviously intends for harm.  Only the Sovereign Lord can work that which is intended for destruction into good.

Good, however, is usually defined differently in God’s vocabulary.  Good, to Him, may sometimes mean spiritual and character development, a re-fabrication of our fallen selves into a new creation that looks more like the character of Jesus.  It comes at a price we would not willingly pay; but He knows that the sharpest tools we run from: pain, tragedy, illness and suffering, are often the tools which are most effective in the refinement process.

Do I feel refined?  I wish I could say, “YES!!” Perhaps better questions are these: Is God able? Is He merciful? Is He in control? Can He work good out of tragedy? Does He love as a father, with compassion and sensitivity to what is truly in the best, eternal interest of His child?

YES!! To all those questions, and more.  That answer isn’t just a coined response.  It’s an answer forged in the fire of tribulation.

God has been with my family and I every single step of this journey.  He will continue to be with us as I walk through remaining treatment and continue to regain physical strength.  He will be with all of us as we move forward, past one of the rockiest stretches of life we have ever encountered.

He has comforted, blessed, healed, taught, guided, restored and provided.  He has strengthened our family ties with the knots of sickness, heartache, loss and grief.  He has been intimately involved in the detail of our lives, and we are thankful, for He is good, and He has been our refuge.

In a morning devotion with my girls, we talked about trouble. “What can it do in someone’s life?” I asked.  “Make people run to God or away from God?”

“It depends,” my 13 year old said.  “Some people get angry at God, and run away.”

“That’s true,” I replied.  “What have you seen your mom and dad do?”

“Run to Him,” she said, without hesitation.

That’s not to our credit.  It just shows our weakness and God’s strength.

If the troubles we have endured served only as an example to our teens of where to run when trouble comes, then that would be enough; but God has done so much more than that.

Do you need to know which way to run? Has the global pandemic forced you onto a treacherous trail of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty?  Has it added to the normal, daily troubles that already exist, so that you’re clinging only with a fingertip grip? Run to the God of all Creation who wants to be intimately involved in the detail of your life.

Seek Him.  Read the Word.  Confess your mistakes and weaknesses.  (We all have them!) Realize that you are not in control. Relinquish your life, your will, your fears, your problems, to the Lord.  Ask Him to move you forward in the way He wants you to go.

Psalm 18:1-2 (MSG)

“I love you, God – You make me strong.  God is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight.  My God – the high crag where I run for dear life, hiding behind the boulders, safe in the granite hideout.”

CONTRAST

Griffin, my sole companion on many trips, surveys the view from McAfee Knob. I miss her even more than I miss backpacking.  (1997)

In the attic of my memories, backpacking trips taken years ago are nestled in a special treasure box.  I’ve pulled the mental pictures from some of those trips out in the last few months and carefully tried to recall the specific details of the beauty.  Craggy mountains, hidden lakes the color of sky, waterfalls roaring with snow melt and valleys carpeted with rhododendron blossoms are keepsakes from some of my favorite places.  Nights the color of black velvet, miles away from light pollution, studded with brilliant stars, were one of the reasons I wanted to be as far away from civilization as I could get.

There is a truth  we don’t often think about: stars are in the sky all the time.  The light of the sun obscures the brilliance of the stars in daytime, so the truth of their consistent light is hidden, except in the darkest times of night. When all else is dark, their light can take your breath away.

So it is with our trials.  When situations in our lives create darkness that surrounds us, the light of our Lord, given to us, by Him dwelling in us, shines the brightest.  He is in us always, so His light is ever present.  Yet, the daylight of happy circumstances and easy roads often don’t provide the contrast that others need to have in order to see that the joy of Christ is real and true, and that peace is dependent on Him, not on circumstance.

I remember looking forward to crawling out of my tent at night to watch the stars.  Darkness was welcome.  Dark times in my life, not so much, but I clearly see the benefit of going through trials.  I wish it didn’t need to be that way.  What would it be like to have daylight and brilliant stars at the same time??  I really can’t imagine that.  God knows we need contrast, perspective and opportunities to shine in dark situations that make the world see the light and question how it can be.

Questions asked can lead the way to Him, the True Light that brings salvation.

Light is most beautiful in the darkness.  Remember that truth.

John 8:12 (NIV)

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ “

Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

“You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and set it under a bowl.  Instead, they set it on a stand so that it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Note: Many thanks to all of you who prayed for me specifically about the potential cuticle melanoma in my fingernail, mentioned in the last post.  The biopsy came back benign!  I know God answered prayers!   He gave me peace while I waited for the results.  I know that, too, is an answer to prayer and a display of His goodness and mercy during a waiting time that could have otherwise been gloomy.  God is so good!!

SEEKING EDEN

Happy Birthday, Jesus.  This is from you and to you. I love you.

Chemo, finished.  Two surgeries, behind me.  Lab reports, received.  Some surprises, but mostly good news.  First infusion of biologic drugs, meant to keep the cancer from recurring, underway.  Side effects, not supposed to be devastating.  Thankful.  Sitting in the chair while the drugs infused my body, I noticed a streak under the fingernail of my right ring finger.  Having had a cuticle melanoma in 2007, which required the amputation of half of my right great toe, I remembered what that looked like, starting out.  I felt dread shoot through me like a poisoned arrow, hitting its mark, just when I thought things were smoothing out.

Appointments with my dermatologist and a hand surgeon, confirmed that it was better safe than sorry, especially with my history:  biopsy scheduled the Friday after Christmas.

That first night worry, tears and discouragement swept in on me with black wings. I felt as if my family and I were re-enacting the trials of Job on a somewhat different scale: disease, tragedy, loss, grief, hurt, betrayal – we had experienced it all within the last year and a half.  But God’s word is true: His mercies are new every morning.  While I sat with my Bible and my coffee in the quiet after restless sleep, I found refuge in the shelter of His wings.   He brought peace, comfort and a complete awareness that perfection is only found in Him, not in a world contaminated by sin.

We seek smooth paths.  We want disease free lives, unbroken relationships, days that are glitch free, life events that blend together just as we’ve planned.  We want our children to be without heartache and worry and live with success.  We seek careers, homes and surroundings as close to perfection as we can get.  Even those not labeled “perfectionists” want carefree, beautiful lives.  In a way, we seek to re-create our own personal Eden.  Yet, Eden is elusive: unattainable in our world and the source of our frustration when we wear ourselves out chasing it.  So, why do we seek something that no one can truly have on or of this earth?

We are created in God’s image; perhaps our quest for Eden stems from that.  Because He is perfect, maybe He put in each of us a desire for perfection; a thirst that gets twisted by the world and sends us off in pursuit of things we think will satisfy.  It’s only by His grace that people see their failures, sins and their complete inability to re-create Eden.  It’s only by His grace that people are able to see the One, His Son, who came to make the way back to a perfect place with the Creator.

God reached down into the world broken by sin and planted Perfection in the womb of a young Jewish girl.  In due time,  He, who was Creator of the world, entered the sin infused world as a tiny baby, swaddled in mystery and born to fulfill a rescue mission that only He could fulfill.

Some would hate Him, some would seek Him.  The Prince of Peace came to make things right, not to bring peace on earth and  mend the destruction left by sin, but to make right the relationship between God and man; to make the way back to Eden, where a true relationship with God could be enjoyed, even within the shambles of a broken world.

That Prince would live a perfect life in an imperfect world.  He would walk, untainted by sin, along a path through the jagged pieces that would take Him to the cross.  There, He would die a brutal death, separated from the love of His Father, endured to bring peace between God and us, His created.

As He walked the path to complete His mission, He would teach, love, heal and amaze. His fingerprints on the lives of those He touched would magnify His life through generations of others who would eventually come to call Him “Lord.”

His death on the cross, the perfect sacrifice, ordained by the Ancient of Days, and foretold, even as Eden was destroyed by sin in the beginning, would pay our sin debt. His resurrection would prove His victory over death.   Jesus gave us perfection.

Not the perfection of a day or a life that holds no trouble, mistakes, worry or pain. Not perfection that is earned or deserved, or even fully understood, but the perfection of a relationship with our Creator that allows us to be in His presence because those who believe in Jesus are made perfect in God’s sight.  This is a perfection that allows us a relationship with God, our refuge in times of heartache, sorrow and fear, a perfection that makes us a new creation and grants us the right to be called children of God, and treated as such: loved, cared for, disciplined, guided, blessed.

It is a perfection that will one day carry us into eternity, a forever Eden, where scars and heartaches will fall away like a tattered cloak.

The Eden we seek on earth will always be elusive.  But, the relationship we have with God, through Christ, is our spiritual Eden that cannot be snatched away.   satan would have us forget this.  He tries to obscure it by bombarding us with shrapnel: disease, tragedy, busyness, misplaced priorities, worry.

Ask your Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you, to guard your hearts and your minds, and fill you with the awareness of your spiritual Eden: perfect peace with your Father, gifted you by Jesus Christ.  In Him, you are made perfect! Creep into a quiet place this Christmas to thank and worship Him! Love Him for all He is and all He has done!

If you haven’t claimed the gift of salvation from Jesus; Confess an imperfect life to Him and embrace the belief that He died for you. Find Eden in the perfect salvation offered by Jesus Christ!

Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mightly God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

1 Peter 2:24 (NIV) – Italics – mine

He Himself (Jesus) bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.”

Happy Birthday, Jesus, my Lord.

PHOTO CREDITS: M. D.