Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Deep Water Dividends

I started September with the story of My Tony's crape myrtle tree, so I thought it fitting to end September with a status update.

Crape Myrtle began the month producing hope out of despair, life out of apparent death. I was inspired, my heart uplifted by the little tree's TRY.

30 days later, after many quenching drinks, the progress is obvious! Slurping up the desperately needed water, the tree's vitality was steadily renewed.

Tiny round buds.

Lots of them!

Autumn's sunrise broke on Crape Myrtle from behind Mount Diablo, revealing profusions of raspberry pink, frilly, flouncy FLOWERS!! What a comeback!! Here I thought it hadn't bloomed and wouldn't bloom--I thought it was too late, but there it was, bursting forth like the shout of joy when morning chases away the darkness of night. What a beautiful response, all because of a frequent and steady trickle of cool, deep, life-giving water.

I love it! What was a sorry, sad, hopeless twig of a tree, has, in one month shown me what it looks like to praise God in extravagant style, that I can demonstrate joy profusely even when I know I don't have it all together, and how to throw my energy into blooming right where I'm planted, right now! That's what Crape Myrtle is doing, and it's what I am trying to do too.

Crape Myrtle didn't compare itself to other trees, nor did it wait until it was big enough to impress anyone--it just got busy blooming! It just did what it was made to do!

"let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; " Psalm 96:12 NIV
Is living water producing extravagant joy in your heart? If it is, does anybody know? If it isn't, I pray that you will tap into the deep water of the knowledge of God and drink of the water that will allow you to thirst no more.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Carnival of Distractions

"Any occurrence requiring undivided attention will be accompanied by a compelling distraction." Robert Bloch
Heat waves turned everything to liquid. People looked like melting wax figures, dripping and drooping in the 104° scorcher of a day. The blinding assault from the sun was rivaled only by the suffocating radiant heat rising off the pavement. This was the setting for the Walnut Festival that draws many tens of thousands of people every year for fun, food, carnival rides and entertainment. Yesterday, my son was part of the entertainment for a large portion of the day, playing drums for multiple bands, finishing the day with his own band's 40 minute set. When you are the mother of a drummer, you spend a lot of time transporting his drum set to and from rehearsals and performances. It is a job I love and take on willingly! However, a drum set is not an easy thing to carry around, so you try to pull your car as close to the stage as possible. I got permission from the Carnival director to drive in close to the stage before the park was opened to the public, but he said that would mean I could not leave until the festival was closed for the night which wasn't until 11:00 PM. I calculated, looked for any other solution--there was none--I would just have to stay until 11:00. Drummer-boy finished his band's show at 5:45 (it nearly finished HIM with a case of heat exhaustion, but it was an amazing performance and Mommy was bursting her buttons). My husband and daughter took him home to cool off, and I stayed to make sure nothing happened to the car or the drum equipment inside. When I knew I was going to have 5 hours to sit in my car until I could leave, I thought, "No problem! I've got my Bible study books with me. I'll have plenty to do!" Ah. God's Word. The Gospel of John. A wonderful, rich study, just underway--what a treat! As it turned out, I didn't realize just how hard this was going to be. First, there was the heat. Even after the sun went down, it was still stifling outside, over the 90° mark late into the night. Heat is not my friend. I kept the windows rolled down to allow some air to move through which made it almost bearable. One distraction, semi-handled. Now, with the windows down, the noise became a factor. The din of the milling crowd was a dull roar. Live music was playing on the nearby stage while the carny's in a dozen booths repeated their schtick with endless clockwork repetition calling out to passersby trying to get their business. All the while, the rides clanked and screeched and groaned while screams of terrified delight pierced the night. Wow! It was hard to concentrate. From time to time a group of rambunctious teenagers would bump into my car or just lean on it, not realizing anyone was sitting inside. More than once I had to get out and nicely ask them to please stay off the car. Once, a couple of adults who had been drinking too much, offered to help me get out of my captive spot--I declined their offer. I kept feeling like I needed to have my head on a swivel, watching my mirrors, and keeping my wits about me. Each time there was a brief lull and I could turn my attention back to my reading, the darkness presented me with a new problem. It seemed bright enough, but the light was inconsistent with so many blinking lights on the rides and it wasn't always easy to get in a position where the park lights could fall directly on the words. Layer upon layer of distractions. The harder I tried to concentrate, the more insistent the distractions became. It was a battle. It was like my life! Sometimes it seems the more I try to concentrate on my relationship with my Heavenly Father, to pray and read His Word, to make Him and His Kingdom my priority, it seems the heat gets turned up! Before I know it, the world's carny's start calling my name, and from time to time, unexpected things bump right into my life. Living on a dark planet makes it more difficult to get enough light. It's hard not to feel the need to keep looking around, trying to be prepared for any contingency, when what I really want is to be wholehearted for Him and not be pulled away by all those other things.
"I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible." 1 Corinthians 7:35 NLT
It is a reality that we need to manage this life, and that this life as it is comes with many distractions. From a practical point of view, we can't just ignore them, much as we'd often like to do. This may just be our principle struggle, a constant wrestling we have to do to keep our priorities straight, putting heaven first, but also dealing with the life of earth, minimizing distractions wherever possible.
"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. " Ephesians 6:12-13 NKJV
The enemy is no gentleman and won't politely wait until we get our armor on--he knows we are most vulnerable WHILE we struggle to put it on, and that is his favorite time to harass us, whirl us around, bump into us, bark his offers that sound too good to be true, entice us away. Vulnerable maybe, but defenseless? NO WAY! The struggle is worth it, and then our defenses are GREAT!!
How is earth's carnival distracting you right now? Is it the food? The entertainment? The wild rides? When was the last time you made the effort to put your full armor on?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Every Pretty Thing

Thank You, God, for pretty. Pretty dew-droppy pink. Pretty purple flower stars. Pretty, perfect lavendar bouquets, ready-made. Pretty, pretty, pretty. He didn't have to make things pretty, you know. He could have confined His creation to dull grey, straight lines, purely utilitarian features, no frills. What would this world be like if God had left pretty out of it? What would our lives be like if nothing was the least bit pretty? Even those who ordinarily don't notice beauty in their surroundings would be shocked at how much they would miss the pretty things we see every day. Thankfully, He didn't only make things practical. Thankfully He didn't only make things that served some pragmatic purpose or that performed a service to mankind. Thankfully He didn't relegate us to a useful, but ugly existence. He made most things to be both good for something AND pretty in some way. He even made some parts of His creation solely to BE PRETTY! That's all they're good for! That's all they do! What kind of God is He that He would do that?!! Pretty is part of who God is and every pretty thing He has made is a little revelation of Him. He likes to make pretty things and He loves it when we notice them and catch the spark of Him in their beauty. People are pretty. I remember when each of my kids was born, how I just couldn't stop my exclamations of how pretty they were--I know every mother thinks that, but mine really were! Ask anybody! Even when we meet people, who from our fallen eyes, don't look so pretty, people are God's best work--Ask Him!
"the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." Genesis 2:7 NIV
Not one other created thing was brought to life with the very breath of God!!
"God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." Genesis 1:31 NIV
Of all the other things God created, Adam and Eve were the only ones God called "very good." Human beings were God's favorite part of His creation--they still are. Granted, they can also DO some pretty ugly things, but what He made them to be is beautiful. How desperately we need to see people through eyes that notice what He made in them.
"When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God." Genesis 5:1 NIV
Father, help us to see Your image imprinted on every person we meet, and help us to treat them with the love You want us to show them. Don't let us take the pretty things You make for granted. Help us to speak pretty . . . live pretty . . . love pretty . . . like YOU! It is no secret that Jesus has the prettiest heart of all--make mine look just like His! Pretty please! What's the prettiest thing you've seen today?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Treasure That Cannot Rust

The old fence no longer holds anything in or out. Posts still stand where hard-working hands placed them . . . when? I don't know. Most of the wire is gone and with it the memory of who put it there or what treasure it kept safe. What is left is weathered, worn and rusted so heavily the wire looks sculpted rather than twisted together. Long years of exposure to water, air and sun have eaten away at what once was new 'til it is rendered useless, though still dangerous. Rusted iron, corroded metal, brittle wire showing the breakdown of its once shining strength--it speaks. In Eden, everything broke, and the first corrosion began. Things began to fall apart, to waste away. Time became a thief, fear entered stage-left and death stalked us all. Maybe that was when we started trying to hold on to things . . . earth things. Maybe that was when we became grabbers instead of givers. Maybe that was when we first fell for fool's gold. "They say that where your treasure is There will your heart be also Your heart stays where You hide your greatest love" Words from the song "Treasure" by Gary Chapman Jesus knew our faithless tendency to love the stuff of earth rather than to treasure relationship with God more than anything. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." Matthew 6:19 NIV His warning was a loving one. He knows we lose and lose and lose when we wildly cling to material things that are subject to calamity and destruction. He wisely directed us to hold fast to things we can't lose and not to set our hearts on things we can't keep. The old fence echoes His warning, reminding me not to count on the frailty of earth things. It's silent, windswept witness cries a loud alarm--don't worry about what you have or don't have here and now--store up real treasure that cannot rust, that no one can take from you . . . treasure that is indestructible. When I heed its message, I can joyfully, truthfully sing the words of the old hymn: "I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold I'd rather be His than have riches untold I'd rather have Jesus than houses or land I'd rather be lead by His nail-scarred hand Than to be a king of a vast domain Or be held in sin's dread sway I'd rather have Jesus than anything This world affords today."
Gracious Father, keep me true to these words! Help me to treasure You above all else! YOU ARE MY TREASURE!!
"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." Matthew 6:20 NIV
How are you learning to treasure things less and Jesus more?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Focal Points

My camera is one of my favorite teachers. When I look through my viewfinder, there is a useful little rectangle in the center called the focus area. As I decide how I want to frame my picture, I can place that focus area indicator on specific parts of the scene and lock in the focus, which will help me make some important decisions. One decision I have to make is to choose the subject of my picture. What am I trying to capture? What does the scene in my viewfinder say to me? What best conveys the beauty I see? Is the whole scene important, or is there one detail that I want to highlight. I can dramatically change the way a picture looks just by picking different focal points in the same scene. Another decision is how much of the picture I want to be in sharp focus. For some kinds of photography I may want the whole scene to be uniformly as sharp as possible. For other shots, I may want only one aspect of the scene to be in crystal clear sharpness and leave the rest of the picture soft, fuzzy, or even blurry, which can be used to great artistic effect. Focal points are crucial, not only in photography, but in my life. What I set my sights on makes all the difference in what I see, how I see it, and how I process it.
What am I going to focus on?
What I think I lack OR the abundant blessings of God? The frustrations I have in any given day OR the gift of having a today? My dislike of doing dishes OR my joy in having a family to care for and that we have food to eat? Fears of distant, powerful human leaders OR confidence in All-Powerful God, who calls me His friend? My sin and failure OR the cross, where I was forgiven?
If I focus on ugly things, places of lack, scary monsters in the dark, I only magnify chaos and it is plenty big enough already. Madeleine L'Engle wrote, "As far as I can see, the reproduction of chaos is neither art, nor is it Christian." Chaos needs no agent, no storyteller, and it certainly needs no photographer . . . except for the times when beauty is brought out of ashes or when a smiling face shines, impossible, out of deep, dark, suffering.
"Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8 NLT
What am I trying to capture? HIM! HE is true! HE is honorable! HE is right, and pure and lovely! HE is absolutely admirable, excellent in every way and constantly worthy of praise! What speaks to my heart of God in the scene in front of me? Let me focus on that very thing! But not for its own sake, lest it distract me and become an idol. In the big picture and in every tiny detail, I want to see and notice and know HIM. C. S. Lewis wrote, "all ground is holy and every bush (could we but perceive it) a Burning Bush." Whether it is through an actual photograph or through the pictures my spirit takes that capture Godlight (another Lewis term) in my experience, I can know Him and make Him known. Tell me some of your favorite things to set as focal points--the true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy things that speak to you of all that He is! Where will you fix your thoughts today?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Etched--A Special 9/11 Remembrance

Some moments from September 11th, 2001 are etched in my memory like names on a tombstone. The first fuzzy awareness in the pre-dawn darkness that something was wrong--what was My Tony saying? Airplane? World Trade Center? Coming fully awake to look through my TV-window-on-the-world only to see the crystal clear New York City sky and realizing it could be no accident. Smoke pouring from the gaping hole in one tower . . . and then there were two! Instant knowing--terrorists! It had to be! Firemen, ambulances, police, reporters, terrified people running pell mell to get away from the surreal devastation behind and above them. Me trying not to sound strange and scared and tight when it was time to get the kids up for school--would there be any school? Suddenly everything was a question mark! Brain on fire trying to think, make sense of something, anything, should I make lunches? How could I do anything but watch and listen and hope someone knew what was going on. THE PENTAGON!! OUR PENTAGON?! NO WAY! A slight shudder . . . one tower turned to sand before my eyes and fell in a fountain of ruin. Papers flew, people fell . . . and jumped. The other tower soon joined her twin and crumbled into expensive dust mixed with precious blood. No! No! No! Our hearts cried! This doesn't happen here!! But it did happen here. As I walked my kids to school with trepidation in my step, eyes skyward, wondering where that fourth plane would come down, I knew that nothing would ever be the same again. The finality of that realization coupled with the blank grey the future had suddenly become, made me passionately and vividly thankful that I know where my eternity lies! I talked to my kids with certainty that no matter what happens here on earth, we know that God is incapable of losing us. We could go forward in confidence, because no terrorist could make God leave our side! Over the next hours and days, we cried a river of tears for all that was lost that awful morning. We mourned for the dead and their families left to miss them. We cried out to God and reached out to each other. We were united in a new wave of patriotism and brotherhood, and we flew flags! Oh the flags!! Strange as it may sound, I miss those days--our hearts were broken and our sense of security was shattered, but we were together, we needed, we loved. I am more confident than ever that God can and will keep us through anything. The last 8 years have been a roller coaster in every way you can think of, but God is breath-takingly constant.
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever." Hebrews 13:8 NIV
What a comfort that is!! He doesn't change. He is not rocked by earth's paroxysms and upheavals. He is always Himself, always transcendent and always intimately immediate. Etched more deeply, more clearly, in bigger letters than the impressions of the infamous and violent paradigm shift that happened in our world and in our hearts on September 11, 2001, is this truth promised to His children:
"Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you." Isaiah 54:10 NIV We must never forget!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Alongside-One

Parakletos. Greek word meaning one called alongside another. It is translated comforter, counselor, advocate, helper, intercessor, strengthener, and standby. This is the word Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit whom He promised would be sent to be with His disciples and followers.
"But the one who is coming to stand by you, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will be your teacher and will bring to your minds all that I have said to you." John 14:26 (Phi)
The "alongside One." It is a much-taught, well-worn truth, but it seems the best known, most fundamental truths can be the easiest to brush past. Well, not today. Today He went on my walk with me . . . and I noticed. When I finish a blog post, I immediately begin looking toward the next one, asking God what He wants me to know--what He wants me to share with you. Usually I have a batch of ideas and thoughts scrambling over one another like unruly teenagers volunteering to get on stage, hands raised, saying "Pick me! Pick me!" This week, after praying for His guidance, I searched my mind for some impression, some picture that was important--all I found was an empty, echo-ey space with cricket-chirping thoughts mocking my search. I decided to get some fresh air and exercise and set out for a walk in the morning cool. My Ipod wasn't charged, so it was birdsong and breeze-cadence that serenaded my seeking. I kept asking Him for help. Please let me know what is on Your heart this morning. I'm empty. I've got nothin'. I didn't decide to, but somewhere down the trail I started to hum, "In Christ Alone, my hope is found." It felt like a very personal treasure had been secretly slipped into my pocket, put there just for me to find. This was not a new or infrequent thought, but indeed, a most-beloved thought. It was just so clearly a gift from Him. My Parakletos. My alongside-One. The One of the Godhead who is by nature so quiet, so gentle, so inconspicuous. He never draws attention to Himself, but always points people to Jesus--that's His job, it's what He does. He is the Holy Humble One who doesn't insist, He calmly guides. He politely waits while I choose whether to yield or fight. He doesn't run circles around me, shouting and waving His arms when I blow it--He just stays close, whispering Love and holding out His hand, poised always to lead me in the right direction. And when I submit to the steps He chooses, the unity and sense of quiet togetherness is a thing of beauty. "For this is what the high and lofty One says— He who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" Isaiah 57:15 (NIV) Where do you need to feel the breath of Heaven today? How has the Holy Spirit slipped Jesus-Love into your pocket to discover Him anew?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Newness of Life

--

On a recent trip to the summit of Mt. Tamalpais with my family, we walked a trail that circled the mountain just below the summit, treating us to a 360° view of the whole San Francisco Bay Area from the top. At the trailhead, we picked up the pamphlet that would give us information at numbered markers along the hour-long route. At one such marker our paper tour guide told us the name of a plentiful tree we could observe on the hike.
The manzanita trees that were all along this trail were a source of endless photographic fascination to me. They were shedding their old bark in tight little curly-cues like decorative chocolate on a fancy birthday cake. The previous year's bark curled away as the tree shrugged off last year's skin, revealing a brand new, eye-achingly deep scarlet layer beneath.

::::::::::::::::::::


My birthday.


A marker. 
A checkpoint. Maybe a crossroads.


Old year me peeled away. New year me underneath.


Each birth year, each pass by that date on the calendar, is a chance to go forward in fresh skin. In the ending is a beginning. While the original day of birth is marked and celebrated, a new year is born and with it a chance for a new me . . . I hope.

I am notoriously my own worst critic AND my own biggest excuser--I'm probably not alone. This year, I hope to become less of each. I hope to become more real, more named . . . more His.




I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to overthink it. I don't want to endlessly list and purpose and plan it. Yes, I have goals I want to reach, and they are written down and they will be tools for me to chart my progress. BUT! I want the goals to be reached from the inside out, not by an external act of my will through gritted teeth and self-imposed musts and must nots. I want to be different inside and let change work it's way out. I want the old to curl away and fall off because the new underneath is healthy and robust enough to displace it, not to mention so much prettier than the old crinkly stuff.


" . . . just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, so we too might habitually live and behave in newness of life." Romans 6:4 AMP

What a promise! What a call!! WHAT. AN EXAMPLE. TO FOLLOW!!!


Well, I WILL follow, and pursue Him with all I've got! I pray for God's powerful help to shed more of who I used to be--growing, sloughing off the outgrown, and that the glory of the Father will cover me in the beauty of Christ which is better by far!

Do you, as do I, want to be like a manzanita tree? What would you like to slough off and what would you like to see growing and glowing underneath? Let me know how I can pray for you as we peel away our old bark together!


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

High Hopes Out of Deep Water

It used to bloom. Sometimes it still tries, but it didn't bloom this year. Our crape myrtle, my husband's favorite tree with it's riot of ruffled clusters of bright raspberry flowers, should be capable of growing into a shady green canopy to cool all beneath from the blazing Contra Costa sun . . . but it hasn't. We had such high hopes for it when we planted it shortly after we moved into our house in 2000. Shown here (long before I had a good camera) on that fateful Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001, when we knew the world would never be the same and nothing made sense, our crape myrtle was healthy and growing, still young and spindly, but going places. It proudly held our courage-flag as we tried to keep hope alive in the midst of so much death and destruction in an event that felt intolerable. That was 2001--this is 2009. Why, after more than 8 years does that tree look like this? There are thousands of these trees in this area, so it's not that it's planted in the wrong zone. This is a big gorgeous one that grows just down the street, so it must not be that the soil where we live is unsuitable. We have an irrigation system for our landscaping that runs consistently on the scheduled days for the prescribed times. So what's up? A few weeks ago my sweetheart, my Tony, who so wants to love this tree, was really annoyed that his vision of this gorgeous, shady, blossoming wonder just wasn't coming into view. The crazy thing wouldn't die, but it couldn't quite seem to live either. He had an idea. Maybe the water just wasn't getting deep enough to do the roots any good, maybe it was just barely penetrating the surface of our clay-heavy soil and evaporating before the tree could soak any of it in. He took a piece of copper pipe and drove it deep down into the ground parallel to the skinny stick-trunk and trickled water down into the pipe. He told me what he'd done and asked me to run water into the pipe whenever I thought of it. The first time I used his new system, I noticed that the pipe quickly filled with water, but the overflow actually went down into the ground along the pipe instead of running off and rolling away as I had expected. This just might work. Yesterday I went to water the frail little crape myrtle and look what I found!! New green growth!! Healthy little sprigs of hope and life and comeback! Joy and a surprising wave of emotion flooded over me as I saw in a twinkling an image of faith-life I could grab a hold of. Life growing right out of almost-death. Brand-newness springing out of the nearly-gone. Fresh green hope bursting out of dry desperation. Oh that our weary old world would have a touch of life-out-of-death hope! Personally, we could probably all really use some hope-out-of-dryness in finances, battles with besetting sins, and dreams that feel stuck in neutral. Hope. Not the wishful thinking, "I hope so" kind of hope that may or may not come to pass, but the Hebrews 11, conviction-of-things-not-seen kind of hope that KNOWS what it hopes for is certainly, definitely, unfailingly on its way.
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for." Hebrews 11:1-2 NIV
What brought life and hope out of a barely alive tree . . . and me? The water finally went deep enough. As long as the watering was superficial, the tree was barely clinging to life support, but it wasn't really living and it certainly couldn't grow or bloom. Sometimes I am like that tree, just getting surface doses of Spirit-life and Living Water, but not fully alive, unable to grow or bloom. I need the deep-down soaking of God's Presence and the power of His Word to permeate me all the way down to where the real me is. It's not enough to just hear about God and the Bible on Sunday morning, letting it run off the top of my attention or evaporate in the blaze of the world's false light. I have to daily integrate what I learn of Him and His timeless Word into the places where I live and move and breathe and think and feel--that is the only way I can grow, the only chance I have to bloom and provide shade and beauty in the place where I am planted. Water me deep down, Lord! What about you--will you share with me an instance of hope springing out of dead places? How do you let the Spirit's Living Water soak down deep enough in your heart to saturate You with Himself and create growth and beauty in you?

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