Gratitude, Day 12—Music


I admit: a friend of mine wrote a cool piece on Facebook yesterday, about being grateful for music. Me too, I thought. That one belongs in my list of gratitude topics. (As an aside—fair warning that when you have dealings with a blogger, what you do or what you say might end up as fodder for a blog post. Just saying!)

When I was a kid, I wanted in the worst way to learn how to play an instrument. I never told my parents, though, until I was probably in sixth or seventh grade. Well, what instrument are you interested in playing, my parents asked. The violin. It was an identifiable instrument, and I loved the various solo pieces I heard. One of my favorites was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, I think. My dad in particular was a classic music aficionado, so I grew up with the great classic symphonies and concertos and even a number from minor composers.

But the problem with me learning the violin—well, there were many issues. For one, I didn’t read music. For another I hated the idea of practicing. I knew this because there was a time when my sister took piano and she was supposed to them teach me what she learned. The few times I actually sat down and practiced did not convince me that this was something I wanted to do. My parents didn’t force me.

In truth, I wanted to have learned the violin so I could perform. I didn’t actually want to learn.

I had one short stint with the guitar. My inability to read music was not an issue, but there was still the part about me not liking to practice, so that went nowhere.

The only real success I had with music growing up was with the harmonica. Again, I didn’t read music and so I didn’t really have a clue how to play tunes I was familiar with. So, I simply made up others. I learned to string a bunch of notes together that actually sounded pretty good and expressed my heart. But I could never duplicate what I was playing. It was really only just for me.

Singing. I love to sing and I love to be a part of great congregational singing. It’s the closest thing to being a part of a choir. I imagine. I’ve never actually been part of a choir, because, you know, I don’t read music and I don’t like practicing.

But I love music.

I’m not too particular, either. Having grown up listening to classical music, I still love a number of pieces, like that Tchaikovsky concerto I mentioned. But I also grew up when “contemporary Christian music” was birthed. As songs went from the somewhat sappy and simplistic (“It only takes a spark, to get a fire going . . .) to more worshipful and challenging, I went right along with it. I bought praise tapes every chance I got. I loved Second Chapter of Acts and Keith Green and Amy Grant, then Jeremy Camp and a host of other artists.

I skipped over my “secular phase.” When I was in high school, I listened to the same songs every other teen was listening to. The thing was, the music was so far from punk or rap or raggae or heavy metal. It leaned more toward folk music, though it was transitioning to rock. I was pretty much fine with the style of the day. What I did not like was jazz or big band or country.

More recently I’ve had some exposure to country (The Voice, anyone?), and I have to say, I no longer hate it.

The point is, I’m not all that picky about the style of music I listen to. I mostly like music that touches my heart, that expresses something inside.

Not everyone agrees with me, but I think a lot of the old hymns do that for me. On top of the music that takes hold of my soul are the lyrics that point me to Christ or to the Father or even to the Holy Spirit, though I think the hymns that are Biblically accurate in their depiction of the Spirit are few and far between.

I like the hymns that have been inspired by Scripture and portray Biblical truth. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the classic by Martin Luther, is one of them:

1
A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
2
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
3
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

4
That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.
(from hymnal.net)

There are so many though, and not the least are contemporary hymns by the likes of Keith and Kristyn Getty.

I find that the music that stirs my soul, in combination with the lyrics that focus my thoughts on God are the ones I like best. I still like classical music, though. I just have to supply the “lyrics” myself, in prayer and meditation.

So music, though I don’t listen to it the way so many do today, is something I’m so thankful for!

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

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Gratitude, Day 8—For The Written Word


At some point last week I thought one of my gratitude posts should be about reading. I mean, I love to read. It opens up the world, the past, God’s revelation. It’s perhaps the most awesome human experience ever. But I’m too late. My friend and fellow blogger InsanityBytes already grabbed that topic: “Grateful for Reading.”

Unlike IB, I can remember a time when I couldn’t read. My brother and sister could. So once, int the car one of my parents spelled out something, and I knew that only I was supposed to not receive this piece of information. That hurt! At other times, on Sunday mornings when we pulled out the best part of the morning paper—the funnies, also called the Comics—my brother would grab one section and my sister would grab the other. I remember that one day I pleaded with them to please let me have a section first, because after all, it took me much less time to look at the pictures than it did for them to read the whole thing. Well, that request got nowhere, so then I pleaded with them not to read, either. Yeah, that plan didn’t meet with success, either.

I have another distinct memory of not reading, too, but better are the ones of finally learning, finally being able to read. And then discovering the library and all the books available for free. Reading introduced me to new friends and old places. But reading was the key to education. Without reading I would have missed out on so much—math word problems, history, instructions on literally every assignment, science. We even had P.E. tests over the rules of the particular sports we played. At every turn, reading was a component in education.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

And now I’m a writer. So the idea of words on a page has expanded from me only being a recipient of information to being one who generates ideas for others to digest. Of course, I was doing that long before I became a writer. I mean, how many papers did I write in college? But one thing I learned back then, even when I would bemoan a professor assigning a ten-page paper or giving us an essay test: I always felt I learned more when I wrote out my thoughts. I remember them better, but I also understand them better. The writing somehow helps me to organize my thoughts better than any other way of interacting with material.

Of course, as a novelist who writes fantasy, I have a special place in my heart for creating worlds and characters that show what I think in a way that is perhaps more meaningful than simply coming out and stating the bald facts.

I may have learned that way of communicating from the Bible, because it’s a book filled with stories that illustrate. Yes, there are statements of truth, places the writers, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, simply declared what God wanted us all to know. But even more, there are people and places and events that show.

But that actually explains another reason I’m grateful for written communication. One of the best parts of Christianity is the written revelation, the unchangeable word of God, the word that is fixed in heaven, that endures forever. What God revealed four thousand years ago, for instance, is still true today. We have it in black and white. We don’t have to wonder what God might decide to do today as opposed to what He did yesterday.

I had a principal once who changed like that. School rules were not codified. They were in his head, and he could change his mind whenever he wanted. So you never wanted to ask him for money to purchase necessary equipment if he was in a bad mood. You never wanted to do something questionable because today it might be OK, but tomorrow you’d be busted for it.

God is not like that. He gave us His word so that we can know His thoughts. So when He said, Don’t commit murder as part of the Ten Commandments, that was a Law He adhered to in the book of James in the New Testament. He didn’t wave it or qualify it or reverse it. His word is dependable.

So I love written communication. It opens up the world, history, culture, an understanding of people. It allows me to express my thoughts and ideas and even to understand what I’m thinking more completely, and it enables me to enjoy God’s revelation. In His word He’s told us about His person, His plan, His purpose. I feel privileged to be invited in to know His thoughts in this way.

For sure, I’m so very grateful for written communication—both sides of it!

Top Photo by Tamás Mészáros from Pexels

Published in: on November 12, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gratitude, Day 6—Thanking God


Sunset on Fields near City

God is great
God is good
And we thank Him
For our food.

Amen!

I grew up “saying grace,” before meals. To this day I don’t know how that euphemism came about, and in our house, I’m not sure we used the term. I understood our prayer before each meal to be us offering thanks for the food.

By and large, however, it was a formality, though we didn’t use a formalized prayer. Despite the fact that there were lean years in my family, I was too little to realize how tight money was and how iffy our next meal could be. By the time I was in school, our “financially tight years” were behind us.

Consequently, not having known want, I didn’t have the overwhelming sense of gratitude that comes from receiving something you needed but had no means to acquire.

In other words, I mostly took my meals for granted. Not to the point of wasting food, certainly. My parents, especially my mother, saw to that. How could I, being so fortunate, throw away food that the poor children in China would be so happy to have. Didn’t I realize that they were starving and I was abundantly blessed?

Well, actually, I didn’t realize the abundance I enjoyed. Until I was seventeen. That year my family moved to Tanzania, East Africa, to a small town named Korogwe where there was a teacher-training college and a good road to Tanga. My dad, being a professor of education, took a position at the college, and I learned, among many other things, what abundance I had.

In Tanzania I saw most people walk barefoot or ride bicycles. Only the rich had cars. We had a car.

In Tanzania I saw men walk around with tee shirts so holey they barely had enough material to stay on their backs. I asked why people would bother to wear shirts like that which certainly had little function. Because, I was told, it was better to have a shirt, no matter how many holes or how big the holes, than to have no shirt at all. I didn’t own a single item of clothing with holes and I had many changes of clothes.

In Tanzania I saw children throw rocks and use sticks to knock unripe mangoes from a tree. They would rather have the unripened fruit than no fruit at all. I had the choice of whatever fruits and vegetables were in the market, all of which we could afford to buy.

In Tanzania ugali, made from cassava root, was the staple for most people’s diet. They pounded it into a flour and made a kind of thick mush they rolled into balls and dipped into broth. I enjoyed three meals a day, including a main meal of meat and vegetables, often with fresh, home-made rolls.

In Tanzania I saw sick children with runny noses a parent never wiped or distended bellies, some carrying bundles of sticks on their heads as they walked in the red dust of the African roadway. I had received a multitude of shots to keep away such diseases as typhoid and yellow fever, and I received a booster to protect me from the various forms of dysentery that plagued the African people.

In Tanzania I saw Masai children covered with flies, especially around their noses, eyes, and mouths, and they made no effort to brush off the insects, so used to their presence they had become. I slept under a mosquito netting and enjoyed a home with screens on the windows and on the doors. And still we had cans of bug spray and fly swatters.

There was more. That good road to Tanga, the second largest town in Tanzania at the time, which passed through Korogwe, made it possible to go to stores from time to time where we could buy some of the foods we would have considered staples in the US.

In Korogwe we enjoyed an abundant supply of water, no small feature in itself, but the water also made growing fruits and vegetables possible year round whereas in southern Tanzania, the dry season was very dry. People might find the only vegetable in their markets for months was cabbage.

I could go on. But the point isn’t to make a case for how poor Tanzania was or how much better Korogwe was than other parts of the country. The fact is, I could repeat a similar list for Guatemala where I spent three years or for Mexico where I spent a summer or for Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, even England and Japan where I’ve spent some short amount of time.

I could repeat the list for places here in the US, too.

But up until I was seventeen and spent that year in Tanzania, I didn’t realize I enjoyed abundance. I wore hand-me-down clothes and never owned a bike, though I wanted one desperately. My family drove used cars and bought furniture at Goodwill. We weren’t rich, but we had an abundance.

I think true thankfulness might not be possible until you realize what abundance you have. How many of us are thankful for our health . . . until we get sick? Or for our friends until they move away. Or for our jobs until we lose them.

Simple FieldNot having and then having, or having and then not having provides the contrast that wakes us up to abundance. Seeing others not have when we have can do the same thing. Or it can create a defensive, hording mentality—I never want to be without, like those people—in the same way that seeing others have when we do not, can create envy and greed.

All this to say, in our abundance, however great or small that may be, we have the opportunity to thank God for what He has given. Think about what Habakkuk said:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (3:17-18, emphasis added)

Even in want, there’s cause to exult in God. He remains the source of salvation, and that is God’s lavish provision for sinners who did not deserve His grace and mercy.

Thanks, and praise, and rejoicing are always the right response to God.

It certainly makes sense. If He is great, and He is, and if He is good, and He is, then why wouldn’t I give Him thanks?

This post originally appeared here in July, 2014.

Going Without — A Reprise


FamilyWhen I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money which meant that sometimes we had to go without. For me, that meant I mostly got hand-me-downs to wear, and I rarely (ever?) got the latest, greatest toy that TV was advertising on the Saturday morning cartoon shows.

Doing without didn’t mean we were hungry, though I guess there were a few times we came close to having no money for food. I seem to remember a time someone left a bag of groceries on our front porch. During that time my dad, a college professor, took a second job as a door-to-door salesman.

We had days when our evening meal—normally dinner—consisted of spam sandwiches and cornmeal mush. I know it may not sound appetizing, but I personally liked it a lot. Only as an adult did I realize this was a meal we had because we couldn’t afford much else.

There were lunches when Mom fed the five of us from one can of Campbell’s condensed soup. Admittedly, the cans were bigger in those days, but still, that wasn’t a lot of soup for each of us. Some years ago I asked Mom how she managed it, and she said she just added more water. I do remember one time sort of whining when I realized she was going to open only one can: “Aw, Mom, can’t we please have two cans?”

But the bottom line is, I didn’t really realize most of the time that we were going without.

We didn’t have a TV for years, and when we did finally buy one (I was in 3rd grade), it was black and white (yes, they used to make those). We had that TV for years—maybe until I was a senior in high school, and we moved out of the country.

Despite going without as a kid (and not realizing it), I lived an adventurous life. And a secure one. We moved with some frequency, but we had a home base in Colorado where we owned some mountain property. My dad and brother, with help from Mom and us girls and anyone who wanted to visit and help, built a real log cabin. We sort of camped out at first, then Dad put up a one room building we fondly called the shack, which we lived in until the cabin was ready. Neither place had electricity or running water or indoor “facilities.” We had a mountain stream where we got our water and an outhouse where we did our business. 😉

But none of this was part of going without. This was all a part of being so blessed we enjoyed adventurous living. I could tell stories about hiking to a fire tower a few miles above us, to the beaver dams below us, or to rocks we named (Alan’s Rock, Armchair Rock, Bed Rock). Then there were the cook outs we had at the Peak or pine cone fights between us children. I could tell you about the bear that visited and the evenings spent reading stories as a family.

Yeah, none of that had anything to do with going without.

Going without was picking up furniture second hand and driving old cars. But really, that’s not going without.

The point of all this reminiscing is that I think going without taught me the value of stuff—none of it is worth as much as we think. I was happy growing up with less. Not because of what we had or didn’t have but because stuff didn’t rule our lives. We had an old couch, so never thought about putting plastic covers over it like my uncle did with his new, matching living room furniture, or keeping the kids our of the living room because the furniture was too nice, like our neighbors did.

On top of that, God provided (see above the paragraphs about adventurous living).

Who else has this whole forest to play in? Part of the play involved hauling water and helping to bring in firewood. We got to unpack the barrels where we kept the cabin stuff and to wash clothes by hand. There was a sense of family pulling together to survive—everybody chipping in, everybody bringing something important to the table.

There we were, no telephone, no car—we had to hike in because the road was too rough and at that time we were too poor for a jeep. Only a kerosene lamp, a lantern, and flashlights. We heated water to wash, used the cold mountain stream as our refrigerator. And there was only a sense of adventure, a joy in the everyday tasks.

Sure, this was short term. We didn’t live in the cabin year-round. But the value of going without is priceless, and lasting. Because it was abundantly clear that we didn’t need a TV to be happy or entertained. We didn’t need a lot. We needed each other, and that was probably the most important take-away for me.

This post is an edited version of the one that appeared her in July, 2015.

Published in: on June 1, 2018 at 4:44 pm  Comments Off on Going Without — A Reprise  
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Look, Mom, No Hands


This isn’t really a Mother’s Day post about my mom who has been deceased these past 16 years, but I’ll dedicate it to her. It’s actually a devotional meditation posted originally January 2011.

– – – – –

Kids love the spotlight. They run, jump, turn somersaults, dive into the pool, what have you, then rush back to the adults close by. “Did you see me, did you see?” they ask.

Inevitably their antics get braver and bolder. When I was growing up, one such bit of tomfoolery was to walk up the stairs on the piece of each step outside the railing.

I remember, too, learning to ride a bike. For some time I had training wheels, but eventually those came off, and I was on my own. The initial fear I felt when the safety wheels were no longer in place soon gave way to confidence.

And one day there came a time when I could balance well enough that I could take my hands off the handlebars.

“Look, Mom, no hands.”

For some reason, Mom wasn’t as thrilled as I was over this new development. She knew what I didn’t — that even a small pebble in the road could upset the balance I enjoyed, and consequently upset the bike, and me along with it.

I suffered a bike accident or two in my day. One was on gravel and tore up my elbow and knee. Another gave me a concussion and landed me in the doctor’s office (so they told me).

Funny thing, I wasn’t so quick to relinquish the handlebars any more. In fact, I was more inclined to grip tight. When I was ignorant of the dangers, I showed off my perceived independence from the mechanism that kept me moving forward. But when I learned of them, through the hard knocks of accidents, I began to cling tightly.

So it is in our spiritual lives, I think. In our spiritual immaturity we may think we can manage on our own: Depend on God … for everything? Why would I do that? He’s given me a brain. Doesn’t He expect me to use it?

Well, yes, but He also delights in being involved with His children, in giving and loving beyond our expectations. And He knows our weaknesses. He knows what tares can do to wheat.

He warns us and woos us and reaches out His hands, inviting us to take hold and hang on, to cling and never let go. And we do. For a time. But then we start feeling comfortable and self-assured. I can do this, we think, and we loosen our grip, maybe even let go, just for a second. “Look, Dad, I’m on my own.”

It’s a sure recipe for disaster, except for God’s sustaining love.

The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.
– Ps 37:23-24

I might not cling to Him as He wants me to, I might be prone to wander. But God isn’t show-boating or feeling the need for independence. He’s looking after His children, even we who need to learn our lessons the hard way.

Published in: on May 11, 2018 at 4:44 pm  Comments Off on Look, Mom, No Hands  
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More About Stability


As I recover from the stroke I had a year ago, I find myself somewhere between walking with a cane and walking without a cane. My issue is balance, as I mentioned back in January. Some might recall that I described the sensation I experienced as sort of, but not quite, like walking on ice. Not quite, because I had the same sense that I could fall when I wasn’t moving. I might simply be standing, but if I turned my head, I could lose my balance.

I say this so that I can make this analogy a bit clearer.

I started thinking about my use of the cane and drawing a comparison with my finding stability in Christ. But that didn’t seem right. After all, Christ is not something I add to my life to just help me do life better. And as I recover, I’m working hard to do without the cane, whereas, I want the opposite to be true about Christ: I very much want to lean on Him more and more.

So is there no value in the analogy? Are atheists right that Christ is a crutch for us Christians because we are too weak to stand on our own? Or, in my case, too unstable?

I’ve never bought the idea that Christians are weak or more needy or less capable. I mean some of the bravest people, before they became Christians, have turned to Christ. I think, for example, of Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner whose career was cut short by World War II.

The movie Unbroken depicted his courage and strength of character.

While serving in the Air Force Louie’s plane was shot down. He and two others survived, only to be adrift on the Pacific Ocean for forty-seven days (one man died a month into the ordeal). Unfortunately the two US servicemen were “rescued” by the Japanese and consigned to a prisoner of war camp. The treatment there was cruel.

But there’s more to the story which will be depicted in a second movie coming out this year about Louis’s experiences after the war. His will to survive in the worst of conditions, wasn’t enough, and by God’s grace, he found Christ, and that relationship revolutionized his life.

That’s the truth, then, about Jesus: He doesn’t prop us up, like a crutch would, and He doesn’t act as a mere steadying force in case I lose my balance.

He actually is balance itself. Without Him, life is uncertain, wobbly, shaky. We do look to means outside ourselves to bring life into proper alignment, but nothing works like having a proper sense of balance.

When people have vertigo, they do all kinds of things to cope. Some medicate, some have surgery, some undergo all manner of tests, some endure treatments on their ears or their eyes. And of course, there are people like me who walk with a cane or a walker. Others might even be confined to a wheelchair. Because there’s something wrong. Life isn’t the same when we feel we could topple simply because we walk across the room. We know we have to correct this condition or find a way to cope.

Christ is to our spiritual lives what balance is to our physical lives. Actually, we can live without Him, but to do so we have to adopt all kinds of coping mechanisms. We have to try to restore a sense of balance that only He can provide. We might live our lives for our spouse or children. We might become so work driven that our job defines us. We might take the opposite tack and become party animals or so engrossed in entertainment of one kind or the other that we hardly ever slow down. In fact, slowing down terrifies us. It’s like walking without the cane.

The sad thing is, most people have no idea what’s wrong. They even deny that there is anything wrong. After all, their world has been spinning for as long as they can remember. They don’t know what life without vertigo feels like. They scoff at people who try to tell them what walking without fear of falling is like, people who go cane free.

They’re living in a fantasy, they say. And who needs to listen to their ideas about balance. We’re coping just fine, thank you very much.

The problem, of course, is that the longer we live, the more prone we are to fall.

Most people don’t understand that they have decreased balance until it is too late and they fall. Falls are the number one cause of death from injury in the US (“Balance Disorders,” Magnolia Physical Therapy)

The opposite is true when we have Christ. He is our balance. With Him we cannot, nor will we, fall, spiritually speaking. Not that we’re perfect. But Christ has dealt with our sin which puts our life off kilter.

In truth, He makes all the difference in the world.

Because He Lives


Bill and Gloria Gaither

Back in 1971 Bill and Gloria Gaither came out with a song entitled “Because He Lives.” It became quite popular, but I never latched on to it like others did. There’s a line in the chorus that sort of bothered me:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;

The thing is, I believe there’s an answer for fear, but I don’t think fear is necessarily gone.

That might seem like a picky point to some, but I see it as the difference between a cliched, shallow answer to life’s heartaches, and delving into the deep truth of what Jesus Christ provides because He’s alive today.

The shallow approach is the, don’t-worry-be-happy answer that brushes off the negative emotion as if it has no valid reason for existing. In truth, fear is not really a “negative emotion.” I mean, God gave it to us to keep us from jumping off a ten story building just to see if we can fly, or other such dangerous endeavors.

We should be afraid in many circumstances. Our fear is healthy. Our fear protects us. So it’s not really negative. But it does stop us at times. It can induce worry. It can even consume us and become uncontrollable.

God doesn’t want fear to dominate us like that, and we do have the way out of such debilitating thinking. But I don’t think we can make it vanish by simply saying “all fear is gone.”

Last week I saw the movie “I Can Only Imagine,” the true story about Bart Millard, writer of the song by that same title. I think it’s excellent, and I highly recommend it.

However, it does portray some physical abuse and the anger that accompanies that kind of domestic violence. But one thing that made the movie so good, I thought, was that belief in Jesus Christ as Savior didn’t get tossed out as an instant answer. This was not easy to accomplish in a 110 minute movie, but I thought the writers, producers, actors did a credible job, showing that difficult things had to be wrestled into submission. In other words, “all fear” didn’t simply vanish. But it was overcome.

And that’s because Jesus lives! So the Gaithers got it right, but saying the words or singing the song doesn’t wipe away fear. It actually is trusting Jesus who is alive and real and with us. It might mean giving Him a problem over and over because we seem to take it back almost as soon as it’s out of our hands.

I think my greatest understanding of this kind of trust came some fifteen years ago. I was working as a writer, but I hadn’t started editing yet. I didn’t have health insurance, was living on my savings.

One day I started to the backyard from my upstairs apartment, and I fell down the stairs (don’t ask!). I mean I really fell. I lay there for a second, and the first thought I had was, I think I broke my back. And then, what am I supposed to do if I did?

I really had no choice. I could worry which would not change a thing, or I could trust God to see me through the crisis. I started by seeing if I could move my legs. And I could. Then I sat up, stood up, and made my way back into my apartment. I went for about a week not being able to walk much. But friends prayed, and I knew God would take care of me.

Because Jesus lives. I’d have to say He gave the peace that passes understanding. I can’t explain it. But it’s what Romans says—“He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also, with Him, freely give us all things?”

No, I didn’t think God had to make everything turn out OK for me. If I had broken my back, He would have cared for me in that circumstance, too. But I knew He had a hold of me, that I was His to take care of, that He was going to work those circumstance for my good that I might become more like Jesus.

The One who is alive, who is with me.

Reprise: My Deceitful Heart


CO_21_NB_reassurance_sign,_Colorado_SpringsBack when I was in college, I would spend the summers with my parents in Denver. One year we took a couple short road trips on consecutive weekends. One was an hour’s drive north, the other an hour’s drive south.

The next week a family we knew came to visit for several days. During that period, their two teens and I decided to go to a popular movie they hadn’t seen yet. I told them I knew this particular movie was playing locally because I’d seen it at a theater we’d passed the previous weekend.

My dad helpfully looked up the information and gave me the exact freeway off ramp exit number. I took the directions, though I didn’t think I’d need them. After all, I’d seen the theater clearly from the freeway, so I knew we couldn’t miss it.

Off we went. Before too long, however, I noticed that the exit sign numbers were not advancing toward the particular one I was looking for.

No problem, though, I thought. I knew I was going in the right direction because I’d seen the theater with my own eyes. Perhaps, I reasoned, the numbers would reverse their order once we left the city proper.

My guests were amazingly patient, even as time and miles piled up. Even as the exit numbers continued to flip past in the wrong order. Even when that pattern didn’t change once we left the city. And even when we didn’t see the theater from the freeway.

I couldn’t understand what was wrong. Perhaps the information my dad had found was wrong or maybe he copied it incorrectly or … and then it hit me. I had indeed seen the theater, but not the previous weekend when we had taken our trip north. I’d seen it two weeks ago when we headed out of town going south.

Here’s the point, I learned that day how unreliable I am as a determiner of truth. I had the information my dad gave me, the exit numbers on the freeway signs, and a missing theater, but I still trusted my own idea of what was true. I even rationalized the differences and persisted when every indicator said I was wrong.

I’ve had to re-learn that lesson multiple times, but that one incident stands out as an illustration of how easily fooled my hard, prideful heart can be, and conversely, how much I need the authoritative Word of God to serve as the sign posts of life.

Of course, I have to believe what the signs say rather than rationalizing away what I don’t like or don’t agree with.

    Love your neighbor? Sure, I can do that … except, not that family with the really loud, late Saturday night parties and the noisy motorcycles (besides, their kids are probably involved with gangs).
    Speak the truth in love? Sure, I can do that … except, I don’t want to offend the people in my office, so I’ll just let slide their Bible-bashing (they probably wouldn’t change their attitudes even if I stuck up for the Bible).

It is so easy to find excuses to trust my own foolish, willful, wayward heart rather than the sure, authoritative, unchanging Word of God.

But you know what God says about my heart?

The heart is more deceitful than all else/ And is desperately sick;/ Who can understand it?
– Jeremiah 17:9

God goes on to say that He knows the heart and He gives “to each man according to his ways.” But here is His assessment of our ways:

We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
– Rom 3:9b-12 (the all caps are in the original and indicate quotations from the Old Testament)

Original sin? You bet. My heart so fools me, I’d believe in an instant that I’m good, if I could. In fact I tried. When I was very young, probably in first grade, the Sunday school teacher told us we were all sinners.

Not me, I thought. And I set about proving it. I figured if I could find one, even one person in the Bible who wasn’t a sinner, then I could be like that person. Jesus, I understood was perfect, but He was God, so I needed someone else.

I finally set on Moses and asked my mom if he wasn’t perfect. No, she said, he sinned. How? I asked. For starters, he committed murder.

Then how about David? No, he stole another man’s wife and had him killed. He wasn’t without sin either.

OK, I reasoned, if even the Bible people sinned, then it must be true. All sin, even me.

It wasn’t until years later I learned about my nature to sin, and I actually discovered that myself, when I was reading John 3:18. The problem isn’t sins I commit; the problem is my rejection of God. That’s the nature I have—one that wants to believe in myself, wants to choose my own way, wants to trust me despite the evidence and God’s witness that my heart is deceitful.

This post originally appeared here in September 2010.

Published in: on October 2, 2015 at 6:16 pm  Comments (7)  
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An Influential Character


cover_Prince CaspianThis blog post is my response to a writing prompt posted in the Facebook group Fantasy Writers and Readers. Please leave a comment or contact me at my Yahoo account for an invite if you are an avid fantasy writer and/or reader and would like to participate in this closed Facebook group.

So the question: what character, as in fictitious person from a story, influenced you either now or in childhood or throughout your life?

That’s a head-scratcher.

When I was a kid, the characters I loved were Mr. Toad and his wild ride, Brer Rabbit and his clever cockiness, the Little Engine That Could and his commitment, drive, and determination. What persistence, that little engine!

Later, I loved the secret heroes—Zorro most of all, but Robin Hood too, the Long Ranger, and Superman. They were not about taking bows or doing good deeds for show. They wanted to right injustice, to help the poor and needy and protect the weak and helpless. Oh my what lofty goals! How do you do such things if you a) don’t have super powers or b) don’t have endless resources or c) aren’t planning to begin a criminal lifestyle?

Another character I loved was Alec Ramsey, protagonist in The Black Stallion by Walter Farley because he knew how to tame a wild horse and endear himself to the animal, for life. In many ways he was the kid version of my other heroes, only he turned his protective instincts toward a horse.

But who has actually influenced me? I’d have to say Lucy Pevensie of The Chronicles Of Narnia. In book two Prince Caspian, Lucy and a small entourage are trying to reach what had been their castle, but years and years have passed in Narnia and Things Are Different. The animals no longer talk and a great wood has grown up. Evil men are in control.

At one point Lucy sees Aslan, the High King of Narnia. He beckons her to follow, but she doesn’t. As a result, they take a very long road and almost fall into enemy hands. They have to backtrack and lose a day when time is of the essence.

Again Lucy sees Aslan, even talks with him. In their conversation, it’s clear he wants her to follow him even if the others can’t see him and even if they don’t come along. It’s a critical point—she must act on what she believes, or not.

That was a changing point in my life, too. Lucy had the courage of her convictions, and she challenged me to live the same way. So of all the great protagonists in all the great stories, I’d have to say Lucy Pevensie has influenced me most.

Going Without


FamilyWhen I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money which meant that sometimes we had to go without. For me, that meant I mostly got hand-me-downs to wear, and I rarely got the latest, greatest toy that TV was advertising on cartoon shows.

Doing without didn’t mean we were hungry, though I guess there were a few times we came close to having no money for food. I seem to remember a time someone left a bag of groceries on our front porch, and my dad, a college teacher, took a second job as a door-to-door salesman.

We had days when our evening meal—normally dinner—consisted of spam sandwiches and cornmeal mush. I know it may not sound appetizing, but I personally liked it a lot. Only as an adult did I realize this was a meal we had because we couldn’t afford much else.

There were lunches when Mom fed the five of us from one can of Campbell’s condensed soup. Admittedly, the cans were bigger in those days, but still, that wasn’t a lot of soup. Some years ago I asked Mom how she managed it, and she said she just added more water. I do remember one time sort of whining when I realized she was going to open only one can: “Aw, Mom, can’t we please have two cans?”

But the bottom line is that I didn’t really realize most of the time that we were going without.

We didn’t have a TV for years, and when we did finally buy one, it was black and white (yes, they used to make those). We had that TV for years—maybe until I was a senior in high school, and we moved out of the country.

Despite going without as a kid (and not realizing it), I lived an adventurous life. And a secure one. We moved with some frequency, but we had a home base in Colorado where we owned some mountain property. My dad and brother, with help from Mom and us girls and anyone who wanted to visit and help, built a real log cabin. We sort of camped out at first, then Dad put up a one room building we fondly called the shack, which we lived in until the cabin was ready. Neither place had electricity or running water or indoor “facilities.” We had a mountain stream where we got our water and an outhouse where we did our business. 😉

But none of this was part of going without. This was all a part of being so blessed we enjoyed adventurous living. I could tell stories about hiking to a fire tower a few miles above us, to the beaver dams below us, or to rocks we named (Alan’s Rock, Armchair Rock, Bed Rock). Then there were the cook outs we had at the Peak or pine cone fights with my brother. I could tell you about the bear that visited and the evenings spent reading stories as a family.

Yeah, none of that had anything to do with going without.

Going without was picking up furniture second hand and driving old cars. But really, that’s not going without.

The point of all this reminiscing is that I think going without taught me the value of stuff—none of it is worth as much as we think. I was happy growing up with less. Not because of what we had or didn’t have but because stuff didn’t rule our lives. We had an old couch, so never thought about putting plastic covers over it like my uncle did with his new, matching living room furniture.

On top of that, God provided (see above the paragraphs about adventurous living).

Who else has this whole forest to play in? Part of the play involved hauling water and helping to bring in firewood. We got to unpack the barrels where we kept the cabin stuff and to wash clothes by hand. There was a sense of family pulling together to survive—everybody chipping in, everybody bringing something important to the table.

There we were, no telephone, no car—we had to hike in because the road was too rough and at that time we were too poor for a jeep. Only a kerosene lamp, a lantern, and flashlights. We heated water to wash, used the cold mountain stream as our refrigerator to keep food cold. And there was only a sense of adventure, a joy in the everyday tasks.

Sure, this was short term. We didn’t live in the cabin year-round. But the value of going without is priceless, and lasting. Because it was abundantly clear that we didn’t need a TV to be happy or entertained. We didn’t need a lot. We needed each other, and that was probably the most important take-away for me.

Published in: on July 21, 2015 at 6:04 pm  Comments (5)  
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