Friday, October 16, 2015

Book Review-Undone:A Story of Making Peace with and Unexpected Life by Michele Cushatt

This is a book review I shared with my church family at Faith Reformed PCA, Erie PA.  I thought some of my blog followers might also be interested. 

Ok, FRC family, here’s another book review…

I bought the book Undone: A Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Life by Michele Cushatt when it was first published, on the recommendation of a friend of mine who was on the advance team. When the package first arrived I opened it, immediately started reading the book… and then got scared and put the book down for six months.  The book touched a nerve in me that I was not wanting touched.

But I finally got tired of living around it, moving it from coffee table to end table to night stand to end table again and just plunged in. Nerves were still zinged, but I was ready for it now.

Undone is a memoir of Cushatt’s life – a divorce, remarriage, single-parenting, step-parenting, a cancer diagnosis, foster children. She is open and honest about her life without getting in to the gory details, respecting the privacy of those involved while still managing to get across the emotional and spiritual messiness. That takes talent, wisdom, and more importantly, love for those involved. I admire that. 

As a lifelong Christian, Cushatt knows how she should have reacted to the “undone” details of her life.  She truthfully admits to what her reactions were (crying on her closet floor being one of them), and she faithfully proclaims how Jesus brought her through those times.

Her stories (and that’s what this book is, a collection of stories from her life) are not so extreme so as for readers to not be able to relate.  These are situations where many of us could find ourselves. It is in these common events that Cushatt is able to see the hand of God at work. In fact, she learns it is because of these events she is able to see God, become more like Jesus and be able to love her neighbors better.

Just as “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness”, sharing in Christ’s suffering allowed her (and all of us) to demonstrate grace and mercy to those we come in contact.

Michele Cushatt is a nationally known speaker and this is her first book. Her writing style is conversational, with many comical and self-deprecating asides.  In other words, she writes like I speak…and write. It is a quick read, and though it might be classified in the Woman’s Section, it is not a “chick book”.  Men would enjoy it, as well.

If you read it, let me know if you agree...or not.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Perfect Storm

I struggled against the fierce storm,
   battling strong winds
      which blew me off course.
                           The heat of passion
                       met the coolness of rejection
                    ran in to the drench of tears
                 to form the perfect storm;
              a confluence of sadness and despair
         which threatened to overpower me
      and drag me away to the dark place.
  But lightning struck
and lit my path
   revealing where I was,
      where I was heading,
          and the path back
            To Your refuge.
   met to form
another perfect storm
   where grace rained down
        and drenched me in redemption.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner: My Half Marathon Adventure, Epilogue

So, I finished my half marathon.  13.1 miles completed in 3:11:24, well within my goal time of 3:30.  As I was running my route around the beautiful environs of Schroon Lake, I thought about this final post in this series.  I was going to review my training, the hours of running, the blisters, bone pain, mental challenges. Throughout those 3 hours, 11 minutes and 24 seconds I composed a most wonderful and inspiring post, peppered with some witty comments and hilarious dog stories ('cause, hey, I gotta be me).  All that changed on the ride home at a rest stop on Interstate 90.  While we were eating dinner, my sister/chauffeur/rehab trainer, Jean was checking her email when she let out a sad "Aww" and told me our friend Mike had died Sunday morning.

Mike had battled brain cancer for a couple of years. Some would say he lost his battle.  Those that knew him and read his Facebook posts throughout his treatment would say he'd won, no doubt about it.  Or as my pastor would term it, he died well. It seems to me that all Mike's life up to his cancer diagnosis was training for a long, difficult "race" through the trails and trials of treatment. He must have trained staunchly because he ran strong up until the very end, living faithfully for his Lord and Saviour.  Though in his final days his ability to communicate was severely limited, he still proclaimed the power of the Gospel by his demeanor through such difficult times.

While he underwent hours and hours of treatments, Mike would pray for different friends and family members and post those prayers on Facebook.  People I know who have had cancer are amazed when they hear this. They say if they did have any energy to pray, they prayed for themselves. Jean and I were once recipients of his prayers.To this day, I feel honored!

There were hundreds of people from all over the world praying for and cheering on Mike, most fervently his wife and two daughters.  There were a lot of people cheering me on and praying for me, as well.  My sister and my Aunt Joan who accompanied me the 400 miles to the race...and back again.  Anna, whose performance in last year's marathon I witnessed, which inspired me to attempt this run.  My brother who supported me...with teasing, and his wife who supported me by telling him to be nice! Brenda and the Barblings, Adiel, Mindy, Michelle and Joe, Fran, Ali and Dave. y coworker, Julie who knew my training schedule better than I did!  Facebook "Likes" and lots of texts over the last few weeks.  My Internet friend, Stacey who recommended The Runner's Devotional and who's blog posts  about her races - athletic, medical and spiritual - stirred up lots of thoughts in my brain and my soul. And I can't leave out Lucy who dragged me forward (usually after a squirrel) when my legs didn't feel like working anymore. Or Dora, who was so happy to walk with me during my cool downs, bright-eyed and waggy-tailed.

Both Mike and I have had lots of people (and dogs) in our corner.  But there were still many long stretches we each had to travel on our own, many silent miles where there was no one shouting encouragement, many "dark nights of the soul".  Still, it's said loneliness is a state of mind. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jer 17:9) Our emotions quite often lie to us, giving us a dysmorphic view of reality.

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Prov 18:24 That would be Jesus, AKA Emmanuel, meaning God is with us. GOD with us - "...a very present help in trouble" (Ps 46:1) who promised to He would never leave nor forsake us (Josh 1:5). THIS is the reality the enemy works to make us forget.

After I heard about Mike death, I recalled a portion of the morning's race.  At about Mile 2 I could hear loud cheers coming from across the lake.  I smiled thinking about how they'd be cheering for me when I got to that point.  That point was around Mile 4, where the race route crossed the campus of Word of Life Fellowship, a Christian ministry and camp.  There were almost a hundred kids, counselors and leaders yelling and cheering for me.  "Way to go #770 (my bib number)!"  "Lookin' good!" There were even a few who yelled out "Keep going, Barbara!!" It was surprising and heartening  to hear my name! Apparently, race officials hand out rosters of racers for that very reason (Note to self - if I ever do anything like this again, fill out the application as Barb). As I ran by, I joked to one of the leaders that I was "surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1). Sitting at that roadside rest stop, I was struck by the thought that while I was hearing my "great cloud of witnesses" Mike was hearing the real thing, angels and saints elated to see him cross the finish line, yelling his name!

The other day, my dad called me to see how I was feeling (I was sore) and to tell me he was proud of me (I got teary-eyed). On Sunday morning, Mike's Father, Abba said the same thing to him. And that is why I continue to "run with endurance the race that is set before me" - to hear the words "well done, good and faithful servant".

Friday, September 25, 2015

There's An App For That : My Half Marathon Adventure, Part 4

When I first started training for the Adirondack Half Marathon, I found an App that seemed to suit my ability and my schedule.  I downloaded it on to my phone and started running,  The initial training sessions were short runs 1.5 miles, 2 miles, 3  miles.  No big deal.  Although it was often hot and muggy during my runs, the distances didn't really warrant carrying water.  As long as I was hydrated throughout the day, I felt fine.  The only thing I carried was my phone and, if a dog was accompanying me, a leash and a "waste" bag.

There are devices made, such as arm bands, so I wouldn't have to hold the phone, but I have never been able to find one that fit my arm.  They were either too big or too tight.  I've never been able to find one that was "just right" (dispense with the Goldilocks jokes, please) so I carried my phone, holding it in place under a rubber band wrapped loosely around my palm. The phone stayed in place while my circulation still circulated.

Still, on longer runs my palms got sweaty and the phone became an uncomfortable nuisance.  Additionally, though I needed it to track my mileage, I often found myself checking the phone to see how far I'd come - or more honestly, checking to see how much further I had to go.  I was not content to wait for the little App Coach to let me know my pace, split times and distance.  I would impatiently check the screen, sometimes actually stopping running to read the stats because of the sun and sweat in my eyes.

As I mentioned in a previous post, on longer runs I found the need to carry food and water to sustain my energy. I have a water bottle that has a handle which wraps around my palm, but like the phone it made my hand sweaty so I started tucking the bottle in to the waistband of my shorts.  It stayed in place...most of the time. But carrying food became a problem.  My running shorts don't have pockets so I had to resort to a "fanny pack".

In the pockets of my fanny pack, which I wore turned towards my front not my fanny, I stowed my phone, food, Kleenex, and a plastic grocery bag (for the dog). I still had to keep my water bottle in the waistband of my shorts.  I was now able to run with my hands free, unless I had a dog with me and then I only had to hold my end of the leash.

An aside here.  Back in June I went camping with my friends Adiel and Mindy.  During our hikes Mindy used a fanny pack to carry her keys, camera, water bottle, etc.  Though Mindy's pack was of a sportier style than most, Adiel and I still made fun of her.  Mindy, please forgive me!)

Some interesting things happened once I reorganized my paraphernalia and ran with empty hands.  I got faster.  (Note:  I said faster not fast.  I'm still slow.)

With the phone in my pack, the little App voice is often muffled or drowned out completely by the sound of street traffic.   When I do hear the App Coach, I can't always discern what she is saying; I only hear a "still, small voice" indicating to me I've made some forward progress.  I just have no idea of how much progress or how much further I have to go. But I love hearing that voice!

Hebrews 12:1 (NASB) says "...let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us".  Other translations use the word "weight" instead of "encumbrance". During my training runs, I wasn't carrying less.  In fact, counting the Swedish Fish and Animal Crackers in my pack, I was carrying more now.  The only difference was my hands were free.  I was no longer distracted by what I was holding.  And I was no longer glancing at my phone, looking to check my stats.

I carry a lot of baggage in my daily life.  I'm weighed down by my long "To Do" list, my worries and concerns. I'm distracted by the voices that tell me I'm behind, not good enough,I'll never catch up, I need to try harder. These are the encumbrances I need to shed.  This is sin of disbelief and this is where grace enters the picture. Just like on my runs, I have to reorganize how I carry things.

Some things Jesus said:

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt11:28)

"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you." I Peter 5:6-7

"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden light." (Matt 11:29-30)

Grace humbles me, not as an embarrassment or a crutch.  Truth be told (sin confessed) my own pride is the crutch on which I lean...and run poorly. Grace is the very legs on which I stand and run the race set before me. Jesus wants me to finish this race and thus He provided the legs, He is there with me every stride, carrying my food and water, feeding me along the way, and telling me to press on.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Eat, Drink and Be Wary: My Half Marathon Adventure, Part 3

So much of the training for my upcoming race happened on weeknights after work.  Because I'm a slow runner, some of those longer training sessions could take upwards of two hours to complete; longer, if I was accompanied by a dog.

So that I wasn't running in the dark of night, most of the times when I got home from work I'd race through the door, let the dogs out, fill their food dishes, change my clothes, and head out the door for a run. About 10 to 15 minutes in to my runs I'd realize that the last time I'd eaten had been lunch six hours prior.   On  a  3-mile run that's uncomfortable but manageable.  On longer runs, that can be disastrous. During these sessions I'd become nauseous, shaky, and noodle-legged, barely making it home.  After a few times of "bonking" I learned my lesson and started grabbing a quick snack (usually a banana) before my run. For long sessions, I'd try to eat something more substantial - peanut butter toast and the always reliable banana. I also started carrying food (animal crackers and Swedish Fish) and water with me. These practices made a noticeable difference on my endurance.

Staying hydrated is also important for runners.  Dehydration not only affects a runner's performance but can be deadly, as well. Lack of water makes your blood thicker and sludge-like and makes your heart work harder.

I drink a lot throughout the day, but my preferred beverage is diet soda or iced tea, not water. Since the bulk of my training was during the high heat of July and August, I knew hydration was of particular importance so I made it a point to substitute water for diet soda as my pre-run drink, though a majority of my drinking during the day still consisted of the not-so-healthy beverages.  I did not become dehydrated during these runs, as my sweat-soaked clothes indicated but I found my endurance suffered.  It was not until I started regularly drinking water throughout my days that I found my strength lasted throughout my sessions. It seems that unlike food, where a quick bite to eat will give me a jolt of energy, hydration needs to be built up and sustained over time.

There are some definite spiritual parallels here. Jesus is called the Bread of Life (John 6:35) He offered the woman at the well living water (John 4:10-11).  Our souls need to eat and drink.  David prayed to God in Psalm 63

 “my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

If living the life of a disciple is a race, we “runners” must take in nourishment. We must feed on the Word of God. We must drink of Jesus, the Living Water.

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart…” Jeremiah 15:16

“Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matt 4:4

“Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” John 7:37

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Isaiah 12:3

For believers in Christ to finish the race set before us, we need to practice good spiritual nutrition, taking in the food and drink God has set before us.  We do this through prayer drinking in His Spirit, absorbing His very presence in to our own souls. We eat of His Word, the Bible by reading, meditating on and hearing the Word preached.

          “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of
Christ.” Romans 10:17

I learned the hard way through dizzy spells and painful leg cramps that I need to eat and drink properly to run well if I intend on finishing this half marathon. I’ve learned the hard way that I cannot ignore my need for Jesus if I intend to finish the race He set before me. That race is lifelong and requires more than an occasional healthy snack, but regular, intentional healthy practices in order to cross that finish line. A DNF in that race is deadly.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

So Why Am I Doing a Half Marathon Anyway?: My Half Marathon Adventure, Part 2

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a natural athlete.  As I mentioned before, my running is more like a lumbering plod. I'm more endomorph than ectomorph; soft and curvy, not hard-bodied or lithesome.  So why run a distance race?

I confess, it's the swag.  Bigger races of longer distances give out better loot.

Certainly, I have other motivations.  I enjoy the challenge. I want to be fit and healthy. I desire to maintain an active lifestyle and better quality of life. But when you get right down to it, I like getting prizes.

Many, many years ago I volunteered to work at a local 5K race for which I was given a long sleeve
t-shirt with an impressive race logo and the word "STAFF" down one sleeve.  I felt official. When I wore that shirt I walked taller, a proud participant in an athletic event. I was hooked.

Since then, I've volunteered and walked in numerous charity events for t-shirts. And for really special events, hooded sweatshirts! Once I started racing, I rated the race based primarily on the quality of the t-shirt. I've raced in rain, sleet, sweltering heat and even in the dark wearing a tutu, all for the swag. 

My race times will never qualify me for any prizes, but for the distance races - marathons and half-marathons - they give all the finishers a medal! I want that prize! I want to feel the weight of it hanging from my neck. 

Notice the tutu on the left?

This sounds shallow and selfish, but really, I've got biblical precedent to back me up! The apostle, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:24 "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it." He knew, people like to win things. 

In the next verse he then says "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." T-shirts are definitely perishable items.  That "STAFF" t-shirt I prized sits in a landfill somewhere. The picture above is only a sampling of the
t-shirts I've collected through the years. Most have been relegated to the rag bag. Evan a medal won't last forever. A disposable item subject to rust and tarnish it will eventually wind up in the trash, I'm sure.

There are better things to work for, "...I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14)" being one of them. Still, to have and to hold a piece of metal is tangible evidence for me of "the prize of the upward call of God". That prize connects my physical senses with spiritual sense and gives some validation to the hours I've spent training - bodily training and training in godliness (I Timothy 4:7-8) God does give rewards, some which one can actually see and touch, hear, taste and smell. They should not be discounted.

So, on September 27, Lord willing, I will be testing my mettle in order to receive a metal medal. I will also be thankful for the strengthening of my spirit that has occurred during this training, a strength that does not diminish with time, as does bodily strength.

Monday, September 14, 2015

I'm Only Half Crazy:My Half Marathon Adventure Part 1

Last year at about this time I traveled to the Adirondacks to watch my friend Anna run her first marathon, the Adirondack Marathon Distance Festival .  The marathon and the half marathon are run on the same course and as I watched runners racing towards the finish, I saw a number of half marathoners.  I was struck by how many of them had my build and ran at about my speed. Watching them, I thought "I could do that" and so an idea was planted.

I'm not a speedy runner. In fact my run is more of a plod…sprinkled with bouts of walking in between. I don't necessarily enjoy running as much as I enjoy the sense of accomplishment I feel after I've run. And to keep me motivated to run, I try to have a race scheduled for which I have to train.  When I returned from the Adirondacks I was training for the annual Turkey Trot 5K held on each Thanksgiving Day.  After that, winter came and I put my running shoes away for the season. With sub-zero wind chills and ice covered streets, no sense of accomplishment is worth frostbite or a broken hip.  I spent much of my winter sitting under a blanket in my chair close to the heating vent.

Still, under the warmth of heavy blankets, watered by numerous cups of hot tea, that seed of an idea of a half-marathon began germinating. I started looking in to different races, the Pittsburgh Half Marathon being one of them. As a Pittsburgh native, this race appealed to me for many reasons.  The race route snakes its way across many of the city’s bridges, offering a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel across them without dodging traffic!

But the Pittsburgh race is in early May requiring winter training – not practical for me. Many other races I looked at didn’t fit my schedule, either.  Spring races require winter training.  Summer races mean I’d be training and racing in the hottest weather.  Winter races are held in warmer climes requiring larger travel expenses and extra vacation days.  A fall race, though requiring training in the hot summer, seemed the best fit. And what better place to spend a fall weekend than in the Adirondacks?

So on Sunday, September 27,  I will be running 13.1 miles around Schroon Lake, in my first ever half-marathon.  I started serious training around July 4th during which time, God has taught me much. In instances in the Bible, the life of a Christian is compared to running a race. I can now relate more intimately to these examples. Over the next fourteen days I plan to post some of what the Spirit has shown me. 

Until now, I haven’t told many people about my race. Saying “Oh, did I tell you I’m running the Adirondack Half Marathon?” did not sound natural coming from my mouth.  I’m more likely to discuss the Marathon candy bar than a road race, and I’m more knowledgeable about the candy bar, as well!

Still, one of the things God has been teaching me is that I need to enlist more prayer support for certain things.  To that end, I am asking that you all would pray for me for my race.  I have some specific requests here:
  1.   Pray that I finish!  If I ran the first mile in under 4 minutes but didn’t finish the race, it would all be for nothing.
  2. (OK, this request is pure pride, I confess) They close the road to vehicles until 2:30 pm (or 4-1/2 hours after the half marathon begins), at which time they reopen the road.  Pray that I finish the race before they reopen the roads. Though I think I’ll be finished by then, I’m not sure.  I’m a slow runner and this is a hilly course.  It’s hard enough on the ego to finish at the back of the pack, if not last; but to be running while cars are driving by, seeing people check their watches and mouth the words “is someone still out there??”…  It’s embarrassing. 
  3. (This one’s a stretch goal) If all goes well, if conditions are right – good weather, I eat right, I dress right, I feel right, I run the course right - I guess what I’m saying here is if conditions are perfect) I could finish in under 3-1/2 hours. Still slow, but acceptable for my dignity. Pray that I finish well.
  4. Finally, pray that I not be so concerned with results, keep my pride in check and just enjoy the experience.
“…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1d

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Book Review-Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller

This is a book review I shared with my church family at Faith Reformed PCA, Erie PA.  I thought some of my blog followers might also be interested. 

Dear Faith Family,

A few years ago, when we read Paul Miller’s A Praying Life my prayer life changed for the better.  Miller’s down-to-earth approach helped me untie the knots of angst I felt in prayer and just approach God conversationally, not feeling (too) guilty about life and dog interruptions during our talks. I saw God answer many of my prayers and in ways I wouldn’t have imagined.

Still, I was sensing that I was doing most of the talking.  I wanted to listen more but didn’t know how without my mind wandering. With that goal in mind, I picked up Timothy Keller’s book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.  It was the word “intimacy” that grabbed my attention because that is what I wanted to develop in listening, a more intimate relationship with my God.

Chapters 1-3 were essentially introductory, setting up Keller’s foundation that “we must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence” (emphasis mine).

It was Chapter 4, “Conversing with God” that grabbed me and confirmed my sense God wanted me to listen more.  Keller starts by reminding us that prayer is our reply to God, who first spoke  to us, not the other way around. In addition, consider what God has done just by speaking.  In Genesis we see God spoke creation in to existence. Psalm 29 says “the voice of the Lord breaks the cedars…the voice of the Lord shakes the desert…” When God speaks, things happen.

Keller’s instructions on how to pray use a more meditative and contemplative style; not the A-C-T-S acronym on which I was originally instructed as a young Christian and continued to use as an older one.  Using practices of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Augustine as examples, he takes readers through prayer, using scripture meditation to form our requests – even practical ones like financial problems and finding lost keys.

The book is scripturally based without turning in to an eye-glazing theology lesson.  Keller’s writing style is stimulating and challenging without sending me to a dictionary every other paragraph. I’ve read many essays by Tim Keller, but this is the first of his books I’ve ever read so I don’t know if this is typical.

I’ve only recently begun observing some of these practices so I have no earth shattering results to share.  I can say that in recent months God has shared with me some wonderful and dare I say intimate observations from His Word, which I attribute to Keller’s insight.


Friday, September 11, 2015

A Fractured Fairytale

My heart leapt up when I beheld the rainbow in the sky, the sign of the promise. But I jumped into an empty swimming pool. Now I await for my King, Himself to do what all his horses and men were unable, to put me back together.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

A Seed's Prayer

Many seeds were sown,
Grew in to beautiful plants and bushes and flowers,
          dropped new seeds.
New plants and bushes and flowers sprang forth,
          reaching to the sun.
I'm still in the ground,
Waiting to germinate,
     to grow,
          to be picked,
Every year
     more dirt thrown on top of me;
          deeper in to the ground I sink.
     Not noticed?
It's cold and dark.
     Am I slow to germinate,
          or am I dead?
Just be over with it already,
     and bury me
          six feet under.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Circle of (a Lonely) Life

If midnight is the Witching Hour,
3:00 AM is the Lonely Hour.
I'm wakened by echoes
Bouncing off the cavernous walls
Of my empty heart
Because of the empty place next to me.

No sheep appear
For me to count.
Even they have the good sense
To be sleeping at this hour,
Huddled together.

I only have the minutes to count
Until dawn breaks
When loneliness is replaced
By busyness
Until the next sunset
When the cycle begins again.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Tribute to Julius

We were introduced in January, 2008 under extreme circumstances.  My previous vehicle, a Ford Taurus had been totaled.   I had to find a new vehicle quickly.  You were the only one I looked at and after that first test drive I knew you were the one.  If not love at first sight, it was at least an intense like.

You fit me in style, comfort, age.  Not brand new, you had a few miles on you - about 21K.  You had been around the block a few times.  You fit me in all areas except maybe color.  But I grew to love and appreciate your hue.  

Your official color is Blazing Copper.  The Barblings' dad called you the Flaming Pumpkin.  Many people refer to you as red (maybe it's a blue dress/black dress thing going here).  I see orange and thus your name, (Orange) Julius.

A 2008 Ford Escape, escape we did!  We've escaped to 12 states and 2 countries.  We've been up and down mountains, You've carried me through snow, rain, heat, gloom of night.  We've been through tornado-like winds in Indiana and a snow storm across the wiiiiddde state of Ohio.

There was Martin Luther King Day in 2013 when my normal 50 minute commute home took 150 minutes because of a blizzard. THAT trip ended with me sliding in to the back of a WalMart semi and you cracked your bumper cover.

We ran out of gas. We had flat tires. We hit a turkey (more correctly, the turkey hit us) and shattered your windshield. And there was that incident last winter where I drove you (unintentionally) in to a snow filled drainage ditch (sorry).

We've carried kids and dogs and camping gear and shopping bags. You've heard me laugh and cry and scream. You keep my secrets.

Now, after 154K miles together, it's time to put you "out to pasture". I do so unwillingly but both our safety is at stake.  I'm not sure we'd make it through another winter.

The first bumper sticker I ever placed on you was a "Longmire for Sheriff" sticker, after the Craig Johnson book series.  That bumper sticker is now in tatters, much like Walt Longmire himself.

Tomorrow, I trade you in for a new vehicle, but you can never be replaced.  You'll stay in my memories forever.  I can't imagine anyone better for me than you, Julius.

Goodbye my faithful friend. You've served me well.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Late at night,
Or very early morning
Nascent thoughts
Yet will I trust Him.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


My heart is torn to pieces.
My desire ripped from me;
My desire, not Yours.

If this were a medical procedure
There'd be anesthesia
And plenty of meds afterwards.

But this is not surgery,
No doctor wielding a scalpel.
This is a crucifixion.

My desire is being crucified,
But unlike Jesus, because of Jesus
God has not forsaken me.

God has not forsaken me!
He is with me; the Holy Spirit within me.
My Helper. My Comforter.

When will this end?
How will this end?
And what, if anything will You resurrect
From my dead desire?

Saturday, August 08, 2015


I was made
  with ears that hear
    and eyes that see,
But he does not speak to me.
He hides himself from my sight.

I was given a mouth
  that longs to taste his mouth;
A nose the sniffs the air
  seeking his musky, virile smell.
But he is nowhere to be found.

I was created with a body,
  with skin and nerves
    that wait for his touch
      to send waves of excitement through me!

He is absent.

My heart is so alone
  it's beats echo loudly,
    drowning out my sobs and wails.
So empty
  the slightest of breaths
    sends waves of pain throughout
      when they touch the raw exposed surfaces
Of my soul.

I wait upon my Redeemer
  to make right what is so wrong,
    to heal my heart
That He made,
  to fill my longing desire
He placed deep inside me;

To keep His promises


Friday, August 07, 2015



 Hundreds of puzzle pieces You’ve given me.
I received each one with joy!
I pieced them together
Waiting excitedly, expectantly for the final piece to be inserted,
And find out I’ve been wrong.
The picture I thought I was putting together
Was different from the one You had on Your box.

You’ve left thousands of crumbs on the trail for me.
I’ve followed with anticipation
Of what waits at the end.
I came to the end of a trail today.
I followed the wrong trail

Fix my mistakes, dear God.
Help me find the right path.

“The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
   to the soul who seeks him.”
      -Lamentations 3:25


Death of romance.
Like King David, at the death of his baby
   I wash my face, take a meal
      wanting to move forward,
         wanting to trust You!
I eat and drink in Your Word
   seeking comfort, sustenance,
      trying to "taste and see that the LORD is good".
It sits in my soul like rocks,
   heavy and unsatisfying;
      like a meal that just "sits there"
         leaving me full
            but still hungry.
But if I wait,
   it will break down
It will digest
   and my soul will absorb its nourishment.
      I will be sustained.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Johnny Appleseed

In my many efforts to develop a consistent Bible reading habit I’ve read Psalm 1 countless times, along with Genesis 1 and Matthew 1, as well. I’ve never been great at Scripture memory but due to the number of times I’ve read this Psalm I’ve practically memorized it, so when I read it I run words together or skim over it. My latest reading, however, got me thinking a bit. I didn’t speed read this time. And so, Psalm 1 coupled with current headlines inspired these thoughts.

I love trees.  I always have - from Girl Scout hikes to camping. Many times, when I’ve purchased trinkets, cards or home decorative items I’ve bought things with trees or leaves without even realizing it.  Trees have some pull over me. Maybe it’s my Celtic blood, my inner druid!

In Psalm 1 faithful believers are likened to well-watered trees; productive, standing hearty and strong. But it’s not for just themselves they exist by that riverside referenced in the psalm. They support the surrounding community as well. Trees offer shelter and supply food.  But what I also realized was trees prevent erosion.  A tree’s root system stabilizes the soil preventing runoff, while the leaves and branches protect the ground from the wind and rain.

Our culture is eroding, carried away by torrents of sin. It’s eroding because there aren’t enough trees to stand firm against the wash, and many of the trees that do exist are not well-rooted.
A culture is not merely a collection of traditions or a way of life; a culture is people. The culture being swept away is our neighbors, friends, family. They’re being left to drown in a sea of sin. Erosion is happening at such an alarming rate. What can we do to save them?

The solution is obvious - plant more trees!

So how can we go about planting these trees?

Trees reproduce from seeds from the fruit of the tree. We can plant more trees of faithful believers by producing fruit.  God told us in His Word the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.  Growing more fruit brings more trees.
But it’s not a matter of quantity.  A forest of shallow-rooted trees or young seedlings will be easily carried off by the floods of evil along with the rest of humanity. We need healthy, well-rooted trees mixed in with the saplings to provide protection.

In order to do this we need to be healthy trees ourselves, well-rooted and grounded in the law of the LORD, as Psalm 1 advises.  As Jesus said in Matthew 7 “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.”

We become healthy trees by knowing God’s Word. This is more than an intellectual exercise, being able to quote verses and hold our own in theological discussions.  To know the Word is to drink it in and have it hydrate our entire being – our thoughts, words and deeds – the fruit of the Spirit. Regularly reading God’s Word and meditating on, that is thinking about what you read throughout the day is one way to develop a strong root system. By meditating you will know more than God’s Word. You’ll know God, as well. You’ll grow to know His character.

Another way to develop delight in the Law of the LORD is to worship at a church where the Word is preached – the whole Bible, both Old and New Testaments.   God is love, certainly and we are saved by grace, for sure! But Jesus and the writers of the New Testament regularly refer to the Old Testament – the Psalms, prophets and history.  Hearing only one portion of Scripture without the context of the entire Bible is like watering a tree with distilled water. Trees might grow but they will be weak from mineral deficiency, unable to withstand storms or drought. And if by chance they do yield fruit it will be of poor quality.

The Psalmist advises us to not take counsel from the ungodly. To cultivate a healthy faith we need to be discerning about from whom we take advice and receive direction.  Self-help books are one of the top-selling genres. Magazines covers entice us with headlines touting “10 Steps to a Perfect Peace”, or the like. Poignant Facebook memes touch our hearts with sentimental quotes expressing pleasant thoughts but poor theology. We are surrounded by ungodly counsel, much of it in disguise. It’s easy to absorb it without even intending.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our hearts. The onslaught of information and misinformation from our hypermedia-driven society can be overwhelming and make us feel hopeless.  But James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” We need to pray the Spirit help us filter out the bad and take in that which is beneficial and encourages good fruit. Paul told us in Philippians 4:7 how God answers such prayers when he said “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Our world is fast becoming a wasteland and the Church has no one to blame but ourselves. Yet there is still hope!  The promises of God’s Word are still true; they always will be. One promise was “…I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  He said this to His apostles when He gave them the Great Commission, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”.  We need to plant more trees.

What's one way you helped plant or nurture a "tree" today?

Monday, May 25, 2015

The REAL Hope Diamond

This was originally posted back in August 2010.  I'm reposting because I need to be reminded of what it says. I hope you all enjoy it.

Two Sundays ago, I heard a sermon titled Chosen.  In it my pastor pointed out that like Israel, believers today (of which I am one) were chosen by God and it was not just a cold, calculated choice, but one made with loving affection for His people.

During my Monday evening walk with a friend, we talked about this sermon.  My friend asked me if I believed that I was chosen - in this manner - He could have chosen anyone, but He chose me.  I answered that I believe that I'm chosen, this is directly borne out in the Word, but I have trouble grasping the affectionate part.  God chose a lot of other people, as well.  I'm one of billions of people that Jesus chose, what sets me apart?  What makes me special?  What makes me noticed?  She responded that just as I enjoy certain aspects in one of my dogs and other traits in the other dog - just as she appreciates certain qualities in each of her individual children, there is some trait in me that God enjoys.

I pondered this for a day or two and's not about me.  Though I want to be and AM special, it is because God created me that way.  Focusing and seeking what makes me special is demeaning to He that created me.  He placed a particular trait of His inside me; inside each of us, by His own design and for His own purposes.  It is in His image that I was made, formed, sculpted.

Bu...what does that mean - in His image?

God created man in His own image - this is direct from Genesis and even many Bible-illiterate have heard this.  God has many facets to His image and He placed one of those facets in each one of us.

A facet is one face of a diamond's cut.  Facets determine the amount of light refracted.  They are what give a diamond it's "bling".  The more facets a diamond has, the more brilliant the diamond.  Skilled diamond cutters have developed diamonds with up to 221 facets, though most have dramatically fewer.  In fact, the Hope Diamond, with all it's brilliance and storied past, has only 74 facets.  These pale in comparison to God.

If each member of the world's past, present and future population has just one facet of God's image, then His glory is a diamond of billions, trillions, gazillions of facets.  Such brilliance would be more than spellbinding; it would sear your eyes.  Then it would kill you.

In Exodus (Ex 33:12 - Ex 34: 1-35) Moses asked to see God's glory.  God mercifully declined, as to do so would kill Moses.  He did, however, come to Moses under cloud cover.  And still, Moses' face radiated with God's light after spending time with Him.  A mere shadow of His glory caused Moses' face to shine!

My little facet does nothing by itself.  A diamond with only one facet is a glass splinter.  Combined with all the other facets, we shine brightly.  But even this is only because of our Creator, who inserted each facet in to each of us.  And a diamond does not have light of it's own; it won't shine in total darkness.  A diamond reflects light, just as we reflect the light of God.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cheap Grace and Designer Purses

I'm currently reading a devotional book, 40 Days with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In one reading Bonhoeffer wrote of what he calls "cheap grace", which he defines:

"Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."

As I read this, the image that popped in to my mind was...purses.  Cheap purses. Knock off handbags.  Purses with fake designer labels - they look like the original but on close inspection, they lack the marks of quality craftsmanship originals have.   
Counterfeit bags typically have poor workmanship with loose threads and uneven stitching.  They’re usually made from less expensive materials, with buckles and clasps that are hollow and tarnish easily.  These bags don’t hold up to normal wear and tear and when they get wet, quite often the dyes run and the “leather of questionable means” smells really bad!

People who purchase these purses don’t care they fall apart easily because it’s a simple matter of throwing them out and getting new, more current styles.  They’re easily replaced, suiting the whims of the buyers.  They don’t see the purpose or sense of investing in a classic that will last them a long time.  Besides, expensive purses require a bit of care!

Leathers need conditioned; materials need cleaned; care must be taken to not toss the bags around carelessly or leave exposed to extremes.  Some people don’t think it’s worth the effort to maintain a purse; they see it as a utilitarian and consumable supply or as a fashion statement that only needs to last a season. They’ll keep it as long as it looks good.

Cheap grace is like a counterfeit designer purse. At first glance, it might look like the real thing. Up close, though, it lacks the character and integrity of the genuine article.  Cheap grace doesn’t hold up under even moderate use – Sundays and maybe a few mid-week prayer meetings. The cheapest of cheap grace only has to survive Christmas and Easter!

Though they’d never admit it, far too many Christians see their faith through consumers’ eyes, viewing cheap grace as the best investment since they only need it until the next style comes in to fashion – the next theme, the next inspiring quote, the next movement. And unfortunately, these people convince others that this grace is the genuine article, gathering unsuspecting believers along the way.
However, grace – cheap or otherwise – isn’t a disposable commodity.  When cheap grace is soaked by some thunderstorm, it’s not a purse that comes unglued and smells bad; it’s someone’s heart and soul, left in pieces, disillusioned and bitter.  A heart and soul left wary of ever investing in any grace ever again, even the genuine article.

Forgiveness without repentance does not assuage guilt, but glosses it over, leaving it to be dealt with another day. Baptism without church discipline is membership without commitment; nothing to be counted on, no sure foundation on which to stand. And Communion without confession?  Well, that’s just a piece of bread and a thimbleful of grape juice; a meaningless ritual.

Designer original grace is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9) from the Creator but it requires care for it to last. Daily attention is needed to keep it in good order.  Certainly, there are behaviors from which to abstain – Romans 13:13 give a list of ways by which believers can “walk properly” or “behave decently” to keep grace unscathed; but these actions done without wholehearted engagement result in half-hearted efforts – cheap grace.

Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind; in other words, you preserve grace by loving God with your entire self.  Believers are to be the genuine article, recipients and bestowers of authentic grace; the real thing.

Protecting the Designer original is hard work and sadly, the free gift that God is wanting to lavish on the world is not in demand.  It’s out of fashion.  I admit there are times (far too many times, if I’m going to be honest) I envy the seeming ease of cheap grace; an “I’m OK, you’re OK”, low-maintenance faith. I‘ve amassed my own collection of cheap, fake fashion accessories in my lifetime.

Jesus said we’re to count the cost if we want to be His disciples (Luke 14:28). He speaks of serving and putting others ahead of ourselves. He speaks of being mocked and suffering for His sake.  That free handbag will cost you in blood, sweat and tears – many tears! Yet considering the eternal rewards of God’s promises, the cost is minimal.

What’s amazing is not only is the gift free, but by His death and resurrection, Jesus gives us the ability to perform the maintenance!  His promises do all the heavy lifting! Promises like “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” , “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”, and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”,  to quote just a few.

On the front end, cheap grace looks appealing but it has no staying power. Accepting anything other than the genuine article is a gamble, only it's not your reputation as a fashionista that you are betting, you’re gambling your eternal soul.  In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is quoted  "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" Those bargain bags aren't really bargains after all.

Accepting genuine grace brings about great reward, now and later. There are many verses that speak of this, such as "The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward" (Prov 11:18), "Whosoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded" (Prov 11:13)

Precious items such as these only fit in designer original handbags.  Accept no substitute.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Relationships are Like Meatloaf

(This was originally posted August 4, 2010, but I still find it current and releavnt)

You can’t make a good meatloaf without mixing it up with your hands. You have to dig in to the gloppy mess up to your wrists, bread crumbs under your fingernails, grease coating your hands.

Some cooks will try to mix everything with a spoon, but this creates a splotchy, not so appetizing product.

Other cooks are only willing to get their hands so dirty so the various ingredients never really blend together and the end result is inconsistent and not as flavorful as it could be.

When a cook plunges their hands in to the meat and eggs and seasonings, being sure to spread everything around, the resulting loaf is a savory delight. This messy amalgam becomes a fulfilling meal and produces leftovers for days to come. In fact, the leftovers are better the next day once everything has had a chance to meld. Good meatloaves hold up well in the freezer, as well reminding the diners of the chef’s great skills, long after the initial meal was enjoyed.

Relationships are like meatloaves. The best ones can be very messy, at times. Those who keep their distance with the spoon find meatloaf bland and not to their liking. Those who only half-heartedly mix things up never experience the satisfaction a great meatloaf.

Those who are willing to dive in with both hands, who fully commit to the work involved, they get to enjoy this full sensory feast. Sometimes onions may produce tears, salt may sting a previously unnoticed cut, a hidden piece of eggshell may lodge itself painfully under a fingernail. But still the end result – the ultimate in comfort food – is worth it, with leftovers and memories  feeding the soul for many meals.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Hands, Touching Hands

My friends
Reach out to me
In kindness
And with love.
All I see
Are their hands;
Left hands,
With rings
And their touch
Stings my soul.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Oh Christmas Tree

I took down the Christmas tree today,
Gently lifting each ornament
From dried out branches
Trying not to spill too many needles.

I thought of many of the people who gave them to me.
Many are doing this same task,
Removing the ornaments
From their trees.

"Our First Christmas Together",
"Our First House"
"Baby's First Christmas"
"Disney Vacation"

History displayed in decorations.
Trees filled with hundreds,
Thousands of memories.
My tree filled with hopes and wishes.

Despite my best efforts
The floor is carpeted with needles
Resembling a lonely,
Dark forest floor.

I tip the tree to drag it outside
Forgetting the water in the stand.
It spills and soaks my slippers.
Or is it a pool of tears in which I stand?

Thursday, January 01, 2015


The God who never changes
Is always changing me.
Though He loves me as I am
He wants what’s best for me.

Softening harsh edges,
Removing sinful stains,
Adding joy and holiness,
My loss is always gain.

Wrestle, rant and rave with Him;
Tears, grief, fury, and despair.
Exhaustion overtakes me
Still I rage on my selfish war.

Life is very painful.
As He increases, I decrease.
Stretch marks, growing pains;
I beg for some relief!

Comfort and forgiveness come
In ways I could not dream,
With knowledge, insight, wisdom
That I share in Christ’s suffering.

It’s a privilege not all are privy.
Though I confess, I would prefer
He answer in other ways
But to His perfect plan I do defer.

He’s the same yesterday, today, tomorrow.
I’m glad that I am not.
What is now is better than before
But what’s to come is better yet.

I wait upon the LORD
To keep promises He made to me,
Not dreams or fanciful wishes
But solid, true certainties

Of peace, joy, contentment
Always and eternally.
No sin, no sorrow, no pain
Jesus gave us that surety. 

For He’s the God who never changes;
With kindness and tenderness He’s changing me.
Though He loves me as I am
He wants what’s best for me.