Connect the Dots

dscf0669Dots on the donut … dots in a dot-to-dot book, one of the few toys my three-year-old grandson had when his  family  was air-evacuated for his baby sister’s two-month-early arrival.There he and I were in the tiny apartment every day, not much but Grandma, books, the dot book and our imaginations to play with. A highly intelligent child,he could count to 100 by the time he was two, but faced with something he’d never tried before, he was hesitant to connect the dots in the book by himself. I decided to help him overcome his anxiety by starting,connecting the first two dots, then handing him the pencil to connect dot #2 to dot #3,  then I’d connect to  dot #4,  he’d draw to dot #5, and little by little,  he  overcame his hesitancy and soon was asking me to draw dot-to-dot pictures in my little notebook. I hope part of what he learned,  beyond connecting dots, was how much his Grandma loved and loves him just  for who he is, anxieties and insecurities and all. I see who he can be and the success he can achieve,  given little encouraging nudge.

Can I confess I’m not much different from my grandson when it comes  to connecting the dots and finding meaning and reason  in the jumbled craziness  life often brings? A  friend mine recently posted on a social media site that he believes each of us is still a small child inside looking to be loved. I agree totally. I know part of me is, despite all I’ve accomplished and learned to handle in my more-than-I-care-to-admit decades of living.

So what does this have to do with God Almighty? I know  why we call him Father! All through my life, and  more pointedly in the last two decades, I can see God connecting dots all over the place in my life. I have a strong hunch God is doing the same thing  for me that I was  doing for my grandson: showing me he loves and cares about ME, not my insecurities or anxieties or hang-ups ,and he sees potential in me.

Some dots  I’ve seen God connect in the  past:

Moving  me,via a radio show my husband heard, to a new church where I’d get  an unimaginable connection and chance four year’s between dots later to write books with the senior  pastor.

Moving us across the country, where God connected  me with Dana  and Loretta  (in their next-to-last Sunday at that church) who connected me  with Hiroko to help Hiroko, but via their obvious “you should be here” connection, God connected me to Julia, whose mother across the world would meet me ten years between the dots later at the airport to help me find/connect  with my son and  his family,  some 36 hours after the emergency evacuation.

Connecting me with Marilyn, who connected me with Donna, who allowed me to write leaders’ guides for her incredible ministry about five years between  dots.

Connecting me with “Ken,” who incredibly lived as a child with his mother  two blocks up the street from where the grandmother of Mark, Julia’s  husband, lived, and  Mark’s grandmother knew of “Ken’s”  family. Now we’re talking 60 years between the dots!

On the heels of “Ken’s” tragic death, connecting me with a woman during the memorial ride at the informal service I did on the street corner – I don’t even remember her name now – who connected me  with the chaplain in the county jail ministry who put copies of the devotional book  “Ken” encouraged me to publish into the county jail. No way, God! Were those broken hearts your intended audience/readers for this book all along?

Connecting me with “Dan,” who drove me to a meeting because of my connecting with “Ken.”Dan connected with the barber who cut his hair during my meeting,  who connected “Dan” with his church, where the  next week I connected with Donna, who asked  if my kids knew “Dr. John” half  a world away. A week later via a call  my son says yes,they know “Dr John” very well from their small group! Two weeks later I get a text from Donna’s husband who tells me “Dr John”will be speaking in a church a two-hour’s drive  from me, a church I know of from a connection 36 dots-worth of years earlier wjem O did youth ministry, and I drive up and get to meet and surprise “Dr John”and meet his daughter who is in the same grade at the same school with my grandson half  a world away, and his daughter who is in the same class with my granddaughter there. The next week at the church where I met Donna, God connects me with a young woman whose father happened to work  decades of dots ago  way up north with the husband of my best buddy “Patty,”whom I met fifteen dots  worth of years ago at my church in the middle of the state.

What in the  world am I to make of all this? I CERTAINLY don’t see a comprehensible picture emerging yet from all of this, and I have to make peace with the truth that I may not see the entire “picture” till I  sit with Abba God  in  Heaven looking at the dot-to-dot page of my  lately weird  and  wild life. What I CAN make of this is that God DOES love me, doesn’t despise my insecurities and anxieties,  somehow  amazingly sees potential in me to “draw”the picture with him as I hopefully let him lead me from dot-to-dot into his blessings, even when part of my heart still hurting and healing from some traumatic turns in my life. Abba Father, help me look into your kind, caring, loving, patient, all-seeing (omnipresent) and all-knowing  (omniscient) and I pray by faith all-powerful (omnipotent) eyes to trust my small not-omnipotent hand, heart, life and future into your hands. You hold one  huge pencil. I’m grateful your pencil has a huge eraser, and I make mistake in connecting dots, you’ll forgivingly, grace-filled-ly erase my goof and help me connect to the next, right dot in your plan for me.

That’s called love, and the little  girl in me desperately needs to know your love will never,never fail or forsake me. You keep your promises!

7You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance.
Selah.
8I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

9Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.

10Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
But he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him.

11Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones;
And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart. Psalm  32: 7-11 NASB

And in reflecting on Psalm 32,connecting the  dots of these verses: ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.’ –PSALM 32: 1, 2. This psalm, which has given healing to many a wounded conscience, comes from the depths of a conscience which itself has been wounded and healed. One must be very dull of hearing not to feel how it throbs with emotion, and is, in fact, a gush of rapture from a heart experiencing in its freshness the new joy …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

16″Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit.” 17 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go. Isaiah 48: 16-17 NASB

And  dot-to-dot commentary: Matthew Henry Commentary
48:16-22 The Holy Spirit qualifies for service; and those may speak boldly, whom God and his Spirit send…Whom God redeems, he teaches; he teaches to profit by affliction, and then makes them partakers of his holiness. Also, by his grace he leads them in the way of duty; and by his providence he leads in the way of deliverance….Spiritual enjoyments are ever joined with holiness of life and regard to God’s will. It will make the misery of the disobedient the more painful, to think how happy they might have been. And here is assurance given of salvation out of captivity. Those whom God designs to bring home to himself, he will take care of, that they want not for their journey. This is applicable to the grace laid up for us in Jesus Christ, from whom all good flows to us, as the water to Israel out of the rock, for that Rock was Christ

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, Father, I can’e see thread  ahead of me, I’m not sure of the direction you want to take, BUT you p;promise to teach and instruct me in the way i should go and guide me with your eyes upon,so I  say out of my heart _________________________________________________________ Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and Father, I’m watching for your hand of  leading, in Jesus’ name,amen!

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Of rocks and “rolls”…

poppin_fresh_pillsbury_doughboy copyright Pillsbury

Oh, drat, a rock in the toe of my Tevas!   Occupational hazard when you’re walking on a street in the foothills in the desert. But instantly a thought flashed into my consciousness, a thought of all the people of old who walked deliberately with a rock in their shoes where it would hurt the most to show God their penitence and piety, to do penance for their sins. I thought of the people I’ve read and heard about who crawled on their hands and knees to a shrine, arriving bloody to show God how sorry they were for things they’d done. And just as quickly I thought of the scornful taunts Jesus endured, the crown of thorns on his head, 39 lashes of the whip that Jesus took for me, the nails in his wrists and feet, the spear through his heart. Who in the world would I think I was to think anything I could do to cause myself pain could in ANY way add to or make more sufficient what Jesus did for me?

Before I throw any of those stones in my shoe at those people, though, Lord knows, and the Lord does know, how quick I am to self-flagellate with regrets, “if only’s,” all too conscious of the mistakes I’ve made even inadvertently. It’s a twisted form of pride masquerading as humility, and it does God absolutely no honor at all for the ALL-SUFFICIENT sacrifice He made for me through Jesus.

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.

 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:1-10 NIV

https://youtu.be/XgjJ_CR9oEY

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,

nor will he harbor his anger forever;

he does not treat us as our sins deserve

or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his love for those who fear him;

 as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

 As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

 for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust.

 The life of mortals is like grass,

they flourish like a flower of the field; 

the wind blows over it and it is gone,

and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting

the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

and his righteousness with their children’s children—

with those who keep his covenant

and remember to obey his precepts. Psalm 103: 8-18 NIV

 

 

Jesus told us to go make disciples, not penance:

 

 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 16-20 NIV

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give…. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Matthew 10: 6-8, 42 NIV

THAT is my reverence, that is my response, that is my job description now. Soo …I sensibly, gratefully took off my shoe, shook out the pebble, and thought about the responses God does want from me for his freely given totally all-sufficient gift of forgiveness. Stones? I could sweep them from my neighbor’s sidewalk. I could buy some new tennis shoes for a child who has to walk barefoot to school. Crawl on my knees? I could gladly bend down and reach under my car to get the ball the neighbor kids accidentally rolled onto my driveway.

Give a cup of cold water? Here is where the rubber meets the road, the gratitude and freedom sets me truly free. I could take a jug of ice water down to the homeless people in the park, hand out cups of cold water, say, “In Jesus’ name I bring you this water,” as if I, the blessed, was stooping down to them, the oppressed, out of my own magnanimity, and think I’d fulfilled righteousness – but that would be just another disguised stone in my shoe. In truth and honestly, you know what I’ve learned in the last five months? That wouldn’t be the right thing to do at all … unless I sat down with those people, looked them in the eye, asked their names, understood their heartaches and frustrations and their own perhaps deeply held self-condemnation, listened to their stories, ate one of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’d brought with them as I listened, held their hands and prayed with the ones who wanted prayer.

Now, lest you think I am being “holier than thou” here, let me hasten to admit it took me over 50 years to come to this realization. Yes, I pick up math pretty quickly, but in some of the things of God, I’m a terribly slow learner. Fifty years ago I went with the other junior high and high school girls in our World Friendship Girls group, the junior version of the Women’s Society of Christian Service at our church to the Wesley Center downtown. We’d spent weeks blowing out dozens of eggs, dying the shells, filling them with confetti and gluing crepe paper frills on top to make cascarones for people at the center to give out as prizes in the game booths at their fund-raising fall fair. But did I ever strike up a conversation with any of the girls at the center? Yes we put on an overnight slumber party for the girls, but did I ever get the phone number of a girl so I could talk to her again or take her to the movies with me sometime?

It took me over 50 years to finally get it that God wanted me to sit down with Harlan and Betty in the park, learn who they are, treat them as equals, laugh with them, and pray for them as we ate together. I am a slow learner, but I hope, like “Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy,” or rather like “Little Poppy,” I’m still soft and pliable enough in God’s hands, even at my advanced age, for the Lord to poke me in the belly sometimes. When he does, I hope I can and will giggle, or at least smile, that God is still concerned about me and loves me enough to keep conforming me more to his heart, his compassion, his truth, his passions, what matters to his heart.

I guess I’m not “done” yet ….

https://youtu.be/RnpoD0hlqpQ “The Scandal of Grace”

 

Grace, what have you done?

Murdered for me on that cross

Accused in absence of wrong

My sin washed away in your blood

Too much to make sense of it all

I know that your love breaks my fall

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

Death, where is your sting?

Your power is as dead as my sin

The cross has taught me to live

In mercy, my heart now to sing

The day and its trouble shall come

I know that your strength is enough

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

And it’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of your love

And my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

 

Any rocks you need to shake out of your shoe today?

Need a loving poke in your belly? God, our Father God, gladly, kindly will.

 

A “…BUT…”to pray: Oh, Father God, loving Lord, I see now that I’ve held onto shame, guilt, regret over _______________________________ BUT you truly, absolutely, forever removed that from me when Jesus took it upon himself. Jesus, I won’t minimize what you did for me by trying to ”make up for it” by my own actions, so God, I will thankfully, gladly let you _________________________________________________ in me, through me, for me. yes, please poke me in the belly when I need to be more pliable and ____________________________. I know I’m not ”done” yet, so Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________. In Jesus’ name, make it so, amen!

 

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Tandem Blessing – No Kidding!

“You have to be kidding me…” I thought when Ken asked me to clip into the pedals on the back of the tandem bike he’d joyfully bought for the two of us. Never more than a casual biker until I met Ken, part of my marriage commitment to him was purposing to get stronger, so fears and anxiety set aside, I clipped in and rode 25 miles – for me challenging and heart-pounding after the first 16 – with him every Friday. “Stoker” is the word for the rear rider, but “blind truster” is more accurate, because where he went, I went; my feet had to go as fast as his, and if he fell down, I fell down too. He did agree to put straight handlebars and a softer seat on the back for me, simply glad I was willing to try to become a fuller part of his world and passion.

 

Eight months later, “You have to be kidding me….” flashed through my mind when the sheriff’s deputy standing in my driveway bluntly told me Ken had been killed just two hours earlier in a cycling accident while leading a group of cyclists visiting from out of state. My world, my new hopes, my life toppled over in the gravel as surely as if ken and I had run off the edge of the road on the tandem. Nothing in my life seemed stable when my heart was torn and bleeding.

 

But, and thank God he always has a “… but…”, four months later my friend Deb’s husband Rob stood in my garage looking over the tandem to buy, I thought, for tandem rides and races with a fellow cyclist. “You have to be kidding me …” I gasped in delight when Rob told me he’d just decided to volunteer for a veterans’ cause and actually wanted the tandem so he could take disabled veterans on bike rides with the group VeloVets, a nonprofit started by Guilianna, a young woman Ken had introduced several years earlier to the cycling club he belonged to.

 

Full circle, I thought. Ken was an Air Force veteran himself, and I couldn’t think of anything that would make him happier than knowing blind and disabled veterans would get the chance to fly down the road behind Rob, wind in their faces, hearts pumping, feeling whole and vital, valued and accepted.

 

“Rob, the bike is yours! Take it, oh my gosh, please take it and know Ken must be beaming in Heaven!”

 

God’s timing was impeccable. Sunday I’d texted Rob about coming to look at the bike, Monday he met Guilianna at his own cycling club meeting and decided to volunteer with VeloVets, Tuesday he drove to my house to check out the tandem, and Tuesday the miracle happened. Wednesday the miracle continued when a local TV reporter heard about the tandem’s donation, and I was able to honor Ken’s generous, giving, encouraging spirit and his deep Christian faith on the local news.

 

Tears of joy still flow when I think about the improbability of all of the elements of this true miracle coming together. I could barely see through tears to mount my bike a few weeks later when Rob and Dr. Les, a blind veteran, took off down the bike trail in the hot summer night with a group of avid riders. The smile Les wore was brighter than the evening sun.

 

Coincidental? Accidental? I can’t possibly believe so. Ken and I were part of something bigger than the two of us. We’d thought so from the early days of our relationship, and this glorious gift of new meaning and purpose poured into my heart with joy that eased the pain of my grief. Ken was still giving joy into my life, and I know he always will. I have no clue what other surprises and miracles of meaning God will reveal to me, but I’m clipped in with him now as I ride into each day, going where he goes, my feet pedaling to keep up with God’s passionate love and value-giving purposes, breathless again for a new reason. No kidding! img_1203