Once again I have to be amazed that

Once again I have to be amazed that it’s when I’m speaking to a child or a child speaks to me that I recognize a truth about God’s character as our Father. I spent eighty minutes each week in the spring semester at the school where I work tutoring Jacob, whose native language isn’t English, in reading while his classmates have their Spanish lesson. The previous aide in this classroom advised me that the only way she’d been able to get Jacob’s cooperation in reading was to reward him with candy, so I continued her policy when I took over her position and “inherited” Jacob and his reluctance to study.

As we walked down the hallway toward the school library for our last session of the semester, Jacob began complaining that the students in Spanish were having a party that day.  “Why don’t I get a treat? They’re getting Popsicles!” he asserted.

Using the “love and logic” approach to discipline, I returned a question. “Jacob, do any of the other students in your class get candy for reading?”

“No.”

“”And what do you say when the other children ask why you got candy and they didn’t when we come back into the classroom?”

Silence and a glare from eyes hooded by his wrinkled brow.

Grudgingly Jacob admitted they didn’t get a candy reward for reading, but he still was incensed at the “unfairness” of his situation. I could see that words alone weren’t going to open his eyes. Jacob resentfully pulled out a chair at the library table and plopped down, his arms folded.  I took out the log of our reading sessions and asked him, “Jacob, can you count by two’s to help me count how many pieces of candy you’ve had since we started meeting together?”

“Two, four, six . . . ” he counted as I kept turning pages in our log, “ . . . eighty, eighty-two, oh, eighty-four.”  In silence I let that truth seep into his awareness before I asked, “How many treats do you think the other children are getting from the Spanish teacher?  Eighty-four?”

“No,” Jacob admitted, and his uncrossed arms showed me he got the message. He sighed heavily as he read the first book, a very easy one he’d read many times before, but then warmed up and spoke with some animation in his voice as we read a story about a silly chicken together.

But even as we read, I was hearing a familiar voice in my heart reciting a story I’d read many times. “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. . . . ‘But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’  ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours . . ..’” Luke 15:28, 30-31

I get to live in my Father’s “house” every day, enjoying an intimate relationship with God that is in itself a treat and treasure. Why am I concerned about how other people who “do me dirty” seem to be enjoying today’s  “popsicle” when I’ve already inherited assuredly more than eighty-four blessings straight from my Father’s love? How many times has the Spirit of God connected me wonderfully with someone who needed to hear of his love, with someone who had a word straight from God’s heart to mine? Who is richer?

And I – in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.  Psalm 17:15

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.  Psalm 16: 11

I reminded myself of the most well-known and beloved Psalm in the Bible:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.   Psalm 23: 5-6

With an overflowing heart I cried out to the Good Shepherd, “Living in your love is my reward. Bring the lost ones home to know you, too!”

I gave Jacob the rest of the bag of candy to tuck into his backpack and take home. And guess what – the Spanish teacher gave him a Popsicle, too.

But the greater truth is this: neither of us teachers, and none of the rewards we gave, could ever out-give or even begin to compare with the abundant riches of knowing and dwelling in God’s presence daily, the security of his character as a mightily giving Father.

a ” . . . BUT . . .”  to move:  Father god, I get miffed when I see people who don’t honor you seeming to prosper BUT I rememb

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I Stand Amazed in the Presence ……

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It was simple. It was clear. It was filled with welcoming, acceptance, warmth and unity: people literally from all over the world meeting together in a park to celebrate the Resurrection and our oneness in the love and family of Christ. So it was no problem for me to invite passers-by to join us. Soon the chairs were  taken, and  folks sat on the stone wall around the meeting area, singing, listening to the singing, and listening to God’s clear invitation into the transformation of new life in Christ. I was  blessed,and I do mean blessed, to be able to talk to some of the people watching and passing by who didn’t know ”us” or why we were there.

One young woman from Asia chatted with me and I shared that we aren’t about religion, about forms anyways and traditions, as much as about the ONE who unites us all, traditional, Charismatic, high liturgy, non-denominational: Jesus, in relationship  with him, receiving God’s boundless love  through Christ. She said she sensed that,sensed a peace and love in me (which is Christ, not me!)  and knew this meeting must be about love. With plenty of food, why shouldn’t I/we invite people just walking by to come sit and eat with us and welcome them into the love we know and feel and walk in: not just  feel-good “limerence” love, but TRANSFORMATIONAL passionate, powerful love strong enough to change us from “world/leaf-eating simply existing caterpillars” into the new creation, significance and God’s purpose filled, Jesus-Holy Spirit-indwelling “butterfly” sons and daughters of God we were created to be?

This is one short post, but I don’t have to expound at length on the truth that Jesus WAS there with us,  yes in and through each ordinary people other, undeniably loving and extending  his hand and hope and value. I do truly pray these people will come again  on Sunday nights where the group  meets in Brian and Jessica’s house, just to sing and fellowship, and feel welcomed. nothing high  falutin’ , just the love of God in Jesus Christ.

10 He (Jesus) was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name,he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1: 10-14 N

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 Living Bible

10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4: 10-11 NIV

What more do we need?

The women in this music video aren’t religious fanatics: they’re the ransomed, the redeemed,the sinners saved by grace, transformed to significance, purpose, and passion to see others find this same incalculable love, by unconditional  love through the  righteous Blood of Jesus and the unending love of  our Creator Almighty Father God!

Family, friends, please sing this at my “graduation party”!

The only “…BUT…” to pray today is BUT GOD ALMIGHTY AND JESUS LOVE ME, this I know, ENOUGH TO SUFFER, DIE AND RISE TO LIFE FOR ME!

Undercover High Divers- or,God Takes Me Into Places I’d Walk Away From!

No, it’s not about me. It’s NEVER about me. It’s always and ever about who GOD is, what GOD says and  does and where GOD leads me, and when He “sets me up,” it’s for goodness I could never have engineered myself.

Disclaimer: I’m not one of “David’s mighty men” who  did “exploits” and took  out  Israel’s enemies with their muscle, courage and swords. No, I’m one of God’s  daughters who loves her family, read Bible stories to my sons and knelt  by their beds to pray with them every night, put band aids on boo-boos,  rode bikes with them around the block, threw together costumes for plays, and basically tried to be a loving, encouraging, supportive mom and a giving, respecting  wife. Exploits? Swords? Battle? Not me! “I’m a lover, not a fighter!”

Or have I been looking at battle and exploits the wrong way?  Have I thought victory  depended on my muscles and courage?  Is bravery only going face-to-face against nasty people?

Maybe I need a new lens in my spirit and mind’s “telescope”! The Warrior is Jesus; the shield is HIS faith! The Sword is the Holy Spirit,  and the Victor and  empowerer and King is YHWH Almighty, Olam El, Everlasting God. Does that mean I’m irrelevant? What’s my part in the battle for God’s Kingdom to come and  His will to be done again, fully, on Earth as it is in Heaven?  I’m thinking it’s discerning my TRUE enemy (NOT the people who bring strife into my life, but the ungodly spirits whispering and lying to them)  worship, prayer, and bold kindness.

So… are you ready for a story? The latest “what is GOD up to” happened yesterday, and as usual, He started it long before. About five years ago I started going to a nearby Healing Room  (http://healingrooms.com) for some prayer and insight into an  emotional/spiritual battle in my life. And a disclaimer here: surrendering a year before that, and understanding what surrendering meant and why God wanted me to,  would have limited the wounds I needed healing for. From time to time since then, I’ve gone again, and always God has spoken loving, caring word to me. I went again last week, and God spoke about a tangled mess of cords and said, through the intercessor, that He was patiently, capably, lovingly untangling the problem. The intercessor told me, “The Lord says,’ Don’t you worry – you’re still plugged into ME.  I’m your power source! I have  enough for you – even more than you know. Say My name, plead My Blood!”

Wow! God’s arm around my shoulder and His hand on my heart, faithfully.

Are you ready for more of God’s dot-to-dot? Saturday night I  needed to  get out of the house, so I decided to go to the Saturday evening service at the church that  hosts this  Healing Room. It  was very informal but VERY SIMPLY YES, we KNOW God’s Spirit lives in us, so of course we expect to see His hand and power in our lives and we get “out there”  and live as though it’s  true. They announced prophetic prayer the next afternoon for anyone who might want some, so I signed up. Yes, call me a junkie for God’s voice and Presence! My tentative plans for later Sunday were to have dinner with my younger son, who was in town visiting some of his  friends, so I signed up for a  later time slot.

But on Sunday, my son texted me that his friends had dinner plans, so could we do breakfast on Monday instead.  Hmm… I usually drive 85 miles south on Monday mornings to attend an amazingly anointed worship intercession group (and yes, it’s more than worth the gas and time), but this was a chance to see my son, and then up popped an email about the Monday noon hour prayer here in town, so I could do breakfast with my son and still do some intercession. His friends suggested a coffee shop in the downtown area, and I agreed. Off I went  to  the church, and gosh, there were more people than I expected to see there. People ARE hungry to hear God’s voice!

What I heard from the man and the young woman, Carl and Elyse,  I sat down with, two total strangers, spoke directly into my life. Carrying the fragrance of Christ, and levels, Carl reported, going new places in different ways, prayer critical beforehand.  Elyse smiled and said as she was writing  down in her notebook what she was hearing from God, Carl had been saying the same things! The word she heard, though, was “high diver,” and she insightfully pointed out that the higher a diver dives from, the deeper the plunge, the deeper the impact. “Holy socks, God,” I thought,”you mean I’m going to go through more than I already have???!!”

Let me insert here that  I’ve never jumped off any board higher than about three feet above the pool, and then I stood on the edge and bent over and did a very shallow  dive. Usually I enter a pool by the steps! I avoid confrontation when at all possible, like to keep the peace, and may have an Achilles’ heel of mercy. Exploits and boldness are not  natural to me, nor is diving off a high board! If I have any courage and boldness at all, it’s God’s Spirit in me, not me myself and I!

Elyse said I’d/we get to choose to respond to God’s higher and deeper or not, so the next day I hopped in my car, allowing an hour for commuter traffic, and set off to meet my son for breakfast, expecting nothing more than coffee and giving him his belated Valentine’s Day card and  gifts..

The traffic on this unusually low cloud-covered day was lighter than usual due to, I suppose, the Presidents’ Day holiday. I followed my phone’s GPS, not the usual way I’d have chosen to drive downtown, when, turning up the 101 onto surprising heavy traffic, I saw a hole in the thick clouds ahead of me. Was it …no, I wasn’t dreaming … a heart-shaped hole in the swiftly moving clouds? It  was! And darn my safety conscious self, I did NOT take my hand off the wheel and my eyes off the road to switch to the camera on my phone and take a picture to show you. Trust me; it WAS a heart! And it dissolved in about five minutes, but I was aimed straight at it,  or I might have missed it. Thank you, Jesus, for  Your directions and Your Love!

I arrived at the coffee shop twenty minutes before  our scheduled time, so I got an iced green tea from the barista, Emily, at the counter. If my son’s friends hadn’t recommended the shop, and if I didn’t  know they’re solid Jesus followers, I might’ve walked back out the door after I saw the painting of a winged, horned  being with a pointed tongue on the back wall! God is  amazing and God is pure love in the places HE leads us! I noticed, thankfully, a picture of Hong Kong harbor on the changing TV screen on the wall. Hmmm…. almost nobody else in  the place, so after commenting on how  much Emily must have had to learn to make all those drinks, I asked her if she’d like to hear about a miracle. She smiled and replied yes, so I told her about how God arranged nine years earlier to make the connections I needed in Hong Kong when my granddaughter started arriving  eleven weeks prematurely. No kidding, I counted 21 miracles on that trip!

 

My son arrived, so we ordered, sat down, I gave him the photo flip book I’d made him for Valentine’s Day, along with the extra  copy  I had of the photo book of his niece’s early arrival (how had I thought to bring that to him this day, when I’ve had it since 2010?). When Emily brought our food, there on the table was the photo record of the miracle I’d shared with her!

Shortening this long story, after we ate, I asked Emily if she’d like a copy of the devotional book I had (happened to have two copies) in my car. She said  she would, and told me she’s seeking, so I gave her a book, and she asked if I’d come back before she leaves this job for another one in a  few weeks. Don’t you know I will! This was TOO GOD to be coincidence!

Off I flew to the noon hour prayer, where 50-ish of us poured out fervent prayers for our nation, our  leaders, our infrastructure, our schools, our national character. High diving?On my “usual” Mondays, 25-ish of us pray for loved ones, friends, ministries, other faiths, governmental leaders, nations, and terrorist groups to come to know Jesus as Savior, as Lord of  their lives and Lover of their soul. Again, high divers, andLord  willing, deep impact, because noneof these 85-ish people pray for their own financial gain, fame,or easy living; what we/they pray for are the concerns of God’s passionately loving heart. Here’s what the meeting I missed prayed for: “Sharing about discernment of the  enemy’s works and God’sleading us to worship and praise Him for His Sovereignty over the as He goes to battle. In our praise, pain will turn to JOY as we see Him. He will not let us go. He is LOVE and has given us Himself!”

Boy, howdy and hallelujah! God LOVES ME! GOD LOVES YOU! HE  GIVE HIMSELF TO YOU A ND FILLS YOU TO BE HIS LIGHT, HEART, HAND, VOICE,  COMPASSION, PRAYER VICTORY HERE! If anybody thinks  this is religion talking, then you don’t  know HIM! God is RELATIONSHIP, not religion!

Yes, I guess we DO dive from the high board! Lord God Almighty, Holy One, One and Only Lord Most High, yes, by YOUR power  that inspires us to PRAY, may YOU FILL and cause our prayers to have deep, lasting, powerful, redeeming, delivering, life-transforming impact in lives, hearts, minds, bodies, spirits, wills, people YOU created all around the world, for their Eternity’s sake and Your Glory, Your delight, YOUR praise and pleasure and relentless Love’s sake, in Jesus’ name, amen!

IT’S ABOUT YOU, FATHER, JESUS, HOLY SPIRIT!

WHO AM I – WHO IS THIS READER –  TO YOU IN THIS?

And that’s enough to throw me flat on my face on the floor in worship and awe, asking YOU to give me the courage to take a  deep breath and dive as YOU make of this what YOUR HEART DESIRES!

 

a “…BUT…” to pray (yes, this is your most powerful weapon!):God, I may be – heck, I am – timid, scared, small, powerless in myself, BUT YOU SAY I am Yours, so fill me with Your courage and help me ____________________________________,  by Your Holy Spirit, for Your glory, in Jesus’ name, amen!

Roller Coaster Mama

 

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The Coaster Kid with California Screamin’ in the background

With chagrin I share this today. I had no idea 16 years ago when I wrote it that I was speaking prophetically to myself. Today I tell myself, “Teacher, teach thyself! Listen to and learn from the One who taught you this!”  Twice since then the floor has suddenly, catastrophically fallen out from under me on my life ride. Is what the LORD showed me decades ago still true? Yes! Is Jesus still my secure floor, my “ride buddy,” and is God’s Word the restraint I need? Yes, humbly, and yes, gratefully, God is STILL God, and I can buckle into Him alone to find security in the “Mad Mouse” ride we call life! And to myself: this ride ain’t over yet, so hang on to Jesus, Rose!

From time to time, people who have children in college or way too much time on their hands figure up the current cost of raising a child and broadcast it across the Internet.   Whatever the figure, it’s always enough to make young would-be parents scan their checking account and think twice. I’m glad I never thought to count the dollars-and-cents cost of having children, or I would have missed the bargain one e-mail pointed out: “For your investment, you get to finger-paint, play hide-and-seek, blow bubbles, catch lightning bugs, and never stop believing in Santa Claus. You have an excuse to keep reading your favorite bedtime stories without embarrassment, watch Saturday morning cartoons without shame, and wish on stars. You have the power to heal a boo-boo, scare away monsters under the bed, patch a broken heart, police a slumber party, ground them forever, and love them without limits, so one day they will, like you, love without counting the cost.”   The bottom line of all the tallies and figures is this: The best thing to spend on your children is time.

Mothers typically spend lots of time “doing” for their children: driving them to T-ball games and dance classes, decorating special cakes for birthdays and making costumes from boxes and Styrofoam for class plays, scoring for the soccer team and bringing ice and water for track season, sitting through so many piano recitals that you hear “Für Elise” in your sleep, surrendering your kitchen and your clean house to be a den mother for eight little Cub Scouts, and walking marathon distances door-to-door to help sell Girl Scout cookies. You do these things to enrich your children’s lives and give them opportunities that equip them for their future, and to let them know they matter to you. All these hours are time well invested.

From the time he was three, my older son wanted to be the first man on Mars, so we slept out in the backyard to be sure we didn’t miss meteor showers and lunar eclipses. We sent him twice and drove him once to Alabama for Space Camp. I gave up my freezer to science fair projects, saw “Star Wars” at the theater 23 times, and – before the days of one-hour developing – found a photo lab that would develop in an hour photos of the space ship model Eric had completed just three hours before the entry deadline for a “Destination: Mars” competition. Eric worked on NASA projects four summers during his undergraduate years. Then he met Emily and decided to become a linguist instead of an astronaut. His goals changed, but all the “Star Trek” sheets we bought and pizzas I made for sleep-over Science Olympiad study sessions were not in vain. Those times we invested in his life were time invested in love, and they’ve brought a great return on our investment.

So you get involved in the things that matter to your children. If you’re lucky, none of your children want to grow up to be crocodile handlers! What do you do, though, when your child wants to be a roller coaster designer? That’s right: you ride a lot of roller coasters.

Faster than a Ferris wheel, More powerful than a merry-go-round pony, Able to leap a spilled snow cone in a single bound –I am Roller Coaster Mama!

His father is at least partly to blame for this. He’s the one who cajoled me into riding “Montezuma’s Revenge” at Knott’s Berry Farm when I was three months pregnant with our second son, Ethan. It was either that loop-the-loop, or the vacation when Ethan was six months old, when we unknowingly set up our tent trailer by a lovely grove of trees that turned out to be within screaming distance of a roller coaster. It ran – click, click, click, aaahh! – till one in the morning, which was about the time Ethan finally went to sleep.

Since then, I have been on or listened to him recount the statistics of so many thrill rides that I can tell a corkscrew from a cobra roll and a boomerang from and out-and-back. Splash Mountain and Space Mountain don’t even faze me. I have spent five straight days in the “happiest kingdom on Earth”, and now I know it’s true that there is such a thing as too much happiness. I’ve plummeted 121 feet straight down on Superman. I rode in succession The Medusa – no floor – and The Viper – no more fillings in my teeth. I can say “linear synchronous induction motor” and sort of know what it means. I hardly flinch when Ethan exults, “It goes from zero to 100 miles per hour in four seconds!” I’ve pulled g’s, caught air, free fallen, been looped, banked, and double-helixed. I’ve hung suspended from tracks and haven’t even screamed on outside loops, with the only ill-effects – other than serious motion sickness – being a cracked rib from a wooden coaster on Mission Bay, and several urgent trips to the chiropractor.

The truth is, though, I have a love-hater relationship with roller coasters. They ceased to be totally fun to me when motherhood gave me good sense, or keener awareness of my own mortality, or a combination of all the pains in the neck, literally, I now have. Oh, I can manage anything Disneyland  or the State Fair can throw at me, but Magic Mountain is another story. I prefer steel coasters to wooden ones, because the ride is smoother, they hold you in more securely, and I’m less likely to crack or dislocate something important. Still, I did not get a warm fuzzy when Ethan reassured me that the Viper was easy to ride because it’s heartline roll – a 360 degree spin something like tumbling in a clothes drier – would rotate my body but keep my heart in the same place. It did – it started out and stayed in my throat!

Why do I subject myself to this physical and mental abuse? Because I love my son, and experiencing thrill rides is important to him. I really do want to share a part of this part of his life, so I’ve had to learn some coping – or survival – skills for riding roller coasters.

FIRST – I SECURE MYSELF TIGHTLY IN THE RESTRAINTS

 Restraints are your friends, even if they are uncomfortable. On a thrill ride, G-forces and centripetal forces propel your body in ways and at speeds God never intended them to go. This is what coaster designers and enthusiasts call “fun”. Unrestrained fun can kill you, so I snug those belts tight and make sure my head isn’t going anywhere the rest of my body isn’t.

SECOND – I BRACE MY FEET, OR CROSS MY ANKLES IF THE FLOOR WON’T BE THERE

 Part of the fun of a roller coaster, so they tell me, comes from the sense of instability and insecurity that heightens your senses and sends those “fight or flight” chemicals coursing through your brain and body. When I crest the first hill on Superman and plunge down that more-than-vertical drop, I press my feet into the floor for all they’re worth. It doesn’t make the ride safer or shorter, but it helps me feel more stable and keeps my seat in the seat. If I’m riding a suspended coaster where there is no floor, or if the floor will at some point drop away, I always cross my ankles, so my legs don’t whip wildly around on the loops and snap turns. At least it gives me the feeling of support, and I know my feet won’t be thrashing around at the mercy of centripetal force.   I watch the riders while I’m waiting in line, and I’ve seen where their feet go. My mother always told me it was ladylike to cross your ankles – but I also know that feet don’t painlessly fit in your mouth after you’re four months old, and knees are really hard to repair.

 THIRD – RIDE WITH A BUDDY

 Riding with a buddy on a wooden coaster is a smart idea: another body helps to keep you from slipping and sliding. I generally ride with my husband or our son, but if they want to ride in the front seat of a roller coaster, I opt to ride alone behind them, and I opt to pray. I want the Lord beside me. The truth is, even if someone is riding beside me, I still pray!   Psalm 91: 9-12 is a standby when I go to amusement parks: “If you make the Most High your dwelling, then no harm will befall you, for he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” I love my husband and our son and would rather sit next to them than ride alone, but I also want as many angels as possible crammed in that car with us!

FOURTH – I CENTER MY FOCUS                                                                                                            

Here is where my approach differs radically from that of the rest of the family. The males ride coasters with analytical minds and cast-iron stomachs. They’re absolutely electrified, keeping their eye open and anticipating the snaps, loops and dives, so they can lean into the curves. They just don’t comprehend that in me, anticipation produces anxiety, and my eyes looping all over everywhere set my inner ear spinning and my stomach churning. I know that the odds are overwhelming that I will be alive at the end of the ride. Coaster designers do have to factor in maximum and minimum G’s, friction, velocity, centripetal forces, and human anatomy when they design rides. My brain knows that, but that knowledge never seems to reach my emotions and my stomach.

I have to attack my panic on two fronts. First, I’ve learned to WILL myself to think of positive truths when I ride. Yes, I am hurtling over a precipice which is, according to the park brochure, “the nearest sensation to throwing yourself off a cliff,” but I have timed this ride while standing in line, and I know the first drop takes just 3 seconds to the bottom; then it’s only a four minute ride from there to the end. That is also truth. I CAN be at peace for four minutes. I can put all those natural childbirth classes to use here and choose to relax and breathe calmly.

Second, to keep my inner ear and stomach contents from sloshing around, I’ve learned to focus on one spot directly in front of me (even if that spot is my white knuckles on the safety bar or an imaginary spot on the tip of my nose if my eyes are closed). It’s like the way a dancer or skater spots when doing spins. Granted, these two procedures thwart the intention of the coaster designer, and the whole purpose of thrill rides, to drive me to the brink of terror and nausea. But MY purpose in riding is to contribute to quality family bonding AND get off the ride in one coherent piece, so I don’t really care that I miss half the fun.

This brings me to my last coping skill – KNOW YOUR LIMITS. I can’t bond with the family if I’m hugging the toilet in the ladies’ room. I won’t be pleasant to be around if my neck is frozen in some picturesque, but painful, pose. I ride what I think I can handle without unreasonably taxing my back, my capacity to use mind over instinct, or the angels who have to ride with me. I try to discern when to say “no,” and to say “no” without guilt. I try to recognize when I can say “yes,” take a deep breath, and trust that the amusement park is as interested in their insurance liability as I am in my safety.

Lately, I recognize this has broader practical application in my life. For mothers in particular and women in general, if you’re part of a family, or if you have relationships at all, life often resembles a roller coaster. Can anyone else identify?   Take a typical day. It’s 7:40 a.m., and I need to drive Ethan to school by 7:50, then get 45 miles across town to take my mother grocery shopping, run errands along the way to make it worth the time and gas involved, start home before 2:30 so I can use the carpool lane on the freeway, make dinner, and get to Bible study that evening with a dessert to share. But this is the day the garage door opener won’t open. No panic yet. Between the two of us, Ethan and I manage to shove it open. Mental note: drive back home to call garage door company before hitting the freeway. Pray with son and kiss him goodbye. Drive back home, make phone call, and leave a message for husband to let him know what’s going on. Remember to stop by store I don’t usually frequent to get almond butter and rice milk that Mom can’t get on the west side of town. Hit the freeway. Make it intact to Mom’s, to learn that her medical monitor just arrived and she can’t understand the directions. Help her put on the monitor, run test recording, call the monitoring company, re-write directions for Mom so she can do this on her own, take her to lunch, as it’s now noon, take her to store. Realize it’s next to impossible to start home by 2:30, so kiss carpool lane goodbye, gird my loins for battle, and kiss Mom goodbye. Drive to discount store for errand, find what I need, discover they only have two checkout lanes open and lines a mile long. Look at watch and remember that son did not take house key, so he can’t get into the house if he gets home before I do. Madly put everything back (what would Jesus do?) and dash out of store, into the freeway frenzy, to hopefully get home before son does. And so on . . . . Have you been on that ride lately?

Up, down, whip, drop, snap, loop, squashed by four g’s, panicked by those negative g’s when nothing’s supporting me, light speed through the curves– does this sound like your life, too? How are we supposed to cope positively, calmly, with roller coaster days and thrill ride weeks?   It seems to me the same survival skills I put into play when I’m riding a coaster apply emotionally, spiritually, and practically in my daily life. I’m sure none of these principles is new to you, but looking at spiritual truths through a different context helps me remember and apply them in my life. Lets’ re-examine those coaster survival skills again and see if they fit in life as well.

FIRST – SECURE YOURSELF IN THE RESTRAINTS

Most accidents on roller coasters happen when riders ignore safety mechanisms. When riders ignore the lap belt, they pay the consequences. Don’t do what the sign at the station says to do, and you will become a statistic. I am not above the law of gravity. Neither am I above the laws of God. If I live in a way that is foolish, selfish or reckless, I will certainly be thrown for a loop when life takes me for a ride. Just as there are safety systems on a thrill ride, God has given us safety mechanisms – guidelines and wisdom – that are meant to secure us and keep us from harm, especially through the ups and downs of life. Consider this advice, for example:

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”      James 1:19

What protection for the emotional well being of our lives and our families following this simple instruction gives! My hands – what I do – and my tongue – what I say – would remain safely inside the vehicle of what’s helpful and good at all times

Thrill ride designers keep safety mechanisms simple to use. If you just do the dos – one click, one pull, hold tight – you’re good to go. God gives us similar simplicity in his safety mechanisms for our lives. Jesus summed up all the commandments in two steps:

“Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12: 30-31

Think for a minute about what your life would look like if you just “buckled up” with those two do’s. Love holds us securely through the dips and drops in life.

“But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now. “ Joshua 23:8

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful, and let us consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:23-24

If I’d hold fast to God and do the loving thing in everyday circumstance, my heart would remain secure and stay where it belongs when life spin-dries me in a heart-line roll. One click –love God – one pull – love others – hold on to God, and we’re good to go.

SECOND – BRACE YOUR FEET, OR CROSS YOUR ANKLES IF THE FLOOR WON’T BE THERE.

In daily life, that “fight or flight” reflex is not a 50/50 toss-up. I know I lean heavily toward “fight.” Flailing feet aren’t safe on a roller coaster. Flailing attitudes and words aren’t safe in life.   When I’m stressed, my foot frequently ends up in my mouth, or I figuratively kick the person next to me with hurtful, thoughtless words.   That’s why it’s wise to press into the support around us, even when life’s running smoothly, to give us the stability that strengthens peace and self-control within us. Your family will appreciate it, since the riders sitting next to you are the ones who bear the brunt of your flailing.   My family has no clue how many crazed tirades they’ve been spared when I do think to press into the support around me.

A primary source of support is – or is intended to be – our family, but I’m sure you’ve experienced that you may not be able to look to them for support when they’re part of the corkscrew.   We all need people with whom we can be genuine and open, people who will love enough to push back with truth and encouragement when we need it. We need people we can count on for practical help, too. That’s why it’s wise to make a floor to brace yourself through a Bible study, small group, prayer partner, or support group. One of the first things we did when we moved was to search for a small home group through our church. The group we’re part of is consistently there for each other with very practical help through illnesses, house repairs, picking up kids at school when a car breaks down, shoulders to cry on, victories shared, and keeping each other accountable.

Even before you look to other people for support, plant your feet firmly on the faithfulness of God . . . for :

“. . . the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught.                                                                                                                                                 Proverbs 3:26

God designed us to need each other, to be needed, and to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ for each other. It’s our function as parts of the same body to support and encourage one another.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

In thrill ride terms, be a supportive floor for each other.

THIRD – RIDE WITH A BUDDY

 Sometimes people fail you, and the floor you trusted in completely falls away without warning. Sometimes your floor of support can’t be there in the moment to brace you – like when you’re alone in the car with just that teenager and toddler, the alternator quits, and your day spins off in a double helix.   That’s when an unfailing buddy is vital to keep you from sliding. Invite God along for the ride to keep you from cracking a rib, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – perhaps even physically speaking. God does intervene in circumstances, but more importantly for me, he intervenes in my thoughts, giving me a healthy, proper perspective that keeps me from sliding when I’m ready to panic.   God never leaves us to ride alone.

“You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”    Psalm 139: 5-7

God’s presence in our lives is security, confidence, and power. Knowing God is on the “coaster” with me straightens the curves and lowers the drops – as well as my blood pressure. Psalm 16:8 is a promise to hang onto when I’m pulling G’s:

“I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

FOURTH – CENTER YOUR FOCUS

 Choose to think on positive truths. There are generally several things true in any situation. Increasingly I see how important it is for me to choose to focus on the truth that leads to positives like compassion, peace, and faith. I may be powerless over my circumstances, but I have power over my attitude and thoughts. Many of the stressors in my life lose their power to produce stress if I choose to relax, be flexible, and shift my focus. Just saying, “Well, Jesus, what’s this about?” instead of spouting, “What in the world am I going to do now?” actually reduces my anxiety level, and I’m sure it protects my brain chemistry as well. That has a practical effect on my body and my day.

“. . . choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”                                                                Joshua 24:15

I can focus on the positive truth, and choose whom I will serve in my response: God, or my anxiety and agitation.

When the apostle Paul advised the Colossians to set their hearts and minds on things above, rather than earthly things (Col. 3:1-2), he wasn’t urging them to deny reality and live in some fantasy land. Choosing positive truth and re-setting your focus changes, practically, how you respond in everyday situations. Recently I was on my way to our Tuesday morning women’s study. I teach, so I need to be at church early to set up my class. I had some time, but on this day I happened to leave just as a school bus stopped a block down from our house and put out its stop sign. It was a handicapped bus, so I waited, and waited, and waited as the mother and driver loaded a child on the bus. As I sat there – choosing not to fume – I decided to shift my focus. I didn’t know a handicapped child lived on our street. I prayed for her, for her mother, for their family, for the bus driver who so patiently helps this child every day, and for the teachers who invest their lives working with special needs children. It was true that I’d sat in the same spot for five minutes, but which truth was more profitable, both for others and for myself – not being five minutes further down the road, or spending five refocused minutes in prayer? Choose to focus on the positive truth.

Set your focus on one spot that will not change. That’s the way to keep your balance and settle your insides in a loopy world. Where is that unchanging spot?

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.” Isaiah 26:3

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”   2 Corinthians 4:18

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”     Hebrews 13:8

FIFTH – KNOW YOUR LIMITS

I don’t have to take every ride. I create many of the loops and drops in my life by taking on too much, or by assuming something is my responsibility when it isn’t, or by letting myself get sidetracked (and isn’t the Internet helpful in that department?). I can choose to say “no” to some thrill rides and still be a supportive, encouraging mother. Good judgment, not guilt or compulsion, should tell me when to say yes and when to say no in life, too. What can I wisely take on? What can I let go? What SHOULD I let go? Let me name a few of the rides I’ve created:

Mind-Bender: Trying to reason with a tired two-year-old

The Enforcer: Proving to my husband I’m right about wasting electricity when he always leaves the radio on in the garage while he works in the back yard

Temptation Station: When the budget is tight and I really shouldn’t buy anything but necessities, but I allow myself to walk into Dillard’s, lured by those clearance sale signs, just to look around.

Avalanche Alley: Trying to accomplish just one more thing in the five minutes I have before I need to leave for an appointment.

Ooooh – cobra roll! Here comes a stress headache! Do any of these sound familiar? On a regular basis, it seems, I have to remind myself, “Don‘t go there; don’t even get on this one if you don’t want an argument or problem that’s more stress than it’s worth. I’m not taking this ride today.”

Sometimes , though, you have no choice. Life just drops you onto a thrill ride you weren’t standing in line for. When that happens, I need to realize I have my limits, but at the same time I also need to recognize that, for a Christian, life isn’t about my limits. No matter how scary or negative the situation, Philippians 4:13 is always in operation:

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Since the limitless Jesus gives me strength for the ride and the power to love, to pray, to choose, and to center my focus on him, I can handle the coasters that circumstances put in my life. Through Jesus, I can be at peace for the next five – okay, two – okay, for the next one minute – when an upset to my life takes me on a heartline roll.

Sometimes life goes along smoothly; some days bring a little “wild mouse” like an upset schedule. My usual rides lately are “Time Bandit” and “Mind Eraser”!   But life can seat you on more serious rides. You may suddenly careen down “The Financial Funnel” when a layoff comes along. Life-threatening illness can drop the floor out from under you faster than “The Bottomless Pit.”   Life does not give you a map of the park to help you prepare for the next coaster. You don’t know when life is going to twist you through a corkscrew roll. But you can have stability, confidence, and sound perspective that will help you handle the drops and loops with peace, and maybe even with joy.

So Lord, let me be a roller coaster mama! With your help, I won’t panic, hyperventilate, lose my lunch, or scream. I’ll buckle into love for you and others – even the ones who put me on the roller coaster. I’ll look for a supporting floor of friends and groups to push into, so I don’t kick anybody riding with me. I’ll ride with a buddy through prayer so I don’t slip and slide. I’ll center my thoughts on positive truth. When it’s within my power to choose what I get involved in, I’ll be wise about my choices. When it’s not within my power to choose, I’ll hold onto God’s strength and whooeee! l believe I’ll at least survive, if not enjoy,  the ride!

(Parenthetically – God has faithfully been beside me as He was with Daniel when he faced roaring lions, as he was with David when he stood before Goliath. People may not understand the stands  I’ve taken in the last nine years when, literally, the Devil has raged and roared against me, or why I’ve chosen to stand, but I  MUST stand for and with GOD and the sanctity and truth of God’s Word if  I’m going to stand before Him at the Judgment with any integrity at all, and even then, my only defense is JESUS CHRIST THE RIGHTEOUS, the Savior and Lover of my soul!

Light for One Step

 

panoMingusLookoutSome things we learn theoretically when life is going smoothly are the things we’ll need to apply practically for getting through the “test” successfully when life throws ugly curves at us. I still clearly see in my mind the dark night we were walking back from the overlook  on Mingus Mountain to the youth camp. Because the ground was uneven, strewn with rocks and fallen trees, I had to shine my flashlight directly in front of me, not out ahead of me, to see what  I needed to step over or around. It occurred to me that all I needed was light for the next step. I shrugged off the knowledge that a skunk could be anxiously poised  two feet away from me, unseen in the dark, and planted each step in the patch of light I had for it.

Oh, Rose, remember! Believe!

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. Proverbs 29:25

Easier said than put into practice and lived, BUT, nevertheless, regardless, God has been that steady mini Maglite on my path the last eight years, even though I confess I’ve tried to shine it far ahead of me, scanning the future to see where God’s blessings might lie, and yes, missing two that were right under my feet. Did that mean God stopped loving me? Does that mean God stopped blessing me? NO!

If you’ve read this blog or look over posts of the past eight years, you read how God has been faithful to me even while the winds and waves thrashed around and towered over me. Just as He led the Israelites across the Red Sea on a miraculously dry path, God has led me into His blessings and goodness, even though I’ve wandered around as much as  they did, partly because I listened to well-meaning but unwise advice, and simply because God’s blessing didn’t look like I thought it would. Truly, “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’”… Lamentations 3: 22-25 NASB

Twice in the last five months GOD has brought HIS opportunities directly into my path. I didn’t  scan the horizon looking for them; God simply put them “right under my feet.” People came looking for me. Now it’s my job to use what God put into me, empowered by His Holy Spirit, to make the most and  best I can for God’s Kingdom purposes and victories from them.

As my friend Donna Partow wrote, “This Isn’t the Life I Signed Up For.” Hmm, well, maybe it is, and I just didn’t know it at the time I “enlisted.” What I DO know is that God IS good all the time (ironically and NOT coincidentally the title of a women’s devotional gift book I  was just asked to write for Christian Brands). O Lord, how You love me! I do call it irony, but lovingly – and firmly -You’re reminding me that 1) YOU are in charge, and 2) You love me, and 3) You see value in me, and 4) You WANT to accomplish Your purposes in me, and 5) You are good all the time and Your will for me is good, and 6) You aren’t done with me yet!

I lean into God’s Word every day because I NEED to! I NEED Jesus to be my loving Lord, Guide, Shepherd, Sword, Shield, Father, and Almighty King.

Oh you foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith…He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. Galatians 3: 1-9, 14 NIV

Yesterday as soon as I awoke, three songs came into my thoughts in succession:

  • Holiness, Holiness Is What I Long For
  • The Strife Is  O’er, the Battle Won
  • Lead, Kindly Light

Holy Spirit of the Living God, speak to me (loudly, please, with mercy for my sometimes deaf ears) what You are saying in those songs, and help me to walk in the one foot of light You give me today. I pray you help my emotions, my over-active brain, and my spirit to rest and trust in the Light of the World, even twelve inches at a time.

Simply Amen! In Jesus’ name, God, get YOUR glory!

Pepper Jelly, Patronymics, Pennsylvania, and Passionate Papa

Over the kitchen counter at the Christmas party at a friend’s house, now about 100 miles from where I live, Doug asked me about the cream cheese spread I’d made. I told him the ingredient he wondered about was pepper jelly, something I’d first tasted in Pennsylvania Dutch country and enjoyed so much that I bought a Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook to get the recipe. He said they’d lived in Pennsylvania, asked if I came from Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, and when I told him I did, he asked my maiden name. ‘Van Curen,” I replied, and his wife Janet’s eyes widened.

“That was my grandfather’s middle name!” she said, as amazed as I was.

Given what I knew about the history of the family name, and that part of the family had moved from New York, where the family started as Van Keulen (meaning “from Köln”) in the early 1600’s, on the ”Island of Man Hats”, moving to Pennsylvania before some ventured west to Ohio and Indiana, I replied in surprise, “Then I suspect we must be cousins, several times removed!”

There aren’t that many of us ”Van Curen,” ”Van Keuren,” or any other spelling of the name in this country, about 381 families in the 1990’s according to another distant cousin. What are the odds I’d run into a distant cousin in the Southwest nearly 400 years after our mutual ancestors set foot on American soil? The British, in charge of the census and taxation in the country in the early 1700’s, wanted to do away with the Dutch custom of ”patronymics,” naming a son with his father’s first name as the child’s surname. For example, a man whose name was “Mathijs Jansen ” would have a son whose last name was “Matthyssen.” The family went back to the name “Van Keulen/Van Ceulen” in 1715, changing the ”l” to “r”. Hard to keep track for taxation, so the British anchored the surname as Van Keuren and the spelling became Anglicized to Van Curen.

Three hundred and two years later, on the other side of the continent, Janet and I realize we’re related! And what was God showing me? That nothing is impossible for Him, that He is still here for me and with me, that His love is unfailing, that he is my Father, and that in Christ Jesus Janet and I are related TWO ways! The Bible, and Jesus himself, make our relationship with God, and to each other through Jesus, crystal clear:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 1 John 1: 12-13 NIV

Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3: 25-29 NIV

But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12: 48-50 ESV

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 1 Corinthians 12: 12-14 NIV

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:9-17 NIV

So what? So even if you don’t have a single living blood relative, even one removed by several hundred years like Janet and I probably are, you have millions of brothers and sisters in the Family of God. And that tells me I should have kind regard for my sisters and brothers in Christ, and more than that, I know my “Papa” would love for me (yes, and you) to encourage people who don’t know the love and relationship Abba offers us through Jesus to come to recognize him and receive him as the ONE who makes that very real relationship with Almighty God very real and very possible.

The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. Psalm 145:18

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 3: 19-23 NIV

So what business of mine is it if people don’t hear about relationship with God through Jesus? Is that my concern? I’ve heard a lot of sisters and brothers in Christ say, “My faith is a very personal, private matter to me…” Well…. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable telling people about your Savior Jesus, or maybe you don’t want to risk ridicule and rejection, BUT I’m thinking If it concerns my Father, it oughta concern me! Here’s why I believe I do have a responsibility to “let my LIGHT shine” (and by “my light” I mean let Jesus shine through me with HIS light so the focus is on HIM, and be quick to say it’s HIM, not me, as the motivation to do good)

 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. 2 Peter 3: 8-12 NIV

Maybe my discovery with Janet came at Christmas time because God wants to remind me to show grace in the aisles of the crowded grocery store, thank clerks and other service people for their help, and wish them “Merry Christmas”. Maybe just as importantly, God wants to remind me (and yo9u by this post) that he IS my loving FATHER, my PAPA, who gave me the greatest gift I ever could receive when he sent Jesus into this world as a helpless infant, feeling and knowing what it is to be human, with the purpose to give his life for mine so that I can live forever as God’s chosen, delighted in child. THAT is something to joyfully celebrate! And hey bro, sis, let’s celebrate the daily chance to help this family grow!

 

Bougainbiscus, Butterflies, Silly Songs and Jesus Loves Me

He shows up where and when I don’t expect Him!

It turned out to be just Sandy and me  yesterday, off to “hike” (definition: walking leisurely, talking about the Lord, and interacting with docents and people on the trails) at the botanical gardens and then the zoo, taking advantage of our respective memberships. We walked unintentional circles at the garden, enjoying some funny pumpkin “sculptures” like the poor guy painfully covered in cholla and a couple of gourd-os sitting at a logs only  campfire  toasting s’mores. One of the docents who struck up a conversation with us didn’t even know  the pumpkins were there, so we pointed her to, it turned out, the tail end of the pumpkin walk.

In our conversation there I shared a possibly too true insight a friend made in a Bible study group several years ago. He suspected one of the things that went unobserved and unwritten about all the times Jesus went off by himself to pray was (no disrespect intended) Jesus slapping himself on the forehead and crying out, “Oy vey,  these yutzes! Father, how am I supposed to work with these yutzes??!!” The fact that we’d steered the docent in the wrong direction only emphasized the likelihood of the Lord’s possible prayer …..

We  passed a beautiful red-flowered plant unknown to either Sandy or me. It looked like a cross between a Bougainvillea and a hibiscus, and though I don’t remember it’s scientific name, we decided it must be a bougainbiscus.  We listened to another docent manning a table of blooms, and he pointed us in the right direction to go see the butterfly pavilion, which was wonderful. Fluttering, flitting beautiful wings were all around us, and I state publicly that the fact it  takes four generations of monarch butterflies to make the round-trip migratory journey, and the great-grandparents of the returning lepidoptera aren’t around to tell their great-grandoptera where “home” is, clearly tells me there IS a Creator,Intelligent Designer, and Architect of all the wonders in the world. We wandered around trying to find our way out of the wildflower loop and drove down the road to the zoo.

More natural wonders awaited us on trails there: Komodo dragons, whose bite is venomous, so all they have to do is bite their prey  and wait for it to die; orangutans strong  enough to rip your arm off, but who spend their lives in the wild high up in trees and make “nests” in the  branches for sleeping; giraffes, and enough said about their incredible design. I truly enjoyed my two years of  working at the real zoo, after thirteen years of  substitute teaching in a very different ”zoo” setting. We encountered Hannah, one of Sandy’s friends from her church who works at the zoo while she’s attending seminary,  and since  she was being trained to drive  the  train (yes, pun intended) I told her about the songs I wrote for about ten animals the train passes. She said she’s be glad for me to send them to her.

We bought sandwiches for lunch, sat down on the benches around a shaded table, and continued sharing about some of the”God-incidences” in our lives., when an older woman pushing a young child in a stroller politely asked if she could shar our table, and we replied we were happy to share the shade.Since I know personally about the early childhood programs there, I asked if the boy was her grandson, and then told her about the wonderful breakfast programs that are an adult’s “ticket” to get up close to  some  of the animals in the zoo’s collection. I asked Paul, who’sfour, if I could sing a song for him, and commenced into, ”Keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ in your muddy hole ’n’  keep your body rollin,’ warthog ….” to a tune only older adults always laughed at.

Being a bit humorous and silly seems to break the ice. Noting the cross necklace the grandma wore, I asked,”Are you a Believer?”

“Believer in what?” she replied.

I held up my own cross necklace and said,”In this.”

“I sure am!” she smiled, and a new door opened up for us to share about our  faith. Even though we are in different denominations, Jesus’ sarificial death on the cross – God Himself paying the horrendous penalty for humanity’s rebellion against God’s Holy authority and Righteousness AND love for us all – unites Christians of every “flavor.” So together we said the opening line, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible  tells me so!”

And here’s what it says:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Romans 3:23

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 6:23

BUT “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

And expanding on Romans:23 “Forallhave sinnedandfall short of the glory of God, AND  ARE JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – He (God) did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have  faith in Jesus.” Romans 3”23-26

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.  Romans 5: 5-11 NIV

God is Just, AND God is Love. Neither cancels the other. Only one unites them both perfectly: Jesus,Y’shua, however you say his name in your language. Jesus said:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Matthew 23:23 And after a long passage of “Woes,” Jesus cried out to Jerusalem with fierce love and longing to  bring everyone there into his loving, sheltering arms.

It’s BOTH Justice AND Mercy, in one perfect person to satisfy both. And how utterly amazing, relentless, selfless, pure and passionate is the heart of God who Himself teaches, leads, forgives, heals, bleeds, rises from death, justifies and redeems us!

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace  with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need… because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God  through him, because he  always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 4:15-16, 7: 24-25 NIV

In Jesus we can drop the censure we hear and feel from ourselves and from others, and become, in praising and thanking God for his incredible gift of love, the incense in the censer held by our Great High Priest Jesus, rising up in a fragrant offering to the One who makes us pure, loved, and joyfully pleasing to God.

The pumpkins and butterflies and orangutans  and squirrel monkeys were fun, but sharing with “Mimi” and little Paul was pure joy!

My/your/our takeaway?  Jesus is wherever I/you/we go, and all I/you/we need to do is be open to him walking, sitting, driving, golfing, working, eating. being with us to share him with others.  That’s HIS joy! Behold what manner of love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God! And when Jesus drops into my life with connections like this, I feel the intense, outrageous love  that he IS! Love alive, love present, love embracing, love forgiving (oy vey!) and love overcoming.

a”…BUT…” to pray today: Father God, loving Lord jesus, sometimes I  don’t  sense your love for me. Sometimes I feel all too much my “yutz-ness” and all I sense is the censure of others, BUT you promise that your love never fails and you will never, ever leave me, ,so I’m asking you to show me your love, and you get to decide how, when and where. Feel welcomed into my life to surprise me,  Jesus! In your name I pray, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening, waiting AND watching __________________________________________________________