This bears repeating: The Tree Swing

Ruth's Blessing

Grandma Ruth Miner,  and boy, did she  spread the love around on us!

Autumn and apple trees: caramel apples, bobbing for apples, apple pie all are practically synonymous with fall in temperate lands. But an apple tree holds a deeper meaning for me now.  Out behind the bedrooms of their tiny house,  in my Grandma Ruth’s backyard, stood a wonderfully full and tall apple tree. I can still remember the smell of green apples wafting in through the open window as I lay in the big old double bed with such a hollow in the center of the mattress  that I had to hold on to the sides of the bed to keep from rolling onto my younger sister. The best thing about the apple tree, though, was the rope swing with a board seat that hung from the thick lowest  branch. I loved to swing –  and in all honesty, I still do.  That’s why something the Holy Spirit gave me several years ago at the beginning of a long journey of loss is so precious to me.

Charity, the daughter of my dear friend Sharon, “took” us both on a “walk through the Father’s house” in a meditative inward reflection. The idea was to imagine you were in God’s house looking for Jesus. No way was I going to conjure up something from my own imagination; I wanted the Spirit to lead my thinking, or,I inwardly purposed, I would have no thoughts at all. Sharon was seeing a huge house with marble floors, gilded furniture, beautiful paintings; I imagined something like the Clampett’s mansion from the old TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but the house I saw had no furniture at all, and I felt very strongly that I was looking in the wrong place. Up the stairs I wandered in my imagination, but no Jesus. Sharon was out in a beautiful rose garden, then saw a stream filled with beautiful jewels. Heaving a sigh, I decided to follow my first inclination and go out the back door, which turned out to be the faded green wooden screen door of my Grandma Miner’s house. The next thing I sensed was me sitting on the old board swing, and somebody was pushing me. Up into the branches I swung as whoever was pushing me did a run-under – something my own sons called an “Underdog,” and I flew even higher, brushing green leaves with my toes.

I went on in my imagination to sit by the edge of my Grandma’s garden with Jesus, but the imagery of the apple tree stuck with me, so tender and personal.  Two months or so later I was reading the Bible in my morning devotions, curled up  sitting sideways in my favorite wing chair. Yes, guilty as charged, there is still a core of childhood in me and a bit of tomboy lingering from the close relationship I had with my older brother Dave. But there is grown woman in me enough that my heart raced as I read a passage from Song of Songs 2:3. The beloved speaks about her lover: Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade . . . .  I drew in an astonished breath remembering Jesus pushing me on the swing under my Grandma’s apple tree.  I know it’s debatable what sort of fruit tree the original Hebrew in that verse refers to, but to my heart, apple tree meant apple tree and the tenderness of a Savior who doesn’t discount or take lightly or dismiss as childish the things He knows touch our hearts so deeply, individually. I should say child-like rather than childish, and what could come more from the Father’s heart than something that delights his child?  At the same time, Song of Songs is a deeply passionate love story. Who loves us more passionately and fervently than Jesus?

Three years later I mentioned this experience on my Grandma Ruth’s swing in a morning devotional message at a women’s retreat.  I was amazed and humbled beyond words when one woman said during our closing circle, “I came hoping for God’s Spirit to move or speak in my life. It didn’t happen Friday night. It didn’t happen on Saturday. it didn’t happen until this morning when I heard the words “my grandmother’s swing.’” Jesus, you did it again: connected something so intimate in my life with something so personal in another’s! It isn’t just my heart you know; you know every heart in unique loving detail. Scandalous love!

My musings continued as I remembered my younger son  telling his Grandma, my mother, that he was going to take apple seeds with him to Heaven when he died so he could plant an apple tree there for her. My mother had such an intolerance to sugar that even eating the fructose in an apple would give her a migraine headache. Ethan knew she’d have no headaches in Heaven and knew how much she missed the sweet crunch of a ripe apple.

Will there be apple trees in Heaven? I don’t know. If Ethan has any say in things, there will be for Grandma. I do I know there are trees in Heaven: the tree the apostle John saw and related to us in Revelation 22:1-2:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

I know those trees – because, tomboy that I still am, I climbed a tree with Jesus that morning and realized with a sudden flash of insight just what tree we were sitting in. I realized just as quickly what tree we all stand at the foot of for our healing: the cross of Calvary. 1 Peter 2:24: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds we are healed.

I suspect it’s no coincidence that I feel such healing love when I remember sitting on the swing under that apple tree. What kind of god from any story of mythology, from any other faith, exudes such passionately personal love as the One God made flesh in Jesus, offered up willingly out of the greatest heart that beats at the center of all creation, for all of His creation? My heart, still so broken for my human beloved, finds healing from the Lover of my Soul under the tree.

A “. . . BUT . . . ” to move:  Jesus, people disappoint me, even betray my deepest trust and confidence. I betray myself sometimes and disappoint others, BUT your love for me is so intimate, so tender, so powerful, so profound, that I fall to my knees in humbled wonder saying ______________________________________________. Take me to that secret, special place you share in my heart, and I share in yours: _________________________________.

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BECAUSE I believe, I see …

princeofpeace13

“Seeing is believing,” so goes the old saying, but is that true? Yes, I wanted to see that my students had finished their homework.  Yes, if the package of lunchmeat I had thawing on the kitchen counter was missing, and I saw my dog  licking her lips and paws …. But when it comes to things spiritual, things of and about God, are we supposed to wait until we see Lake Michigan part or the old city  walls of Chiang Mai implode before we assume that God is in our midst? Do we hold out for absolutely unexplainable by anything other than a miracle events in front of us before we’ll begin to give slight credence to the “remote” possibility that God exists, much less loves us and wants to be in relationship with us?

I could re-title this blog “Because I’ve believed, I’ve seen ….” and I’m not frivolously connecting random events in my life to the presence of God in my life, as some might think,”to tell myself a story to make myself feel better.” Some people think the Bible is a collection of fairy tales, but millions of lives transformed by the presence of God’s Spirit in their existence down through thousands of years, even giving them the strength to face death for standing for the One in whom they believed,  tell me what they haven’t “seen”  is more real than what we trust in because we can see it.

I think we all have a natural inclination to doubt. Thomas, one of the twelve men closest to Jesus, saw miracles: the blind given sight, the lame walking, bread and fish multiplied, lepers cleansed, and the dead raised. He SAW these miracles come by the hand and person of Jesus, yet after Jesus was crucified, Thomas wasn’t sure Jesus was truly the promised Messiah, God in the flesh.

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20: 24-29 NIV

BECAUSE I believe, I’ve  seen:

A miracle of healing in my own body; a child after it looked like I’d never have a second one; a chance to use my writing gifts (I didn’t make myself a writer!) to help, incredibly, write books that went around the world; saving the lives of all four of us from a plane crash on August 16, 1987; saving my husband from a fatal fall at the Grand Canyon in 1988; the certainty wo days before he died that my fathe’r spirit was still fully intact even though he had Alzheimer’s and hadn’t spoken in two years; a connection in a move across the country that I’d need ten years later to help me connect with my family during an emergency they had across the world; the card-making”girls’ night out”  workshop my buddies helped me create to take to a conference blessed SO many more people than I expected; the rescue of my trip overseas when the carrier changed a flight schedule and the agency I booked my flight through wanted to cancel my trip; a stranger behind me at an airport on my way home from Asia to, out of the blue, show me the van I needed to take in a sea of vans in the parking lot; another stranger at an airport in Asia, behind us, to out of the blue help us find our way to the terminal we needed to reach to board our flight on time; the couple – who didn’t even attend our church – in the row in front of us, there just to see a friend baptized,  and as we introduced ourselves after the service, Kate told me about the amazing Monday morning worship intercession group I’ve been blessed to be part of for two years; the perect person to meet to donate the tandem to the perfect non-profit; turning back from my walk route to say hello to the woman with her back turned to me who was standing in the cross street, only to meet Jessica and Brian and the improbable connection we discovered, new neighbors there to plant a church  …

 

“GOSH, Rose, there are a lot of coincidences in your life!”

Coincidence my eye! Go ahead and read my old blog posts back from 2008 to the present. Everywhere along my journey, God has put people in my life to remind me He loves and cares for me, connected me with people who needed to hear something from Him, done incredible things I never expected from the little things I did to try to show Christ’s love to others. If you think for a minute I think those things are accidental, please try computing the probability that any one of those things happened “by chance.” Then compute the probability that they ALL did!

24 After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 25 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’[a]

28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

29 (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)

31 Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you,  and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” Luke 7: 24-25 NIV

So who do you think the man Jesus was, and IS?

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.Philip once said,”Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us” (John 14:8).

Jesus said,”Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! …believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen Me do” (John 14:9-11).

My whole purpose in writing this blog, in putting together the book that came out of it, has been and is to show you through my own life that GOD IS REAL! GOD IS ALIVE! GOD IS LOVE! GOD CARES ABOUT YOU! JESUS DIED TO GIVE YOU – OUT OF HIS SACRIFICE – THE WAY TO COME INTO RIGHT RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD! YOU MATTER TO GOD! GOD’S SPIRIT IS ALIVE AND WILL COME INTO YOUR LIFE IF YOU ASK HIM! HE WANTS TO DO WONDERFUL THINGS THROUGH YOUR LIFE, YES, YOUR LIFE, BECAUSE HE LOVES YOU!

Down off my soapbox now, but I wish I could convey to you the passion, the sense of urgency I have for everyone who reads this to know, truly KNOW, God who is your Father in Heaven, come to Him through His Son Jesus, and live in fellowship with God’s Holy Spirit every day of your existence on Earth and every day forever after! Who He is for me, He will be for you, too.  God wants you to know that, and that’s why he nudges me and some days pushes me to write; it’s evidently part of my purpose here on Earth.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7: 7-11 NIV

All of you, my friends, who do know Jesus as theLord of your life and lover of your soul, please tell someone else who he is and what he’s done in YOUR life. Risk it, because you and all of us only have a short time to truly BE disciples and make disciples! And any of you who don’t yet know Jesus – Just ask Jesus into you life as your Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and yes King; seek, knock, believe he’s real and he loves you, and I can promise you, YOU WILL SEE!

Today write your own “…BUT…” prayer for God Almighty to move through in your life. In Jesus’ name, by the power of God’s Spirit, amen!

The Painted Pickle Jar

The Painted Pickle Jar

One of my greatest treasures is the “jewelry box” my younger son made for me from Popsicle sticks.  The lid has a wooden bead for a “handle,” and the interior is lined with a square of red felt, roughly the same dimensions as the bottom of the box, Why on earth are fifty Popsicle sticks so precious to me? Because the shape they took and the gift they are came from a heart and life precious to me. Ethan gave me the best he could create from fifty Popsicle sticks, glue, a bead and felt. His heart is the treasure; the box is a reflection of his love.

Mommies get it. Maybe Daddies do too. I know this for a fact, but more importantly, what I realized this morning is that same joy in God’s heart when we craft our lives for Him. Before this sounds too lofty and climbs too high, let me ground it in what I see so clearly now that I didn’t see when I was five years old.

Sunday School, Mason, Ohio, just before Easter 1955, me five years old. All I brought was a pickle jar, and even that my mother bought with my father’s hard-earned money at the grocery store. Our craft was painting a jar with tempera paint to make a “vase” to hold one jonquil bulb, an Easter gift for our mothers. Limited eye-hand coordination in us all, we stroked our glass jars with chubby paintbrushes and watery tempera in spring colors. I can still feel the cool of the glass, the rough edges of flaking paint on my paintbrush, see the dribbles running down the jar and onto the newspaper on the table, smell the chalky, rich odor of the paint. Mine was going to be yellow, like a golden jonquil flower. Of course the paint didn’t stick very well, and in many places the clear glass showed through, but I reveled in the transformation happening under my hand.

I suspect we had a Bible story lesson while our jars dried, or we might have had to wait till the next Sunday to pour tiny stones – pebbles would be too glorified a term for what we used, more like the ballast along the railroad track that ran about 500 feet behind our house. – into the jars to support the single bulb we placed inside. Water came next, then anchoring the jonquil bulb flat end down in the stones.

I was so happy to carry the gift downstairs and thrust it up into my mother’s hands! I’d made something to give my Mommy joy! Mom must have read the “Mommy Manual,” or internalized it from her jolly, loving, short but ample-lapped mother who was my Gramma Miner, so of course when we got home she placed it in the sunny window above the sink in the kitchen, a place of honor if ever there was one, where she could watch the shoot, the leaves, the stem, then the flower gloriously unfold in the weak Ohio spring sunshine.

What on earth does this have to do with God? Sixty years later it hit me on a windy, drizzly Arizona morning that I didn’t give my mother anything from my own resources; someone else supplied everything I gave her, even though I regarded the gift as mine and found great pleasure, delight, and value in being able to create and give a gift to my mother.

This morning I look back on everything I’ve been blessed to “give to God”: the messages I’ve spoken, the Sunday School and Vacation Bible School classes I taught, the youth ministry and prayer teams I led, the books I helped my senior pastor write, the stories I wrote that ended up in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, the leader and study guides I’ve written, the sons I poured my time and energies and love into, the marriage I tried to do the same in, the people I’ve prayed with and for (Gosh, don’t I sound wonderful? All of this just so many Popsicle sticks …) and I realize with a shock of revelation piercing deep into the core of me down to my five-year-old true self that I DIDN’T BRING ANY OF MY OWN RESOURCES TO ANYTHING I’VE EVER “GIVEN” GOD!

He created my body and my brain, the wiring in me that sees analogies and relationships, the eye-hand coordination I have and the joy I get in making things with my hands, the mental aha to see ways I can use junk, the limited courage I have to stand up in front of people and open my mouth, the very thoughts I have and nudges I get ALL COME FROM GOD TO BEGIN WITH! I don’t give Him anything that isn’t His first, in fact, His gifts to me!

Every Sunday after the offering plates were passed and the ushers took them up to the front of the church, we all perfunctorily sang, “We give Thee but Thine own, what ere the gift may be. All that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.” Did any of us mean what we were singing? Wasn’t it more a case of, “I worked hard for this money, so God, I’m going to give you a bit of it, good, giving person that I am, and I feel proud of myself for being so generous.”

Oh, the five-year-old in each one of us, but OH, the lavishly loving God who remarkable receives what we give Him and treasures it as much as I treasure my Popsicle stick jewelry box, as much as my Mom treasured her painted pickle jar, because against all common sense, HE TREASURES US! I only hope that, like the loving DAD I know He is, God has received all the clay figurines and Popsicle stick creations and painted pickle jars I’ve given him with – and honestly, this is true – the same delight I felt in giving my mother the pickle jar. I could give a gift to God!!!!

Maybe now I can appreciate my mother’s receiving that jar as a great gift to me. Maybe now I can see being that privileged to get to use God’s gifts to make something I hope and pray makes a difference to, for and in other lives in this world is, in fact, a gift GOD gives to ME, a way he fills my life with value and beauty and joyyellow-mason-jarsyellow-mason-jars.

Ah, ABBA, do you have tempera paint in Heaven? Can I make you a vase for a flower to grow in your throne room? Thank you that You give me SO MUCH. MAY I TURN AS MUCH AS I CAN INTO TREASURES FOR YOU, but may I always remember they come from YOUR heart of love and grace into my chubby fingers.

A “ . . . . BUT . . . .” to move: God, Daddy, Father, everything I have and am and ever hope to be is all a gift from you. I can’t take credit for anything other than what I do with what you give me, and even those opportunities are gifts from you. I may not be anything in the world’s eyes, or I may daily hear the praise of other people, BUT it’s your praise after all, I may have much or I may have little, BUT GOD, thank you that you receive my ___________and say _________________. I hope it grows in your kitchen window to be something of beauty and fragrance for You.

May I Have This Dance?

Early on a Sunday morning I gave Jesus an invitation: ”Do what will bring YOU joy, Jesus. Come and dance in my life! Do what will delight you in my life today!”

In the middle of praying, reading the Bible and singing praise songs, I felt the urge to text a friend who plays bass guitar on a worship team. “No, you shouldn’t interrupt the flow of your quiet time,” I told myself. “Pay attention to the Holy Spirit!” But against my better religious judgment, I went to my phone and sent the text saying I was dancing with Jesus to “Praise to the Lord, The Almighty” on the worship CD of the praise band he plays in and prayed Jesus would dance in joyous delight that morning at church through my friend and his team. Bear in mind that I hadn’t contacted this friend in over four months when I write what then happened.

I returned to my own singing, and sure enough, I felt somehow that I’d missed the moment, spiritually speaking. I went on to another train of thought in my prayer journal until a jingle from my phone told me I’d received a text message. My friend texted something that stopped me in mid-journaling: “Your timing is impeccable. I’m preparing to play all three services at Bel Air this morning for the first time in a couple of months. Thank you so much!”

Jesus, YOU did it! YOU were leading me in a dance of blessing in my friend’s life, and I never suspected I was dancing with you when I texted him!  My prayer journal page morphed into a drawing of a wild series of footsteps punctuated by the words in capital letters “DANCE ALL OVER ME! DANCE ALL OVER MY LIFE! Every place your feet dance, there lives and resides and rules and reigns your GLORY!”

Oh, Lord, never let me be so ”religious” that I miss the blessings you want to pour out to and through  and for me!

Take center stage, Jesus! Zephaniah 3:17 reads: The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. The Hebrew word for rejoice in this verse implies mirth, gladness, and twirling dance.

Do I ever realize, truly get in my gut, that God rejoices over his children? Can I envision the great I AM giddy with delight when we let him enter into our lives and direct our feet or our texting fingers? I have a strong hunch that Jesus wants to dance with me and in my life much more frequently than I extend the invitation to him. – that my God is much less “religious” than we think – at the very least, much more intimate and joyful than we ascribe to him –  and much more the passionately loving Father who genuinely cherishes his kids. I need to give him more freedom to be himself in my life for his own pleasure.

Radical, I know, when we also have to hold in our consciousness at the same time how truly holy and set apart God is. I think my limited pound of brain tissue can only think of him in one frame of reference at a time, so I’ve decided I need to be more intentional about giving Jesus center stage on the dance floor in my devotional time. I don’t want to become so  familiar that I lose sight of his holiness, but  I don’t want to become so “religious” that I deprive my Creator of his deepest joy.  Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples we have to come to him as little children.  I loved to see my earthly father grin at me. What a grin I want to see some day on the face of my Heavenly Father when I take that running leap into his lap and let him twirl over me and with me “for real.”

In the meantime, Jesus, yes, you may certainly have this dance! You have impeccable timing, and your footwork in connecting and blessing would win first place in ”Dancing With the Stars.” Come to think of it, you probably do!

A “ . . . BUT . . . “ to move:  Sometimes, Jesus, I keep you at such a holy distance that I know I don’t allow you to enjoy my relationship with you. It’s hard to think of my God rejoicing over me with singing, BUT today I choose to let you _____________________________________________ in and over and through my life and guide my steps every day.

Popsicles or Presence?

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, not out of frustration but out of compassion, “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 today?  Are they getting eighty-four?”

“No,” Jacob admitted, and his uncrossed arms showed me he was beginning to get the message.

“Jacob, you’ve had a party every day.”

He sighed heavily. I understood his childish frustration that could only see how the other students were partying back in the classroom today while I was asking him to read, something that feels like work to him.

“Jacob, you can read any book you want to read today, even the easy Dr. Seuss books that you like so much.”  I knew how he loved to read books with silly words and rhymes. I saw the value in asking him to pick out rhyming words, including rhyming nonsense words, and make new rhymes with them. Even those books could be a challenge for his fluency.  Jacob zoomed over to the shelf and brought back the easiest book he’d read this semester, no challenge to him now, but I knew he needed some joy and success today. He flew through the words. Then I offered what I knew would surprise him.

“Jacob, why don’t you choose a book you’d like me to read to you today.”  In disciplining with love and logic, you can’t omit the love.

Jacob directed me to a story we’d never read about a silly chicken in New York, and I let all the actor in me take the stage as I ever read the Yiddish in a voice like a chicken.

But as I read, I was hearing a familiar voice in my heart reciting a story in theBible I’d read many times about two brothers. the younger one took his inheritance early, left his work at his father’s house, left home and wasted his life and the money. The older brother wasn’t at all happy when his brother returned, broken and truly sorry, and their father threw a lavish party. “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

How often I yell, “Unfair!” and feel I need a “treat” every time I see someone else blessed. Good grief, I already have the biggest, sweeties blessing: 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 and party. Even when God’s teaching me and asking me to stretch and work, he showers me with unexpected provision, people in my life, and the rejoicing I feel when the love he promises me in the Bible takes root in my heart. The Father IS the party!

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 God’s Spirit connected me wonderfully with someone who needed to hear of his love, with someone who had a word for me straight from God’s heart to mine? Who’s the one enjoying a party every day? Me!

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

Right in the middle of a reading lesson, 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 Father of love, “You are my celebration! 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.

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, and the party I can have when I let him love me every day.

A  “. . . BUT . . . ” to move:  Father God, I get so miffed and even angry sometimes when people who don’t honor you seem to prosper, or when other people get victories and blessings I don’t, BUT I’m reminding myself today of two truths: I get to spend every day as your child you choose to honor with working in your fields for your kingdom to come, and I have the joy of living in your presence every day. You are the party, so I’ll uncross my arms, lift up my eyes, and listen to you tell me, your child ________________________________________________________________________________ . I want to throw a party to celebrate YOU, Father!

Forgetting Brought Blessing

THIS year I made sure I remembered to bring my iPod docking station to have plenty of volume for the songs I planned the women to sing during the devotions I was to give. I planned so thoroughly – I thought – until I dug into my suitcase on Friday night  at the retreat center and realized what I HAND’T packed: my ipod with the music!

Panic hit me like a hammer, and chagrin at realizing I’d left it on the clock radio charger beside my bed that morning. Humbled, I pressed into God – the only thing a meaning-seeking, analytical,  faithful servant (see my tongue in cheek now, but then I was serious ) could do.

The retreat theme was “God is Able.” Was he?

“Maybe, Jesus, you just want to hear our voices? Maybe, God, you’re teaching me that Jesus is enough, and we don’t have to sing to hear your Spirit. Or maybe, God, you just want us to hear you singing over US like in Zephaniah 3:17?”

Humbled up, I told the prayer team my dumb mistake. “Hey,” one of the women I didn’t know smilingly cried,” I have my iPod. I may have the song you need! What is it called?”

My face lit up like the Verde Valley sunset outside, and I told her I’d get her the name, for in all honesty, I couldn’t remember it off the top of my head. I checked my handouts and told her I needed “How Great is Our God.”  She wasn’t sure she had it because as she advised, she regularly dumps old music to ad new.

Sigh. Okay, God, I thought, I’m still prepared to believe you want just our voices accapella, or you just want to sing over us  . .  . “ I knew it would be fine either way, and even thought how much better it would be without the accompaniment.

I was so much in that frame of mind, in fact, that the next morning when another prayer team member, Kathy, extended a Cd into my hand, I almost refused it. She was dumbfounded herself. “last week I was in the Christian bookstore buying CD’s. I hadn’t planned to buy this one, but I saw it and the thought hit me that I should get it along with the others. I really don’t know why I did.”  Right in my face was Chris Tomlin’s CD with the title “How Great is Our God!”

I still can hardly believe that I was so caught up in the “Oh, it will be okay” reverie I almost refused to borrow the CD! Reality hit me that God was putting manna in my hand. Was I going to be “so heavenly minded that I’m no earthly good?” I laughed out loud as I spoke that chuckling “tsk, tsk” from the Holy Spirit, and yes I incorporated the humorous story as the introduction, and  we sang along to the miracle CD on Saturday morning.

Sunday morning was a different story. It was 7:15, the devotions started at 7:30,and I still didn’t have the final song I wanted to use that morning. Written on the handouts was a song I couldn’t do accapella – I tried, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. “Okay,” I sighed, “we can just say the words. . . . or maybe I can find a different song.”

The worship leader had some CD’s in a stack near the CD player, so I threw one in and frantically started skipping through tracks.  At track 5 I caught my breath.: “Be Unto Our God.” I love that worship song, a hauntingly beautiful waltz tempo. A thought leaped into my mind: “Could I? Do I dare?”

My message revolved around my blog post entitled “My Father’s Sweater,” all about standing at my father’s workbench wearing my Dad’s old brown sweater (and yes I’d remembered to bring a brown sweater), and  how we now stand at our heavenly Father’s workbench robed in Christ’s righteousness. I set my mind to ask the women to do something abandoned and silly and daring, and to heck with the consequences.

““I know you’re Lutherans,” I began, ”but you’re loosed Lutherans. Did any of you ever stand or dance on your father’s feet?” I asked, and at a few nodded heads and quiet  affirmations told me I was okay to go for the audacious. “Then I want you to get up, move around so you have enough space to move, because we’re going to dance on our Father’s feet!”

The lovely melody lifted from the speakers, and oh, my heart raced! Lovely daughters of the King of Kings began to sway, twirl, spin and waltz  in the arms of their God! Tears flowed, heads lifted in a wave of validation affirmation, invitation celebration!

“This was the best mistake I ever made,” I gratefully prayed as I danced along and enjoyed the laughter of Heaven. If I’d remembered my iPod, none of these miracles would have happened.

“Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. Highest praises, honor and glory be unto Your name, be unto Your name.”

Note to self:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in All things at ALL times, having ALL that yo need, you will abound in every good work.  1 Corinthians 9:8

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.! Amen.   Ephesians 3:20

A “. . . BUT . . .” to move:  God, you have such a sense of humor and fun, and you can do SO much more than I could ever even think to do by my own efforts – definitely more than my mistakes! Step in, take this dance of my latest mistake in __________________________________________________________________ and make it a beautiful waltz of your Glory and goodness!

My Father’s Sweater

 

I’m not sure how old I was when I claimed for my own and started wearing my Dad’s old brown cardigan sweater. I think I was around eleven, but I do know I continued to wrap myself in it till I was fifteen. I think I must have felt like I took on something of my father’s nature when I wore his sweater. It was soft with wide, flat ribs and moth holes in the sleeves – definitely not a “Mr. Rogers” sweater, but perfect to wear on chilly nights out in the garage.

That’s where you could find my Dad almost every night: at his workbench repairing something one of us had broken or building something amazing. I thought my Dad was the smartest man on the planet. None of my friends’ fathers sent Morse code messages on a radio or made science-fiction movie sound effects with a home-built Theremin. None of my friends got to watch miniature lightning shows in their garages from a Van Der Graaf Generator!

Somehow I felt secure in that sweater (and in on some great secrets) standing beside my father at his workbench, even when I had to stand on tiptoe to see what he was doing. I still associate the smell of hot solder and freshly sawn wood with Dad and can hear the sound of his table saw ripping through boards on their way to becoming furniture. He built a split-level ranch-style doll house for me, complete with a fireplace with hand-carved “bricks”, a chandelier that worked, and real tiny shingles on the roof. Dad went through several very 1960’s phases, too, most of which involved the overpowering (and probably brain chemistry altering) fumes of melting plastic that became bunches of grapes and the clacking, conservation of momentum and energy-demonstrating plastic spheres of a “Newton’s Cradle.”

My father let me help him plane wood, drive nails into odd bits of scrap wood, and sweep up sawdust, all while wearing his old brown sweater. When I was a sophomore in high school, Dad helped me draw out, saw, sand apply sealer to, and wrap with copper wire a walnut hardwood bangle I put on a necklace that looked, very much before its time, very much like the Nike “swoop.”  I felt so proud that my father was a builder and creator who guided me to create as I stood beside him, wearing his sweater, at his workbench, and by his side as he built our family cabin, me on the other end of the two-man saw when he cut up tree trunks, and holding a bag of nails as Dad hammered.

Maybe those hours spent in Dad’s sweater standing at his side account for some of my freedom and desire for intimacy with God, my Heavenly Father. Oh, if I could, I’d love to stand beside my Father God at HIS workbench and see what HE is creating!

Do you know what’s cool? My Father God lets me help with his projects. In fact, he WANTS me to get involved! Those amazingly validating times when I get to speak some word of affirmation to another person or meet someone’s need absolutely delight me, because I sense that I’m standing at my Father’s side and can almost see him smile. What amazes me, though, is what God my Father gives me to wear while I’m at his bench: not an old brown sweater, but the righteousness of Jesus! “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10

It takes my breath away sometimes when other people see my Father through me! Oh, God, let me stand beside you at your workbench as you create beauty, goodness, honor, kindness, integrity, compassion, truth, love, and living faith in the lives in this world so precious to you. Guide my hands and heart and words and prayers to help you. And wow, thank you that through faith in Jesus I get to wear a garment that looks like YOUR nature! You ARE the smartest Father in existence, and I want to be more like you. Thanks that you invite me to spend time by your side!

A “. . . But . . .” to pray: Oh, ABBA, Daddy, Father, you are incredible! You make “the music of the spheres,”  and real lightning .  You created vine, flower and grapes, the laws of motion and conservation of energy! Jesus, you told us you are creating not just a cabin, but many mansions in Heaven for us. You repair and rebuild what your children break. All creation, all wisdom, all power, all authority, all goodness, all truth, all justice, all righteousness, all life comes from your hands that are still building, repairing, creating. I may feel small, untalented, inarticulate, incapable, BUT standing by your side wearing YOUR righteousness, I know you’re calling me to ______________________ beside you and I know you’ll teach me how as I put my hands and heart to your work of  _____________________________. I hope others see YOU in me!ImageImage