One Orange Coat

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“Look at this one, it’s your color!” I held up a coat in a beautiful vibrant orange.

“And my size!” said our daughter Rebecca, looking at the label.

She had been looking for a raincoat that wasn’t black, brown, gray, or out of her price range. At the local warehouse store I’d seen some raincoats in blue as well as neutral colors, so we made a quick trip while she was visiting us from Baltimore.
Coats

She tried on a blue coat first, but it wasn’t quite right. Then we went to the other side of the table, and lying neatly on the top of all the stacks of other colors was one orange coat. When she put it on, it fit like it was tailored just for her. The classic lines and detachable hood clinched the deal.

We turned back to the piles, finding it hard to believe that this was truly the ONLY orange coat. There was no other orange coat anywhere on the table.

Rebecca's CoatRebecca and Ben live their lives constantly acknowledging God’s presence and His goodness, so there’s no doubt in our minds. The orange coat is one more example of our Heavenly Father opening the windows of heaven to pour out a blessing.

Spring Surprises

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One of the things I enjoy most about spring is finding surprises in my garden. Flowers bloom at times and in places that I don’t expect, lifting my heart as I drive into the driveway or look out the windows to our back yard.

Snowdrops (2)A few years ago I was puzzled when clumps of snowdrops bloomed in late January–I didn’t remember planting them. A few days later, as I stared out through late winter rain, I suddenly remembered my last visit to my parent’s property the day before new owners took possession. I’d put a shovel and some empty pots in the trunk of my car, hoping to get a few souvenirs from Dad’s garden. I filled the pots with violets and starts of lilac and flowering quince. At the last minute, I dug up some unidentified clumps of strappy green leaves. Now, nearly a year later, those green clumps produced the first flowers to bloom  in my own garden, pristine white bells nodding above early spring snow.

This year, one of the surprises was the unexpected blossoming of a clump of Bear’s Foot Hellebore. Its bright chartreuse is a nice contrast to darker green ferns and the brown back fence. While I vaguely remember planting it sometime in the past, this was its “ta-da” appearance.IMG_1374

Unfortunately, not all the surprises are welcome. Major surgery two years ago prevented normal garden maintenance, allowing weeds to successfully mount a distressing coup d’etat. I’m reluctantly considering retaliating with weapons of mass destruction.

Considering both pleasant and unpleasant revelations as spring progresses, I think about unexpected surprises when life’s seasons change. Sometimes in the busyness of daily living, I forget the work that God has done in a particular area of my life. When there’s a change of seasons, and I find myself flourishing in unexpected places. Alternatively, if I neglected a particular area in a previous season, I may find negative thoughts or attitudes sprouting in unexpected places.

What surprises are you finding in this season of your life?

“Speaking of Jesus”

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Have you ever felt defensive when someone challenges your beliefs about religion or Christianity? If that’s been true for you, Speaking of Jesus could change your perspective. Author Carl Medearis, a long-term resident and expert on the Middle East, urges us to go back to the core, to Jesus, the Center of it all.

S of JPeople react to Christianity for a variety of reasons: their own negative experience, misinformation, the influence of others. But the game changes totally when we point them away from the superstructure of religion and the catastrophes of “Christian” history to look at Jesus. The subtitle of the book, “the art of not evangelism,” gives a hint that this is not a book to provide you with a canned outline or method for a sweaty-handed conversation with the person in the next cubicle.

If we are to “live like Jesus and share His love,” we need to remember that Jesus went out of his way to spend time with non-religious people. And he generally challenged their thinking, not their behavior.

I was touched by the amazing stories Medearis relates of people from a variety of cultures responding to the good news of Jesus. The humor and insight in the book are disarming; the truths he shares are like a gut-punch.

Larry and I found this book extremely provocative. Some of Medearis’s statements are startling, some you may disagree with. But in the end, I believe you will have a renewed appreciation of the ministry of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels, and a refreshed enthusiasm for introducing people in your circle of influence to the One who can transform their lives.

More Beyond

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“Daddy,” gasped 5-year-old Emily, saltwater dripping from her blonde hair, “I didn’t know there was so much in the ocean!”

Em hawaii

 After several days of persistent badgering, she had convinced her parents to rent snorkel gear for her. Only a few months before, she had consistently refused to put her face in the water during swim lessons. But on a Hawaiian vacation, in the warm ocean, Emily put aside her fears. And once she saw the wonders beneath the surface of the blue water, there was no stopping her.

When they returned home, she tugged at my arm with a shy grin. When I bent down listen, she said with great pride and delight, “Nana, I snorkeled!”

How much of life do we miss because we don’t look below the surface, or beyond today’s horizon? What wonders have we not seen because we’re afraid to go around the next bend in the road, or believe that there might be something wonderful that we haven’t yet experienced?

Philip_V_Coin (2)Recently I became aware of the motto of Spain in the era following the discovery of the Americas. The Latin words, Plus Ultra¸ “More Beyond” were included on both the Spanish coat of arms and Spanish coins. Combined with the words is a representation of the Pillars of Hercules, gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, considered for ages as the limit of the known world.

When we see satellite photos on Google Earth, it’s hard to comprehend the geographic boundaries of past centuries. To imagine what might be “beyond,” stretched the limits of comprehension. Yet our minds have their own limiting “Pillars of Hercules,” beyond which we hare fearful to venture. Like Emily, we have no idea what awesome wonders we might encounter.

Are you willing to believe for “More Beyond?”

Perfect Conditions

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Several mornings ago, we awoke to a transformed world. Glittering white crystals coated every leaf, twig and branch. The grass was a crunchy shag carpet, and solid ice captured the feet of the bronze cupid sitting on the edge of the birdbath. I wanted to wrap a towel around her shoulders.IMG_1326

My shearling slippers and fleece jacket barely kept out the 26 degree chill as I wandered around the back yard with my camera, hoping to capture just a hint of the magical scene. The branches of the tall firs drooped with heavy white icing. Sparkling shards of frozen fog accented each thread of spider webs. Verse 38:29 from the Book of Job came to my mind: “From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?”

We’d had cold nights that gradually turned into dull, overcast mornings. Some mornings frost glittered on the lawn and rimmed the rail of the deck. We’d awakened to cold, foggy mornings when we could see nothing past the top of our back fence. But that morning, the perfect combination of cold air, clear skies, and fog combined for a very different result, one that made our breath catch in wonder.

The right combination of conditions can transform our world.

Often we see only the fog, or shiver with anxiety when circumstances drain the warmth out of life. We look for good in a tough situation, try to see our way through confusion, or attempt to bring order into a situation.

birdhouse

But as the ancient author of Job implies, it’s God the Creator who knows the formulas to create wonders. He is the one who arranged the perfect combination of fog, clear skies and cold air to create a glistening wonderland. His finger pushed the mercury on the thermometer down one degree, his hand whisked the clouds away, he blew his moist breath on our hillside, and the world changed.

I have frequently seen God orchestrate perfect conditions for his children, with their knowing or unknowing cooperation. A long-unemployed man strikes up a random conversation with someone in a checkout line, and ends up getting a job offer. A missionary abruptly moves his family to another part of their island, leaving a comfortable home, and only a few weeks later the home they left is swept away by a tsunami.

While we have our part to seizing the best opportunities to make our lives productive and fulfilled, for those of us who trust Him, God’s in charge. He’s the One who creates the perfect combination of conditions to transform our world into beauty.

How’s your spiritual equity?

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Are you “upside-down”?

Current financial news frequently refers to the unfortunate situation of homeowners being “upside-down.”  When someone’s home is worth less in the current housing market than they owe to the bank, it’s a distressing situation.

Unfortunately, we can be upside-down in our spiritual lives as well. When our ability to trust God with the difficulties of life falls short of our ability to trust, we can experience insecurity and panic. Worry and fear drains our equity, and we may feel that our spiritual resources are lacking.

How do we gain spiritual equity?

In natural terms, we build equity by making regular payments on the mortgage, or by external forces raising the value of housing. The ideal scenario occurs when these forces work simultaneously.

We can build spiritual equity by affirming our trust God in the everyday circumstances of our life. Situations often arise that are beyond our strength, ability, or understanding. When we confess our trust in God, we increase the value in our spiritual account. Time spent in worry or doubt drains our account. Time spent in thanksgiving and prayer adds divine dividends and spiritual equity.

Later we look back and see that God worked in the situation. As we acknowledge his work and thank him for it, he adds supernatural dividends.  Our balance grows, sometimes in unexpected ways. When the next difficult situation comes along, we have greater resources to trust and see his hand at work.

Verifying balance sheet

Facing tough times

Over the years, life has brought us many unexpected challenges: a 9-month-old baby with pneumonia, lengthy unemployment, a daughter’s brain tumor diagnosis. As I made “trust deposits,” acknowledging God’s sovereignty and power in each situation, my spiritual equity grew over the years. When faced with my own cancer diagnosis nearly two years ago, I found I had an ample account to draw on. Doctor’s reports caused minor “withdrawals” as I dealt with bouts of worry and anxiety. But there were abundant resources to face surgery and recovery with faith, confident in the ultimate good that God would bring in my life.

What’s the bottom line?

As with our natural finances, it’s helpful to look at the statements periodically. In the daily challenges of life, is the trust account growing? Are we making the daily small deposits that gain interest and dividends for the future? When difficulties arise, is our first response panic or prayer? Do we look for advice in our favorite blog, or God’s Word?

Life is uncertain, and we never know when we’ll need resources. When we put our trust in God, the compound interest of his faithfulness will insure that we have an ample supply when we need it.

The Other Children

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As a stunned world watched in horror, news unfolded last week of the shooting of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown , Connecticut, just days after a mall shooting near Portland, Oregon that left three dead.

“How could this happen, again?”

“What terrifying forces were at work in the mind of the shooters?”

“Are we safe anywhere?”

Our hearts break as we see photographs of primary-school victims with shiny eyes and gap-toothed grins. We try to comprehend the excruciating pain of parents who waited outside the school, only to learn that their child will not walk out to hug them. We don’t want to imagine the nightmares that will haunt the “first-responders” who were on the scene.

School children singing, Pie Town, New Mexico ...

We grieve that these lives ended too soon, that they will never know the joys of puppy love, or driving a car, or getting an A in a tough class. Our society is poorer because their contribution will be missing.

As I pondered this tragedy over the past few days, a question came to my mind.

What about the other children who were killed on December 14, 2012?

The Others…

On December 14, 2012, and on December 13, December 15, and every other day this year, more than 3,400 babies were killed in abortion clinics in the United States.

Those deaths did not make headlines, were not the topic of every newscast for days, nor did they prompt a Presidential appearance in a small town. Photos of these little ones will not appear in People magazine or be posted on YouTube.ultrasound pic (1)

These children will never learn to ride a bike, have a crush on the boy who sits beside them in Biology, or marry the girl next door. We’ll never know how they might have impacted our society. Our economy will continue to suffer because they, and the other 1,200,000 babies aborted this year in the USA, will never be in the workforce.

As we continue to grieve and pray for the families and friends of those affected by the tragedies of last week, let’s not lose sight of the fact that there are children dying in every community,every day of the week.

Will we mourn them also?

What’s stored up for you?

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The Stash

At this time of year, I often think of the special stash of gifts my mother kept ‘hidden’ on a shelf in a back closet of my childhood home. That’s where MoSTashm stored the special things she’d found on sale throughout the year and squirreled away for birthdays and Christmas. I’ve followed her example, and have always had my own special place to stockpile toys, books, and gifts I find that will bring pleasure to my children, grandchildren and friends.

The other day I was reminded that God also has a stash of good things for his children. Here are two versions of Psalm 31:19:

You are wonderful,  
and while everyone watches,
you store up blessings for all
who honor and trust you.
  Contemporary English Version

What a stack of blessing you have piled up
for those who worship you,
Ready and waiting for all who run to you
to escape an unkind world.
   The Message

We may have read this in the past and had a “That’s nice” response. But I believe God wants us to access those blessings, regularly! It would be silly for me to keep adding to the gifts on my shelf and never give them out. My joy is in the giving, not the stockpiling. In the same way, God intends for us to receive, open and enjoy his blessings. The clear message of Psalm 31:19 is that the blessings God has stored up are to delight us, and to show others that he’s a loving and bountiful Father.

The Key to the Storehouse

So how do we access the stash God has for us? I believe thanksgiving is the key. When a small grandchild wraps their arms around my neck and says, “Thank you, Nana!” I’m ready to head out shopping again.

It’s no accident that we’re encouraged to give thanks more than one hundred times in scripture. Giving thanks acknowledges God’s work in our lives, and shifts the focus from our needs to His supply. The more we acknowledge that all good things come from my Father’s hand, the easier the key turns.

At this season, when we acknowledge the Greatest Gift given to mankind, it’s my hope that you’ll access the unique storehouse of blessings that your Heavenly Father has been piling up for you. It will bring delight to you, to Him, and let everyone know his goodness.

nativity

The Cookbook

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“Go ahead, buy it!” said my husband.

I stood with Larry at the book table in a local warehouse store, a popular new cookbook in my hands. The cheerful red and white cover design appealed to me. I had read some rave reviews, and a quick glance through the pages confirmed my interest.

“But it’s so heavy, and it’s expensive, even here. I’m just not sure,” I replied, hesitating.

“It’s up to you,” he said, “but I think you should put it in the cart.”

The Shopping Trip

We were filling two carts with supplies intended to last a family of five for two years on the mission field. Uganda was now relatively peaceful, but shop shelves were still bare, and we needed to ship everything we might need for our assignment there. A special offering at our church had provided the funds; our shopping expedition was both exciting and overwhelming.

We piled the carts with life’s miscellany: shampoo, toothpaste, underwear, razors, towels, pens, pencils and markers for our school-age children. For the joy of living, we added a ten-pound bag of chocolate chips. With the basics selected, we browsed at the book table, wistfully eying the many tempting choices for a reading family. My practical side won out, and I put the cookbook back on the stack.

Mysterious Encounter

A week after our shopping trip, Larry was walking to a local cafe with David, a neighbor. A man approached them, carrying a cardboard box. Without introducing himself, he looked directly at Larry.  Handed him the box, he said “Take this home to your wife.” As he walked away, Larry and David looked at each other in bewilderment.

When Larry came home, he handed me the unopened package. While he related the bizarre encounter, I opened the box to find the red and white cookbook. We looked at each other in awe and amazement; tears prickling in my eyes. I had told no one else, but my Heavenly Father knew of my interest in that particular cookbook.

In the following days cardboard cartons crowded our dining room. We removed every tube of toothpaste, razor and pen from its packaging and sealed them in zippered plastic bags. The cookbook went in a box with a giant Tupperware® bowl nearly filled to the brim with chocolate chips. A few days later, the boxes were on their way to an Africa-bound freighter.

Life in Uganda was challenging, with frequent threats to our health and safety. When I battled discouragement and homesickness, the cookbook was a reminder of God’s personal involvement in our lives. When I took it off my brick-and-board shelf, its message was, “God knows me!”

Twenty years later, the red and white cookbook occupies a prominent place in my kitchen. The pages are discolored and fly-specked, the dust jacket worn. A favorite recipe still shows penciled adjustments for Ugandan ingredients.

It’s an enduring reminder that God cares about the details of our life.

A Treasure from Grampa

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In a storage bin in a back closet, I recently found a thin beige box illustrated with vintage designs of bunnies, sailboats and other toys. Inside was my baby book from 1946.

I leafed through the pages, smiling as I read the sparse comments in my mother’s handwriting. “First began to sit up, 4 mos. Walk around furniture, week of Sept. 1. First word, ‘Ouch’, August 25.”

Then I unfolded the treasure I had never seen before, a note from my 81-year-old grandfather, written in his shaky hand when I was five months old. My throat tightened with emotion as I stared at the small piece of yellowed notepaper.  What was he like? Why would an old man write a message to a five-month-old baby? I wish I could have known him.

The Note

Portland, Mar 20 / 47

My Dear Carolyn

Now that you are growing to be such a big girl and are taking sitting-up exercises, I am sure you will find these pillows useful. They are part of your Gramma Waldron’s treasured possessions (and perhaps of your Great-Gramma’s). So I am sure they will surround you with lots of loving comfort, and I know that she will look down on you as you use them and rejoice that you have them.

With love from your

Grampa Waldron

Memories

I have vague impressions of sitting on Grampa’s lap, feeling safe and loved, as I searched his pockets for the small treat he always brought me, his youngest grandchild. I did not have the privilege of knowing Gramma Waldron, as she died during my mother’s pregnancy, and was unaware of my impending arrival. Sadly, I have no memory of the pink pillows.

Grampa with my mother and siblings, shortly after Gramma passed away.

Just days after my second birthday, he joined Gramma in heaven. He had caught pneumonia while camping alone near the Rogue River in southern Oregon. He ended his life doing what he loved best, panning for gold.

How Can We Connect?

Reading this treasured note, the question comes to mind: What simple things can we do to connect to those we love, now and after we are gone?