You Okay?

My grandson toddles toward the lonely playground. He’s eighteen months old and this morning, his sights are fixed on the metal swing set. 

I watch his precarious baby steps as he navigates the gravel path. Best that I stay within arm’s reach in case Grandson falls. Sure enough, he stumbles.

“You’re okay. I got you!” 

I grasp his outstretched hand before his knees scrape the ground. Then, I lead him by the hand while we walk to the swing set.

After I settle on the swing, I lift Grandson to  my lap and wrap my arm around his waist. He leans back, fearless and content as we swing higher and faster.

This child trusts me with his safety. No whining or wiggling to suggest he’d rather be anywhere but here. Ohh, to be a carefree child!

Throughout my life, I’ve seen the Lord’s mercies. He repeatedly rescues me from danger and cushions my falls. So I know his eye is on me, and his Spirit guides me. But,

I want to trust God more. To be content with the here and now when life’s events feels like nettles in my socks.

Whenever I hear—pandemic, protests, politics—my body stiffens. I grumble about social distancing, quarantine, masks, my canceled appointments—hair today, denied tomorrow.

I raise my hands in protest rather than prayer.

This isn’t the summer vacation I bargained for. This isn’t the retired life I’d anticipated. This isn’t the lifestyle I’d envisioned for my grown children. I want to see my parents without fear of infecting them with COVID19!

Dad says, “Could be worse!”

Today is worse.

It’s nine a.m. and I’m drenched in sweat as the mercury in my outdoor thermometer inches toward a hundred. I can tolerate the heat, but rolling power outages and Red Flag Warnings (to evacuate our home) are in effect while the not-so-distant wildfires paint the sky ash grey. Yesterday, the foothills looked like they were puffing a cigarette. Today, they’re a chain-smoker.

I inhale deep, before the winds shift south and the air smells like a stale smoking lounge. I worry for the firefighters. I ponder what I’d do if my house burned down.

My body is swinging in the breeze, but my disposition is teetering on the edge of a miry pit. God intervenes like the doting Father that he is.

“Karen, you’re okay. I got you.”

I want to believe you, Lord, but…. 

From where I stand on planet earth, it feels like you’ve abandoned your creation. Not that I’d blame you. A time out, with our noses on the wall, might do everyone some good. But right now, I’m not feeling okay. 

God knows me. And yes, he is patient. He brings to mind what my mentor, Loretta, has told me repeatedly. The eternal perspective that has pulled me up by the boot straps on more than one occasion, and helped me forge ahead by God’s grace. 

She’d point to the pandemic, the wildfires and the nettles in my socks and tell me, 

“Every circumstance is an opportunity for God to teach and change us.” 

Change us? How?

To become more like Christ—more loving, compassionate, kind, patient, forgiving, willing to serve, prayerful.

I inwardly squirm. “I don’t want to learn these lessons the hard way. Can’t I sit in my recliner and read the Bible and be changed?”

My grandson points to the sky, bringing me back to this sweet spot.

I follow his wide-eyed gaze.

“That’s a Red-Tail Hawk,” I tell him. “Birds use thermals to soar without flapping their wings.”

My grandson isn’t old enough to comprehend everything I say, but he’s taking it all in—his surroundings, my words, the tone of my voice, my actions. He’s getting to know me as well as life.

Spending time with someone will do that, you know. 

Grandson scoots off my lap and heads for the tall metal slide. He’s been there before. And he’s not afraid. He knows that grandma will be right beside him. 

 That’s a God lesson . . . even in this!

Becoming Like Jesus Isn’t for Sissies

Tears rolled down my cheeks when I received the sad news. My stomach burned like I’d been kicked in the gut. The age-old question taunted me, “Why, Lord?

Even so, I took a deep breath and told myself, every circumstance is an opportunity for me to become more like Christ. But what does that mean? More patient? More compassionate? More … what?

Heartache colored everything grey. What was I supposed to learn from this sorrow? Was the lesson worth the cost?

And yet, if I believed God could use my sorrow to make me more like His Son, Jesus, then I had to unclench my fist. If nothing else, I could respond like Jesus on the night just before He was arrested.

“My heart is so full of sadness that I could die,” Jesus said. Then He fell on His face and prayed, “Father, not what I want, but what you want!” (Matthew 26:38,39)

Becoming like Jesus isn’t for sissies. Sometimes, the idea of being Christ-like seems downright impossible. Thankfully, the Spirit of God does the work of conforming people into Christ’s image.

The process begins when a person is born again. Jesus told Nicodemus “unless a person is born again from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”(John 3:3)

Like any birth, growth follows.

I wish I could take a daily hallelujah pill and have my thoughts, words, and actions be the same as Christ. But the Bible says I won’t fully be like Jesus until I see Him face to face. Meanwhile, some days I feel less like Jesus than the day I trusted Him to be my Lord and Savior. On a good day, I feel as though I’ve had a spiritual growth spurt and hope others see Christ in me.

But, how I “feel” has nothing to do with reality.

Romans 8:29 says God predestined His people to be conformed to His Son’s image. (Predestined means to determine in advance.) Only, nobody ever said the process would be painless.

When I was a kid, my long dirty-blond hair easily tangled at the nape of my neck. The fine hairs would bunch up into a tight-fisted ball until it resembled a rat’s nest. I’d go to my mom with a comb and try to sit still as she pried the hairs apart. However, it was impossible to straighten my hair without pulling at the tender roots. I’d complain and wiggle which only made the process worse.

I haven’t changed. When my rat-race of a life becomes a hairy mess, I run to God with my circumstances. Cry for help. Beg for relief. Only, I’m too busy wiggling and complaining.

“It hurts, Lord. Make it go away. I can’t deal with this!”

And yet, for every emotional tantrum, I’ve also had victorious moments. Last month, life hit me below the belt through no fault of my own, I felt the pinch, the pain. I agonized over my powerlessness to change things. Only this time, I sat still in God’s presence and allowed Him to dry my tears. God didn’t explain why He allowed the sorrow. He didn’t tell me how He’d use it for my good.

However, if my ultimate good is becoming more like Christ, then I can trust God to work everything together towards that end.

So, what’s a believer’s role in this process?

Get to know Jesus. Study the Bible’s four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) that are in the New Testament. Who is Jesus? What does He say about Himself? What do His actions reveal about His character? What does Jesus expect from His followers?

—Pray for a transformed heart. Our human tendency is to avoid pain and want our own way. Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” But we can pray that our heart’s desire would be a deeper relationship with Jesus, and the desire to become like Him. Willing to follow Him even if it means getting a taste of the Garden of Gethsemane.

—Change perspective. View every circumstance as an opportunity and the means to be like Christ. Having an eternal perspective affects our attitude towards hardship. It also enables us to respond like Christ and accept God’s will.

Even now, when my heartache lingers, I know God is good. His eternal purposes for my life includes making me more like Christ.

Who is this Jesus, the Christ? He’s the Alpha and the Omega. The Lion and the Lamb. Lord of Lords. King of Kings. And He made a promise just before He ascended to heaven: “And remember! I will be with you always.”

Jesus. Always with us.

Even in this … hard place.

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Did you know?

Mary, did you know…

Wise men were coming to see your baby, Jesus?

Did an angel warn you; give you time to prepare for company? Or did they show up unannounced?

Nativity scenes depict you serene, radiating joy as you cradle your infant son.

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But was God’s peace enough?

Enough to keep you tranquil when your home was bursting at the seams with visiting dignitaries? Camels resting outside your door?

Although you found favor in God’s eyes, and were chosen among all women to bear the Son of God, you were still a woman.

A young mom with raging hormones. A newly wed, living in humble means.

So I’m curious. Was your expression as europhoric as it appears in Renaissance paintings and Christmas cards?

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Because if I’d given birth, and prestigious strangers showed up at my door (uninvited) I’d probably come unglued.

Oh, I’d smile and invite them inside, but my eyes would only see the clutter on my kitchen counter. The dust on the mantel piece.

I’d scramble to brew a pot of coffee or tea. Bring out my nicest cups—the ones not chipped or stained. I’d forage in my pantry for snacks to share.

Not knowing how long they’d stay, I’d take my husband aside and tell him to order Chinese food or pizza.

If these strangers brought valuable gifts, I’d balk at the price tag before I graciously received them—knowing I had nothing to give in return.

What if they worshipped my son? Would I miss out while I searched for my camera to capture the moment?
Or be still and ponder these things in my heart like you did?

Mary, how did you feel when the shepherds and wise men had come and gone?
Did the thrill of childbirth go away when you and Joseph were left alone; faced with the reality of raising God’s Son?

How did you react when an angel told your husband to flee to Egypt for safety? Did you question God? Wrestle with the decision to move?

Surely your heart sank when you heard every male child under the age of two in Bethlehem had been killed when King Herod’s men searched for the Christ Child.

Did your faith flounder…even for a second?

Or were you so intent on God’s eternal purposes that His supernatural peace kept your mortal soul calm—come what may?

Mary, I like to think you didn’t know what lay ahead.

That you were a woman like me.

Imperfect, but walking by faith and not by sight even though you didn’t comprehend events.

Trusting God’s sovereignty during tumultuous times.

When Death Interrupts Life

My uncle died Friday night.

Lying in hospital, his one strong hand clung to the woman he loved. His pale cheeks wet from my aunt’s  teary butterfly kisses.

My uncle had suffered a Stroke weeks earlier, but on Friday—the first day of spring—I didn’t know his frail body was shutting down….

While I played Florence Nightingale to my outdoor plants—amputating dead limbs, nurturing them with life-giving water.

Springtime—the smell of fresh-cut grass, a sky the color of robin eggs, yellow buds unfurling in the afternoon sun.  My Friday was pregnant with new life around me and joyful possibilities.

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 What a stark contrast to my uncle and aunt’s reality. Death’s chill shadow loomed over them as the life they knew and shared concluded.

And yet, even in this…gut-wrenching pain of letting go….Hope was present.

Hope is the balm that soothes the burning sting of death.

 “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. BUT Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Death can’t be sugar coated. “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.” (Lyric from Empty Chairs at Empty Tables)

However, my uncle and aunt believed “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day….”

And their FAITH is what the Bible describes as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

This world isn’t the end all. There may be mysteries we can’t explain. But God has given us His Word, and His Promise, that death will be swallowed up in victory.

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The Columbine seeds I scattered in my garden last year now rise from the earth, but in a new form. The clover-like foliage and lavender bell-shaped flowers are more beautiful and fragrant than its seed.

So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

Because Christ lives, we live too!

That is the sweet reality for those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have LIFE in His name.” (John 20:31)

*Other scripture  cited is from 1 Corinthians 15

Photos by Jennifer Foster

What Matters Most

Last Wednesday, I flew from California to North Carolina (via Houston) for a She Speaks Conference. I was in the air about six hours. My travel day from the time I left home and arrived to the hotel took twenty-seven hours.

Waiting in an airport terminal was not my first choice however, if you read my last blog, you know I wanted the Lord to teach me no matter the cost.

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Rather than focus on my circumstances and become disgruntled, I chose to surrender my desire to have what I want NOW!

Instead of trying to be patient, I chose to abide in the Lord and experience patience which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

I cringe to say those words—I don’t want to sound self-righteous. But after years of striving to be a good Christian, I discovered the easier path is abiding in the Lord.

Abiding is how we become more like Christ….loving, compassionate, merciful, patient…which is God’s predestined will for those He has called.

The Holy Spirit does the work, but my poor attitude often slows the progress.

Only this time, I didn’t choose a one-woman pity party. Instead, I prayed for an eternal perspective while I traveled, and I asked to see people through God’s eyes.

He enlarged my vision.

I found myself drawn particularly to the people who served me at the airport and the hotel. Whether they were a maid, a busboy, a cashier, a waitress…..they each wore a name tag so I was able to call them by name. We’d smile, and exchange pleasantries.

Friendliness is contagious.

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Although my goal was to attend a conference to hone my writing and speaking skills, God taught me to do what matters most. Love one another.

My return flight home went without a glitch. Or so I thought. My traveling companion was on a different airline. Her flight was delayed by four hours.

My skin grew warm when I read my friend’s text. The thought of waiting in the airport terminal till three o’clock drained my last ounce of reserve. I’d been awake since 3:30 a.m. East Coast time, and had gone nonstop four days.

Was I going to wallow in self-pity or abide in Christ?

I sat down at a restaurant in the airport terminal—which began to feel like home—and asked the waitress,

“What’s your name? How long have you worked here?”

As I listened to Lynn’s story unfold, waiting on a flight seemed minuscule.

I’m thankful for the myriad of men and women I met last week, and the opportunity to show small acts of kindness.

God is so patient with me. And He can use everything—even waiting in an airport terminal—to teach me what matters most.