Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Giving Gifts

I love giving gifts. Getting them is good too, but I think I enjoy giving them more. (That's probably not nearly as self-sacrificing or whatever as it might sound.) I don't necessarily enjoy shopping. Rather, I enjoy seeing someone else's pleasure in something I've given or something I've done for them.

This is particularly relevant in that I am in birthday mode at the moment. Kolya turned 14 a few days ago. Though I don't typically like just giving money, for a 14-year-old, it is often the right color and size! (And Kolya is already saving for a car when he turns 16. His mom shared with me that he has already save $500! How amazing is that?)

Julie has a birthday March 6th. I'm set to see her tomorrow but then won't see her again for two weeks. So, I decided to do the birthday thing tomorrow. She's getting a homemade treat. I've taken stuff to her office before. However, I've never made this particular item. So, it is scary that I somehow managed to only copy half the recipe off the Internet and ended up winging the rest of it since I didn't have time to get on line and hunt it down again. We'll just say that there are ample amounts of chocolate and sugar and other sweet things involved. She's getting 2 of the same thing. One is to share with her office. (They love treats!) One is to take home to share with her family.

Jill was a little trickier. (I really do typically rely on the stumble method for her, but Christmas and her birthday are too close together for that to be reliable.) She has a ton more fashion sense than I do, so my picking out clothes for her isn't always the best option! (How does one look so put together just wearing jeans and a top? I really don't get it!)

In an earlier post, I shared about my foray to the mall. The wander aimlessly and hope that something jumps out and bites you technique really didn't work -- at all. I resorted to calling her husband and asking for an idea but that really didn't help. So, I took to cruising other stores -- Jeffrey Alan's, Hobby Lobby, Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Meijer, Walmart, . . . . It caused me to see the advantage of the mall in that all the stores are inside. With the temp hovering below freezing going back to the mall had a certain appeal.

In the end, I came up with the idea for Jill's present right before falling asleep one night. But I had to go back to Meijer and Walmart to look for it. They both had it, but I wanted to see which had the better price.

What did I get Jill? A pedometer. Okay, it doesn't sound like a particularly exciting gift. But Jill is really into her walking and it just seemed to fit. The other pieces of the gift were lunch out on Saturday and a heart felt card. Jill seemed pleased with both and in turn, that really pleased me!

Jill made the comment that I am "thoughtful." That has stuck with me the last few days and kind of nested in my soul. Thoughtful. What a nice thing to say. I like that characterization. And I think it reflects back to my efforts to find "the gift." When I give gifts, I like them to say, "I thought about you. This had you written on it."

I've done a little reflecting on the gifts God gives. In Matthew 7:9-11, it says, "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 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!" I don't want to take this totally out of context or anything. But I think it points to God's heart.

If I enjoy giving gifts, how much more does God enjoy giving gifts to us? He knows us intimately and always has our best in mind. We are never far from His thoughts and every day is a gift He has prepared for us. Every moment is a gift He planned.

So, when you look at the sunset or the starry sky or the face of your sleeping child, stop and think. "Look how thoughtful He is! He thought of me and gave me . . . ."

I haven't teased it all out just yet, but I think it is safe to say, a hopeful heart and a grateful heart often go hand in hand. I think, perhaps, they compliment each other.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Taking Hold -- Hope Chronicles 20

Sometimes hope is so close we might reach out and touch it if we dare and be changed forever in taking that action.

The story always fascinates me. The woman was bleeding for 12 years, so for 12 years she was considered unclean. Scripture relates that she had suffered under many doctors but none had been able to heal her. But she was there in the crowd that surrounded Jesus. She had heard about him. She had it in her mind that if she could just get close enough, if she could just touch the hem of his garment, she would be well.

I imagine that she had to jostle her way through the crowd. She probably had to push her way through and endure angry glares and words as she did. I imagine she saw Jesus turn and start to walk away. With one last valiant effort, she reached out and grabbed his hem -- and it was enough. The bleeding stopped instantly.

Jesus immediately recognized that the power had left him. He stopped, but at first he didn't see her. He asks what the disciples consider a ludicrous question. "Who touched me?" Can't he see that the crowd has pressed in all around him? He refuses to go on until he knows.

She comes trembling and falls at his feet. "It was me. I touched you." I imagine she expected rebuke. But Jesus looks at her. Perhaps he helps her to her feet. He calls her "Daughter," an intimate term. He says, "Your faith has made you well."

Hope. "I hope that this or that happens." That is the way that the world thinks about it. It is a wishing for or wanting something. But for Christians, hope is more than that. It is reaching out and taking hold of Jesus, our hope. Hope in the worlds eyes is passive. But for Christians it is called to be active.

Hope is a daily reliance on one who cares deeply for me. Hope sees the possibilities and reaches out and grasps Jesus by the hand. It is taking our dreams, hurts, and fears and lying them in his lap. It is grasping Him in the midst of the storms of life.

Sometimes hope is so close we might reach out and touch it if we dare and be changed forever in taking that action. It is believing in spite of what circumstances or logic might dictate because the one we believe is trustworthy. Christian hope is based at every turn on the character of Jesus.

What action might God be calling you to today?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Update and A Bit on the Ligher Side

Since I've asked many of you to pray over the last week about my going to NIU as a volunteer, I feel the need to update you. I'm not going. It's not for a lack of willingness, but it seems that it wasn't in God's plan at this moment. So, I have been praying today and will continue to do so. I just never heard from anyone other than the last email I posted about on Thursday. We were specifically told not to call because NIU was already inundated with phone calls about various things.

On a different note, I had a fun and encouraging day. At church this moring, we had a birthday party for EVERYONE. We were celebrating a year of doing KidStuf. I snapped lots of really cute pictures like this one of Lydia, Elena, and Grace. The thing that impresses me about many of the kids at my church is that they are so kind. I've seen it in various ways with older kids helping younger ones. And the younger ones just adore the older ones.

When I took 8 kids skating in December, they ranged in ages from 5-13. The older ones could have ignored the younger ones, but they didn't! I love to see the mix. It just so happens that the virtue this month was kindness. The parents got to brag on their children during service.

I've been getting to know Joe and Debbie and their two children. I've been in their community group and they have invited me over several times. I've invited them over a number of times, but they have never made it. (I suspect that part of it was a fear that their kiddos would destroy my house. While I don't want things destroyed, I have a pretty high tolerance level for kid messes and enjoy them -- the kids, that is.) Joe had to bow out, but Debbie, Lucas, and Raquel came for homemade soup and grilled cheese. We then made Peanut Blossoms (Hershey Kiss cookies.)

Raquel seemed to really enjoy making the cookies. She did a great job rolling the peanut butter balls in sugar. Lucas unwrapped the kisses but I think more ended up in him than on the plate for the cookies!

Even when the cookies had been baked, Lucas went for the chocolate. He then told me he wanted to share and gave me the peanut butter part. I discretely disposed of the ABC (Already Been Chewed on) cookie.

Both Lucas and Raquel were enthralled with Mali. (Katy is my shy kitty and she hid while they were here, but Mali doesn't mind company a bit.) I've been teaching Mali to do tricks like come, sit, and up. She was even willing to do up for Raquel and I finally have proof of my little one's talent. Hollywood here we come!

Have a blessed week!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Princess or Stray? (Part 3) -- Hope Chronicles 19 cont.

This idea of the princess and stray has been wiggling about in my brain for a couple of months. It came to fruition with yet another food incident with Mali. (Click here for part 1 and here for part 2 if you don’t know what I am referring to. It'll all make more sense if you do!) I feel like God gave me the image of the princess and the stray and I’ve enjoyed writing about it.

Here is my confession and my disclaimer; I have not yet arrived in this area. So, I can give you a glimpse of where I have been and the path I am on, but I don’t know yet all the twists and turns it will take. Having said that, here it goes – from one stray to another!

Over the years, I have come to believe that there is a container in each of our hearts. The conatiners get filled up when we are loved on and are that with which we pour love into others. Through our lives, that container gets beat on and dented. Maybe it was the taunting of the kids at school or never having mom say she loved you. Maybe it was something big like the death of a parent in your tender, early years. Maybe it was all the little things that accumulated into something big. Maybe it was abuse. I don’t know what it might be for you.

Sometimes, the things of life come so hard that the container gets punctured. Sometimes they are tiny holes and other times they are jagged, gapping holes. When the container gets punctured, all the love and good things leak out. I know that there have been times that in spite of an outpouring of love and care, I have remained thirsty for more and more because every drop that gets poured in runs out.

God has always intended for me to be a princess – the beloved child of the King of the universe. Life has made me a stray.

How does a stray heart become a princess heart?

First and foremost, I need to believe that God is in the business of fixing broken hearts, broken containers. He can hammer out the dents and fix the holes. It’s not always the easiest or quickest of processes, but God is all about making me whole. But I need to believe Him first so that He can work on all those hard areas.

In Mark 6, Jesus visits his hometown. Maybe it was that they knew him when he was a child, but the people of Nazareth had a hard time believing Jesus. Their lack of belief was actually limiting. In verses 5-6 it says, “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” (ESV)

Do I think God could do whatever He wanted? Yes. But I’ve heard it put this way. God is a gentleman. He will not force himself into a life. Though it alternately makes His heart dance for joy or crushes Him, we are free to accept or reject Him.

But it isn’t easy to just say, “I believe.” The father who brought his son to Jesus for healing and said, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us,” had the right of it. " 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." How does the father respond? “I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.” (NIV) I am learning to pray this prayer.

But even then, it doesn’t mean that all the holes are neatly zapped. (Oh, that it were so!) Yes, God sometimes does an “instant miracle.” But I am learning that it is often God’s way to work over time. The healing that comes after 10 or 20 years is no less a miracle, no less a work of God, than the one that happened in an instant. Perhaps, there is some part of my character that needs to be honed, something I need to learn in the time spent in dependence on God that I would not learn if He had chose to zap that area. (But I will admit to a certain level of frustration when the tears are flowing.)

I recently learned that the word used to describe Jesus’ transfiguration (Mark 9) and our transformation are the same word. The only difference is that when it describes Jesus it is in the passive tense, a sense of already being. For us it is an active tense describing the process of becoming.

I need to understand who God is. I need to know Him intimately. I’m striving to keep scripture always in front of me.

I need to trust God. It is only in knowing Him that I can fully trust Him with all the dark places in my life that keep me in the land of “Never Enough,” that keep me suspecting that He is holding out on me.

I need to live in a community of consistency. Granted, I will never find full consistency in the human realm, but a community striving to be consistent goes a long way. Going back to my Mali. It is continuing to consistently feed her. Not that I would stop feeding her, but sometimes I shake my head and wonder when her heart will change. (I imagine God does that with me!) It’s through consistency I learn to trust.

I survived a childhood fraught with abuse. That has left the large, jagged holes in my heart. I have been in counseling forever! I’ve been with Julie, my present counselor, 6 ½ years. Sometimes I bemoan the fact that it is taking so long. (Note to self. Reread the paragraph about miracles that take 10-20 years.) I started seeing her after a disastrous counseling relationship. When I bemoan it taking so long, Julie gently reminds me that it took year to a year and a half for me to begin to trust her. But her persistent consistency won out. Julie is great, but God is even immeasurably more persistent and consistent.

Some friends from church also get the consistent-over-the-long-haul awards. I suspect, at times, they’ve wondered if my high need would ever diminish. (Sometimes it resurfaces even now). But they have stuck it out with me in little and big ways. I need to remember that and be lovingly consistent with others as well. It has the power to change lives.

I choose to believe God that I am his wholly and dearly loved child. I am “now and not yet.” In spite of my stray heart, I am more princess than stray for God has laid claim to my heart. So rather than a stray, I am a princess in progress.

One day my heart will fully be a princess heart that fully trusts my God and King. I will reside not just in Plenty but the land of Abundantly More Than Enough. Just as in the Old Testament God was the Levites' inheritance; God is my strength and portion. Who could ask for anything more?

Princess in Progress

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Another NIU Update

Thanks to so many of you who have told me that you are praying about if I am to go or not. I really appreciate it! But I don't know much more than I knew a few days ago.

Most of today I have been thinking that since I haven't heard anything yet that God was closing that door. But apparently He is just saying "Wait a little longer to know." I am not organized, and one of my best vacations was done with very little planning aside from arriving and leaving! However, I do like to know those big picture things. And this is very different from a vacation!

Tonight, I got this email from the Illinois Counseling Association:

First, I would like to thank every one of you who so selflessly offered your time and expertise to assist NIU during theis crucial period.

I know many of you are anxiously waiting to know if your services will be needed, so I would like to update you on the status of the volunteer drive.

All information has been forwarded to NIU for the scheduling process. NIU is currently in the process of telephoning volunteers with specific assignments. Those who are contacted will be asked to attend a special orientation on Sunday, Feb 24 at 2 PM.

It is our understanding that LPCs, LCPCs, LSWs, LCSWs, and Licensed Psychologists who volunteered and had availability on Monday and Tuesday of this next week, when NIUs students return, and, who have indicated that they can be available for large blocks of time (eg: all day Monday, all day Tuesday, or both) are among those most likely to be contacted. (We have received word that volunteers that signed up from our database are among those contacted so far.

So, it looks as if I still might go or I might stay home. Either way, I know I will be praying. But I do hope to hear something tomorrow if I am to go. I'm sure they would like to know at work and I'm suppose to run power point at church on Sunday so I would need to get someone to cover . . . . And then there are the cats to be taken care of. But all of these things are things that God can easily take care of. Please keep praying for me and everyone involved -- students, faculty, administrators, volunteers, parents . . . .

Sign Post

I truly enjoy blogging and reading everyone's thoughts. Last night I read a post from Renee Swope. It was really excellent! So I thought I'd post this little sign post and encourage you to hop to Renee's and read it. It puts a whole different spin on spending time with God.

Princess or Stray (Part 2) -- Hope Chronicles 19 cont.

During World War II, many children in England had to evacuate due to the fighting. (If you are a Narnia fan, you’ll recall that this is why Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy end up at the Professor’s house.) Some ended up in kind situations. Others pretty much had to fend for themselves. Because of the fear of losing their lives, the fear of what would come to tomorrow, the fear of not having enough, some of the children had trouble falling asleep at night. It must have been God inspired, but someone had the idea of giving children bread to sleep with each night. With the bread in their hands, they knew they had something to eat and would have something to eat for the next day too. With the comfort of the bread, the children were able to sleep.

I believe that there is such a think as a national psyche. I don’t mean that to sound New Age-ish at all. But there are things that happen in each generation that shape how that generation thinks and feels. Sometimes, some of those things are passed on to the next generation.

Some things that have impacted our national psyche at various points are the Vietnam War, 9/11, Kennedy’s Assassination, the Great Depression, Colombine, . . . . These things shape how whole generations think and feel.

Do you recall how Jacob and his sons ended up in Egypt? The quick version: Jacob favored Joseph. Joseph’s brothers got jealous, sold him into slavery, and told Jacob that his son was dead. Meanwhile, Joseph found favor with God and God brought him from a slave to the second highest in the land of Egypt. Then there was a famine and Joseph’s brothers end up in Egypt wanting food . . . . There’s an amazing reconciliation and everyone joins Joseph in Egypt. But eventually the Egyptians get wary of the Israelites prosperity and force them into slavery for 400 years.

It stands to reason that Israel’s psyche was impacted by the famine and servitude. They lived in a land and mindset of “never enough.” But God is with them and He calls them out of Egypt, sends plagues on the Egyptians that don’t touch the Israelites, and performs miracles like parting the sea. They saw God work in mighty ways!

In Exodus 16, the Israelites grumble because they are hungry. God gives them quail to eat in the evening and manna (bread) to eat every morning. He gives specific instructions that no one is to save any of the manna overnight but promises there will be more the next day. Having the heart of a stray, some of the Israelites disregard these instructions. The next day it stinks and is full of maggots (Gag!).

A couple thousand years later, I can look at the Israelites and shake my head and ask, “What were you thinking? God gave you specific instructions!” But then, I suppose, people can look at my life and ask the same haunting question, “What were you thinking? Didn’t you believe God’s promises?”

Yeah, but . . . . You get the picture. Just like the Israelites, sometimes I operate out of a stray, never enough heart.

Mark recounts that when Jesus sent the disciples out in twos he told them not to take any bread, bag, money, or extra clothes. They were to go with the sandals on their feet and a staff. I think I would have struggled to follow those instructions. When they return the emphasis is on the fact that they preached repentance, drove out demons, and healed people. There is no mention of going hungry. Rather, it seems that God provided for them.

The next circumstance Mark recounts is that people followed Jesus and his disciples on their little get-away. Jesus has compassion on them and realizes that they will be hungry. The disciples are aghast when Jesus tells them to feed the crowd (upwards of 5,000) even though they have already experienced God’s provision.

They scrounge around and come up with five loaves of bread and two fish. There – in the wilderness or desert – Jesus feeds 5,000+. Not only does he feed the 5,000, there are 12 basketfuls of leftovers! With Jesus there is more than enough.

Jesus disciples live in a the land of plenty – of more than enough – without realizing it!

Let’s go back to the princess and the stray from yesterday’s post. Which one do you identify with Mali (my stray) or Katy (my princess)? Do you live in “Never Enough” or “Plenty?”

If you come from a difficult background, my guess (though there may be exceptions) is that you operate from a stray heart. The anxiety of never having enough (food, love, whatever) sinks deep roots.

But even if you did have enough or had a pleasant childhood, you may still dwell in “Never Enough.” Remember the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son? He was never in want, but jealousy over the reunion his father gave his younger brother was quick. Part of a never enough mentality or stray heart is a wariness about others getting what they don’t deserve (or you think they don’t deserve). Is your first thought, what about me?

I confess that over the years I have been a stray at heart. I’ve been vigilant about things being equal or fair. Even though I try, at times it is hard to be happy for another’s good fortune. I too often quickly think, “What about me?”

So, how do we turn a stray heart into a princess heart? Any ideas?

Check back for the conclusion in a day or so!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Princess or Stray? (Part 1) -- Hope Chronicles 19

I remember getting up very early one morning in 1981. After all, England is several hours ahead. My sisters and I didn’t want to miss a bit of the royal wedding of Prince Charles to Princess Diana.

Princesses fascinate little girls. We learn about them very early on from stories like Cinderella and Snow White. And in our hearts, I think there is often a yearning to be a princess – to be someone very special.

Even though I’ve always considered myself more of a dog person, I adore both of my cats. They each came from the local humane society. Katy is three and I’ve had her for a little over two years. I got Mali in November. The best guess is that she is about nine months old.

As I’ve interacted with them, I’ve learned that they have very divergent positions on life. Katy is the princess. Mali is the stray. This distinction is most obvious when it comes to food. Katy is definitely interested in food. She routinely wakes me up each morning (even on weekends) when it is time to be fed. (How does a cat wake someone? Katy’s first tactic is to paw at the blankets by my neck. When that doesn’t work, she resorts to nipping at my fingers!)

While Katy is merely interested in food, Mali is utterly obsessed with it. She literally eats from both bowls. Luckily for Katy, she can only guard one at a time.

I got Mali the day before Thanksgiving. I went to make a pie to take with me. I had no clue that she would be interested in apples, but she was! A wide range of food related episodes have “taught” me that Mali needs to be put in another room when I am preparing food or eating a meal. (She is not above snatching something off a plate!)

Tomorrow we are having a food day at work. I am bringing yummy Southwestern Chicken and Potato soup. (I am pleased with myself. I’m not very domestic, but Jan 1, I bought a slow cooker and have been making lots of things. I often use to run out to lunch, but now I bring something really good. The slow cooker has paid for itself and I’ve lost 14lbs!) I started peeling the sweet potatoes, but I didn’t put Mali away. Even though I have supposedly learned from previous episodes, I underestimated what her interest in a potato would be. I knew I would have to put her out of the way when I was cutting the chicken, but I didn't want to leave her crying for too long. Mali jumped up and grabbed a long piece of potato peeling. I let her have it, as I didn’t think it would be something that would hurt her. Initially, she chewed on it on the tile floor. When she decided to take it onto the carpet, I decided I needed to retrieve it because I didn’t want to risk a stain. My little darling growled, spit, hissed, and swiped at me over a potato peel!

I managed to retrieve it (without the shedding of blood) and put Mali in the bathroom, but I am befuddled. For three months she has consistently gotten two meals a day plus various treats like tiny pieces of cheese. Yet, she hasn’t relaxed her food vigil one smidgen. How long will it take her to learn that I will always take care of her?

Katy also has a history as a stray before she was rescued by the humane society. But I think that the food distinction points to a larger distinction of the heart. Mali is still a stray at heart. Katy has moved from stray to princess. In Mali’s mind she still lives in a the “Land of Never Enough.” Katy lives in the “Land of Plenty.”

Tune in for more tomorrow . . . . But while you wait, reflect on which land you live in.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

NIU -- Update

A couple of days ago, I mentioned the possibility of going to NIU for when classes resume as a volunteer counselor. I have more information, but it is still up in the air. I've submitted my name as willing to go and I'm just waiting to hear back. I will keep you updated if I go or not -- whatever is in God's plan.

Either way, please keep praying for the entire campus and all the volunteers that will go. All sense of safety has to have shattered. Imagine being in class one day . . . . a place you felt safe . . . . I imagine there is fear and anxiety on the parts of many students and parents as they anticipate school resuming next Monday.

Pray for God's peace.

Monday, February 18, 2008

First To Say "Hello"

I went to the mall today. Apparently, there is something wrong with my X chromosomes because I avoid the mall at all costs. I'm devoid of the "female shopping" gene. In fact, I don't remember the last time I went to the mall. No -- it wasn't at Christmas. It had to be way before that! (To pay for Christmas this year, I got a part time, seasonal job at Barnes and Noble. So, practically everyone, with very few exceptions, got something I could pick up there. The pay could be better, but the discount was really nice!)

But, a friend is having a birthday soon and I hadn't run across anything yet to get her. (No luck at the mall either! Which means I may have to go back and look some more or think of something creative.) Shopping for me is a sprinting event. First, you need to know exactly where you are going. Second, you devise the plan as how to get there and get out. Third, you only look at the things that jump out and bite you! Unfortunately, that technique doesn't always work.

I was walking briskly through Kohls, scanning things. A high pitched little voice exclaimed, "Hi!" I slowed and realized that the tyke in the stroller was talking to another woman who was passing. She yelled, "Hi!" again to the woman. As I neared, she shouted, "Hi!" to me as well. "Hi! Hi! Hi!" Being an all around kid-friendly person, I slowed and smiled and said, "Hi, there!" This delighted her. She turned to watch as I passed -- yelling her greeting. I waved and smiled.

Really, she was irresistible. Who could not respond to such a friendly greeting?

But it got me to thinking. I wondered if she will always be the kind of person who is the first to say, "Hello!" or if something will shift as she grows up. Honestly, I hope it doesn't.

I don't know that I was ever the kind of child who would go through a store cheerily shouting, "Hi!" I was pretty shy and reserved and didn't do much to call attention to myself. But I wish I had been that kind of child and I definitely wish I was that kind of adult.

Here is a question for you. Are you the kind of person who is always the first to say, "Hello" or are you the kind who waits to see what the waters hold? That is to say, the kind who waits for another to initiate.

I am the later. As I've thought about it today, I think it is largely fear based. There's less rejection if I don't "put myself out there" by saying, "Hi!" I think it also shows more of a concern with my comfort than yours. Who wouldn't want a friendly greeting?

With awareness comes responsibility. So, I guess I need to work on my friendly "Hello" for tomorrow. Who knows what will come of it when I am willing to risk and willing to put someone else's comfort ahead of my own? I think it is what God is calling me to.

So, let's start now -- "Hello there!"

Sunday, February 17, 2008

God's Response to Tragedy -- Hope Chronicles 18

There are tragedies all around. If you look at the paper or watch the news, it's right there. When I was in high school there was a song out called, "A Little Good News" by Anne Murray. It pursued the idea that one day there could be a newspaper come out that only had good news in it. Wow. What would that be like?

It's a nice thought, but it's not reality. On Thursday, there was a school shooting at Northern Illinois University. The gunman, a student at the University of Illinois, drove to Dekalb and opened fire on a geology class. He killed 4 before killing himself. MSN's home page daily announces to me various tragedies. In August it was the end to the search for the miners and a hot air balloon tragedy that killed two. Then there is also the war in Iraq. Forty-nine died in wildfires in Greece. And then there are the tragedies that I have experienced or the ones people I know have gone through. Kate had an operation because there was an infection in a bone. She has a degenerative foot and leg condition that will only get worse over time. She also has diabetes. She is healing from the surgery, but now they are telling her they think that the bone infection is still there. Another friend lost her husband of 50 years to cancer. Bill died at 41 from an aortic aneurysm. What is God's answer to all of this? Is he silent?

I don't believe He is! In fact, even though life still brings us tragedies, God has already responded. In Faith on the Edge: Daring to Follow Jesus written by several InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff, Robbie Castleman writes the following (p. 188):

God may not have intervened, may not have stepped in to undo what broke our hearts . . . . We may not understand why God intervened for Peter and not for James. Why some and not all? Why then and not now? All that disciples know is a point in history that gives us hope in tragedy, a point of divine intervention that spans all time: God raised Jesus from the dead.

God has intervened. Life is hard and we struggle, but God has already intervened. Some day we will be with him in heaven and there will be no more pain and suffering. Until then, we rest on the fact that HE HAS ANSWERED all the questions we have in the midst of tragedy and he understands suffering intimately.


As I write, I am considering making a trip to Northern Illinois University. I received an e-mail last night that stated that they are looking for 300 MA level volunteer counselors to be in classes over the next two weeks. I think I could pull off going for 2-3 full days. However, the e-mail was woefully devoid of the information I need to make those kind of plans.

Please pray that God would give me wisdom on this. I am acquainted with grief and sorrow and the sense of loss of safety. However, I don't know that I've ever experienced anything quite like this. (The closest was several years ago when I worked in Clinton, IL and 3 kids were drowned in a lake. The counselors at my agency went to the hospital that night and then had daily conversations with our clients about the event.) I have the training they are asking for. I also have 11 years experience working with college students through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

But I need more information. I also need God, the greatest of counselors, to go before me if I go.

Because we need peace in the midst of these situations, here is a picture of one of my favorite places in the world -- InterVarsity's Cedar Campus in Michigan.

Crosswinds Community Church -- KidStuf

Each week there is dancing, singing, stamping, laughing, and glorifying God at KidStuf. (Don't start me on what spelling it that way will do to the kid's spelling abilities!) Anyway, it's generally a good time. Lots of the youth help with skits or power point or lights. I've added a slide show of it at the bottom. (Couldn't get it to work here.) Enjoy! The kids love it!

Friday, February 15, 2008

First Contact

"I should move to the middle of nowhere and just become a hermit." I've had this thought at times. It's not very practical given that I have absolutely zero survival skills in the wilderness. I'ld starve to death in no time flat.

Typically, this thought is born out of a sense of isolation. If I were in the middle of nowhere, I wouldn't be disappointed by people and things. I would know that I had no cell phone reception, so no one would be calling or writing or whatever. I wouldn't be disappointed. But I also don't think I would be happy.

C.S. Lewis wrote, "We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious, we discover loneliness. We need other physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves." I found this quote in a magazine 20 odd years ago. I was so struck by it, I cut it out and taped it into the front cover of my favorite Bible.

But connecting in our busy world takes a lot of time. There are phones and e-mails to answer. (Rather than freeing us, I think cell phones and text messaging may have just made our leashes longer and given us more rope to hang ourselves!) There are schedules to arrange. I understand all of that, but there is still that longing.

There is a book out called The Five Love Languages. It's meant for married people, but I think it applies to singles as well. The love languages are touch, service, words of affirmation, gifts, and quality time.

My primary love langauge is quality time. I crave uninterrupted quality time. We can even be doing something together but I need to feel connected. For example, my all time favorite day was with my friend Jill about a year ago. I needed her advice on office space. She went with me to see the spaces I had narrowed down and then we went to lunch. After that, we headed to her house to do some Thanksgiving preparation. It wasn't so much that it was a heavy talk time. It was being together uninterrupted. I just felt so connected.

But as I've been thinking about it lately, I realize that just as much as I crave that time with others, God craves that time with me. I do it, but sometimes "His time" is fit in amongst all the other myriad details of my life. Sometimes, it is in fits and pieces, starts and stops.

He wants to connect even more than I do. Perhaps, if I realign my priorities and make that time more central, some of that craving will be eased.

I read a book a number of years ago regarding gender roles. While I won't open that can of worms in this post, one thought has always stuck with me. I probably won't say it right. While God created Eve to help fulfill that need for community within Adam, Eve's first contact was not with Adam. Her first, most primal, contact was with God when He formed her from Adam's side.

Her first most primal contact was with God. And isn't that true for us as well in that God "knit us together in our mother's womb?" Perhaps, God is calling me to renew that "first most primal contact" with Him.

Somewhat of a sidenote, I received a really lovely comment from someone today on my "Deadman's Crawl" post. I wanted to write you back, but found that I couldn't. So, if you commented on that post, check it out. I've responded to you there. And thank you -- it meant a lot.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Say It All Out Loud

Last year it snowed right before Valentine's Day and it snowed the day of. It snowed so much the night before, I thought we would have to change our Valentine's plans. While it was still dreadfully cold, the snow relented and Bill and I and Mark and Jill made it to the dinner theater/show. (Jill lost her gloves somewhere there. We never did find them, but it made picking out a birthday present easy for her for later in the month. )

I remember being in a bit of a tizzy about what to get Bill for Valentine's Day. Having never dated much, I didn't have a clue. What would say to much? What wouldn't say enough? We had only been dating since November and had navigated Christmas and then his birthday January 14th. For Christmas I got him a Bible that helps you read it through in a year and the book I helped write. He had been asking to read it, but I was shy about giving it to him. I made him promise to read the whole thing and not just my chapters. (And he did, but he read my chapters first!) For his birthday he got slippers. Okay, that's kind of a practical gift. I typically like presents to have meaning behind them. But we were at the mall and he looked at them and really liked them and had been complaining for a month about the hole in his. Oh, and we also spent a whole day together in Chicago.

A month later, Valentine's rolls around. As I said before, I didn't have much experience in this holiday. Nothing jumped out at me. There was nothing he needed or hinted that he wanted. So, I had to get creative. I decided on two things. The first was making a peanut butter pie. I had never had one and definitely had never made one. But he had always talked about how good his mother's was. His mother had passed away a number of years before and there was no way to get that recipe. I don't think Bill even had it. I scoured the internet and came up with a simple pie recipe and decorated it with a Hershey Kisses shaped in a heart. The second gift was a heart felt letter.

I think they were good gifts. They made sense to me on an emotional level and I hoped they had meaning. But looking back, I also think the letter was my way of not taking a risk. I never heard my parents say, "I love you." I never saw any affection between them. Navigating this was really uncharted territory. So, I did what I felt safe with. I wrote.

Bill passed away unexpectedly the end of April last year. While I did manage to say, "I love you" at times, I never said it as much as I thought it. I never said it with as much depth as I wrote it or felt it. It was my fear of rejection or looking silly or sappy or whatever that kept me from it. But I knew that Bill longed to hear it. So, I wish instead of writing it that I had read it to him. I wish that I had said it out loud with all the depth there was behind it.

Whatever it is, say it out loud or in whatever way the person you love (children, friends, spouse) will hear it best. Don't let fear or embarrassment or whatever holds you back rob you and them. Say it out loud! Life is too short not to.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dead Man's Crawl -- Hope Chronicles 17

I am not a football fan. I’ve watched exactly one Super Bowl in my life. I don’t understand the rules. I can’t imagine who would come up with a game where the object seems to be to clobber the guy with the ball. (If the guy is already down, it seems that everyone dog piles on him for good measure.) If I played, I think I’d treat that ball like a hot potato and pass if off as quickly as I got it. (Of course, that is assuming that I had enough skill to catch the thing!)

I made it to one game when I was in high school. I can’t recall what possessed me to go. But, I’ll admit, I got caught up in the school euphoria when we beat the reigning champs and in a show of solidarity, I bought a “We beat Moeller” T-shirt. (I think I passed on the “We beat Moeller again!” shirts the following year.)

I have watched a couple of football movies. In these, it seems it is enough to know from the reaction of the fans, coaches, and players, who won or lost. I can usually follow that. One movie that I watched for the first time a year ago and the second time last month is Facing the Giants.

Here’s the gist in a sentence: True story of losing high school team that takes on the state champions – aptly named “The Giants.” Of course, the real story is about how they get to the state championship.

One scene strikes me. The coach is talking to the players and one of the “leaders” is being rather cocky. The coach calls him out and challenges him to be a leader. He asks him how far he thinks he can do the “Dead Man” crawl. (Hands and feet carrying another player on his back.) The player announces he can go to the 30-yard line. The coach, of course, wants to see him do it but then decides to have him do it blind folded.

So, off they go. The coach cheering him on – “Give me all you’ve got!” The player eventually starts saying, “How far? Am I there yet? I can’t go any further.” The coach just keeps at him. “Don’t you stop on me. Give me all you’ve got!” When the coach finally lets him stop, he takes off the blind fold to discover that he is in the end zone and has done the Dead Man’s crawl down the entire field.

It’s a great picture of going – pushing – beyond our limits. Too often, we make a goal and say that we will give it all we’ve got. Maybe we make it to that goal, but what God knows it that we haven’t given it our all yet – there’s still more in us. He wants every last drop put into our relationship with him. He will not settle for half our efforts, half our hearts. He is a jealous God who wants our whole hearts.

Hope is letting go of what we think we can do in favor of doing what God knows we can do. If that isn’t enough, it is bringing others along with us. When they can’t walk anymore, we pick them up. When we can’t walk anymore, we do the dead man’s crawl all the way to the end zone. Hope is in the fact that Jesus – the ultimate coach – is with us every step, every excruciating inch, of the way.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hope in the Darkness -- Hope Chronicles 16

Have you ever noticed that a candle in the light doesn't mean much? That is to say, its impact isn't felt. A candle in the dark -- now that is another story. Its light draw's our attention as it pushes back the darkness that surrounds it. Hope is always useful. But it is when the darkness is pressing in, that it is most useful.

But then, maybe those who have not learned to hope in the day cannot fathom it in the darkness? Perhaps, it is all the hopes that we see come to fruition in the light of day that make hope in the night possible.

I have always been fascinated by World War II history. I have wondered if I would have had the courage to hide my neighbors . . .. Would I risk my life for another?

Corrie ten Boom is the author of The Hiding Place. It is the story of her family during WWII and how they helped rescue Jews in Holland. In the course of hiding refugees, the family was found out. Corrie, Betsie (her sister), and their father were sent to concentration camps. Their father died within 10 days. Betsie also later died in the camp.

One conversation that Corrie writes about in the The Hiding Place stands out to me in particular. Somehow, Betsie and Corrie were able to smuggle a Bible into the camp when they were arrested. One night they are lying on the bunks being bitten by fleas. Corrie complains to Betsie about the fleas. Betsie tells Corrie that they must pray and thank God for the fleas. Her reasoning -- the guards do not come into their barracks because of the fleas. As a result, they are able to have their Bible and even does a Bible study with the other women.

Hope, seeing God in even the "small things," I think is what made Betsie able to thank God even for the fleas. She recognized that no detail was ever out of His hand. It was her life long history with God that enabled her to connect the dots to Him even in the midst of the horror of a camp.

So, how do we learn to hope in the day so that when we are in darkness we can hope again?

Recount God's faithfulness to you. Sometimes, when things are hard it's difficult to see all the ways He has been faithful. I did a little of that with recounting blessings in Friday’s post.

Tonight I was looking back even further. I grew up in a nominally Christian home. We generally went to church on Christmas and Easter and a few other times scattered among the year. As I look back, it is amazing to me that we just happened to go to church the Sunday they were giving the third grader's Bibles. Honestly, I had never read any of the Bible or even looked at one. I don't remember there being one in the house. But God knew that if He got a Bible into my hands I would read it. (Of course, it didn't hurt that I had a little competition going with my twin as to who could read the whole thing first. So periodically, we would ask, "So where are you?" This would set about a flurry of reading.)

God also put me in a family that was very BIG on appearances. It was important to my parents that we belong to the church. In our denomination, we had to be confirmed. This happened in the 7th grad and necessitated being in church for a year for confirmation classes. My parents decided that they would take us and drop us off. I don't remember being particularly thrilled the first week, but we soon discovered we liked it and were voluntarily going to youth group and choir as well! Within a year, I had made a personal decision for Christ.

When I reflect on all of this -- the Bible Sunday and having to go to confirmation class -- I see God's hand at work. He was preparing my heart for the day I would meet Him years before it happened. So, when the darkness pushes in, I can recount the way He was faithful in bringing me to himself and all the ways He's been faithful ever since.

How have you seen God's faithfulness?

Warming the Heart

It is cold in central Illinois today. I don't just mean a little cold. I mean down right bitter. I think it was suppose to be -3 last night and that probably wasn't taking into account the wind chill. With the wind, the cold bites right into the bone!

So, I think my dear Katy has the right idea. Curl up in a patch of sun and try to stay warm.

Today in church God brought to mind my first year at Crosswinds. I had abandonned church for a time and I think that when I acutally started going again, I was afraid of getting zapped for stepping in the door. I'm glad to say that didn't happen!

From what I understand, Crosswinds has always been a praying church. When I started going they had several weeks where they did a lot of prayer ministry at the end of the service. For someone who was afraid of getting zapped, this really set me on edge. It wasn't that I was theologically opposed or even that it was a holy roller kind of thing. It was actually somewhat sedate. But every time it happened I wanted to flee. To be honest, there were a number of times I did. For whatever reason, I just couldn't tolerate it. Looking back, it seems silly now, but that is where I was at.

They didn't pray every week at the end of service. However, I started getting vibes about it. Seriously, I did. At that point they had 2 services. Sometimes I would turn to my friend who went to both services and ask, "They're going to pray aren't they?" She said that they weren't going to, that they hadn't prayed during first hour. But as sure as I would say it, it would happen. I cannot explain it. But it was if God was whispering in my ear before service even started. I believe He was attempting to prepare me so I could respond appropriately.

Eventually, I did learn to respond appropriately and listen when He was speaking to me. In May 2004, I was over come with an urge to write one Sunday during service. It was a compulsion. So I wrote all around the margins of the bulletin and squeezed things in here and there.

Typically, when I write, the general idea flows, but there are "do overs" and scratch marks and what not as I make changes and perfect it. A friend can attest that this is what I wrote without the "do overs". Rather than what I typically think of as writing, this seemed more like dictation.

Give Me Your Past

I cannot have your present and future unless you give me your past . . .
It shackles you and you limp along
You try, but where you could dance, you crawl,
where you could run, you stumble and fall.
Why do you hold so tight to a bush of thorns in the cold
when I could hold you have wrap you in blankets of softness?
I cannot have your present and future unless you give me your past . . .
You do well by the world's standards.
Imagine what you might do if you didn't wear those chains.
How much more might you glorify me?
How many people would be blessed if I had all of you?
What would you have seen if you could have looked through my eyes?
What would have changed . . .
when you taught My Word
when you ministered to others
when you studied
when you prayed
when you interacted with your family or even
when you looked on the hurting.
How much more might have been done?
I cannot have your present and future unless you give me your past . . .
Let go of the bush of thorns.
Let me put salv on your wounds and hold you close.
Let go of the past and embrace me instead.
Let go of your fears. Let me deal with them. Look at me, not them.
I cannot have your present and future until you give me your past . . .
While the past won't change,
I can change what it means for you
and even that may be used for me

Amy Brooke -- May 2004
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
2 Corinthians 5:17

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenword in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:14

It was a difficult week on an emotional level. Sometimes when it is a difficult emotionally, my heart kind of freezes up. I believe God brought this to mind to help my heart thaw a bit. Just as things that happened 30 years ago are in the past, so is last week. I can move on from here.
May God warm your heart today where ever you need it most.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Things to Smile About . . . .

The last couple of days I have been fighting feeling very melancholy. Actually, I'm kind of proud of how I've done. While there have been a few tears, I've managed to keep moving and have a reasonably good attitude. But, it has been sheer will power. The melancholiness isn't totally without reason. I've made a few hard decisions over the last few days and they are sinking in. But to combat that, I am going to make a list of things that make me smile and maybe leave a few pictures too. I don't know yet. I'm making this up as I go.

However, I want you to participate too in "make Amy smile." Leave me a comment about something that makes you smile. If it is a silly picture or something, tell me that and I'll visit your site to see the picture.

  • So, here we go, in no specific order:
    Mali and Katy (my cats) make me smile. Here they are on top of the refrigerator. There are no rules about being on the refrigerator. However, there are rules about being on the counters. Since, they are good, obedient kitties, I'm sure they just flew up there!

  • Playing with the cats is fun too. Katy actually plays fetch and I'm teaching Mali tricks from a book I got.

  • Speaking of the refrigerator, I notice that it has lots of pictures on it. They are of people I love. Though you can't see it here, there are some picture my little friends have drawn for me too!
My church makes me smile. I've been going there for maybe 4 years now. It makes me smile to think how much I've changed in that time. Honestly, I was as skittish as a horse when I first started going. One Sunday, someone came up behind me to adjust the thermostat. They just about had to pry me off the ceiling. Now, I am much more relaxed and can engage people.
  • Remembering the 3 years I spent living with a family while I was on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Indiana. Jerry had jokingly suggested it once. Several months later, I brought it back up. We decided to try it for 6 months and then evaluate. I stayed for 3 years -- until I transffered to a different state. I paid minimal rent and helped out with the kids. I cooked once or twice a week to give Dana a break. If I was home, I would clean up when she cooked. I had my own space in the basement. Jerry always said it was particularly great at meals because the kids didn't out number the adults. We each took care of one child (Hannah, Elizabeth, and Jonathan) -- cutting up food and what not.

  • Remembering God's provision while I was on staff. You have to raise all of your own support (health insurance, salary, office supplies, you name it and we raised it). On average, lets say I raised $30,000 a year and I was on staff 11 years . . . . That is a staggering amount of money to raise. God sold a lot of cattle for me!
  • Remembering that God loves me as I am but still expects me to grow.
  • Helping make Elizabeth a birthday cake that you cut peices out and then assemble into a butterfly. She was 4 and wanted a butterfly birthday. It was chocolate cake with yellow frosting and pastel M&M's.
  • Thinking about Billy makes me smile. Billy was a child I volunteered with for 5 years. He lived in a residential facility in town and I spent 2-3 hours a week with him. I wasn't sure when they assigned me a boy. I was more familiar with little girl stuff, but Billy and I hit it off. He was labeled "behaviorally/emotionally disturbed." In the 5 years, I only ever had to take him back early for misbehavior twice. I think because I did that, he knew what to expect and if I gave him a warning I followed through! The staff thought I was crazy the first time I announced I was going to teach him to make cookies from scratch. At 8, he had never baked. But he loved it and really enjoyed taking the treats back to the kids on his unit. I think it gave him a sense of importance.

  • Billy tried to teach me to rollerblade! I never got the hang of it. We rollerbladed in the basement of the residential treatment center. The only way I could stop was by running into the wall! Luckily, it was the "skate room" and there weren't a lot of obstacles to avoid. Billy and I played a game of tag on skates -- racing from one end to the other.

  • Thinking about my paternal grandmother makes me smile. She always believed in me. I was a really shy and quiet child -- except with her. She brought me out of myself more than anyone I can remember. She listened raptly to all the details in my 10-year-old heart. This included listening to some of my first writings.

  • Being around friends.

  • Knowing that God will never leave me or forsake me.

  • Horses and riding. Though I haven't done it in a year due to an injury and then the expense. It just isn't an option at the moment.

  • Surprising people. Once, my friend was out of town. I got together with another friend and we left a casserole and a dessert in her house for when she and her family got home from their trip. She was thrilled. She had just been wondering what she was going to feed 6 hungry kids and came home to find it already made. I love doing stuff like that.

  • Kid of all shapes and sizes. This is Addy. She is such a shy and retiring child! I wish I had about half her spunk.

Please let me know what makes you smile!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Children with Questions -- Hope Chronicles 15

A little elf of a five-year-old came up to the counter tonight as I was cashiering at the bookstore. I love kids. I love talking to them and can often readily converse on some of their favorite things. Since it is Feb., things have slowed down. There is more of a chance to have a brief conversation than there was with the franticness of serving customers during the Christmas season.

I appropriately "ahhed" over the Dora the Explorer book and the princess book she came up with and asked how old she was . . . .

I must have put her at ease because she decided that she could ask me questions as well. "Where's your mommy?"

"Well, I don't have a mommy anymore." I could see the wheels in her head turning.

"Where are your kids?"

A bit of a gulp on my part. "I don't have any kids -- yet."

"Where's the other people?" she persisted.

"The other people?"

"You gotta live with people."

I checked for more customers, but there was no one in line. "No, I don't live with anyone. I'm a grownup and sometimes grownups live by themselves." This was obviously a new concept.

"You don't got nobody?"

Well, I didn't know how deep this conversation was going to go. Her mother was writing a check and didn't seem inclined to save me, so I decided to go with diversion. "Would you like a sticker?" She started to ask another question and I said, "How about another?"

I have spent a lot of time with children and had more than my share (considering I don't have kids) of the awkward questions ranging from manners, to bodily functions, to death, and even dating and sex. I try to be a safe person and answer as simply and straightfoward as I can (and fill in the parents or care givers regarding my answers . . . .) But I recognized this innocent conversation as one that has the potential to really trip me up. It hits me in the areas I experience the most longing in: day to day connection, family, and marriage and kids.

The little girl's perspective makes total sense to me. She lives in a world where mom and dad are the world. Children are typically egocentric (the world revolves around me). Actually, adults are egocentric too, but we have learned to mask it better! Her life is one of being a daughter (hence the mother question). The closest people to her are parents; thus, I got the children question. My guess is that she also has brothers or sisters, so how could anyone live alone?

Though I am an adult, I think I also define myself in terms of relationships. So, in the absence of the most key relationships (a rocky family of origin, the death of my mother, no husband, no kids) I can sometimes find myself floundering. Who am I in a world that defines us in relation to another or to a role?

Since it was slow tonight, I had a chance to ponder this. Yes, those relationships are ones that are key in the lives of many, possibly most, people. But the more than being key, being crucial, is my relationship to Jesus. It is He who loves me now and through eternity. It is God who is a father to the fatherless and the defender of widows (and singles) and orphans. It is Jesus who is ultimately my bridegroom. In each of these things and the daily blessings of friends and a half dozen kids I can love on and give back to their parents when they are tired or cranky, there is hope. My hope is in Jesus.

CS Lewis writes the following in Mere Christianity:

"If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and help others do the same."

The things I too often look to, a husband and kids and all of that, cannot satisfy my deepest longing. CS Lewis is right in that. While these things might be blessings and things I desire, they are not the be all-end all. No, that would be Jesus. The beginning and the end, the alpha and omega. I have hope because of who I am in relation to Jesus.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Valentine's Day Contest

Hey all.

Just thought I would let you know that my friend, Jill Savage, is sponsoring a Valentine's Day contest. It's particularly for married people, but she is a dear friend and I love her so I thought I would advertise for her here! She is the founder of Hearts at Home and has written numerous books from mothering (including one on that hard age group of teens) and marriage.

So, click the banner at the right and go to her site and enter her contest. It will be fun!

And aren't you impressed I can do the whole button thing. I learned how at Lysa's blog last week. So, I guess I'm kind of showing off my new found knowledge!

Enjoy. I hope someone I know wins! Let me know if you do!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Follow the Tracks -- Hope Chronicles 14

It snowed Thursday night and into Friday morning. And it snowed and snowed and snowed. (I probably shouldn't be surprised given that I live in Central Illinois, but I always hate it anyway!) I knew the forecast before I went to bed. It called for 6-10 inches, so I allotted time in the morning for shoveling and was digging my way out in the 5am darkness. Because of the dirfts it came 3/4 of the way up my calves.

I backed out of the driveway and into the alley. Since it is an alley, it is typically one of the last things on the list for the road department to plow. My wheels spun in the snow. I rocked the car backwards and forwards. At that point, there was only one set of tracks in the snow. I instinctively knew that if I wanted to get out of the alley, I needed to follow those tracks.

So, that's what I did. Even when the tracks ventured right when I would normally go left, I followed them to the right. Together we looped around the subdivision and finally spilled out onto a main street. It wasn't the way I would normally go, but I'm convinced that if I hadn't ventured out of them, I would have been completely stuck.

It seems like everything in life right now is pointing me towards hope. The tracks in the snow are no different.

Just like I needed to follow those tracks to get out of that alley, to follow them right when I would have gone left, sometimes I also need to follow the tracks of those who have gone before me.

One of my favorite Bible characters is the prophet Elijah. The story of Elijah can be found in 1Kings 17 and following. In chapter 18, God calls Elijah to a confrontation with Ahab and the prophets of Baal. It's a wonderful story. I would encourage you to read it! Here it is in brief: Elijah challenges the propehts of Baal to a contest. Whose ever god answers with fire on the altars they built, he would be god. Elijah lets Baal's prophets go first. They dance and scream and entreat Baal to answer them. As time drags on, Elijah taunts them. In verse 27-28 (NIV) it says, "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention."

Then Elijah has his turn. He digs a trench around the altar and pours water on it so it runs off the altar and into the trench. God answers in a mighty way with fire from heavent that burns up the sacrafice and even laps up all the water in the ditch! Elijah and the Israelites slay the prophets of Baal.

As is so often the case, after an emotional high, Elijah plummets emotionally. He hears that Jezebel is furious and wants to kill him. He flees. Emotionally exhausted, he sits in front of a broom tree and prays to die. God sends an angel with sustenance. Then he travels to Horeb for 40 days and comes to a cave. God calls Elijah into his presence in chapter 19. It says, "Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. "

God was not in the rock shattering wind. He was not in the eartquake. He was not in the fire. When God came, He was in the whisper! How often do I miss God because I am too busy or loud or . . . ? God is often in the whisper.

Elijah (as I probably would) immediately whines to God that he is the only one left and people are after him. Yes, the great prophet whines even after the miracles he has seen. God puts it all in perspective, He gives him a mission (go back) and lets him no that Elijah is not alone -- there are 7,000 in Israel who have not bowed to Baal. And God is sending Elijah a partner.

What tracks can we follow that God and Elijah lay down for us here?

  • Rest when you need to. God provided a rest and sustenance for Elijah in the desert.

  • Look for God in the whisper as well as the big things of life. Maybe find a quiet spot or quiet time when you can hear Him more clearly.

  • Whining doesn't work! Keep things in perspective. How could Elijah think he was the only one when there were 7,000 of God's faithful still in Israel. He did what I often do, he looked at the surface of things rather than reality. He took his eyes off the God who had so miraculously came through and let fear get the best of him.

  • Get moving. Energy breeds energy. Get back on task.
Where is the hope? God always leaves us tracks to follow. It's up to us if we will follow those who came before or get stuck in the snow.


I did make it into work and worked for about and hour and a half before my boss called me at the office and let me know we would be closed due to the weather! So, I got to come home and do things around the house. While I was trying to take a nap, I realized that Katy had a lot of dandruff/dry skin. (It shows especially on her dark fur.) While cats do clean themselves, its recommended to give them a bath occassionally. It helps get rid of some of the extra fur and takes care of those hard to reach places. They weren't happy and left me to my own devices the rest of the day! I think they were mad I redid their meticulously done hair without permission!