Friday, June 29, 2012

"And If You Wait Your Turn, You'll See Ruby Fall(s) . . ."

Psalm 36:9
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

It is the 1960s.  Dad is driving us on our annual pilgrimage to see our family in Massachusetts.  This time, however, instead of shooting straight through, he decides to take us through the Great Smoky Mountains along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.

As we head north through rural Georgia, my brother, Bill, and I are fascinated by the advertisements we see painted on, of all unusual places - barns.  "See Rock City", "See Ruby Falls", the messages beckon.  Their bold colors and gigantic lettering grab our attention and peak our curiosity.


"Where's Rock City?"  Bill asks.

"And, Ruby Falls?" I chime in.

"They're in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Lookout Mountain," Dad answers.

"Can we go there?  Please?  Please?"

"Not this trip," Dad tells us, "but another time, I promise."

And, as he always does, Dad keeps his word.

Bill and I have a grand time at Rock City with its touted view of seven states and its swinging bridge.

But, our favorite attraction by far is the famed Ruby Falls.

 At 145 feet high, it is the largest underground waterfall in America.  Following our tour guide, we wind our way through dimly lit passages.  It is our first time being in a cave, and we are beside ourselves with excitement.  Even though it is summer, the air inside the cave is cool and refreshing.  The limestone walls are cold and moist to the touch.

When we finally reach the huge cavern hosting the falls, I am initially disappointed.  The area is dimly lit, unlike the photo above.  How we are going to view what we came all this way to see?

Our guide makes sure everyone in our group is facing the falls.  And, then . . .


Better than fireworks on the fourth, rainbow colors explode in the cavern, transforming Ruby Falls into a breathtaking spectacle.  The cascading water captures and reflects each and every hue.  And, wonder of wonders, the light seems to come not from high-powered lamps, but from the very falls themselves!

And, in its light, I am seeing light.  True light.  For the first time . . .
What is your favorite natural wonder?

Will you join me in prayer?
Thank You, Father, for being our fountain of life and the light by which we see light.  May we ever be in awe of Your marvelous creation, and be good stewards in caring for it.  Thank You for giving us this beautiful earth in which we live.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"Blue Skies, Smiling at Me . . ."

Psalm 36:5
Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

It is a balmy spring day.  The sky, brilliantly blue, is dotted with an endless array of fluffy, white clouds.  Shepherding winds drive them along like so many sheep in an azure pasture.

My brother, Bill, and I lay down on our freshly mowed lawn, breathing in the sweet fragrance of the grasses.  We kick off our shoes and indulge in one of our favorite childhood passtimes - cloud watching!

"Look!  I see a dog's face in that one!"

"Where?  I don't see a dog.  Oh, wait, yes, there it is!"

"It's changing shape.  I wonder what it will look like next?"

"I hope it's not a scary monster face."

We chat and point and laugh as we watch the continually morphing pictures in the clouds.  Better than any movie we could see.  A bunny, an elephant, a giant, a car, an eagle . . . a veritable parade of images before our wondering eyes.

So high up.  So far away.  Yet, in their friendly shapes, Bill and I feel close to them, as though, if we tried hard enough, we could reach up and touch them.  And, they would come down and play with us and be forever friends.

"Oh, wow!  Look, Bill!  I see the face of Jesus!  Do you see it?"

Bill squints and his gaze follows the direction in which I'm pointing.

"It does!  I see his beard, the flowing hair, the eyes . . ."

We closely follow the cloud as it rides across the heavens.

"Oh, no, it's changing," Bill laments.  "He's fading!  Jesus is going away."

"It's okay, Bill," I assure him.  "It's just a cloud.  The real Jesus will never go away."
Are you a cloud watcher?

Will you pray with me?
We are so thankful, Father, that You, unlike the shape-shifting clouds, never change.  You are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  No matter what changes we are facing in our lives, help us to always remember that your mercy and faithfulness endure forever.  Amen.

Friday, June 22, 2012

"Gimme Shelter"

Psalm 91:1
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

No doubt about it.  I'm a homebody.  Don't get me wrong.  I do enjoy getting out - going to the gym, the grocery store, a luncheon date, and, of course, church.

But, there's nothing like coming home.  The moment I walk through the door, a comforting peace and tranquility surround me.  I am wrapped up by invisible arms of warmth.  I feel safe, secure, and welcome.

And, when everyone is at work, it is quiet.  Serene.  Calm.

A perfect atmosphere to read, to think, to dream, to write.

I thank the Lord every day for the home in which I live.  Because, I know how blessed I am to have these four walls and a sturdy roof over my head.  Indeed, it is a shelter of plenty.

And, this makes me think about and pray for those without a place to live in this world.  The homeless wanderers.  Panhandlers, forlorn, on city streets.  Refugees huddled in desolate, overcrowded camps.  Families foreclosed upon and living out of their cars.

People.  God's people.  Suffering.  Anxious.  Worried.  Desperate.

With no permanent place to rest their hearts.  Their heads.

And, I think of the Lord when He said, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20)

I ache for Him as I ache for those without a home.

But, I realize this:  Jesus chose to become one of us in order to know in full our fears, our frailties, our needs, our desires.  There is no situation or circumstance or disaster in which we could possibly find ourselves that He doesn't understand.  Doesn't empathize with.

He is with the homeless, the refugees, the desperate.  He is with those in sturdy homes, in safe communities, with bills paid and food on the table.

Standing before us, with arms outstretched, He welcomes all to the only shelter that matters for eternity.  Our true home, where there is peace and comfort and rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
When or where do you feel at home?

Will you join me in prayer?
We pray today, Father, for all the beautiful souls living in this world without the creature comforts so many of us take for granted.  May we be Your hands reaching out to help them with the resources we have.  May we continue to pray that all might see Your shelter as the only one which truly matters.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Put on Your High-Heel Sneakers . . ."

Psalm 26:12
My feet stand on level ground;
in the great congregation I will praise the Lord.

I don't do high heels.  Oh, if you were to look in my closet, you might think otherwise.  There they hang, neatly arranged on a cloth shoe rack.  Black and white and beige ones, and two pair of boots to boot!

But, these are saved only for those very special occasions which call for dressing to the nines.  Occasions when I hope and pray I will not have to stand on my feet very long or walk any distance to get where I am going.  Because, I know the ensuing discomfort is inevitable.

Pinched toes.  Aching arches.  Wobbly, weary ankles.

Every step I take ushers in a fresh, excruciating wave of pain.  And, I think, like the character, Mrs. Doubtfire, in the movie of the same name, "Whoever invented high heels must have been a masochist!"

Really and truly, I abhor high heels so much that, when I wear them for my daughter's wedding ceremony, they are off my feet the moment I'm in the car and headed for the reception.  I'll dance in flats, thank you!

The only elevated shoes I can tolerate are my slightly-raised flip flops.  My "high-heel sneakers".  Even those become aggravating after I wear them too long.  I am having one of those episodes of irritation with them one Sunday when my husband, Danny, and I are leading contemporary worship at our church.

Take them off!

What???  Barefoot in church?  What will people think?

Remove your sandals.  This is Holy Ground!

Oh, wow!  Really?  It's okay?  Well, if you say so . . .

I slip the shoes off as unobtrusively as possible.  My feet embrace with gratitude the soft, plush carpet beneath them.  I feel immediately relieved.  Balanced.  Focused.

A welcome wave of fresh confidence and awareness washes over me.  I am on level ground!

And, in the great congregation, I praise the Lord with song like never before.
What type of shoe do you like to wear?

Will you pray with me?
We thank You, Father, for creating us in Your image.  Let us be kind to and appreciate the bodies You have given us, for they are the precious, earthly vessels which carry our heavenly souls.  Amen. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Didn't You Hear Me Calling You?

Psalm 17:6
I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.

It is a Sunday afternoon on a weekend my children are spending at their father's.  I've been housecleaning since getting home from church.  It's so much easier to accomplish when little ones aren't underfoot.

I glance at the clock.  Only four.  Good!  Daniel and Sarah won't be dropped off until five, so I have plenty of time to vacuum the upstairs bedrooms.  I am eager to get this last chore out of the way so I can start dinner.

Up the stairs, lugging the cumbersome vacuum, I go.  Plug it in.  Flip the switch.

And, the stillness gives way like a levee in a flood to the motor's deafening roar.

I tackle my bedroom first.  Pushing and pulling the Hoover over every carpet fiber.  Maneuvering around furniture.  Coaxing dirt from the corners and beneath the bed.

Done!  Finally!  I turn off the noisy engine, unplug it, and begin rolling it to the next room.

That's when I hear the sounds . . .

Faint, but incessant knocking on the kitchen door.  Muffled cries of, "Mom!  Mom!"

It can't be!  It's only 4:30!  What in the world is going on?

As if responding to a three-alarm fire, I dash down the stairs and race to the kitchen door.

The tear-streaked, terrified faces of my seven-year-old son and four-year-old daughter behind the glass window of the locked door wrench my heart in two.  Hastily, I unlock and open the door to gather them in a reassuring embrace.

"Mom," Daniel sobs, "we called and called and banged on the door.  Why didn't you hear us calling you?"

"I'm so sorry, honey," I say.  "I was upstairs vacuuming and I couldn't hear a thing.  Why did dad drop you so early without letting me know?"

"He said he had things to do," Sarah sniffles.

And, in my mind, I entertain some choice words for which I know I will need to ask forgiveness.

"Well, you're both home now, and I'm here.  Let's dry those eyes and turn the frowns upside down."

"Mom," Daniel says solemnly, wiping his face, "promise me this won't happen again."

I look right into his eyes, so earnest and pleading.  I so want to give my word that never, never would I ever let this occur twice.  But, it is beyond my control.  I can only hope and pray I'll always be there when they call.

"Daniel," I tell him, "I will do my level best."
Was there ever a time when your parent let you down?  When you let your child down?

Will you join me in prayer?
We are so grateful, Father, that You hear us when we cry to You and that You answer us in love.  Thank You for always being there to listen to our prayers.  We know You will never let us down.  Amen. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Hear! Hear the Voice of the Lord!"

Matthew 3:17
And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

My church hosts a vacation Bible school every summer.  This year, the name of the program is "Operation Overboard" where the children learn to dive deep into their relationship with God through His Son, Jesus.

I am thrilled to be the shepherdess for a lively and loving bunch of rising kindergarteners.  Along with another adult and two teen volunteers, we escort the children to various activities throughout the morning:  snack; music; Bible lesson; missions; crafts/science, and outdoor games.

Each day, the children learn a different "ocean insight" which opens their horizons to what it means to be a follower of the Lord.  I love that these are short, sweet, and easy to recall:
  • Monday - Depend on God.
  • Tuesday - Dare to care.
  • Wednesday - Claim Jesus.
  • Thursday - Choose to follow.
  • Friday - Change the world.
 These sum up, in a nutshell, what it means to be a Christian, don't they?

While all the activities we do are interactive and attention-grabbing, there is nothing all week that tops Wednesday's Bible lesson.

Talented volunteers take on the roles of John the Baptist and Jesus.  They re-enact the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River.

The children are paying rapt attention.

Down goes Jesus into the Jordan!  Submerged like a diver.  Then, up He surfaces!

When He does, a paper dove appears over the edge of the stage backdrop.

And, we hear something no one is expecting . . .

A booming, stentorian voice descends from the heavens.  Reverberates like thunder throughout the room.  Sends an unprecedented, unanticipated thrill through every fiber of my being.

This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!"

The children are awestruck.  Dumbfounded.  Many look anxiously around the room, trying to figure out where the voice came from.

"What was that?"  asks one little boy.

"Why, that was the voice of God," one of the leaders explains.  "Can you imagine standing on the banks of the Jordan River, watching the real Jesus being baptized, and hearing God speak these words?  Wouldn't that be amazing?"

One rather precocious and, I might add, "Doubting Thomas", raises her hand.

"Would it be okay if I look behind the curtain?  Just to be sure?"

I do so hope that, before the week is out, this precious child will no longer be skeptical in her faith.

And, instead, run headlong to meet Jesus and claim Him as her own.
Are you hearing the voice of the Lord?

Will you join me in prayer?
Today, Father, we pray for all those who volunteer their time and energy to host vacation Bible schools at their places of worship.  May they teach the children, by word and deed, to depend on You, to care for others, to claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior, to choose to follow Him, and change the world in His name.  Amen. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Seeking the Forest, Seeing the Trees

Psalm 1:3
That person is like a tree planted by a stream of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither -
whatever they do prospers.

Our house is nestled deep in the forest.  We are surrounded on all sides by oaks, hickories, pines, tulip poplars, basswoods, maples, birch, and sweet gums.  What a cool, shady canopy these provide in the hot months of summer!

From time to time, people will ask, "Aren't you afraid of one of those trees falling and hitting your house when there's a bad storm."

My answer?  Not in the least!

Because, not only do the roots of these giants run deep, but they also run together.  Intertwine in one sprawling, underground web.  Lending a strength and stability to hold them securely even in the worst of winds.

Winds against which a stand-alone tree hasn't a chance . . .

In her sermon several weeks ago, Pastor Emily speaks of those persons who long to sink their roots deeply into the church.  To link up with the strong roots of others for support and affirmation and spiritual guidance.

But, they suffer from the stand-alone tree syndrome.

Their problems are too big.  Their hurts, too painful.

No one, they think, can possibly understand.  Can help them heal.  Can listen in love.

And, they withhold their thirsty roots from the stream.

But, Emily invites them to join the forest.  Assures them that there is no situation or circumstance or hurt or loss that somebody, somewhere in the congregation, hasn't experienced.

They are not alone in their troubles.

So many roots ready and willing and able to wrap themselves around their fragile ones.  To listen.  Sympathize.  Encourage.  Lift up in prayer.

To love them just as they are, where they are.

Seeing them through the storm.

And, prospering them in their walk with the Lord.
When the storms of life come, do you have a "root system" you can depend on?

Will you join me in prayer?
You did not create us, Father, to live in isolation, but to rejoice in the fellowship of others traveling life's journey with us.  May Your love, comfort, and understanding show through us as we reach out to another or ask someone for help.  Let us be so rooted in Your Living Water that we can shine the light of hope into the lives of the hurting.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

" . . . She's a Rag Doll, Such a Rag Doll . . . "

Matthew 12:51
"Have you understood all these things?"  Jesus asked.
"Yes," they replied.

"What do you want for Christmas, Sarah?"  I ask my three-year-old daughter.  We are planning to visit Santa the following day, and I'm making sure that she doesn't tell him anything I haven't heard first.

"I'm going to ask Santa for a pink baby doll," she states.  I begin to hyperventilate.

"A pink baby doll?  Why pink?"  And, where in the world am I going to find a pink baby doll?  What does she mean by that?  What does a pink baby doll even look like?

"Because, pink is my favorite color."

Okay, now I'm thinking fast.  Warding off encroaching panic.

"Honey, what if Santa doesn't have any pink dolls this year?"

"Oh, he'll have them," she responds confidently.  "He has everything!"

But, this mom doesn't.

As promised, I take Sarah, along with brother, Daniel, to see Santa the next day.  I have their wish lists firmly planted in my head, but the doll dilemma still haunts me.  I decide that, instead of going home right after Santa, we should explore the mall.  Just to see.

If pink baby dolls exist . . .

My children are delighted with this prospect, and happily hold my hands as we stroll toward a new toy store which has only been open for two months.

Standing at the entrance, I give them one admonishment.  "Okay, Daniel, Sarah.  You can look all you want, but don't touch."

"Okay, Mom," they say in unison.

And, in we go.  Because I assume they clearly understand what I have said to them.

Look, but don't touch!

"Mama!  Here she is!  This is the pink doll I asked Santa for!"

I can't believe my ears!  I whirl around to follow the direction Sarah's finger is pointing.  I can't believe my eyes!  Row upon row of the sweetest, most angelic, mostly pink rag doll one could ever hope to see.  What are the odds of this happening?  Right here?  Right now?

"Thank you, Lord," I say under my breath.  "Oh, thank you!"

"Mom!  Come look at this for a minute!"  It's Daniel calling from one aisle over.   I say to Sarah, "Either come with me or stay right here and don't move.  We'll be leaving the store in just a few minutes."

She decides to stay.  To gaze with adoring eyes upon those precious, priceless pink baby rag dolls.

I hastily join Daniel to see what he has to show me while trying to keep an eye on Sarah at the same time.

But, sometimes, in a split second, it happens.

Those Mom-eyes-in-the-back-of-the-head cease to function.

For.  A.  Split.  Second.

"Alright, it's time to get going, kids," I say as I dig in my purse for my keys.  Daniel scoots toward the door with Sarah right on his heels.

Something bright pink flashes in my peripheral vision.  Oh, no!  She hasn't!

Tucked protectively under Sarah's arm is a pink baby doll.  And, she's walking out of the store!  Toddler shoplifts!  News at 11!

With lightning speed, I grab her arm.

"Sarah!  Didn't you understand when I told you not to touch anything?  Honey, you can't walk out of a store with something without paying for it.  We have to take the doll back this instant."

"But, Santa said I could have one," she says, tears welling as she looks with loving longing at her coveted doll.

"Yes, but he has to be the one to bring it to you.  He didn't mean for you to take it yourself."

Click!  The light bulb goes on.  "Really, Mom?  Really?  Will Santa bring her back to me?"

"Yes, yes, Sarah, I promise he will.  But, only if we take her back now."

Cheered by this prospect, Sarah willingly returns the doll to her shelf as I explain to sympathetic, understanding clerks the circumstances behind the pilfering.

And, I return the following day to purchase that pink baby doll for my baby doll, delighted to make her Christmas dream come true.
Was there a time you thought you understood a situation only to find out you didn't?

Will you pray with me?
Sometimes, Father, we think we understand the right thing to do or the right direction to take, when we haven't asked for Your discernment and advice.  May we always go to You in prayer for guidance and assurance.  Please lead us to do Your will and walk in Your ways each and every day.  Amen.

Friday, June 1, 2012

" . . . And, From Whom, No Secrets Are Hid . . ."

Matthew 10:26
"So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known."

The summer I am seven-years-old, I learn to ride a bicycle.  We are staying with my grandparents and one of my cousins graciously lets me borrow her bike in order to practice.

I spend hours and hours, trying and trying, to make that bicycle balance.  Carry me more than a few feet before I take a tumble.

I'm frustrated by my fruitless efforts, but I refuse to give up.  I never doubt for one minute that I'll get the hang of it.

When at last I do, I am overjoyed!  Oh, what a thrill to feel the wind in my hair and on my face as I peddle gleefully up and down my grandparents' street.  Freedom never felt so free!

And, from that moment on, all I can think about is having a bike of my own.

I decide to ask for one for Christmas.  A blue one because that's my favorite color.

"We'll see," says Mom.

"We'll see," says Dad.

I sigh, hoping that means "yes" in adult speak.

About a week before Christmas, I am bouncing a small, rubber ball in the hallway.  It escapes me and rolls into my parents' room.  Hits something under the bed.  Rolls back out.

What's under there?

I have to see.  I get down on hands and knees and peer under the bed.

To discover, both to my delight and dismay, a long, rectangular cardboard box with the unmistakeable letters "bicycle" printed on the side.  Delighted because I really will be getting a bike for Christmas.  Dismayed because the secret is out.

And, because of that, I don't think I'll be able to act surprised on Christmas morning.  Oh, how that would hurt my parents!  They so look forward to seeing our amazed and joyful faces . . .

To my immense relief, I don't have to fake my emotions when I lay eyes on that bicycle Christmas morning.  I am mesmerized by its shiny, royal blue paint reflecting the lights on the tree.  It is more amazing than I could ever have dreamed!

Larger, much larger, than the one I learned on.  With gaily colored streamers flowing from the handlebars.  Scintillating chrome trim.  A handy wire basket.  A delightful "brrringing" bell.

My priceless bicycle.  No longer hidden in a box.  But, lovingly assembled by Dad and out in the open for all the world to see.

And, I can't wait to show it to the world!
What was the most memorable gift you received as a child?

Will you pray with me?
We are thankful, Father, that no secrets can be kept from You.  You know us inside and out, our comings and goings, our thoughts, our dreams, our hopes.  Thank You for always being there for us and for loving us as Your children.  Amen. 

How Could We Ask for Anything More?

  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far h...