Saturday, December 18, 2010

When Christmas is Hard

In my senior year of high school, my family was celebrating the holidays and preparing for Christmas much as we had every other year. The house was decorated, presents purchased, wrapped and under the tree, groceries being laid in for holiday feasts and parties being attended. Everything changed for us in an instant that holiday when my fifteen year old only brother was suddenly killed in an accident three days before Christmas.

Having a funeral for a teenager is never easy, but something becomes extra difficult when you have to rush in order to complete it before Christmas Eve. The shock of the loss echoed not only through my family, but throughout our small town. Some students, who were my friends at the high school, were unable to complete their exams as they dealt with the shock of what had occurred. Students at the junior high had to deal with the blow of coming to school and looking at an empty seat that had just the day before been full.

Our church was a large community in a smaller town. Not only did they struggle with the loss of my brother, but we also lost a young mom of three small children to cancer that same weekend. The pain of it all seemed too much to bear. These were the circumstances my pastor had to face that Christmas Eve when he stepped in the pulpit.

It is difficult to imagine the task Bro. Wilson had as he looked on our congregation. What do you say in a season that is supposed to be filled with joy yet is reeking with so much pain? Though I cannot give you exact quotations these many years later, I will never forget the message he brought that day.

Christmas is not always a time of joy. Sometimes it is a day of pain. But whether it is a day of pain or a day of joy, there is something we must never forget. Jesus still came. Jesus still comes. In the midst of our brightest shining moments or in the midst of the darkest pain, Jesus comes.

So where does Christmas find you this year? Are you struggling with estrangement from a loved one, unemployment, missing a spouse or child who is away from home, serious illness, loss of a loved one or a difficulty that no one knows but you? Do the carols that once brought joy to your heart bring tears to your eyes this season? May I encourage you today as Bro. Wilson encouraged me those many years ago? Wherever Christmas finds you, Jesus still comes. And because He came, your pain is not in vain. Nor is it the end of your story. Jesus came to die and pay the price for the wrongs that separate us from God. Because He came, we can accept His payment for the bill we owe. And when we accept that payment, this is what we will be a part of one day:

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Revelation 7:17 (NIV)

And Christmas will be hard no more.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Cookies

Going to my Aunt Dot’s and Uncle Don’s house for Christmas has always been a treat. Very few places on earth feel as comfortable, warm and accepting as being in their home. One of our favorite things about Christmas though is Aunt Dot’s cookies. She starts very early in the season preparing and freezing cookies of every variety imaginable. No dieting or scrimping in these cookies. They are filled with butter, sugar and many other yummy ingredients. When we arrive, there is always a tray out filled with these delicious delights.

There is only one problem with all this sugary yumminess. Sometimes, I find myself grabbing “just one cookie” so many times during the day that when the mealtime arrives, it is hard to eat. Like a five year old, I have already filled up on cookies, leaving no room for the main meal my body needs to actually nourish me and satisfy my true hunger. So like my spiritual condition at times.

God knows I am hungry – and wants me filled up – on Him. But too often, I have filled up on cookies and have no room left for the food that will actually nourish and fill me. Then, in spite of the fact that I have eaten, my body ends up hungry for the nourishment it requires.

Let me share with you some of the spiritual cookies that I have used to fill me up in the past:

1. Having the perfect house (ok, realistically, I was never even close on this one!)
2. Being the perfect parent (might have made this one except for those “imperfect” children I had to raise – just saying)
3. Getting everything “done” on my list (yeah, that was going to happen)
4. Being the hostess with the mostest (Martha Stewart, look out)
5. Having a career/job I loved and valued (somehow this rings very hollow from a currently unemployed person!)

Here is the real truth. God and His word are the only things that will actually satisfy the empty hungry places in my soul.

How do you know if you have hungry places that are unfilled? Maybe your anger with your spouse, your frustration at your job, or your fear of the future is actually unidentified hunger pain. Today, can you let go of some of the cookies you have been stuffing on and fill yourself with the only thing that will actually truly satisfy?

Cookies are great, especially when made by my Aunt Dot. But they are treats, never meant to actually satisfy deep hunger or provide extended nourishment. So, enjoy your cookies this holiday, but make sure you are filling your soul with the things that will feed your hunger.

Open your mouth and eat what I give you.
Ezekiel 2:8b (NIV)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Winner - Battlefield and Blessings

Thanks to everyone who commented to enter the drawing for a copy of Jocelyn Green's book, "Battlefield and Blessings - Stories of Faith and Courage from The War in Iraq and Afghanistan." My sixteen year old completed our very "official" drawing this morning and the winner is Jodi.

For more information on this book and the entire series, visit

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Battlefields and Blessings

In honor of Veteran's Day, my friend, Jocelyn Green ( has graciously given me a copy of her book, "Battlefields and Blessings - Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan" to offer as a free giveway this week. Below, you will find my review of the book along with a link to Jocelyn's web site where you can find more information about the book. Please leave a comment, including your email address, at the end of this article to be included in the drawing for the book. I will announce the winner next week and send the winner's book along it's way. A special thanks this week to all America's veterans!

In the recent 2010 congressional elections, polls indicated that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not anywhere near the top of many voters’ minds as they went to the polls. But every day, our troops and their families continue to sacrifice and serve in both of these wars. "Battlefields and Blessings – Stories of Faith and Courage from The War in Iraq and Afghanistan" is the much needed call to remember not only the sacrifices our troops and their families have made and continue to make in these regions, but how the hand of God is ever present in times of trouble.

Written as a daily devotional, the book shares the stories of members of the armed forces, parents of service members, spouses, children, missionaries who have served in these countries and also politicians and civilians who serve our military. A source of encouragement amidst stories that could otherwise be overwhelming and disheartening, each day includes an inspirational story from the conflicts, along with an applicable Bible verse and a one or two sentence prayer. The varied perspectives from not just those who have served in the conflict, but many others affected by these wars, gives the reader a multifaceted look at not only the challenges, but also the positive outcomes in times of battle.

One of my favorite entries was the story of Stephanie Olsen, wife of military police officer Joe Olsen. Stephanie talks about how she answers when people ask her how it feels to be the wife of a serviceman. Her one word answer is “personal.” Thanks to the efforts of Jane Hampton Cook, Jocelyn Green and John Croushorn, we have in-depth and encouraging insight into the very personal world of those affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the blessings given by the One who watches over all of them.

Visit for more information about the entire series.


One of my favorite things about fall is the abundance of fresh delicious apples. In Virginia, picking apples in the country orchard and bringing them home to eat fresh or use in yummy recipes has become one of the activities that just says fall for our family. There are few things better than a fresh picked juicy apple right off the tree.

Several years ago we bought an apple slicer which is put to good use every autumn. With one quick push, the apple is cored and cut into convenient slices, ready to eat. One afternoon, as I was trying to prepare a snack for Libby and her friend, I pulled the apple slicer from the drawer. After centering it on the apple and pushing down once, I realized this apple was going to be a little difficult. Being more determined, I centered the slicer once again on the apple and gave it another push, but still did not have my conveniently sliced snack when I was done. Being determined, I squared my shoulders for another attempt, only to hear the handle of the slicer snap – to the hilarious entertainment of my daughter and her friend. I had pushed too far this time.

True confession – I am a pusher. Some people would dress it up in fancy clothes and call it determination, which is usually viewed as a positive quality. But the reality for me is some of what I do is not determination – it’s pushing. And what happens to those around me when I push? Just like the apple slicer, sometimes things get broken. Sometimes people get broken. But there is another role model I can choose to imitate.

God can do anything, you know-far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, His Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Ephesians 3:20 (The Message)

God chooses to deal with me, not by pushing, but by working deeply and gently within me. I love thinking of God and realizing how He is ever the gentleman – never demanding His way into my life, but constantly ready to show me the way home to peace and forgiveness when I look to Him. He doesn’t push for me to follow Him, be with Him or even listen to Him. He simply waits for me to turn to Him.

How can God’s model of gently working in me apply to the way I deal with those I encounter each day? What happens when I come against situations that seem just too tough to slice? I know I can not be the Holy Spirit to anyone else, but what might happen if instead of pushing the issue just one more time, the next time I disagree with someone or something, I backed off and allowed some gentleness to do its work? Maybe, the person, or obstacle, I have come up against would soften. Maybe, I would find an alternative answer to my dilemma. Or maybe, just maybe, I would have time to realize I was wrong about where I thought things needed to go in the first place.

How about you? Is there someone or something you are pushing in your life today? Is it causing grief or anxiety for you and/or them? What might happen if you followed God’s model of gentleness? Maybe we would all end up with the results we truly need without the brokenness in the process.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

You Suck

So, the thing with the crutches was not going as well as I had hoped. So, healing was coming much slower than I had anticipated. So, even though I had known in advance that everything would be more difficult on three legs, it was not making my lack of perceived progress any less discouraging. In spite of all these factors, I had not really anticipated the response from my sweet 16 after she had to listen to yet another speech concerning my frustration over not moving more quickly.

“You know Mom, of all the fruits of the spirit I think the one you have the least amount of is patience. When it comes to patience, you suck.”

Ouch. Impertinent teen. How dare she. . . . except, didn’t my buddy just tell me the same thing in an email last week? “I wish I could help out with your inability to walk as I know you are not the most patient person in the world.”

Now sisters, when your buddy and your daughter tell you the same thing in one week - it’s time to listen. Even if the words you hear are not the ones you wish had come to your ears. So what did I need to learn about this area where it was pretty obvious that I sucked?

It is nice to know that the Bible is full of people who struggled with weaknesses. Paul was just one of those people. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he describes dealing with something he calls a “thorn in the flesh.” Paul does not tell us what this specific weakness is, but He does tell us that He begged God to take it away. And God’s response is one of my favorite verses in the Bible:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in
2 Corinthians 12:10 (NIV)

How exciting is that? The very area I may be struggling with the most, right where life is challenging and everyone in sight can see that I am struggling - that is the very place that God comes along with His grace (unmerited favor; have to love that concept!) and power in me.

So, let’s put our big girl panties on and talk. Where are you struggling? No one may have told you (at least this week) that you suck, but we all struggle somewhere. What would happen if we turned to God and asked Him to show us how those very areas where we struggle are the places where His grace and power can come shining through? What difference might it make in our life and the lives of those around us if we stopped trying to “fix” everything that was wrong with us, admitted our struggles to each other and then let God’s grace and power do the rest?

I do not know what this might look like in your life. But in mine, it means that when my daughter says, “You suck,” we can look at each other and laugh. Because the child is right. I do. But I serve a God who specializes in being gracious and strong right where I am weak. And that, my friends, is something worth smiling about.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saying No, Being Still, Gaining Perspective

Once upon an autumn, life took me by surprise. The news came causing some unexpected changes in my life. This news was not tragic, not really dramatic, but just enough to require some major adjustments in my schedule over the weeks that spread out in front of me.

As is my nature, my brain kicked into overdrive. I rapidly began with phone calls, emails, paperwork, and rescheduling to make the needed adjustments in our lives. But within twenty four hours or so, after the initial flurry of activity slowed down, the questions in the night began. So how will all of this really work out? Am I making the right choices? Will everything be ok?

I backed out of a previous commitment (thanks to an incredibly understanding and gracious friend) in order to complete necessary work to prepare our home and family for the upcoming changes. But as I began the day, God called me first to sit with Him before I tore into my list of projects. And with a warm cup of coffee in my hand, He sweetly spoke again into my life.

There’s more to come: We continue to shout out praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged.
Quite the contrary-we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit.
Romans 5:3-5 (The Message)

The news I felt was turning my world upside down (at least temporarily) was not a surprise to God. And if I would let Him redirect my perspective, I would be able to see some passionate patience developed in my life, along with some of the tempered steel of virtue. All of this could leave me in a place of alert expectancy, busy rounding up containers, but always falling short of having enough to hold all God was generously pouring into my life. Somehow this was a markedly different view than my questions of “will it be okay.” What a cozy place to be, warming my heart as my coffee warmed my throat.

The interesting thing about my new perspective was that the details of my life’s quandaries had changed not one iota. The challenges were still real and present. They just looked different when viewed through my Father’s eyes.

So how about you? Where in life could you use some new perspective? May I share some advice from a woman who has screwed up many, many times? Unless I had been willing to say no, which went against every unwritten rule in my little mind (you don’t back out once you make a commitment!!), I would never have had the time to hear God’s voice. Sometimes, you have to say no to other things, in order to say yes to God. And yes, sometimes, you will not look good in the eyes of others when you say no or "I can't." But what are you looking for in your life? Peace in your heart or a good reputation?

Once I had said no (and risked looking like the shirker who just can’t seem to get her act together, again), I had to stop and listen for God’s voice. This was not my default thinking. My mind told me there were innumerable tasks that had to be completed. It also threw me that famous lie, “If you don’t do it, it won’t get done.” My to-do list screamed loudly, but my Father spoke gently, “Let me give you the strength to complete your work. Come sit with me first.” So I sat. Not because I had the time, but mainly because of the painful memories of how many times I had chosen not to sit and come up later with an empty tank when I needed strength the most.

This is not a formula, nor is it rocket science. It is just another simple story of a woman who had an unexpected curve ball thrown her way, but was met in the batter’s box by a loving Father. So what is crossing your plate as you stand up to swing today? What if you choose to say no, be still and gain some new perspective? The same Father who met me, waits anxiously to meet you.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

TheWhisper of "Is it Enough?"

Talking with a friend, the subject of schedules came up as it so often does between women. My friend remarked that she never says anymore that she is busy. When I inquired why, she shared a story with me about a conversation between her and another mother. Let’s call my friend Suzie Sensible and the woman she was talking with Betty Busy. Suzie and Betty were comparing schedules. When Suzie began discussing her life, Betty surprisingly informed Suzie that she could not possibly be as busy as Betty was. In spite of the fact that Suzie has three children in elementary school, a husband, a house to care for, works a part time job and runs her own small business, Betty quickly assured Suzie that she was not busy enough to be in the league with Betty. After that day, Suzie decided to never being a “busy” discussion with another woman. Probably a smart idea, but what was most intriguing to me was what my friend, Suzie said next. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Am I doing enough?”

Isn’t that the question we all struggle with at some time or many times in our lives? The root of the question is as old as creation. Since the dawn of time, the enemy has continued to sell women the same tired line, though it may take on different appearances from generation to generation. The heart of the question still remains the same. Is it enough? Is God enough? Am I enough?

Our struggles with finances often come from listening to this question. We look around and do not observe the almost obnoxious abundance we have in this country that the rest of the world readily sees. We choose instead to look at our neighbors, relatives, and friends and see only scales out of balance and not in our favor. We take jobs to make more so we can spend more so we can have more and on the vicious circle rolls.

Hearing the question of “Is it enough?” can cause us to become unhappy in our family relationships. I wish I was single, I wish I was married, I wish I had children, I wish the children were grown and gone, I wish my husband was different, I wish my children were different. When things are viewed in the light of “Is it enough?” too often we end up observing what we lack, not the numerous gifts we have.

As important as all these areas are in our life, nothing rocks us like the final two questions.

Is God enough?
Am I enough?

Here is the good news. Our God is always, forever and ever ENOUGH. The Alpha and the Omega, the Author and Finisher of our Faith, Omnipotent, All powerful, the I AM. To rest in His amazing power and awesome strength is always a safe place for our hearts. Interestingly enough, the fact that He is enough answers our final question also.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:10 (NIV)

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ, died for us.
Romans 5:8 (NIV)

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
I John 4:16 (NIV)

We have a Father who is enough and has made us enough in Him. Let’s tell the enemy to take a hike the next time he tries his worn out line on us. We are daughters of the King. We are princesses. We are enough.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Trump Card

We all come from so many different places and not just geographically. Some are born into families where they are wanted, loved and treasured. Others, like me, come along as a “problem” to those who bear them. Some of these “problems” are placed for adoption in wonderful homes, some grow up in families where they are constantly reminded of being an inconvenience and so many are aborted before they ever see the light of day. So what effect do these beginnings have on the rest of our lives?

Modern science is making landmark progress today in the study of what happens to us in our mothers’ wombs. We know more than ever about the psychological effects on the unborn of what happens during pregnancy. Some experience emotional pain from those days which they carry throughout their lives. The good news is God has a trump card, no matter what our beginnings or where life finds us today.

The trump card was not a concept I truly began to understand until I started dating Rob. When I began to meet his family, I quickly learned playing bridge was a favorite family pastime. Not wanting to be left out, I set out to learn the game only to find I was not a quick study. Rob patiently taught me the manners, rules and strategy of the game, but I struggled to master the trump card concept. I would excitedly lay down my ace, sure of winning a trick. Imagine my shock when another player pulled out a trump card to snatch away my win. I would end up wondering how this happened when I was holding an ace, seemingly a sure win card. The truth of bridge that I struggled to internalize and remember was that the trump card overrides any card of another suit, no matter how high that card’s value. Trumps always win.

Here is God’s trump card about our origins:

Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name,
He gave the right to become children of God –
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband’s will,
but born of God.
John 1:12-13 (NIV)

By sending His son, God played the trump card which covers all other aces. No circumstance of my origin, or in my daily life, is larger than the trump of being His child. Events often occur in our lives which make it seem as if the enemy holds all the aces. Thank you Father for the trump card you played of making me your child. Nothing has been done to me, nothing will occur in my life that is larger than my God.

God laid down the trump, but I won the trick. I became His child.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Chapter Closes

This day was always in our future, but it seemed so very far away. Today, CDR Robert Dowell, USNR becomes CDR Robert Dowell, USNR – retired. After 29 ½ years of serving in the United States Navy, this chapter of our lives comes to a close.

We married one week after Rob accepted his commission at Newport, Rhode Island. After six years of active duty, Rob transferred to the Navy Reserves. He has served in our community and around the world. We have walked through more nights of “Well, they said they might be sending me to . . . .” then I care to remember. We will go to sleep tonight knowing there will be no more orders in our future.

As I try to process what this new chapter in our life means, I looked to the Bible to read the farewell speech of another military commander – Joshua. In chapter 24 of the book of Joshua, the mighty leader of Israel speaks to the nation at the close of his military career. In typical Joshua style, he does not rehearse the great achievements of his service, but continues to remind them of what God has done for them. After he recounts the many struggles God has brought them through, Joshua presents the nation with a charge:

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you,
then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.
But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

Probably the thing I will remember the most about our military career was the constant uncertainty. When you sign up to serve, you turn over certain freedoms in exchange for being ready to go when called. While I struggled frequently with this lifestyle, Rob always continued to quietly trust in God, even when things did not go well. He always trusted that while we had surrendered certain parts of our life to the Navy, the Navy always rested in the hands of a sovereign God who ultimately decided our course. When Rob was called to postpone retirement and serve in Iraq, he felt it was not the military who sent him, but God. Because Rob had made the choice for himself and our household to serve God, he had the strength to do the hard things.

As a chapter closes and another begins for us, I want to be like Rob and Joshua - so assured in my choice to follow God, that the trials and tribulations that come to us in life do not rock my boat quite so hard. Chapters close and others begin sometimes over years, sometimes in a moment’s notice, bringing circumstances that can challenge us beyond what we feel we can bear. I do not know what circumstances challenge you in life today, but would they be made easier by reminding yourself whom you have chosen to serve?

But as for me and my household,
We will serve the Lord.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Our Hero Comes Home

as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:11 (NIV)

The moment we have waited for so many months has finally arrived. At an airport terminal in Baltimore, we screamed, we cried, we ran, we hugged, we kissed, and we were reunited with our Commander. It was a wonderful culminating moment of a incredible journey.

We are thankful to a Father who graciously allowed Rob to come safely home to us. We are grateful to the many family and friends who have prayed for us. We find ourselves incredibly appreciative of the gift of everyday things like being able to reach out and hold one another's hands.

May I ask you a question this Easter? Are you aware that there is a Father who awaits your homecoming with more anticipation than we ever had for Rob's homecoming? Though we were busy with multiple homecoming preparations, they can not hold a candle to what God has done to bring you home to Him. He has given the gift of His only Son to give you a way to come home. If you have not accepted His gift and come home, will you do that today? If you have, will you remember today how much He has done to bring you home?

Homecoming is a wonderful thing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Homecoming Story

It had been a long deployment for us. My pre-Sept. 11th military reserve children were not in any way accustomed to Dad being sent to the other side of the world for eight months of duty in a combat zone. Rob was very involved in all aspects of their life and his absence had left a tremendous hole. And of the three of them, none had seemed to take it harder than Daddy’s princess.

As their separation began, none of us really knew how nine turning ten year old Libby would react to the deployment. Yes, there had been tears shed at the time of goodbye, but what coping skills would she develop to wrap her brain around the absence of her dad? It didn’t take us long to find out.

Rob was able to find a connection, when he was settled in country, and call us on the phone about once a week. (This was long before the days of anything called Skype.) We began to notice that Libby would be conveniently busy or somewhere else when we would try to track her down to talk to Rob on the phone. After some intense discussions with her, her brothers and I realized she had decided to cope with Rob’s absence by largely pretending that he was not gone. Any phone calls would quickly erase her pretensions, so she avoided them like the plague. Though she did not slog through her days in constant tears or depression, there was no doubt this deployment was talking its toll on her.

When it was time for Rob to return, we excitedly packed up and headed to the airport in another city to await his arrival. Because Rob was an IA (Individual Augmentee – he deployed alone instead of with a unit), he was scheduled to fly home on a commercial airline. When I arrived at the airport with my children, we requested a gate pass so we could greet him as soon as the plane landed. We excitedly thanked the ticket agent and headed out to the terminal where his flight was due to arrive.

As we arrived at Rob’s gate, we began to scan the tarmac for any sign of the arrival of Rob’s plane. What we did not know was that Rob’s plane had arrived early. He had worn civilian clothes on the flight, but had gone into a restroom directly behind where we were standing to change into his uniform before greeting us on the other side of security, or so he thought. As we stared out the window, I suddenly realized that Libby was no longer standing with us. When the boys and I starting looking for her, we turned around to see a sight that I will never forget. Libby had turned around and seen her Daddy coming out of the restroom. Without a sound, she had run across the terminal and knocked him flat on the floor. There he lay, on his back in the terminal, with the little girl in the pink dress spread eagle across the top of him sobbing her lungs out. It was if eight months of fear, hurt, pain and sorrow all spilled out onto her Daddy.

The boys and I just stood around them for a few minutes. You could hear her all over the terminal. People walked by who didn’t even know us and wiped their eyes. It was an amazing sight.

I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with your earthly father, but please hear today that you have a Heavenly Father who loves you even more than Rob loves Libby. And He is not far away. You do not have to wait for Him to come home to you. It is His heart’s desire that today you would turn and run to Him. Stop pretending about your pain and let go of the deep, dark places inside of you. He longs for you to drape yourself across Him and pour out the deepest hurts, fears, sorrows and needs of your heart.

God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.
Acts 17:27 (NIV)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cold, Hard and Unforgiving

It has been three weeks since the last accumulating snowfall hit the mid-Atlantic. Yet, everywhere you turn, you can still see snow. Temperatures have stayed well below seasonal averages, the sun has refused to shine many days and the large volume of snow which has accumulated means that although some melting has occurred, there is still no end to the sight of snow at every turn.

I love snow. I love watching it fall, seeing it pile up and playing in it. I love the way snow trumps almost every agenda in Washington, D.C. and brings life to a screeching halt. I love having my family home together enjoying sitting by the fire and drinking hot chocolate in our pajamas – at two o’clock in the afternoon. Beautiful white fluffy snow cleans the world better than Clorox on the stained shirt of a little boy.

As much as I love beautiful white, clean snow, I have an almost equal distaste for dirty snow. What is left in Washington is no longer the clean beautiful snow that had fallen weeks before on our landscape. What is now piled on the side of the road, in the medians and in virtual mini-mountains in parking lots is dirty snow. Though it had started out beautiful and white as it fell to the ground, the snow has been plowed, pushed aside and covered with dirt from vehicles flying by. It is the kind of snow only man, vehicles and lots of nasty chemicals can create. Due to the large nature of some of the piles, it is just not going away. Snow in the grass has melted in the warmth of the sun, but the dirty snow is cold, hard and very unforgiving. Weeks after it fell, it sits seemingly immovable and covered in dirt. Most unattractive.

This is where the lesson turned very personal and very painful for me. God showed me how closely my speech lately had become to that large pile of dirty snow. Cold, hard and very unforgiving. In an attempt to “always be direct with people,” my speech had become something that served only me and whatever selfish desires I had at a particular given moment. Why, of course, didn’t others need to hear my opinion on a certain subject? Weren’t they just dying to know what I thought? Besides, maybe they needed my “help” in the form of unsolicited advice. After all, didn’t I really have more experience and know better? Ouch. It is painful to even type such ugly thoughts that my selfish heart has been busy justifying. Listen to what Jesus says about the words my mouth speaks.

“For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Matthew 12:34b (NIV)

So, if I do not like the words I hear coming out of my mouth, the first place I have to look is my heart. When had I decided that my personal opinion was gospel the world needed to hear? Though God had given me the blessing of having some experiences I had learned from through the years, were not those lessons designed to keep me humble rather than making me arrogant? Where were the concepts of grace and forgiveness in my heart and speech, especially with those I love the most?

I do not like dirty snow. But even more important, God wants me to not like a dirty heart. When I allow myself to be deluded into believing the importance of the words I have to share, I will become just as cold, hard and unforgiving as the dirty snow on the side of the road. Precious Father, today could you please make my thoughts and words clean and refreshing? I want the things that come out of my heart and mouth to be as beautiful and pure as your clean, white snow.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Shelter In Place

When the Red Cross starts sending out advisories to your area, you realize this is not your typical snow. Mid-Atlantic weather forecasters describing snow in “feet” instead of “inches” is cause for throwing the Washington, D.C. metro area into a complete panic. As people rushed around buying up every gallon of milk and loaf of bread that was not nailed down, the authorities tried to prepare residents for the coming storm.

Then the Red Cross weighed in with their advisory. Even after going through three hurricanes in a six week period in Florida during 2004, I do not remember hearing these exact words before:

“Be prepared to shelter in place for 3 to 5 days.”

My first response was to try and think about exactly what that would mean. Okay, so the weather is cold, the snow is piling up and we literally cannot go anywhere. For days. What would we need? Was our home secure against the storm? How would I prepare our shelter? What would it look like to shelter in place?

To prepare for a snow storm, my priorities revolved around food, accessible firewood in case we lost power, plenty of batteries, flashlights and bottled water. But what happens when other types of storms enter my life? Where will I find my shelter then?

You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.
Isaiah 25:4 (NIV)

As a woman, I do not lack for storms in my life. Children, jobs, marriages, moves, elderly parents, broken things, illnesses and other storms can arise with little or no warning. Sometimes, the Red Cross will not step in and warn me of approaching storms. So the question for me becomes, will I be ready? How do I prepare?

1. My security has to be in God and God alone. Every other source, no matter how reliable, has the potential for failing me. God is my true and trustworthy shelter in the storms that life can bring. Only God can back up the statement, “I will never leave you, never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b – NIV)

2. I need to turn my fears over to God, sometimes repeatedly. If there is one lesson the Lord keeps bringing back to me over and over again during the past few months, it is that my fears have to learn to bow down with me at the cross. I am to fear God – only. “We take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5b – NIV)

3. Understanding in advance that there are going to be storms makes them easier to manage when they arrive. For me, this has been a very typical season with Rob gone of broken appliances, illnesses and other challenges. What seems to make them easier this time is my ability to laugh (only developed after becoming weary from years of flying off the handle with each crisis) more often as these challenges arise. I have found comfort in knowing in advance that with my husband gone, no matter how well he had prepared our home, vehicles, etc., things are just going to go awry. There can definitely be some humor, when I look for it, in how those challenges take shape. “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45b – NIV)

As I watch my sweet neighbor snowblow my driveway (again), I am thankful for the lessons of this storm. There are precautions I need to take in order to be ready to run to the only true shelter that will never fail me in the storms of life which will inevitably arise. I must prepare now to be ready to run to God when the storms of my life cause me to need to shelter in place. How about you? Where is your shelter today?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Of Mice and Women

Challenges for women come in many forms as life rolls along. Sometimes they come in the form of illness – the children, elderly parents, a spouse, you or even the pets can become ill and provide challenges for a woman. Sometimes, they come in the form of broken things – vehicles, appliances, toilets, the toy of a preschooler, the heart of a teenager or any other myriad of things can stop working as they were intended to function. Sometimes those challenges can come in the form of little furry rodents called mice.

When I first began to notice little holes in bags of food in my pantry, I wondered if I had picked up a damaged item at the grocery. Then I noticed the little holes had jagged edges to them and the food inside the bags also had little jagged pieces missing. Finally, I discovered little dark pellets around the pantry that let me know there were creatures having a party with my food every night and this time, they were not teenagers. Mice!

After cleaning and throwing away more food than I care to think about, I headed out to the store for some assistance. I bought what looked to be fairly humane traps that would allow for the capture and disposal of mice without me ever having to touch or see them. Carefully, I set the traps around, anxious to have my problems contained for easy disposal. But the mice who had decided to party in my pantry apparently snickered behind their little whiskers at my vain attempts, and the traps remained undisturbed – unlike the food in my pantry. I decided to replace the traps with packaged poison that was supposed to be very enticing to little rodents, but once again, my photo apparently ended up in the editorial section of “Mice Times” with the words “Who is she kidding?” under my picture. My poison packages remained untouched, but I lost another bag of hot dog buns. My father even gave me blocks of poison that had produced multiple dead rats around his bird feeders when he had a rodent problem, but every night the mice return to chew on the poison while none of them turn up dead, at least not in my house. They just keep coming back for the party.

So what is a woman to do? I am so glad that you asked.

I honestly believe my mice are very symptomatic of so many other large and small challenges in my life and the lives of many women. It really isn’t about the mice. It rarely is about whatever challenge life may deal us at even given moment. It is about my response.

This is typical of my process when things in life are a struggle, though the order of events changes depending on where my heart is resting at the time. I cry out to God, “Please deliver me!” I work very hard at finding my own answer. I look to see God bring deliverance. And here is the reality in my life – sometimes, deliverance from my challenge does not come.

So what does my response look like in those times? What if my challenge continues, sometimes even increasing in difficulty? Oh sweet sisters, I think so often God desires not to catch the mouse, but to calm the mouse catcher. How often does my Father long for me not to know deliverance, but instead to know my Deliverer? For in those days when I do not see deliverance from my challenge, I have an opportunity to know my Deliverer more deeply. To seek His face. To look for His strength. To depend on His love. To be the place where I take refuge.

He is my loving God and my fortress,
My stronghold and my deliverer,
My shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.
Psalm 144:2 (NIV)

So what is your challenge today? What are the mice in your pantry? Do the heavens seem silent? Are you weary in waiting for deliverance? Stop. Breathe deeply. Know your Deliverer and take refuge in Him.