Monday, October 31, 2011

Dream Big Dreams

Have you ever had an idea to do something that was so implausible and success was so unlikely that the seed of the dream withered before you allowed its tendril of a root to burrow into the soil of your life? We have a way of suffocating God-size dreams, of snuffing out the life they might offer us because of our fears and insecurities. I met a man yesterday who is living into a dream bigger than he ever imagined. His example inspires and encourages me, and I must share his story.

A beautiful couple and their beloved service dog, Monte, are on an amazing ride. Rich Dixon is hand-cycling all the way from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota on a 1,500 mile journey which recently took them through the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and on through some Mississippi small towns before they arrived in Jackson. His story is too big to contain in my little blog, but his message is too powerful not to share here. Please see Rich's Ride to discover how a man who could not roll his chair ten feet down a hall tackles a journey such as this one!

His beautiful wife, Becky, is a part of this as well, and--though we only spoke for a morning--I can tell she exudes joy from a Source deep within. I will be reading Rich's story of God's Relentless Grace and hope you'll check on this book, which is not about Rich so much as it is a witness to faith in God who will not let us go.

Anyone who has ever had a deep loss or may ever face a deep loss (that about covers most of us) will benefit from Rich's journey of discovery that HOPE is an expectation rooted in faith.

Hope like this is not anemic wishing. Real hope is grounded in God's provision for us - providing presence, perseverance, and prompting dreams that spring up when we least expect them.

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:18,19).

I am only an amateur when it comes to dreaming dreams as I compare myself to Rich's life, but that is but one of the dangers of comparison: we can cower before the example of someone better/bigger/bolder and let fear of failure snuff out the flame of desire to do something. Sometimes the biggest step is the first--for Rich, the first ten feet were the hardest--and so we encourage one another to step out in faith and take that step . Let us strap on our walking shoes for the day and see what this day holds, emboldened by the example of someone whose life encourages us to do the same.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tired to the Bone

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail (Isaiah 58:11).

"Strengthen your bones".....I paused there when reading. Why bones?....I pondered.We hear it to describe the ultimate in fatigue: bone tired. Dry as a bone. Wasted. Used up. We get the picture.

This passage is not about osteoporosis, though, if you Google it, bone-strengthening treatments and medications pop up. Perhaps we rush too hastily to the quick-fix when it's too late. Rather than eating a calcium-rich diet and committing to weight-bearing exercise for life, millions of women wait until there are signs of deterioration before addressing what we already know to be true: we need strong and healthy bones or we risk life-threatening consequences. But as teenage girls, that fact is a lifetime away and has no bearing on our choices, for most.

My mother says, "We get too soon old and too late smart." She has a point. (She always does. That is another lesson I've learned.)

The NIV reads, "strengthen your frame." Our frame is that which supports us, hold us up. What if strengthening our frame means making small changes daily--both physically and spiritually? What if we have in our midst a source for continual guidance....for daily strength and refreshment....whose waters do not fail? Would we not be wise to make our way to that fountain, even if we come tentatively or without expectation of what we might find, and ask for it?

Make Your Presence known to us, I pray, in ways big and small.

Nothing refreshes like water. Gardens depend on it, and we do too.

But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).

Photos: Longwood Gardens, Cathedral courtyard in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Love in Any Language

Δεν υπάρχει φόβος στην αγάπη. Αλλά τέλεια αγάπη διώχνει το φόβο, διότι ο φόβος έχει να κάνει με την τιμωρία. Αυτός που φοβάται δεν γίνεται τέλειος στην αγάπη.

Scenes from tumbled stones in Olympia and the elegant carved marble sculpture of Achilles remind me that thousands of years ago, men and women sought wisdom, pleasure, heroes and significance from a myriad of places, much as we do today. Just as in the story of Achilles, each of us has a place of vulnerability: we may stand tall and strong only to fall unexpectedly when pierced in that place.

Fear is that Achilles heel for many--a debilitating dread that holds some in its clutches. Fear of failing, fear of not measuring up to others' expectations, fear of intimacy--the list continues--with a paralyzing result in not fully living this life we have been given. There is freedom from the bondage of fear, and it comes to us through love, not through a mightier sword or shield held high.

I have read that the opposite of fear is not courage; it is faith. I find that faith generates courage as well. A friend shared the Greek translation for the beloved passage I offer today:

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." I John 4:18
I, too, have found it worthy of trust. And my life depends on it daily. May the immense love of God be a blessing in your life journey and in this day.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Doorways to Courage

“Always remember, you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." ~Winnie The Pooh

Encouraging words spring from many sources. Juvenile fiction holds a treasure trove of wisdom, frequently neither juvenile nor fictitious. We find more ancient parallels below as refreshment to our souls when we need to take heart--the original meaning of encouragement:

Deuteronomy 31:6
Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.

Psalm 27:1
The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 56:3-4
When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
Isaiah 41:10
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:13
For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

And parting words always call for our attention:

If there ever comes a day when we can't be together keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever.
~ Winnie the Pooh

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Grace Enough to Bear All Things

"It is a good thing to be without a trouble; but it is a better thing to have a trouble, and know how to get grace enough to bear it.”

~Charles Haddon Spurgeon, widely esteemed English theologian (1835 - 1892)

 Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences numbering over 10,000 in Exeter Hall and Surry Music Hall before moving to the permanent site at Metropolitan Tabernacle.

10,000 gathered to hear the Word of God preached? With no microphones, no jumbo-trons?

Just a man and his message.

Would we do that today? Are we that hungry for hearing about salvation, for understanding more about the Spirit God sends to us? That many and more gather for a sporting event, but for a church service? I don't think so.

Let us hunger and thirst for food that satisfies--for the grace God gives to bear one another's burdens and to bear our own with courage.

So it is all for your sakes, that as grace extends to more and more people, it may extend thanksgiving to the glory of God (2 Cor 4:15).

From John Wesley's Notes on 2 Corinthians 4:15:

4:15 For all things, whether adverse or prosperous, are for your sakes - for the profit of all that believe, as well as all that preach. That the overflowing grace - which continues you alive both in soul and body, might abound yet more through the thanksgiving of many - For thanksgiving invites more abundant grace.

Wesley lived one hundred years earlier (1703 - 1791) also in England preaching in open-air venues in both his home country and as a missionary to our part of the world. Each of these proclaimed that the way of wisdom is to receive all that we have with thanksgiving, as gratitude invites grace enough to bear all things.

In 2011, Ann Voskamp announces a similar message in One Thousand Gifts a new venue through today's power of instant communications and the printed word.

Believers keep telling the story generation after generation: they keep giving thanks for God's unfathomable grace.

Sculpture of St. Francis on the coastline of Sardegna, photo taken 2011.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sunset Beyond Pompeii

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised. Psalm 113:3

This spectacular sight needed a real photographer to deliver the photo, but I got the message just the same: some moments just take our breath away. Splendor and color unfold on life's big screen as I remember the childhood kaleidoscope opening in my hands, though I am now keenly aware that I am only a grateful spectator.

Let us never lose the sense of wonder at God's handiwork. When such a magnificent sight no longer gets our attention, we've gotten too preoccupied with ourselves. How many have I missed? More than I can say. But I am thankful for the time to turn aside and savor this one.

So Moses said, "I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up." Exodus 3:3

Take the time to turn aside and see what great sights we might be missing. October is full of Harvest Moons by night and blue skies by day. Peace be with you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dappled Oaks and Unfurling Ferns

The ancient oak tree in our front yard bears resurrection fern on each weathered limb. It also bears little resemblance to the stately one pictured above, and this photo reminds me our tree is living on borrowed time. But then, aren't we all?

On most days the fern is barely visible as dried, brown leaves crinkle along the lines of branches. But in the rain that we had today, the transformation begins. By morning, I predict the tendrils of fern, profuse and verdant, will cover the charcoal gray limbs like an icing of fresh green.

Resurrection fern, they call it: these daily reminders of the truth of God's order in the natural and, I suggest, spiritual world. And yet, how many days do I drive under that tree and never look up--never notice that it's still going on, day after day: new life out of dark places, life out of death?

The unfurling ferns remind me that God is in the process of restoring and redeeming all things.
We, too, can allow ourselves to be refreshed by the fresh springs of God's grace. We need the mist of a gentle rain to fall softly upon ourselves, filling in the parched places and reviving our hearts.

I know so many who ask for courage for a challenging life season ahead. Others need guidance for the next step. Still there are more seeking healing for broken relationships and physical disease. The trees of our lives can appear to be dying from the inside out, infected with blight common to the human condition.

But then the rain of grace falls.

We glimpse a frond unfurling...then another. Take heart!

God gives strength to those who grow tired and increases the strength of those who are weak. Isaiah 40:29

"From every dying tree trunk or rotting piece of wood, ferns and lichens grow."

From Seeking With All My Heart, p. 49, by Paula D'Arcy, whom I met last spring when she visited our church. I recommend her Gift of the Red Bird if you have not read her story of life and death.

Photo courtesy University of Florida site

Monday, October 10, 2011

Paddle or Die

Remar o Morir!

My husband and one bold niece swept themselves down a river in Alaska in a raft like this one. Though I'm more of a canoe girl myself, there is something exhilarating about the anticipation of rushing water and the skillful navigation along the river's course. Have you seen rafters paddle while going downstream? It seems like that would be a good time to coast, to enjoy the scenery. Perhaps you've experienced river guides directing the paddling of the raft going downstream before hurtling over whitewater rapids. Do they really need to pick up more speed before reaching that treacherous water, I've wondered?

Paddlers stroke the water gently but steadily while the river propels them downstream because that is the only way to have some measure of control over the direction they are going. They must be going a little faster than the current carrying them. To navigate with purpose, we must control our direction.

We live in a whitewater world. Sometimes we lose our footing. Sometimes we get swept away in the frenzy all around us. But we continue to paddle so that we can maintain some sense of uprightness--of knowing our orientation--relative to God and to those we love.

Paddling for the believer may be an expression of keeping our eyes on Jesus. Don't be fearful or distracted by what is going on all around. There will always be something that beckons for our attention, maybe even something threatening or dangerous, but do not lose heart.

Keep your paddle in the water.

Stroke after stroke.

Hang in there.

Let us practice the disciplines that keep us connected to God so that we can remain strong.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how He did it, because He never lost sight of where he was headed--that exhilarating finish in and with God--He could put up with anything along the way. Hebrews 12:2 The Message

Inspired from devotional reading by Robert Schnase

Monday, October 3, 2011

October Blue Skies Beckon

I am an imperfect blogger.

I break all the rules.

I've been away for a long time with no guest bloggers and not enough time to pre-post meaningful contributions so no one would notice.

Don't know how to do all the cool stuff the techno-wizards do with their cyber canvas. Mine is a little like me: a bit old-fashioned, we can safely say.

Funny, I never thought I would use that word to describe myself. When I was growing up with one foot in the strident feminist world of a law student in the '70's Era of Empowerment and one foot in a beautiful traditional family in conservative Mississippi, I saw myself as a trail blazer. A pioneer of sorts. One to take on the challenges of the day with conviction and gusto!

Now the pioneer of today is a famously popular Pioneer Woman who can man-handle a ranch, a recipe, a family and run a small empire. What a woman!

And I'm on the eve of another birthday reflecting with deep gratitude for the people I've known, the places I've seen, the life experiences I've shared that make me who I am today: an imperfect, old-fashioned, trail-blazing woman. The trail is not the one I imagined hiking when I was in my 20's, but it is the one I am grateful to walk as I hold the lantern up pointing the way to One who loves us with an everlasting love and will never, ever forsake us. That trail can take more courage and boldness than I ever imagined in a time when Jesus' name is said to be 'hate speech' to some.

Maybe life's stages--like lilies of the field--offer us times for cocooning as buds and times for opening wide to embrace the world that awaits.

Let the Light of God shine brightly from October blue skies to direct your path today!

Lilies by Rhymes Stabler
. Thanks!