When the Tornado Comes

 

 

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Tornadoes and floods and volcanic eruptions have been called acts of God since ancient times. The God of the Bible sends a flood and thunders down from a mountain. But He also speaks to His prophet Elijah in a still, small voice and through Jesus as he calms an unpredictable storm on the Galilean Sea. And He has always offered hope and salvation to His people.

Our perception of God has changed through the years, as we’ve looked less fearfully to Him for daily direction, and for comfort and peace of mind. But God is as powerful as ever, and can enter our whirlwind life with His powerful Presence, both by shaking us up and disrupting our complacency, or by calming the seas in the midst of a stormy life saying, “Peace! Be still!”

Yet sometimes we are caught up in a whirlwind and the seas of life are welling up around us, and it seems like confusion and disorder are all around. And we don’t feel that peace.

Destructive forces compete for power in our world with constructive ones. And the battle may even rage within us. We may feel like kicking up a dust cloud and fleeing from the turmoil — or perhaps even kicking up a little storm of our own in the wake! In fact, more than once I have heard someone talk of feeling like a tornado in the midst of havoc. And I can only guess that their life is not filled with peace.

I lived in Wisconsin along the storm route called “Tornado Alley”. And there were many times as a child or adult that I headed to the basement in response to a tornado warning. What could we do but wait and pray? After all, you can’t reason with a tornado. You can only try to get out of its way.

But how can we escape the turmoil within us? Tornadoes come in many shapes and sizes — just like our problems. And like the storms that may be brewing in our own lives, we can’t always see them coming or predict what their wide-spread consequences might be.

But nothing in life is too big or small, or so encompassing that God cannot bring some peace and hope into it. As Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Maybe those words above seem trivial in the midst of life’s storms. But we live in a world that is more than the destructive situations and ways that we hear so much about in the media.

God is present in the ordinary, everyday people and things around us, in blessings that come our way, and in happy coincidence that some call serendipity. It’s why I write my little spiritual nuggets … that you might recognize this in your lives.

God is present in the midst of the storm, to show us the way and to see us through.  He is present in sunshine and in shadow, in the whirlwind and in the gentle breeze.

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The Messy Joys of Remodeling

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My husband is finally doing it — remodeling our bathroom. So why am I anxious? It’s something I’ve wanted for the past couple years.

But in the making of something new and better, we’ve been making our way through a big mess. Walls torn down, boards and tools and mess, mess, mess; and everything from that SMALL bathroom, which I can’t believe was even all IN that tiny space — is now scattered all over the house.

And let’s not forget the noise of tearing down those walls and prying up layers of old floor, the dust and nails and other debris — and the disruption of life as usual, including the need to run downstairs in order to find a working bathroom.

Oh, I had finally made some simpler plans of my own, even paid an interior decorator to come and make a plan for the small, cramped bathroom I didn’t want to completely let go of. But that’s not the vision my husband had. My plans were enough to get him going, but his plan is much bigger and better than what I could have ever envisioned. He’s an engineer, after all!!

Sometimes we are more comfortable with things as usual, the way it’s always been — even if it hasn’t been that good. Just a little change might be OK. But more change can be messy — and we may have to tear down walls and venture into unknown territory before new and better things take shape.

But like anything in life, we sometimes need to get through a big mess, some inconvenience, and a bit of confusion — before we can come to the place where we can look around and see that this journey has made things better.

And we can even take that lesson into our spiritual lives. God has a blueprint for each of us, and the clearer our spiritual vision becomes, the easier it will be to read those new specs and to follow God’s plan for our lives. But then things may suddenly become messier, no longer everything in its place. Ethical decisions are more complicated. And we may even have to stop a moment and pry loose some old barriers so we can open up a window to a new view of life.

Tearing down those walls can be much more difficult than tearing down those old bathroom walls. Remodeling our lives means change. And venturing into this unknown territory can be as unsettling as living within a remodeling mess.

It’s an ongoing journey. And there will be obstacles in the way … dust and debris popping up from old cracks and crevices and resistance to what’s new and different.

But if we trust in the Great Engineer of the universe to have a greater plan, somewhere along the way we will come to the place where we can look around and see that this journey has made things better. And that God has a much bigger and better plan for our lives.

Boxed Up

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Good old boxes! You can fill them with Christmas gifts to send off to friends and family, or anticipate their arrival with UPS. In Alaska we stuffed them full of groceries and used them as checked baggage on our return flight to our isolated village. And you wouldn’t believe what other items we managed to stuff into boxes and get on that plane!

Good old boxes! Sometimes we fill them with precious memories or records, to keep in a safe place. Or we use them for storage. And soon we’ve piled up too many to keep just in case, and are tearing them down for the recycling bin. But sometimes they’re recycled into hiding places for things we just don’t want to deal with.

We stuff them full, label them and pack them away, and never look inside again. Then one day we feel brave enough to peek inside, and find we are still overwhelmed with the things we couldn’t part with. So back goes the box, (perhaps now twice the boxes but better labeled), to take up even more space with the rest of that valuable junk and unwearable clothes, and boxes filled with file folders of old ideas never revisited.

What to hang unto and what to let go of?

We human beings are good at boxing things up and storing them away, even in the corners of our hearts and minds. But those things boxed up inside of us are often made up of more serious stuff than our boxes of ancient videotapes, old pots and pans, and irreplaceable junk.

A box full of grudges lies easily within reach, a box full of unresolved grief is almost hidden, and a box packed full of anger and resentment lies on the back shelf, ready to break from the weight. Hurts and pain are thrown together in another box. And it may be too overwhelming to drag one of them out, open it, and try to deal constructively with its contents. So the box sits there for years, untouched, though the contents remain — and they continue to claim their space in our lives.

Maybe it’s time to get rid of the pile of old hurts and resentments we have boxed up. Maybe it’s time to finally make our way to that old box buried in the corner of the closet, sort through its contents, and decide how much is really worth holding onto and taking up healthy space in our lives.

Yes, bad experiences can’t just be thrown out with the trash and forgotten, and our feelings are real. Grief may get easier but never be gone, and forgiving doesn’t have to mean forgetting the wrong done, even though it is healing for the forgiver and forgiven.

But pouring out the contents of those boxes and giving up what we can to God will lighten the load. It will help free us from all the clutter. And it will leave more space within us to store up God’s blessings of health and wholeness and peace.

Under the Rug

 

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When we bought a house in Arizona, we inherited a well-used ugly old-style carpet, the kind that crumbs and little beads like to hide in and sharp objects disappear into, waiting to take their vengeance. My husband had placed a few rugs in strategic places before I arrived, to dress it up and hide a couple old stains. For a long time I didn’t even notice all the flaws, because the color wasn’t bad and went with the walls, and I had been living in a church parsonage basement for a couple years. And it was nice to actually have a carpet.

But as months went by and comments went on (especially from our daughter and husband in promotion of the beauty of hard-wood flooring) — I began more and more to see that oversized rug called a carpet for what it was … an ill-shaped, outdated contraption of yarn, hiding who knows what from its former days. And meeting up with the tiled kitchen and hallway at an odd juncture, then sweeping back alongside and behind the living room couch, it shaped the living room into a big square attached to a short-changed rectangle.

One day I took a peek under the carpet at a corner spot where it meets the tile. I found an old, unraveling pad still trying its best to cover various strips and pieces of wood tacked down in an effort to raise the carpet’s elevation toward the tiles. And with hand parked firmly under that loose piece of carpet, I was ready to rip up the whole thing right then and there from that spot.

I didn’t care what sort of mess or strange articles I would find uncovered. But my husband, looking on in horror, said “NO”. You can’t do anything about it until we are ready to deal first with what’s underneath.

We couldn’t dig up and replace that exterior covering until we had something ready to replace it with. But as things have been going, who knows what — or WHEN that might be? So I continue to vacuum that carpet, and to pick up those rugs and scrub those spots and stains. And guess what? They all come back, up through the carpet from underneath … right in that same spot.

But I guess that’s the nature of a stained carpet.

So what can I do? Throwing a rug over the top of those stains and flaws will do no more than cover them up — make things look better on the outside — but won’t get at the root of the problem. And to put a rug over the more-traveled places won’t improve the appearance of the matted-down carpet underneath. Yes, you can’t just sweep everything under the rug and pretend the carpet is fine.

And it’s the same with us human beings.

Like an old carpet, our old stains and spots keep coming back. And we can’t just cover them up with a rug and think they won’t surface again and manifest themselves in anxiety or addictions, or express themselves in anger or depression. It’s like laying a new carpet before you deal with what’s lurking underneath the old one. And sometimes that rug just gets in the way.

But there is hope.

God offers us the ultimate stain remover — redemption and new life in Jesus Christ. He sees the debris and the mess that lies hidden beneath the facade we present to the world. And we can almost hear him say, “Pull up the rugs and the carpet and don’t be afraid to look at what’s underneath. Bring it all to me, and together, we can make everything new.”

 

 
“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

A Lesson from one of God’s Creatures

 

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I was rushed, dividing my time between ongoing projects, overdue reports, and last minute preparations, when I stopped to open my windows and let in a breath of fresh air. And to my surprise, there in my back lawn lay a deer. The cranking of my kitchen window might well have scared her away, but she didn’t even rise in alarm to assume that alert stance that deer often take when they sense danger. She just lay there, looking as relaxed as if this had been an old favorite resting spot within the protection of the forest. She was at peace.

And my first thought was,”Be still, and know that I am God.”

Here was one of God’s creatures, coming to pay me a visit and remind me of the quiet beauty of God’s creation. And although we immediately caught one another’s eye, the doe did not stir, and I went about my business quietly, as not to disturb her.       And a sense of peace came upon me in the midst of my busyness.

I looked out from time to time, and there she was, a photo image framed by my big picture window, still lying there peacefully. And even when a dropped utensil near the opened kitchen window startled her, she quickly resumed her peaceful composure. And after a time, she got up and began to graze, still quite unhurried and unconcerned. She ate her way up to the woods. Then she was gone.

And I reflected again on the scripture verse from Psalm 46:        “Be still, and know that I am God.”

And once more I was reminded that even when I feel the most rushed or stressed, rattled or confused, when all around me is havoc — I can find that peace of God and inner calm.

I looked again, and there she was, back to graze. I looked once more, and she had settled down again, to lie quietly in another spot just beyond the house, where she seemed to be enjoying the glorious day God had given us.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” And she, by the grace of God, had given me these words.

 
From Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. “Be still, and know that I am God.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

And in Matthew 11:28, Jesus says:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Challenge

Today I am proposing a challenge. Give me a thought, a word, an image — and see if I can turn it into an analogy of how God works in our lives. It’s my Thing! Be creative. Be silly. Be outrageous! I want to hear from you, and I promise to respond.

The Humble Towel

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I’ve been thinking about towels, something found in every home and locker room. It’s like they have a culture of their own. While on the job, bathroom towels hang out in color-coordinated family groups of large, medium, and small. But kitchen towels are less sophisticated, hanging out on refrigerator handles, out of drawers, and sometimes flung over rods. On the top of the towel hierarchy are the guest towels. They are usually the newest and softest, and more apt to match their surroundings. But some hang around for decorative purposes only, and are never really used at all. And at the bottom of the pile are the old veterans, worn thin from service, now designated to the hardest and dirtiest jobs.

Most towels put in some work and then hang around until they’re too dirty and smelly to use again. Then after a vigorous romp in the washer and a tumble in the dryer, they lie in wait in drawers or pile up in linen closets. Others sit precariously atop shelves, waiting to be used. And though with service comes wear and tear, every towel, even the proud guest towel, knows service to be its highest value.

The night when Jesus ate his last meal with his disciples, before being arrested and sentenced to the cross, he had a towel with him. During that meal Jesus poured water into a wash basin and began to do something usually done by a servant. He began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with that towel. I’m not suggesting that Jesus used an old, frayed towel that night, worn by former service. Maybe the owner of the upper room where they gathered had put out the best guest towels. But whatever the shape of this towel, torn and tattered or soft and newly woven, it was used in the service of others.

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,
you should also wash one another’s feet,” said Jesus.
“I have set you an example, so that you should do as I have done for you.”

And that’s how the towel and wash basin became a symbol of humble acts of service.

Whatever the Weather

image“Whatever the Weather”… That was the name of the TV broadcast that reported the local weather each day when I was a kid in Wisconsin. It predicted our chances of snow, rain, severe thunderstorms, and tornados. No, we didn’t have earthquakes or hurricanes … or for that matter tsunamis.

“Whatever the Weather”… a catchy title, don’t you think?

But it sounds like a phrase that begs to be followed by more information.

“Whatever the Weather–we’ve got the details.”
“Whatever the Weather–just turn that TV knob and we’ll be here for you.” And yes, back then we actually did get up off the couch to go turn the knob of that chubby little tube-filled TV set, and without the help of remote control.

We now have the power to click on a twenty-four hour weather channel as we sit on our couch.

But we still can’t click in sunshine and click away clouds.

“Whatever the Weather”–good or bad–we are stuck with it. And the best we can do is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. So thank God there are other channels we can tune into for comfort and hope on those dark cloudy days
and when life brings thundering challenges our way.

A famous Biblical author once wrote: “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” He had learned this philosophy of life by tuning into the channel where joy and satisfaction can be found beyond the weathering of worldly conditions. His name was Paul, the Apostle, and he wrote those words from a Roman jail cell.

So next time you are stressing over unfavorable conditions in nature or in life itself … just take a moment, whatever the weather, to tune into your spiritual channel.