The Door

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I’ve had my share of trouble with doors … both in getting them to open and in keeping them closed.

More than once I have locked the key inside my house, and have had to climb in through the window. You see, the habit of carrying keys around is still new to me after living in a small village in Alaska for years, where I only locked the door at night and the old car key stayed permanently inserted into the ignition.

But even then, I had my problems with doors and locks.

I once locked my car with the engine running at the local “dump” by accidentally knocking down the old lock knob while getting out of my car. And with that old car key still safe and snug in the ignition, I found myself stranded outside in a place frequented by bears. The attendant had to close up shop to give me a ride home to find a spare key, as we were out of range for a phone call. And who knows when another car full of garbage might appear! But at least it didn’t happen further “out the road” (as Alaskans say), though I might have met a big Coastal Brown Bear out there willing to tear the car door off for me.

I didn’t have the best of cars In Alaska. They rusted out from exposure to sea salt, and things fell off of them … like the running board attached to my second-hand Bronco or the door handle off my little white Omni. I never did like that car. Before that I drove a red Subaru wagon that came with the church I served and had grown mushrooms on the floor of the front seat between pastors. But at least it would always start right up and make it through the snow.

The little white car couldn’t even make it up a slight incline when our roads and yards were covered with ice. Once it was stuck on a clear level portion of icy road right in front of the police station and I had to ask for help from the police. They asked why I didn’t have 4-wheel drive.

But the doors on that little white car were my biggest problem. One winter, one by one, they all just stopped working. First, the front door on the driver’s side wouldn’t open from the inside, and then it wouldn’t open from the outside either. Then the front seat passenger door began to have similar problems. And sometimes handles on both sides got together as a united front and made my life even more frustrating.

Once I picked up an elderly person who needed a ride, and because of just the right combination — neither one of us could get out of the car. We had to honk the horn to get rescued.

I finally resorted to tying a rope around the inside handle of the driver’s side (which had begun to work again), rolled down the window just a crack, and let the rope dangle out along the outside of the door, so I could pull on it to get back in. No problems in that small community of car theft — and no one would have wanted the dang thing anyway.

But now I live in a different world with a nice car that drives well and locks and unlocks to my touch alone on the handle … without even producing the key from my pocket. And my greatest fear is that I’ll lose or misplace that key, which some day might become my biggest frustration.

But although I have had my share of door frustrations, I guess that God must be having them too — both from His efforts to open some doors to us and from our efforts to keep them closed. But in His case, the key often lies with us.

There’s an interesting Bible verse where Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” But if you look closely at the popular painting by Warner Sallman that’s inspired by this verse, you’ll note there’s a knocker on that door, but no handle or door knob. The only door knob is on the opposite side of the door, which means that the door can only be opened from inside.

And that’s why the painting is called “Christ at Heart’s Door”.

But sometimes it’s as hard for God to get into our hearts as it was for anyone to get into my car. And at least I had extended a rope. But guess what?! God does the same … seeks us out, always ready to extend that rope to us, and continues to knock on the door of our hearts, even when we have shut that door up tight or even locked it.

Oh — there are a lot of reasons why we might want to close that door to Him. We may have been hurt and wonder where He was. It may even be hard to trust God, if we’ve found we can’t trust others or have been used, or mistreated by them. We might have even taken a little peek out the window and seen God standing there … but not yet be ready to break down that door between us and Him … that must be opened from within.

But don’t worry … God isn’t going anywhere.

But as for us, we all have another choice to make. We can close the door of our hearts to others for whatever reason, good or bad, and even lock them out — or we can choose to open the door of our hearts and invite them in … even if it means extending a rope to them down the side of the door. The key to THAT door is in OUR hands.

 

(Hello Readers. I would love to hear from you with Comments on my Posts, or with any questions you might have about me or my desire to share with you what I call “That God Thing”.)

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Footprints

 

 

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A moose wondered through my yard several times one spring day, but I never saw it. That was when I still lived in Alaska. I must have arrived home just moments after that first evening visit, and just missed the huge long-legged creature’s trek up the driveway, past the garage and alongside my house.

Here in Arizona it’s more about elk than moose, but I actually did see the huge elk that walked through my Arizona yard one day. In one of those “right place, right time” moments I glanced out the window, saw that big animal, and shouted, “Look! Look!  A deer.”  And then my husband reminded me that the deer that used to come into my yard In Alaska and look through my windows, were much smaller than the big animal now in view outside my Arizona window. But at least he was in clear sight.

When visited by that 1,000 pound moose in Alaska, I was unaware of its presence until I finally noticed the big animal tracks alongside my house the next day and was informed at the local village store that a moose had been seen in my yard. And only then did I know where those big footprints had come from. So when I saw a new set of footprints a couple of days later, I knew what had made them.

Nothing else could have made tracks like that!

But even though I looked out the window every day and night for awhile after that in expectation, I never saw that moose — only some tracks now and then. Yet, I of course believe in the existence of moose — and that one had been visiting me from the evidence I continued to see and from the stories others told about their moose experiences.

And so it is with God.

I’ve never seen God either, but I’ve surely seen a lot of evidence of God’s Presence in my life. And I know that God has come near. I’ve heard stories about experiences others have had that have convinced them that God has left His footprints in their lives. And in my own life, the impact of a significant detail or two has been too powerful, and the connections too profound, for mere coincidence.

Nothing else could have made a track like that!

I finally did see a moose one day, standing in my driveway … which delayed the trip I was about to take to the store! But I’m not apt to see God face to face until I leave this life behind. But that doesn’t make me doubt God’s Presence in my present life. The signs are all around, and I can’t help but see them. God’s footprints are all over my life.

Readjusting Our Viewpoint

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If you are driving through life looking through the rear-view mirror, it’s going to prove very difficult to move ahead down the road. Yes, backing up is sometimes necessary … like backing out of the driveway or out of a parking place. But it’s soon time to choose a direction and move forward, which is hard to do if you continue to look behind you.

I don’t know about you … but I can’t always get those mirrors adjusted just right, which isn’t helpful in heavy traffic. But mirror adjustment is not a matter of one size fits all and must be readjusted for each driver.

Perhaps it’s like that in our journey through life. Maybe it’s about adjusting our viewpoint so we can cautiously glance behind to avoid predictable mishaps, but without distracting ourselves from the wider view of the road ahead and an ever clearer vision of what God has called us to be and to do.

He Is Already There

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We come to an understanding about the nature of God in different ways. Some see the Divine more as someone or something to be feared and obeyed, while others as more of a Loving Presence through whom we might experience mercy. Still others aren’t sure and may seek understanding in many different places and examples.

This is a story about God’s nature as seen through Jesus:

A long time ago, a woman of Samaria came to the village well to draw water. She had a bad reputation and the other women shunned her. They came in the cool of the day, and she came in the heat of noon. But this time, even before she arrived, Jesus was already there.

He didn’t shun her. He asked her for a drink of water, even though Jews (like him) didn’t associate with Samaritans. He talked to her in public, even though men didn’t do that back then in his culture. And the righteous people, who played by the rules, were shocked!

But Jesus loved her just because she was a precious human being.

He didn’t condone her lifestyle, but he didn’t condemn her either. And he didn’t wait until she was a better person. He told her right then and there that he knew who she was, rough spots and all. And he offered her living water that would well up in her and quench her thirsty spirit. And his love changed her life.

So if you are searching for that living water, bring with you your doubts and your fears and your reservations. Because you will find that even before you arrive at the well, God is already there.

What It’s Really About

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I smiled. I was respectful and polite. I even took the classes and became a certified Nursing Assistant. The nursing home was run by a plump scary RN who had hired me because I had a nice smile. But behind the smile I was young and insecure, and stressed by the schedule that demanded waking, dressing, and getting up into chairs what were too many people in too little time … and all before breakfast.

I knew all the details of the care I must give — the stuff to be done, of which all was not pleasant. I knew how to make a bed just right, even with a person in it, and how to do something called mitering the sheets — a special folding back of the ends that kept them snugly under the mattress. I still do this today with my own sheets.

Yes, some time ago, in what now seems like another life — I worked as a care giver in a nursing home.

I still know the proper way to help a bed-ridden person into a sitting position or a wheelchair. But I know something just as important that I didn’t understand then. It’s about more than doing the right things in the right way. It’s about more than being nice. It’s even about more than caring.

As a care giver or as a visitor who wants to do and say the right things — the most important thing you can bring to a visit with a resident, a loved one, or even a casual acquaintance in a nursing home or other kind of care center … is yourself … your authentic self. And when that happens … and you feel it … I call it a God Thing.

Now much older and finally more self-confident, I pull into the parking lot of the local care facility and walk the few steps to the door. I know how to push the metal box that lets visitors in while keeping the residents safe within. I sign my name, time, and write the name of whom I plan to visit. I put on the Visitor tag. I know the routine … the stuff to be done. But it’s still about more than doing the right things in the right way.

This day I have come with a bit of trepidation, not knowing exactly what I might say or do, and praying that I will know how to communicate. I know that it is about more than a planned Scripture verse or a pre-rehearsed prayer. And I know that it’s about more than my own fears or discomfort. It’s about being able to put that all aside and trusting the Holy Spirit for the words. And that is my prayer.

I am approaching the room … or maybe the wheelchair in the hallway … and I am suddenly relaxed, and a peace has come upon me. This is not just a person in a bed or a wheelchair, one happy to chat or unable to. This is not only a person whose mind may be far away or sharp as a tack, good humored or in pain both physical or emotional, seemingly unresponsive or welcoming. This is a child of God, like me, and in this we are truly who we are. This is what it’s really about.

I feel the Presence of God. I feel God working through me.  And I feel Joy.

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.

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.”