Saturated

photo by Nathan Cowley

photo by Nathan Cowley

The beaches in Mexico are out of this world. White sand, clear water. And empty as far as the eye can see. For eight years we lived sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, our lifeline to survive the desert heat.

Every few days, when the work had devoured our energy, and the stress had cluttered our minds, we would pack a cooler and head to the beach. The kids would snorkel for Sergeant Majors and search the rocks for hermit crabs. I would stretch out in my chair under the umbrella and read my next novel. My husband, Peter, would get in the water and never leave.

You think, Imagine that. How awesome it would be. Only a short drive from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I would love that. And you would be right … at least in the beginning.

Somewhere, along the line, the beach began to meld into routine. It lost its glimmer and took on the form of a task. Another thing to be done. It became effort and boredom. A burden in the end. And no one wanted to go, except Peter. He hung on until he found himself going alone.

A beautiful thing became saturated in our world. We lost the eyes to see it.

I am amazed at how well our senses become dulled from overuse. This is a good thing, in some instances, to avoid sensory overload.

The cold water becomes tolerable.

The unpleasant odor dissipates.

The yelling becomes background noise.

 

But it’s not always good.

 

Our favorite song becomes obnoxious.

The food we loved, tasteless.

 We no longer recognize the beauty in our hands.

The day forgets its joy.

And life loses its contentment.

All from saturation.

Did you see that sunset? Yeah, I’ve seen it a thousand times.

 Again, I am no theologian. But, I wonder if that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” (Matthew 5:13)

This is a challenge, especially for the one who’s been a Christian a long time. The stories get old and lose their spark. And time spent in scripture becomes a chore. A task. A burden.

 We stop hearing God’s voice.

 But, one day, we went to the beach. My husband had found a new cove where the kids could jump off the rocks into the water. Same beach. New discovery. For hours they jumped, and laughed, and played. Before we were home, they asked if we could go again the next day. They had found the treasure. It was always there. They just hadn’t seen it.

Today, I opened my Bible and read, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16). I’ve been a Christian my whole life. I never read that. The idea that I am engraved on the palm of God’s hand is beyond comprehension. And suddenly, I am swept away into the magnificent reality of God’s love for me. It’s life changing. And I want more. I want to go back and discover the treasures hidden there.

Why did my husband never tire of the beach? Because he never lost sight of its glory.

May you find the beauty of the new hiding in the normal of today.

The Stray

Photo by  fancycrave.com

Photo by fancycrave.com

If you were a stray in my childhood, I collected you and brought you home. I wrapped you in cloth, found out what food you ate, fed youby eyedropper sometimes, made you a shoe box with tissue paper nest, put your box by my pillow, and stroked your fur or feathers until you calmed and slept. Baby mice, baby birds, baby rabbits. Anything lost or abandoned or too weak to survive on its own. I had a place for you in my house and in my heart.  

I thought of myself as an animal Mother Theresa. And I imagined if I lived in Calcutta, I would do the same with people.

My husband jokes that he was the final stray I brought home.

When we moved to Mexico, I carried my love for animals with me. Many days out on the desert ranch, I helped village children learn compassion and gentleness toward the animals they came in contact with. This wasn’t always an easy task because the outlook on animals is different there. For the most part, they provide a means to an end—food, protection, transportation. Very rarely are they coddled or adopted as a pet, especially in the villages. The people often struggle with feeding their own family, let alone a dog or cat. And without funds for spaying and neutering, the homeless population grows exponentially.

Extremes exist on both ends. Both cultureswhether we neglect or pamper. This isn’t about that. This is about what happens to a heart turned cold.

Many nights on the ranch, we cooked our meals outside, in the open air. We built fires and sat around them enjoying food, rest, and good stories from the day. Smells travel far on desert wind, and we often had uninvited guests on these nights. Strays looking for their next meal, their next comfort.

A few of those homeless dogs who found their way to the ranch we adopted and took them into our pack. But we had trouble with them eventually as they never fully lost their street sense. On occasion, they would attack the farmer’s livestock and damage our relationships with our neighbors. So, we stopped taking them in.

Our own dogs, two German Shepherds, helped with border control. We never trained them, they just lived off our cues. When a stray dog came onto the property, our dogs would determine how to respond by our actions. If we welcomed the animal, they would too. If we yelled to scare them off, the chase would ensue. Most often, the strays high-tailed it off the property. Our dogs would stop at the fence line and then return to the fire, a job well done.

When the work day began next morning, we’d shore up our fences and tighten our barrier against further intrusion.

One day, however, things went all wrong. I can still see the dog without effort, even years later. His image embedded in my thoughts. Rooted there to remind me of something eternal. The dog was a tan and black terrier cross, with desperate eyes. He came onto the property slowly. Slinking from the fence line, closer and closer to the warmth and smells and laughter of the circled fire.

When he got too close, I stood. My dogs came to attention. And when I yelled, “Yaah, get out of here!”, our dogs took up the chase. But the visitor did not run like most. Instead, he cowered. Curled himself in a ball while the large shepherds barked and nipped at him. He growled and nipped back, but would not be moved.

I stepped closer and reached down for a stone. The people taught us that if you are afraid of a street dog, just pretend to pick up a stone and they will run off. They know stones.

When I faked the motion, the intruder ran a few paces toward the fence, then crumpled again in the dirt.

“Get out of here,” I yelled with little response, except to rile my own dogs more.

In one final effort to be free of the trespasser, I launched the rock in my hand. Never had I had such precision in my aim or even considered the consequence of my actions. The stone found its mark and the crouched dog let out a yelp. A bitter cry from a heart of despair.

I froze in place. Dropped my arms and cried for the choice I had made. Maybe you think it’s no big deal, or you empathize with my heartache. Either way, think about the questions I considered …

What am I doing? How—how in heaven’s name—did I get here? And when did throwing rocks become justified in my mind?

I called my dogs off and approached the intruder. He remained huddled on the ground, but barred his teeth expecting the hurt to continue. But he didn’t move. Because when you have nothing left, how do you give up on the only string of hope you have?

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’m so sorry. It’s okay. You don’t have to be afraid.”

Then I gave him something to eat, and he never came back. But I haven’t forgotten him.

The outcast. The exiled. The unclean. Pushed to the borders and left to starve—physically, emotionally, spiritually. And we wonder why they huddle in the streets and on the corners. Why they curse and snarl, and sometimes steal. We wonder how they got there, and how we came to the place of shutting them out. Or even throwing the stone in our hand. How?

I was not who I imagined myself to be.

Why do you enter my gate when I don’t want you here? Why do you refuse to leave when you make me so uncomfortable? I have nothing for you.

Ah, but I do.

I have a shoe-box and a cloth. I have tissue paper and an eye dropper. I have a gentle hand to heal your wounds and a smile to calm your fears. And I have the One to give youone much better at loving you than I am.

The one who removes stones from hands and hearts.

And in Him, friend—when I come to the end of my meager offering—you’ll find your hope.

 

 

 

I Don't Like People

Image by David Clarke

Image by David Clarke

Some days, I don’t like people very much. Not just the mean kind. Not only the thieves who break into my house or my car, but those who break into my time. Who steal my energy, my focus. Those who ask me to step out of my world, put down my program, and pay attention to them at just the wrong time. Even those who want to do life together when I don’t want to. When I want to do it alone.

You can imagine choosing life as a missionary would disrupt this plan. Open someone up for the deluge of “other.” And Mexican parking lots are a great place for life lessons.  

Walk with me through the build-up.

I leave home on my way to the grocery store. Five children in tow. I usually send my husband for these trips, since I’m not comfortable still with all I need to learn in another culture. At the gas station, a young man pumps my gas. He finishes and waits for a tip. This is how he makes pocket change to survive. I’m on board. I dig through my cup holder and come up with a good amount of pesos. He is grateful and tucks away the change. At the first intersection, the light is red. While I wait, someone fire-breathes in front of my car. A slightly talented performance with the added risk of swallowing gasoline all day. When he approaches my car, I dig for some more change and drop it in his hand. He needs to eat too. At the next intersection, I get another red light. Someone washes my windshield (even though I said, no thanks). But they’re working, right? A few more pesos. I arrive at the grocery store, and someone attempts to direct me into a space in a wide-open parking lot. That’s insulting because I’ve been driving for over 30 years and certainly know how to park a car. He’s not a store employee even. Just some guy with a whistle. When I pretend not to see him, he curses me out for taking the space he suggested and not paying him for it.

Inside the store, I drag my five kids up and down the tight aisles. I buy what looks like the food I’m used to. At the check-out counter someone bags my groceries and waits for another handful of change. I dig through my purse to give her the rest of my pesos.

Meanwhile, I’m still agitated over the guy in the parking lot. I haven’t totally let it go. I don’t like being cursed at by strangers. And little by little, my annoyance meter has risen. My kids are tired and hungry and sick of being stared at for being different. I’m feeling a bit used and abused with all the hand-outs. Especially the entitled ones. I’m hot and ruffled and my generosity has tanked. I pity the poor soul who asks me for one more thing.

And here he comes.

An oversized teenager offers to help me with my cart before I can take two steps from the cashier. He’s got a hand on the metal basket already blocking my forward progress. I politely decline, but he follows me out the door. He looks both ways and guides my cart across the drive. As he shuffles next to us, I say, “Thank you for your help, but I’m fine. I have my own children to help me. Please, I don’t need you to walk me to my car and unload my groceries. Have a nice day.”

My Spanish is okay. I think he understands, but he follows me anyway. My kids cast wary glances, as if this over-assertive person could be a danger. When I get to the car and open my trunk, he reaches for a bag.

“Really, I’m okay. We can do this. I don’t need your help. Thanks anyway.”

Please, just go away!

Of course, I don’t say that. I just feel it. It crawls under my skin and into my bones.

With all the composure I have left, I corral the kids into the car, grab a dollar from my wallet and stand by the trunk to wait for the teen to finish unloading my groceries. And to make sure he doesn’t walk off with anything.

He is meticulous. Conscientious. Too absorbed in perfecting the task than any teenager I know. He lines the bags up perfectly—all part of the tip gauge. A job well-done surely demands a higher wage. I just want to chuck in my own groceries, slam the trunk, and be out of there.

When he’s done, he closes the trunk softly and smiles.

When I attempt to hand him the dollar, he waves it off.

“No, please,” I say. “Take it.”

He waves it off again and shakes his head, no.

I offer once more, because now I have to live with my attitude.

He says good-bye, and walks away.

And as I climb in my car, the rear view mirror reflects the depravity in my soul.

How often do I misjudge someone right in front of me? I tag him with motivations and intentions that I take the freedom to make up. If someone cuts me off, he’s a jerk. If I cut someone off, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you. My motive is pure. My intentions, certainly wholesome.

On the flip side, how often do I serve expecting nothing in return? Absolutely nothing. Not only expecting nothing, but accepting nothing. When that something could also be the very thing I needed most.

I heard a message soon after that moment by John Maxwell. It broke my heart and stayed with me until this day. He said something like, “Every morning when I wake up I ask the Lord to help me bring value to each person He puts in my life. And when I lay down at night, a think about how well I accomplished it.”

John Maxwell understood something so profound. That his job, his goal, his motivation for the day was not for himself. It was not for A, B and C. Not for the task or the outcome. But for the people. And miraculously, if I take the focus off me (i.e., I need to speak well, write well, perform with excellence) and put it on them … how, O Lord, can I serve them—value them—today, the pressures and stress of my day vanish like vapor. Because it’s not about me trying hard to be something I’m not. And every new day, every new moment becomes an opportunity to place value—the highest value—on God’s most treasured creation.

 And I find that I actually like people … a lot.

For me, the message came from a teenage boy who broke all odds. A kid who, though he had little, demanded nothing. A kid who served, just to serve.

A kid who changed my heart.

an audience of one

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They say that when we speak, or preach, or write, we should focus on just one person in the crowd. Maybe a loved one. Maybe a friend. Or maybe all the faces need to blur into one so that no one person becomes clear.

I wrote my first book almost in a closet. A back room in the middle of the desert. I wrote it because I needed to, and I wrote it for my eyes only. My fingers flew over the keys as I outran the demons of depravity and chased a dream. I cringed at the first encouragement to let it go, and I never imagined it would land in the hands of hundreds of people.

Now I sit at my desk, half way through my current novel. As I write I am haunted by voices. What will this person think about my words? Is this too raw? Too dark? Can I soften this reality so it doesn’t make someone flinch? And all of a sudden, I am writing to every face, every friend and acquaintance, every stranger who I have now given a measuring stick to. Who now somehow has an input on my value, my worth as a writer. And deeper, my worth as a person.

I have a rank now. I didn’t before. But now I am ranked against 8 million people. It changes every day. When the number soars, I relish in it. But when it drops, I think, how can I improve? How can I keep the plate spinning and the numbers climbing? How can I please everyone around me? Everyone, all at once.

Why? I ask myself that. Where does the fear come from and why does it creep in to stifle my creativity? Silence my voice? How can it stumble my footing and steal my joy to just write? Write for those who matter most.

Today, my friend texted me. She had started on another book after reading mine. She said, “In this one, the main character loses his faith, so much so that he rejects God. At the end he finds his faith again and one line was like ‘even when I didn’t want a father He was still there.’ I feel like I’m seeing Billy everywhere! And that’s how I’ve felt since finishing your book... stirred, awakened... Instead of searching for God all the time, I feel like I can finally “see” Him, and I finally know that He’s loved me all along.”

Her words sank deep. What more could I ever want. A million reviews. A Best-Seller Banner. No not that. Even an outpouring of accolades will only pale in comparison.

Because whatever I have, whatever scanty fishes and loaves I can pull out, become LIFE in His hands. Not in mine. All I have to do is let go. Stop worrying about the outcome or the voices or the measuring stick. It doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t depend on me. I can’t do what Jesus can do no matter how hard I strive.

I can write, but I can never transform. I can speak, but I can’t change lives. Something else happens. Something soul-deep. Eternity-flooded. A Father’s arms wraps around deep wounds. And the healing begins.

Only He can do that.

Only in His hands will my meager portion feed thousands.

And my audience becomes one.

Put Your Hand to the Plow

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We all know what that means, right? Work hard. Accept the task. Keep going and don’t shirk your duties. Get that hand on there and don’t quit until the job’s done. Certainly, it sounds right and in line with all the other voices we hear.

But then we have what Jesus said: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”(Luke 9:62).

Wow. That’s rough. I can’t look back? I can’t see from where I’ve come? If I focus on the past, or the things behind me, I won’t be fit for the kingdom?

I am no theologian, so this might teeter on heresy, and I’m sure many Bible scholars have a better explanation than I do, but I love life lessons and this is what I’ve been thinking about.  

Every cowboy knows that when you’re on a horse, you don’t set your eyes on where the horse is taking you. He isn’t the leader, you are. He doesn’t direct the course, you do. So, rather than put your eyes on where the horse is going, you set them on where you want to go. If you want to go left, before you even touch the reins or the spurs, you look left. You fix your eyes on where you desire to be and somehow, miraculously, you communicate that simple direction through your hands, through your legs, through your seat—and the horse knows. He understands where he is supposed to go. You’ve become his eyes. And the path has purpose.

Now, I imagine it’s the same with the oxen, though I’m not a farmer. This idea of putting your hand to the plow and not looking back, I don’t think means never quit. Although that’s good too. But rather, don’t turn to concentrate on what’s behind. What you might have missed. What you might have forgotten, or even buried. You see, it isn’t necessarily bad to look back now and again. To remember. But when we look behind for any length of time, when we focus over our shoulder and away from the end goal, the oxen choose where to go. And, trust me, they’d end up back at the barn before you knew what happened.

Perhaps the farmer looks up to see the thunderclouds and worries about the storm. Or to the side to see his neighbor has outdone him once more. Or to the ground, to the soil and the minerals he lacks to grow the finest wheat. Maybe this is the idea. Maybe when his focus is askew and the row is set off course, a zig-zag missing its purpose, the field becomes unfit to plant. Not suitable for producing much fruit.

The direction has changed. He pulls off course and heads where he never intended to go.

And suddenly he’s lost his way.

The zig-zag can have many faces. Fame. Success. Regret. Doubt. Fear. All temptations to throw us off course. To tap us on the shoulder and turn our head so our potential for the kingdom heads to the barn.

Maybe putting our hands to the plow doesn’t mean we don’t quit, but that we lock our eyes front and center, with the purpose for which we were made:  “…that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

And maybe when our eyes are on Him, we leave a trail fit for the kingdom.

 

Everything You Need Is Here!!!

Rancho el Camino, La Paz, Mexico (www.ranchoelcamino.org) - founded in 2007, Peter and Cher Gatto

Rancho el Camino, La Paz, Mexico (www.ranchoelcamino.org) - founded in 2007, Peter and Cher Gatto

Before there was a ranch, there was nothing. Well, if you count cactus and hornet’s nests, there was something. But the potential for something beautiful, something vibrant was lacking and the resources were scarce. It was rough. Really rough. Coyote and cowhide tough. The stuff desert fathers are made of.

Our friends and family who visited the ranch in its early days forbade us from attempting life out there. From raising our kids in the middle of the desert without electricity or running water, and starting a ministry from an abandoned lot tucked out of reach. Four miles of dirt between us and the nearest convenience store.   

One day, sitting on a cracked cement step, taking in the vast emptiness that we believed God had called us to, my husband Peter prayed: Lord, I need to know this is You. I need to know You are in this, because if You’re not, I will surely die.

It sounds tongue and cheek when we say it today, but it was real. The task was daunting. We had unending limitations. And it would have killed us had we gone alone.

 The Lord answered—as clearly as if He had been sitting on the step and gazing out at that same desert and that same emptiness in that very moment. He said: Yes, Peter. It is Me. And everything you need is right here.

Everything.

The palms we would cut. The wells we would tap. The friends we would make. The ministry He would build. Everything.

That was true then. And it is true right now. Somehow it is harder to remember here. I have forgotten what Everything means. When the comforts are easier, perhaps the answers become cloudy.

But the reality is, I don’t need to be on a vacant ranch to feel empty.

I can come to the end of myself all on my own. I can be surrounded by affluence, career momentum, hordes of people and still feel a vacancy. A heavy burden I can’t bear. As though surely, I will die if I have to go it alone. The amount of effort and pace and endurance just to keep my head above water has the potential to derail me.

The void is real. The emptiness, the lack of resources, the shortcoming of strength and perseverance, the power we give others to determine our worth, the barrenness of our day or purposelessness of our steps.

But wherever we might be, desert or crowd, the truth stands just as real.

God says, I have everything you need, and I am right here. Everything. All the resources I lack to be whole and complete. To stand tall and finish strong. To break the bonds and be a victor despite my brokenness. Despite my circumstances. To throw off my need for approval, acknowledgment, accolades and find rest, deep rest in Him.

“Adam was created on the sixth day. Clearly, then, he had no part in those first six days of work, for he came into being only at their end. God’s seventh day was, in fact, Adam’s first. Whereas God worked six days and then enjoyed his sabbath rest, Adam began his life with the sabbath; for God works before he rests, while man must first enter into God’s rest, and then alone can he work.” (Watchman Nee)

Man must first enter into God’s rest, and then alone can he work.

We have it backwards. Sunday begins the week, it doesn’t end it. Whatever your day is, Sunday or another, enter into the Sabbath first. This, my friend, is the key to the emptiness. To mine. And to yours. That we rest in Him FIRST. I know we’ve heard it and even believed it. Why then do we fail to receive it?

And here is the coolest part. “It was because God’s work of creation was truly complete that Adam’s life could begin with rest.” (Nee)

He did it all. It’s finished already. Whatever you are striving for, it’s been done. Whatever you might think is missing, it is not. This is His gift to us.

Breathe Him in. Breathe yourself out. And find today that you lack nothing.

 

 

 

Not Our Own

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 As parents, one of the hardest battles we face is in our own minds. Our own struggle as parents to make the best decisions for our kids. To lead them and guide them in the right direction. We wrestle with the thought: Did my decisions, the choices I made for my child … did they help him … or did they hurt him? Have I enriched his life by my decisions, or have I scarred him? Is he better for it? Or worse off?

When we left for Mexico thirteen years ago, we took our five children out of the comforts of life in the states. The stability of dear friends, family close by, strong community of faith. At first, we thought, “This is great. Our kids will have the opportunity to grow up in another culture. To learn a new way. Another language. They’ll live in simplicity, without the bombardment of materialism.” They were young. And, of course, they had no choice but to follow. And it was great. And we were changed—all of us— from the inside out.

 But when they became teenagers, they struggled a bit. Each one in their own way. And some harder than others. They felt manipulated, forced to give up their friends and family and life back home. Their relationships were fleeting because people always came and went on the mission field. They learned to say good-bye easier than hello because no one stayed long enough to go deep with. Our homeschool was touch and go because of the demands from the ministry and I often wondered if I had failed them in their academics and stunted their future. Our lives were chaotic and rarely at rest.  

 For the last couple of years since we’ve been back and our kids have re-entered life in the states and tried to find their way, I’ve battled with the question of our decisions. Did we do the right thing? Are our kids going to be okay? Did they miss out on years of friendships and learning and stability. My mind is never quite free from the doubts.

 This morning as I sat here at my desk, I happened upon an Instagram post my middle child wrote last night. The tears still stream down my face as my mommy-heart encounters healing.

 My son was responding to a picture someone posted of our ranch in the middle of the desert. The one he forfeited ten years to— according to my doubt. In response to the picture, and to the person who posted it, my son said this:

 “I see the rainbow, and I remember that place.”

 I see the rainbow and I remember that place. How profound and beautiful.

 And here is where the healing begins …  our children are not our own. Our precious ones belong to the Lord. To the Maker of heaven and earth. He gave them breath and has a plan for their lives. We might fail them. And we often do. But every day … every single day, He is molding them and making them into His own image. His fingerprint is on their lives.

 And here is the greatest thing … He is using moments—many we don’t even recognize— to impress His rainbow on their hearts.

 


I would love to hear from you … What ways have you seen God’s hand in your own children’s life? Where has he taken you in understanding Him?

Name *
Name

 

The Hunt

Photo by Antonio Castelo from Pexels

Photo by Antonio Castelo from Pexels

Now, on to the hunt … because if there are lures in life—those dangling distractions that offer a superficial allure, an attractive promise of all we need (read here)—we better remember that at the end of each lure is the kill. And if our enemy is a crouching lion waiting to devour us, we better know something about the hunt.

Predator versus prey. Have you seen it? On National Geographic, at least? How does the gazelle escape the lion? And what are the sure-fire tactics of the predator to ensure his meal?

Once again, in their most simplistic form, here are a few:

 

1. The predator knows the prey.

He knows where to go to find them. Where they eat and hang out. Where they relax and feel safe. Where and when they let their guard down. He’s studied their behavior and can predict their movements. What becomes a habit for the prey, an ordinary pathway given little heed, a rut in the mind or in the attitude, is a calculated and observable pattern by the enemy. What’s your tendency? Where does your mind easily regress? Do you avoid? Shut down? Do you become critical of others? Angry? Do you busy yourself to escape? Be wary. Know your hazards. Because the enemy knows them too.

 

2. Go for the vulnerable.

Attack the one who hasn’t yet developed his combat skills. He’s exposed, without defense. Trusting his own instincts. His own resources. He doesn’t know the signs of danger or the mark of approaching peril. He can be the newest member or the oldest. Because even the one who’s been in it so long can forget why he’s in the game. He can become comfortable in his complacency. His lethargy. His skills have dulled. His senses have blurred. He is no longer keen and sharp to the hazards before and behind him. Although he’s been around and thinks he has it all together, he’s as susceptible as the newly born.

 

3. Get him alone.

The lion knows there is safety in numbers. He knows the strength of community. The power in the multitude. When the group is watching, when it knows the weaker points in its members, each one is guarded with dedication and passion. The others surround the struggling one until the danger clears. Until he’s up on his feet and ready to move with grace and speed. But circumvent that community. Isolate the one. Keep him from the power of the herd, and he’s easy prey.

 

4. Remain in hiding until the right moment.

The predator avoids giving away his position too soon. He crouches, drawing nearer, evading the obvious until the last second. It’s a slip. A slide in. A blending in the activity. He never races in with screaming colors to send the targets fleeing. He creeps ever closer in the tall grass.

Have you ever watched a white-tailed deer grazing in an open field? You might think she swats at annoying insects with her tail, but the flicks are actually a warning signal. A white flag. She does it randomly because she’s not sure, but the message to the predator is clear: “I already see you, even though you’re at a distance. Your sneaky tactics have been found out. And I will outrun you if you go for the chase.” And the law in nature is “Don’t expend unnecessary energy.” In other words, if the chase is a wash, if it will fail in its goal, why bother? Go back to crouching and waiting until the prey is once more oblivious of the danger.

Why bother? There is no use to attack now. That's what we want to hear. That the enemy has given up the pursuit because the one he had been stalking has figured him out. He has been on guard and is surrounded by too great a fellowship.

Do we know our own vulnerabilities? Our tendencies that draw us into complacency? Oblivion? When the predator moves in, do we know it? Are we isolated? Tired? Have we lost our focus or direction? Have we decided to go it alone?

Or, are we as calculated in watching the predator as he is in watching us? Can we sense the prowl, the slide in, the blending, before the moment of launch?

Know these things. Know who you are and where you belong. Understand the tools and power you’ve been given. And know the strength and purpose of those in your life.

Because without it, the odds are for the predator.

 

The Al-lure

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I spent several afternoons on vacation watching the fishermen on a pier in Naples, Florida. I’m not into fishing, or boxing, yet both seem to take up space in my novels. Besides the wisdom from a questionable man who boasted of wrestling a 30-foot shark up the side of the 40-foot pier, here’s what I have learned about lures.

*Novice warning: This is NOT a fishing lesson, as I know absolutely nothing about fishing. However, after being on this journey for half a century, I know a little bit about lures

Here is my simplified version:

1. Lures are shiny. They are attractive and get our attention. The lighting enhances their features, and their dance beckons the onlooker. Some flit and flop and become loud in our heads. Others wait patiently, quietly, remaining an unobtrusive, ever-present appeal, anticipating the very moment our defenses are down.  

2. Lures are chosen with great care to catch just the right fish. One lure might draw you in. A different one me. You might need a minnow. I may need a worm. The avid fisherman knows exactly which one. And the careful choice will incorporate just the right shape and size and color to be the most effective in the right moment.

3. Re-casting again and again allows the lure to be placed both in front and behind the eye of the beholder. Forward and back, glamorizing what’s ahead and also what’s behind. How we relish in and dream of the “what could be’s,” the possibilities and prospects of the unknown, while we repaint and redecorate the “what has been” until it gleams brighter than ever and calls us back to the ghosts of our past. Ah, those were the days. If only …

4. Lures masquerade as something we truly need. In fact, we question whether we can live without them. Believe me, that fish does NOT need a mouthful of plastic gunk with a hidden death hook. Yet, he goes for it, time and time again. Why? Because it LOOKS like just what he needs. It mimics the true thing. The real nourishment that will satisfy all of his hunger.

5. And lastly, lures in life are crafted and used by the wrong hands. So, never would you see the Fish Hatchery Executive Manager—the one sworn to fish birth and growth and all good things fishy—never would you see him at the end of the pier trying to snatch his little ones. No, you see the fisherman, whose desire is to catch, kill, and eat. That’s his job. That’s his determination. How many fish do you know that have been caught at the end of a line to find the reality of all their dreams come true? And yet, so often we trust it. We believe the lie. Biting “hook, line, and sinker” (pun intended) into the lure that will lead to death.

"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

Now, possibly not in fishing, but certainly in life, the Master Fisherman—the True Fisher of Men—needs no lures or hooks. His gentle voice and scarred hands are enough. No lies or empty promises. In fact, if you see them, you can be sure He is not holding the pole.

He is the real thing. Not the fabrication. Only He can truly meet the craving in our hearts and the longing in our soul.

I pray today you find Jesus, the Master Fisherman, to be everything you need.

 

Tell me what you think. I'd love to hear your comments:

Reaching Back to Give Forward- Are You Ready?

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Driving with my mom on my way to Penn State my sophomore year (back in the 80s-- the LATE 80s!)) I decided to get honest. To open up and tell her all the things I had done in high school that she was unaware of. All the times I lied, or sneaked out, or told her I was going someplace else- other than the party I was headed for (black sheep spoiler!) After a good amount of shock story-telling, I turned to her with a grin and said, “And someday, I’ll tell you what I’m doing now!”

My life is obviously way different these days and I have many more redemptive stories to share. Which I do, without question. Without hesitation. But when it comes to my abilities, my skills, my know-how, or the gifts I have been entrusted with, I am a lot less prone to step out. My thoughts take this turn: When I’m a professional, I’ll have something important to say. I really have nothing to give until I’ve reached this milestone. Or this expertise. Or this mastery of whatever it is I am passionate about. In fact, there are a gazillion people more knowledgeable. I’ll leave it to them.

I don’t know about you, but I can be frozen by this idea. I walked into the local library the other day to set up a book signing. I walked out before I had the nerve to say anything to anyone because, well, I'm only pretending to be an author!

How can I teach others to take the next step—to construct, to write, to paint—when I have so much still to learn? But what have I gained along the way? The ability to pick up the brush, to hold it properly. To mix colors. To choose a medium. The ability to write a novel—with 57 chapters and 125,000 words. Or convince a publisher to take me on.

Where was I two years ago? Five years? Ten?

Everyone else is somewhere along that continuum. Some I can teach. Many I can learn from. If we wait until we get to the ever-chasing obscure point in the future when we have truly “arrived”, we will never get there at all. Because the treasure is found in the journey not in the destination. You will not get THERE … ever.

So, give back. Now. While it is still called today.

I went to a writer’s conference this last weekend, and this truth came alive for me. At the lunch table, one of my friends asked how I made a One-Sheet (a visual summary of my book to catch an editor’s attention). I explained it, step-by-step. Then how I set up my webpage. Half-way through the discussion, I glanced up to see others had joined in to listen. It seemed the whole table wanted to know as well. I had something to give back … something before I published 20 books. Before I became a NY Times Best Seller. Before I had a story go to Hollywood to become a movie smash. Those things may never come to pass, obviously, but today I have something to give.

Whatever it is. Whatever you do. You have something powerful to share. Something to teach. And someone, somewhere will take a step they have not yet taken … because of your journey.

YOU make a difference! Give back.

What If ...

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My neighbor died last week. He was an older gentleman who lived across the street. I didn’t know him, so his death, in and of itself, left little impact. I’m sorry for your loss. That’s sad. Must have been his time—kind of impact.

But I’ll never forget it.

The day he died, he had been mowing his front lawn with a push mower. I suppose the strain was too much for his heart and it had quit. The mower’s track—the diagonal stripes, perfectly spaced and perfectly even, stopped half way through the yard. One side neat and trimmed. The other unfinished.

Uncompleted.

The gentleman had started the yard that morning assuming he would finish it. Get the house ready for his grandson’s graduation party. Do some mowing then run to the store for the lemonade and bag of ice. Maybe get some time later to read the New York Times chucked at the end of the drive.

But time ran out. His name in the Book of Life had been on that page.

In the Bible, James says: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:13-14).

Oh, the best laid plans in the face of time.

It’s natural to plan. We all do it. It is not a bad thing to order our days. Think ahead. Set goals and move toward them. But here is where the danger lies. Where it deceives and distorts. Where it robs us of the very minutes and seconds we have been given …

When we are apt to live our lives in the “plan” and miss today.

This is my admonishment for myself. I am a dreamer. I live, not in the moment, but in the potential. The what could be. I see myself there, somewhere in a hazy future that may never come to pass. The when’s take over … When I get there, when I have this, when I …

Harry Potter’s Dumbledore said it this way: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Because the when’s and what if's of the future propose only air. Nothing I can truly grab onto.

But today??? Today offers the sustenance of life.

What does your day look like? Is it filled with work due tomorrow? Worry for next week? Next month? Next year?

Those thoughts and plans and ideas may be important, but don’t live there. Don’t sacrifice what is right in front of you-- A sweet time with your Creator. An hour with your child, just the two of you. A walk with a loved one. A hand to someone in need. A kind word to a hurting soul--for the vapor of a what if.

You see, tomorrow will wait. It has to. But today will not. Grab onto those cherished moments that will carry on after the mist fades.

For two days, the grass tracks from my neighbor's mower remained, until someone finished the job.

Someone else.

But the tracks left an indelible imprint on my mind—a forever reminder that I have only today to make a difference.

My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass (Psalm 110: 11).

 

Lessons From a Mother Goose

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A busy country road. My car was one in a line of cars. A mother goose visiting from Canada cared for her goslings off to the side. Green grass. A small pond. Insects galore. Everything they needed was there with her. But something had gone wrong and the three down-covered babies were veering for the road. 

The mama, sensing the danger, came running from behind, wings spread in utter fear. She flapped vigorously to stop her children’s deadly flight. She knew. She understood. Whether she grappled the fullness of the danger. The cars. The tires. The rush. She understood enough for it to strike fear in her heart.  

But as she squawked and flapped in a frenzy to warn her babies of the coming danger, they became confused and ran closer to the edge of the grass, closer to the edge of safety. The babies, sensing their mother’s panic, misread the flapping wings and ran in the wrong direction. Instead of drawing her babies away from the danger, the mama bird was driving them into it. 

My car passed, forced by the traffic to drive on. I strained to see them through my rearview mirror, but I never knew the outcome for that little family. However, I thought about that mother goose throughout the day. How her actions had the opposite effect she had intended. And how her driving fear and panic became a sure shot for devastation. 

Would it not have been better, I thought, had she walked herself away from the danger and allowed the train of goslings to follow? For that is what goslings are apt to do. If she had chosen, herself, to travel closer to safety, closer to the provisions already before her, they would have joined her there.

I thought about my own children. And I thought about me. I considered the confusion squawking and flapping often brings in my own life and for my own little flock. How my quick reaction can often lead to a failure to assess, to listen, and to understand fully the heart needs of my child. The chaos takes over. The desperation to act on impulse. And in the end, my own anxiety can often create the exact opposite response from my children. That instead of protecting them, I might be pushing them away. 

But the dangers around them are so real. So crushing at times, like the wheels on a ton of metal. Panic is natural, especially when our little goslings become juveniles with a propensity to wander. 

But are we leading or are we driving? 

Are we pushing them toward danger rather than from it with our tactics of parenting? Our panic. Our quick reaction. Our flapping wings. The warning signs of danger should be there—they have purpose—but, like that mama goose, not all responses are profitable. 

Driving can often be more dangerous than trusting they will follow our own steps if we lead in the right direction.

Where are we walking? Close to the edge? Mingling with the traffic? They will follow. And when our flapping and squawking begins they will say, “but you brought me here.” 

But if we show the way to life and hope and peace, if we fix our eyes on those things that are true, noble, pure, and lovely, and walk in them ourselves, our children will follow even when they stray.

 

Just a Few Inches

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Teenage angst. If you have one in your house—a teenager, that is—you understand.

My youngest, my baby, turned fourteen this year. In just a few short months, he grew taller than me, his voice changed, and he stepped out of his boyish charms and into young manhood seemingly overnight.

We’re close, he and I, and I think that makes it even harder to watch the changes because a big part of me is not ready. Not ready to let go. Especially with my last—the one I want to cling to for eternity.

Lately, my little guy’s been more on edge. A little prickly. A little more argumentative than I’m used to from him. He’s no longer crazy about the food I make or the opinions I hold. He went through his first crush—through and out the other end—with only a handful of words to me, though I knew it rocked his world.

Maybe I’m not as full and center in his life right now as I’d like to be. He no longer seems to need a band aid, a tissue, or even a hug. If I steal one anyway, there are a few inches in between that weren’t there before. The child who used to run to me, and only me, who sat on my lap and played with my hair, who searched for my face first in the crowd, now goes somewhere else.

He’s pulling back, pulling away. Not that he loves me less, he just might not need me as much.

So, with all this prickling, I can get a little snappy myself. I can feel injured, disrespected, or unloved very quickly. And out of that, I can respond before I’ve processed it through the right filters that say, this too shall pass. And how quickly it will.

I had a dream last night that I wanted to share. It’s meaning was for me—and for him. And, I don’t know, maybe for you too.

In this dream, something strange happened and Noah, my fourteen-year-old, suddenly became eight. Some wizard or something had transformed him in the blink of an eye. He had hit a 6-year replay button, and I had unexpectedly been given the gift of time. I had all those years to relive. All those moments to gain back. Strangely, I remember in the dream that the most important thing I wanted to tell my now 8-year-old was what an amazing young man he would be at fourteen. “Just wait until you see!” I said. “I can’t wait to get there together.”

Yet, while I was still locked in the same dream, my now eight-year-old became three. Wow! Three. Now I had eleven years to relive! To do it all again. To change any mistakes I made as a mom. To turn back the hands of time and defy the years. I had them all back once more.

But when I tried to talk to Noah, to tell him how excited I was to watch him grow again and what this could mean for us, he just smiled blankly and wanted to play. He had no use for my philosophical pondering. No use for big words or lost dreams. He was three. And I was his world once again.

But suddenly I noticed his blond hair was lighter than I knew it to be. His eyes, a little darker. His laughter off just a bit.

And then, as I held my three-year-old version of Noah, it hit me. And it hit me so hard, had I been awake, I know it would have knocked my breath out. I realized then that his experiences as we relived them would be different than they had been the first time around. They would form him and mold him. They would change him. That although he would still be Noah, by the time he reached fourteen, he would be different. Not exactly the same. Not my Noah.

I had no control to go forward. To jump to the future. To change my mind. And somehow in wanting to relive his life, I had lost him.

In my dream, I cried a heart-wrenching cry and mourned deeply the loss of my boy.

When I woke, I was still crying. It was that kind of dream you can’t escape. It hangs tight.

I found Noah—my Noah, my fourteen-year-old beautifully angsty teenager—and held him in my arms without the inches between us. Through a choking sob that shook me from the inside out, I shared the dream with him. I told him what I tried to tell him at eight and at three. That I loved him with all my heart. That I was amazed at the young man he had become. And how, no matter what, I would never want him any other way. Ever.

My fourteen-year-old—he’s not without fault, but he is perfect. Right now. Right always.

And this year—this precious, jarring, tousled year of fourteen—I’ll never have back again. Ever. So, I don’t want to miss a moment of it—the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eyes Are the Window to the Soul

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William Shakespeare coined that, and I have seen it. Poverty can change a man’s eyes—all forms of poverty. And it can change all of creation.

A horse ministry to work with the poor is hard to start without a horse. So, that was my first step in my new world—finding a horse in a foreign land I didn’t know, in a language I barely understood. But I was persistent. I followed a great lead down in Cabo San Lucas, rallied both a trailer and my husband, and headed two hours south for my first horse. The owner had apparently had a car accident and was no longer able to drive—or ride. He was selling his “fabulous” horse at a steal—“dos mil quinientos dolares.” My new-to-Spanish brain calculated … dos mil is 2000 … quinientos is 500 … 2500 in pesos meant 250 in dollars. Perfect. I could scratch that together. The man repeated it several times over the phone to make sure I understood. “Yes,” I said. “I understand.”

The trailer we borrowed could barely fit a goat, let alone a horse. But, with the rusted-out bottom and the bald tires, we set out on our journey from La Paz to Cabo. Excited, I could barely contain myself. The doors were opening. Our dream was about to begin!

The horse was kept at a rodeo—a charro—and we drove up in the fading afternoon. A weathered man met us at the gate and brought us to the horse. I’ll never forget it. The bony dapple gray stood in a dusty corral alone. His neck hung low as though he was sleeping—or near death. It appeared as though nothing was left. I thought to myself the horse must be much older than the man had said, maybe close to the end of his life. But the cowboy reassured me he was only twelve.

As I walked up to the horse, his expression never changed. He never woke up. His dull eyes never flickered to acknowledge I was even there. The light never switched on. I brushed my hand down his neck and spoke to him in soft tones … but nothing. No spark. No response. I had never known such emptiness in the eyes as I had seen that day.

The man threw a saddle over the horse’s back. “Do you want to ride him?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Let’s just load him up.” Let’s get him out of here. I need to save this horse. Something has gone very wrong in this animal’s life.

But the man was insistent. “Let me show you what he can do.” He wanted to seal the deal. He finished cinching up the girth, brought the horse into the arena ignoring my feeble protest, and climbed on himself. For the next ten minutes, my heart slammed into my chest as the man galloped that horse in circle after circle around me. Spinning. Twisting. Running at a full gallop and skidding to a dead stop. All to prove to me the horse’s obedience. Yes, he was obedient, and I wanted to drop to my knees and sob right there in the dirt. Finally, when I could not bear it one second longer, I yelled out, “Stop. Stop. I’ve seen enough.”

The man brought the horse to me and handed me the reins with a wink. Then he walked away to “do business” with my husband. I held the reins in shaky hands and touched the animal’s sweat-drenched flank. The gray’s legs trembled uncontrollably, barely able to hold himself up. Or take another step. I looked into his dead eyes, his broken soul, and whispered, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Jesus once said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22)

Slowly we walked back together toward the borrowed trailer and I loaded him up, ready to get that horse out of there and salvage whatever was left in this animal. Ready to erase all the pain and heartache and abuse he had experienced. My husband was at the back-end of the trailer arguing with the man in broken Spanish. He approached me and said, “We have a problem.” Dos mil quinientos dolares was NOT in pesos. It was in dollars. The man wanted $2500 for the horse. Expensive even from a U.S. standpoint. My heart sank. I didn’t have that, nor could I scrape it together with any amount of effort.

We bargained and negotiated to the point of pleading, but the man would not budge. I had to walk away. To unload the horse, put him back in the lonely corral and leave him behind. I was devastated ... and powerless to save him.

But I saw those eyes many, many times after that. Not just in the animals, but in the people around me. The deadness that comes from too many years of being beaten and broken. When all life is sucked out and nothing is left. If then, the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

It’s all around us. Every day. Even when we don’t stop long enough to see it. In the man … in the teen … in the child. A world alone. Broken. Apart from the Light of the world. You may not see it in physical poverty where you live, but it wears many faces. And truly, it is not the poverty of the world, but the poverty of the soul, that truly blinds.

And sometimes it seems too costly to intervene. Too out of your control. Too messy. Maybe it’s just easier to walk away. And to forget the vacant eyes. But, if you are a child of God, you—my friend—carry the match.

And there is only one spark that conquers that kind of darkness.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

We may not have the power to light someone's soul, but we can show them who can.

 

What Question Would You Ask Jesus ... If You Could?

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What would you ask Him if you had the chance?

When will I die? What will eternity look like? Will I be with you? My loved ones?

The disciples had a chance. More than one. They could have asked Him all kinds of things. Mysteries of the world. Unending revelation. Unfathomable wisdom. But they chose to ask Him this: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Do you think they wanted to know really who was the greatest … or do you think they wanted to know: “How could I be the greatest? Tell me, Lord, what is the pathway to greatness? For I think I would like to be on it.

Wouldn’t we all?

No matter how we dice it, the desire for greatness is in all of us. We want purpose. We want to have an impact. To make a difference. It’s at our core, as humans. Right? This ongoing, unstoppable striving to be greater. We’ve all known it. We’ve all tasted it. And… we’ve all abandoned the joy of a milestone, even an amazing one, solely to reach the next goal. And the next. And the next.

To make our mark. Our fingerprint. Our legacy.

Is there ever an end? Do we ever stop striving? And how, then, will we know when we get there? How will we reach our “greatest” point?

Jesus answered the question for the disciples ... and for us. He said, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:3)

What did He mean? Become like children? For even a young child strives, doesn’t she? “Look at me,” she says on the swing. “I can go higher. I can swing upside down. I can jump off. Watch. Wait. That wasn't right. Watch me again.”

Even in our youth, it seems, the striving is within us. From the beginning. The need to be better. To climb higher. To run farther. So, what exactly does a child have that we might not? What is it within her that is different. What is that thing we are missing as adults? That path to greatness?

Knowing we needed more explanation, Jesus continued, “Whoever than humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:4)

Hmm … humility. That was the difference. That was the dividing line to greatness.

Is it the same for us? My mind can be quite convincing that I’ve already got it--this humility thing. Easy. I know I’m no better than the next guy. Yet, often times, my cloak of humility hides the core of pride. I am no good… but please tell me how great I am! I couldn’t have done it without you… but did you see how I could have!  Pride says the things that go right in my life are because of me and the things that go wrong are because of something or someone else.

True humility shines in the absence of pride.

The heart of a child says, “Show me. Teach me. I want to learn from you.” Always looking up, he is eager to follow. To learn. To explore new ways of doing something. And at his core ... at her core is trust. She climbs into the vagrant's lap and says, "Teach me to whistle." He stops the old man, bent and withered, and says, "Show me that card trick." I have something to learn from you.

How different do we approach life? How sure of ourselves and our own way of doing things. How we can delight, not in what others bring to our lives, but how much we bring to theirs. Or how much higher than them we can climb. Others become not handholds to offer support, but footholds to launch us higher. And if our boot puts them under foot, so be it.

Here is the challenge ... a challenge to myself. A challenge to look into the eyes of the next person I see, the very next person God brings into my life, knowing that I have something—something incredible—to learn from them. Whoever they are. May I look up, rather than down. And declare… “Show me. Teach me. I want to learn from you.”

That's how we find greatness. It was hidden this whole time in the heart of a child!

 

 

 

The Shadows Call

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There have been many different creative expressions in my life. From quilting to scrap-booking. Painting to pastels. From writing one poem (and only one) to a 400-page novel.

I think there are life lessons hidden in each one if I were to look hard enough. But the one that stands out to me the most comes from a very, very brief stint with watercolors. I hated them in high school and I still hated them when my mom (an amazing watercolorist) suggested we paint together. A bonding time. Mother-daughter. How could I refuse?

I worked on the painting for days … then weeks. I threw it away and drew it back out of the trash. Then, threw it away again. It was awful. But it was awful, not because it was truly bad, but because I couldn’t see the finished piece. And here’s why…

If you’ve ever painted at all, you know that with oils and acrylics, you can pick a spot on your canvas and paint exactly how you see something—with all its shadows and highlights, right from the start. All its depths and heights. But not in watercolors. With that medium, you start with your lightest wash and build up layer after layer after painstaking layer.

And the lesson … it’s impossible to see depth without shadow.

The painting was flat and lifeless until the very end. I couldn’t see it. Not at first. Not until the final brushes of the darkest layer. And then, and only then, did the painting reveal itself. When the brush strokes of shadow went deeper and brought out the contours of the image, the painting had life. Real, authentic life.

I didn’t realize it then, but I have determined it since. That watercolors are a lot like real life.

When my first child was born two months early at 2 ½ pounds and we fought for her life for six months in the NICU the Lord said, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15). All of His promises were right there. He was all I had to hold onto. And I clung with all my might.

The brush stroke of shadow contoured my life, and I went deeper.

When the Lord called us out on the mission field to the desert of Mexico, I left my home, my family, my friends, my language, my country. Everything that grounded me. The Lord said, “See I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making rivers in the desert, streams in the wasteland to bring drink to my people … that they would praise my name” (Isaiah 43:18-21). He called. I followed in obedience because I knew there was no greater, no safer, no better calculated place to be, then in the center of His will.

And I went deeper.

When I was diagnosed with colon cancer at 42 years old, my doctor said if it had moved to my liver, I would have six weeks to live. Six weeks. “Indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us. He on whom we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:9-11). Ten years later, I remain cancer free. But in that trial, in that moment of staring death in the face, I knew where my hope came from.

The shadow deepened and the girl grew in faith.

You see, with every brush stroke of our lives, every high and every low, every highlight and every shadow, we have the opportunity to go deeper. To experience the grace of God more fully. More completely.

My friend, if you are in a shadow of life, know this for certain:

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And remember … remember this most of all … It’s not easy to see the Master’s work of art because it is not finished. There may still be shadows and contours to reveal in the greater masterpiece.

 

The Weapons Fashioned Against Us

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Some of us might not be jumping into the new year with all the muster and excitement that others seem to be. Maybe you aren’t looking forward to 2018 because 2017 is still a mess. Did the hopes and dreams of last year fail you? Maybe your finances or relationships aren’t where they should be. Maybe your home is upside down. Maybe you lost someone. Maybe you struggled with anxiety, depression, or fear. For many of us, what lies ahead seems only to make worse what we left behind.

The enemy has a lot of tools in his tool chest. But the one he wields with the sharpest, finest point, is discouragement. With merely the scratch of the blade, often painless, it goes unrecognized until it festers. Until it infects and spreads.

Discouragement is an unwanted guest. It creeps in. Finds the back door. Does not introduce itself loudly, but blends in with the furniture so well, it is never asked to leave. Never barely noticed. But it is not dormant. It is active and alive, feasting on our fears and our doubts.

A wise friend once told me, and I have never forgotten it, that in truth the enemy cannot steal the heart of God from us. He cannot take away the hope and the future we have in Him. He cannot dismantle the plans and the path God has set before us. Nor thwart the ministry and the calling God has placed on our lives. But the enemy can wield the blade of discouragement. And when he does, when it has its victory, we offer those things up willingly. We give in. We give away. We open our hands and let go of the treasures we value most. Just like that. Without a fight.

Be wary of discouragement today, my friend. I cannot tell you what it wears when it comes to your door. For only you know when you have let it in. But I can tell you that it is a liar and a thief. It comes bearing gifts of comfort and solace. Of wallowing in our own rights or our own resentments. Of feeling good about feeling bad. It plays the old songs of failures and disappointments. The ruts that tell half-truths of who we were or who we aren’t or who we’ll never be. But it purposely forgets to remind us the truth of who we are.

Discouragement is a crafty guest who will not leave on its own accord. Watch for it… for our struggle, our true struggle, is not against flesh and blood. It’s not our husband or our wife. It’s not our kids or our co-worker. It’s not even life’s expectations that have failed us. It’s the thief that came in the back door and found a home in our hearts. Watch out for him.  

And in watching, don’t forget that you are not left unarmed when the thief comes. You are not defenseless to protect yourself. But rather, my friend, you have the might of heaven behind you!  So, put on the full armor of God.

The belt that fastens around our waist—the belt of truth. The part that holds all the other pieces in place. Pay attention to what stories you are telling yourself. The stories about yourself, about others, and about God. Are they true? Do they line up with who you are in Christ? “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Discouragement says you are worthless, hopeless, without a future. Truth says you have been set free from the power of sin and death. You are a new creation. The old is past, the new has come.

The breastplate of righteousness- The guardian of our heart and soul. For out of it flows the well-springs of life. As the Lord wraps around you the gift of His own righteousness, press into Him. Press close, for He is “a stronghold in the day of trouble.” (Nahum 1:7). 

The shoes ready with the gospel of peace. Ready. Prepared. That means kick off those slippers and lace up the Reeboks. The enemy will put obstacles in your path to bring you down. To alter your course for the Lord. May His word be a light to your path. May your feet be ready to go where He leads. And remember, Discouragement is the great stealer of peace, so do not pack him for your journey. “May the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

The shield of faith- The most powerful defense you have to extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy is your faith. The question of faith is a question of trust. Whatever measure of faith you have today, build it, develop it until it becomes a shield. “We do not lose heart when we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:8-18).

The helmet of salvation- The helmet protects the seat of our thoughts. Most assuredly, the greatest battleground we will ever know. And it is here that discouragement festers. When we have knowledge of who we are and who we belong to, we cannot be shaken by the enemy’s deception. Remember who you are. And who the Lord is. You are His. Has the small stuff become too big and the big stuff too small? “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

And the sword of the Spirit—the weapon in our hand—His word. “…Living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12).

Have you picked up your sword today? I dare say, I may have forgotten. And I may have left the back door open.

Put on His armor. Put it on and stand! Because, dear friend, we will not fight this battle lying down.

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GOMER

What it means to be wholly broken and wholly embraced.

What it means to be wholly broken and wholly embraced.

Submitted by a dear friend, Olivia Ciotta. A deep reflection on Gomer.


Gomer

For the cruelest joke was what they named me.

For though my name means “complete,”

Believe me,

I have never felt like enough.

For the love that they offered was counterfeit

And you had to jump through hoops to earn it.

So, it isn’t any wonder that I never felt worth it,

Because I could never jump very high.

And I can’t deny that I longed for their acceptance

The way a starving, stray cat longs for tables scraps no matter how disgusting.

And in trusting them for my affirmation,

I merely opened my heart up to the laceration of their rejection

Because I was an addict

And their abuse was my heroine.

Even when I drained the cup of their approval

Their removal from my life was not an option,

Because I needed their flattery to breathe

Even if it left my throat dry.

 

And I... all I wanted was to be pretty.

But they told me that “pretty is as pretty does”;

So, beauty became a touch not a word,

And I became their puppet.

I told myself I loved it.

You’re surprised?

For although they called me “whore”

What more could I want than to be idolized?

But I recognized the lies I whispered in my head

As I slept in the beds of strangers.

And my tears hit the ground with a sound

So silent,

Not even I could hear my sorrow.

I had long tuned out my pain.

For to name it was to claim it as mine,

And damage doesn’t sell as well as apathy.

 

But in time, my numbness became my ecstasy.

And while they touched me with their bodies,

There was only so much they could take.

But my mistake was believing that I held the high card.

For their disregard for my heart was higher than I expected.

And to be unaffected by such a wound

Would mean to be entombed with a beating heart run through completely.

“Completely”-that of all things-

Is what they named me.

Gomer- a misnomer really.

The only complete thing in me was the degree to which I’d been broken.

 

I’ve spoken openly with You.

You, who claim to love me.

As You can see from my story,

I’m a skeptic.

So, forgive me if I don’t believe You.

Truth is not a category I possess

And I guess neither is love.

So, get rid of this notion that You have something I need.

Because emptiness only requires space to breathe

And as for me, I don’t trust You.

What does trust even mean?

Your eyes are too clear to blame it on drink

So, I think You’re just crazy to say that You love me.

 

See, I cringe at the thought that love can be given,

But not bought at a price I could afford.

Who are You to give so freely,

And neatly

To one such as I?

Whose stomach is swollen with all the lies I have been forced to swallow.

Who is hollow like a honeycomb

Licked bone dry by the greedy tongues of ones who come out only at night.

What light can You shine on such sinister places?

What water can cleanse faces so sullied with shame and regret?

Can You forget all of who I am

And still claim to love me?

I’m too filthy to wear white.

A whore can hardly be a bride.

And I’ve been touched too many times to ever be considered pure.

There’s no cure for my condition of faithlessness.

 

But You care less from my diagnosis of being beyond repair.

And Your stare tears asunder my walls of self-protection.

And I am left in an ocean of a feeling I can’t identify.

But Your eyes speak of safety

Amidst waves I can’t control.

You hold my heart of barbed-wire

In hands that have scars of their own.

And this imperfection makes You seem much more perfect-

A defect that reflects my shattered soul.

And a love that hung on to make me whole.

The shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

And in Your love,

Gomer is made wholly complete.

 

DON'T LET THEM IN!

Please, Stay on the Path!

Please, Stay on the Path!

We’ve been to many places. On many journeys. Our family enjoys hiking. And together, we’ve been on miles of trails. But two in particular stand out in my life.

We often visited Arizona while we lived in Mexico. We vacationed there. Regrouped there. And shopped at Target to remember what it was like to be American. We also hiked with our kids. Phoenix has a popular hill (which felt more like a mountain to me) that we always visited on our trips. Unlike the rough terrain of living in the Baja desert, the path up the mountain was manicured with precision. A perfect foot path with perfect boundaries. In fact, signs posted at exact intervals reminded the hikers to “stay on the path.” To keep everyone safe and the environment pristine for the next person. And when we strayed, when we let our kids taste for only a moment the freedom to hop up on one rock and return quickly, the signs would remind us. And the frowns would compel us to obey.

STAY ON THE PATH.

When we moved to Colorado, however, things changed. The paths were still pristine, much more fun to walk on than traipsing through the cactus underbrush of the desert. Groomed and manicured and free from garbage. But the terrain was wide open for exploration. No signs. No boundaries. Enjoy! Take a deep breath and explore everything!

My youngest was not sure what to do with this. He stepped off the path at my urging, saw a stranger, and returned to my side quickly. “It’s okay,” I said. “It’s allowed. You can climb that rock. You can swing on that branch.” He tentatively tried it, but when he saw someone else, he shot back to me and glued himself to my side on the path. It took several nudges and assurances for him to find the freedom to explore without the guilt or shame of stepping over the line.

The distinction is poignant in my life. And with it, I come to the church. The way of the “straight” path. The signs. The markers. The defined boundary. The pressure to hold onto what we love. What we cherish. Because it needs to be here for the next guy. It needs to stay perfect and unmarred from all the footprints that can muddy it up.

So, staying on the path looks like this:

            Do not steal

            Do not covet

            Do not kill

            Do not lie

            Do not drink

            Do not curse

            Do not…

Rules are often good, right? They are meant to keep us on the path. To keep us from marring the way for others. But what did Jesus say?

He said two things were most important. Not ten. Not twenty. Just two:

            Love your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

            And love your neighbor as yourself.

See, Jesus knew it was not about the boundary. But about the heart. If our heart was bent on loving Him with everything we are and loving those around us with the same passion for which we love ourselves, the rest would fall in line. We would seek the abundance of being with Him, not because someone told us to, but because there was no greater joy. The heart came first.

Why did the woman caught in adultery want to turn from her sin? Why did she want her life to change? Because of her guilt at being caught? Her shame at being dragged out in public? Because the stones hurt?

No. She wanted to be free from sin because she met JESUS.

Church, I fear we have cast the safety net. We have believed in the boundaries that offer the human ideal to preserve, to protect what we have. To treasure what we need by keeping it safe from the muddy footprints. Safe from the ones who might abuse it. Who might not appreciate all the work we put in to make it perfect.

HEY YOU! How did YOU get in here? Can’t you read the sign? No sin allowed. No footprints on the King.

But how can we horde God’s love. How can we put Him, the greatest joy of all, behind the signs… and too often behind the frowns… and keep people out? When it's Him we need most of all. Each and every one of us.

Did we miss something? Something big? Something that is a matter of the heart? Did we jump to the list, the boundary, and forget the King’s declaration? The declaration that He so loved the world in all its twisted mess that He gave, gave freely without bounds or limits, His ONE AND ONLY SON. And that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but live with HIM forever.

Did we forget that? Do we forfeit the greatest wonder by hording the treasure for those who already have it? We can't lose it. It is bigger than any of us and not here by our own merit. Open the gates and let them in.

I thank God, every day, that when I danced on the rock of the King the signs did not keep me out!