The Stray

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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.

Put Your Hand to the Plow


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.


Not Our Own


 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 *


The Al-lure


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:

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


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!