If you’re a fan of the Little House on the Prairie books, you’ll remember the blizzard that forced Pa to tie a rope connecting the house and the barn, so that he wouldn’t get lost when he went outside to care for the livestock. White outs aren’t fictional; visibility in a snowstorm can be reduced to feet instead of miles.
In blizzard country, it can snow and blow until you lose sight of the horizon, as it did here two weeks ago. I measured the increasing severity of the storm by objects I lost sight of–first the horizon, then the neighbors’ houses, then the road, and, last, the trees in front of our house. A white out. A foot of snow fell overnight and into the next day, and the wind whipped the tiny flakes into drifts four feet high.
It’s easy to lose perspective when your world becomes smaller and smaller, when all you see are the storms of life roaring around you, when the barn disappears.
Maybe a loved one has died.
Maybe you face a seemingly endless task of caring for family members.
Maybe your financial situation is precarious.
Maybe the results of the latest lab test are disheartening.
Maybe family members who should have loved you, haven’t.
Maybe the doctors are mystified and can’t figure it out what “it” is.
Sometimes I feel like Laura, peering through the frosted window, struggling to see the barn during a white out. I begin to doubt God’s love and care for me when I am in the middle of great trials. At times I empathize with Job, thinking that God
. . . would crush me with a storm
and multiply my wounds for no reason.
Job 9:17 NIV
Eventually, storms end. Skies clear. Howling winds subside. What is left behind?
Drifts of sparkling snow,
gorgeous blue shadows,
bright, moonlit nights.
What is left when our personal trials pass? If we cooperate with God and allow him to work in us, the beauty of a changed character remains. God can take the inevitable storms and use them to transform us.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4 NIV
James speaks of a joy during trials, a joy that is hard to imagine when we are in the middle of a difficult time. But this joy isn’t the same as gleeful happiness. In fact, we may actually be in pain.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
I Peter 1:6 NIV
We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
Romans 5:3-5 MSG
Who wouldn’t want to be more patient, more mature? Who wouldn’t want to persevere and have a stronger faith?
Me. Sometimes. I can get so tired in the middle of the blizzard, I lose my perspective, and I don’t want to move forward. Those are the times you can pray for me, and if you get disoriented and weary during stormy trials, I’ll pray for you. And during the next white out, let’s follow that rope to the barn.
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I listened to the weather forecast, hoping for warmer temperatures, but the meteorologist predicted the frigid air mass would remain over the Midwest for the next two days. It wasn’t just bitterly cold (a wind chill of -30 to -40° F), it was dangerously cold. A temperature of -10° combined with a wind of 10 miles per hour produces a wind chill of -28°. Frostbite can occur in 30 minutes in these conditions.
School was cancelled. Church services and meetings were postponed. Any necessary outside work required wearing multiple layers: down coat, hat, scarf, insulated gloves and insulated pants on top of layers of socks, sweatshirts, and corduroy pants.
Arctic blasts can bring beauty, as well as danger. During these days of extreme cold, I was able to see sun dogs at sunset and at dawn. This optical phenomena forms as the light of the sun is refracted through hexagonal ice crystals in the atmosphere, creating bright spots (sometimes with rainbow colors), each arcing beside the sun.
Sun dogs are also known as “mock suns,” but their scientific name is parhelia (one is a parhelion), which comes from Greek words para and helios meaning “beside” and “sun.”
Sun dogs always appear 22° on each side of the sun and at the same elevation as the sun. The source of the term “sun dogs” is obscure. Is it from a Scandinavian word resembling “dog” or from Norse or Native American mythology? Is it simply because the bright spots follow the sun as a dog follows his master? Dictionary.com merely says the origin is uncertain.
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Along with many other bloggers, I wanted a single word from the Lord for the new year–one word to inspire me, to teach me, to challenge me. My word for 2015 is “close.” As I contemplated what this word might mean for me, I was rereading a book in which one of the characters refers to these verses in Acts:
Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’
Acts 17:26-28 MSG
God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’
Act 17:27, 28 NIV
I am a sun dog, existing only because of the light of the sun.
I want to follow God as closely as a dog follows its master.
I am a parhelion, distinct from God, yet wrapped up in His glory, always a mere 22° away.
I am para helios, close to the sun, a term that implies relationship.
My prayer for us all: that we may learn what it is to be close to the Lord and how He is already close to us.
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Twenty-two thousand miles in space above me, in a geosynchronous orbit is a satellite. Combined with the dish on the roof of my garage, I now have access to the internet again.24 hour so
I can check my email, shop, catch up on friends and family, watch a video on appliance repair, or publish a new blog post.
I can accomplish all this because the satellite is always there.
It is always sending and receiving signals
on clear mornings,
as well as partly cloudy days,
on foggy mornings,
when the sun is shining,
and even when it’s not.
I sit at my computer and type, having faith that the words I enter will always reach a satellite that I can’t see, much less understand. I believe it is there because people (whom I will probably never meet) designed it, built it, and launched it on a rocket into space. It’s too complicated, too advanced for me to understand completely.
It is, after all, rocket science.
I also have faith that God exists and communicates with us, and we with Him, even though He is unseen (except in the incarnate form of Jesus).
The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. Hebrews 11:1 MSG
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 NIV
I believe the satellite exists because I see the results: news stories, new account balances, follow-up emails, invoices for packages that arrive in a few days.
I also have faith in the Lord, who is an unseen Spirit. I have faith in what I cannot see, because I see the results of the Spirit’s working in my life and in the life of others.
“You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”
John 3:7,8 MSG
Neighbors with a similar dish have warned us that heavy snow covering the dish will interfere with the signal. During such a snowstorm, the satellite is still there, still functioning, but the problem is on the receiving end. A quick brush with a soft broom should enable reception to return.
There’s often a problem on my part, when it comes to connecting with God, too. I am like the man who wanted healing for his sick son, but found his faith wanting. He pleaded with Jesus.
‘Oh, have mercy on us and do something if you can.’
‘If I can?” Jesus asked. ‘Anything is possible if you have faith.’
The father instantly replied, ‘I do have faith; oh, help me to have more!’ Mark 9:22-24
Jesus did have mercy on the man and his son and healed him.
Faith–it’s rocket science. I don’t have to understand or see everything to believe it.
My prayer for us all:
May our faith increase!
“Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.” Matthew 17:20 MSG
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satellite and rocket photo from exede.com, night sky photo by freedigitalphotos.net
* * * * *
We’ve been without internet, but should have access in a week or so.
Hope to “see” you soon.
The house had been bulldozed, burnt, and buried weeks ago, and I’d never noticed.
I drove past this home every time I went to our nearby town, and still I hadn’t realized it was gone.
The contractor’s progress in building a bigger, new house a few yards away had distracted me. Am I like the proverbial ravens, attracted to shiny, new objects?
I try to pay attention to the old, the dying and dead,
but do I only notice the sparkling, the new, the contemporary?
Do I neglect to see the beauty and meaning in the small, the quiet, and the ordinary? A new day’s light illuminating grassy seed heads dipped in dew is still a miracle.
The geometry spoken into the heart of a flower is no less perfect because the flower is called a weed.
Are things too small to merit my contemplation, like the millions of dust particles that turned the western sky into a burnished sunset?
Do I look, but do not see? Is it a rebellious heart that overlooks the wondrous that surrounds me?
“Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people. Ezekiel 12:2 NIV
Have I failed to thank the Lord for the vistas revealed this fall because they are so “ordinary.”
Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? Mark 8:18 NIV
Have I failed to pay attention to the glory at my feet, because it is expressed in common garden flowers and weeds growing in dusty gravel paths?
Have I neglected the everlasting love of God that surrounds me because I wasn’t paying attention?
Pay attention, come close now, listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words. I’m making a lasting covenant commitment with you, the same that I made with David: sure, solid, enduring love. Isaiah 55:3 MSG
My prayer for us all:
that we may have undistracted eyes to see
the physical beauty, the everlasting love
in all things, old and new, great and small.
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Let me tell you a story about a man named James Terrence John Molloy. J. T., as everyone knew him, was a traveling evangelist, and he had a wish.
When the time came for the Lord to call him home, he had a “druther.”
He wanted to be traveling on a road, going up to the crest of a hill and die at the top. J. T. said he would keep on going up the hill and on into heaven.
And he did. He lived a long life, preached the gospel, started churches, had children and grandchildren, and raised Poland China pigs.
One day on the way to visit his son, he died instantly of a heart attack
. . . in his car
. . . on a hill.
The car was still running when they found him.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote of the journey of life in the Walking Song
the road goes ever on and on
I think about heaven as I travel dirt and gravel country roads, about following a road that begins in one world and ends in another.
The path of life leads upward . . .
Proverbs 15:24. NIV
This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.”
Jeremiah 6:16. NIV
In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality
That story about J.T., how do I know it’s true? He is my husband’s great-grandfather, and if I had my druthers, I’d keep going up the hill to heaven, too.
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I relaxed in a chair on my daughter’s patio, enjoying the sighing wind in the locust and oak trees, the musical jingle of wind chimes, and the warmth of the sun on my face. Then I became aware that I was being watched. A striped chipmunk sat at the edge of the patio’s cement pad, less than a yard from my feet. The chipmunk’s cheeks were bulging with small nuts, acorns, I surmised from the nearness of the oaks. He was a creature on a mission, on his way to store the nuts for winter, and I seemed to be in his way.
Perhaps the chipmunk was wondering if I was a danger to him, if he dared risk it. Certainly I was an obstacle. He must have decided I was a harmless sort of giant, because he scampered under my chair and around the corner of the building. He and another chipmunk (he and she?) returned in a few minutes, with empty cheeks. The pair made several trips, coming from the east with cheeks full and returning from the west after caching their harvest. They continued to scurry unafraid and undeterred underneath or just behind my chair.
Not everyone is as courageous as the chipmunks. In Number 13 we read the story of the spies whom Moses charged with scouting out the Promised Land. It was the beginning of the season to harvest grapes, and the men brought proof that this was a land of plenty.
they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them Numbers 13:23 NIV
The scouts all agreed that Canaan was a land of “milk and honey,” but full of powerful, strong people–the descendants of giants. Only Joshua and Caleb had faith in God and believed that they could conquer the land. The leaders pleaded with the people:
Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land . . . Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.
Number 14:9 NIV
Do you remember how that story ended? Instead of entering a land where harvest was underway, the children of Israel spent 40 more years in the desert.
Fear is not the only obstacle in harvest. You must wait for the crops to be ready. The soybean fields on our farm are now a rusty-brown, and the golden stalks of corn have paled after being dried by a hard frost, but harvest may still be delayed. Farmers can check a sample from a field for moisture content to see if the corn or beans are dry enough to combine. If not, they may need to switch to another field that was planted with a different variety or to one that was planted earlier.
The harvest of souls is another matter. It’s impossible to look at a person’s heart and “moisture test” their soul to know if they’re ripe for “harvest” into the kingdom of God. Russell and Barbara Reed, American missionaries in the Philippines, must have thought that surely the time was right once they had overcome the obstacle of learning the language of the people. They wanted to reach a tribal group on the island of Mindoro. For months they searched for the people, eventually found a village, and started learning their language. Years passed and initial interest changed to rejection.
After nine years in the Philippines the Reeds, none of the tribal members had made a commitment to Christ.
That changed in May 1962. Traveling to the east again, they found a group of people with hungry hearts. Before long, seventy-five people were baptized, almost the entire adult population of three villages. What had made the difference? Centuries earlier a shaman had prophesied, ‘Someday white people will come here to teach us. Big people. And they will know our language. When they come, we must follow their teaching.’ This prophecy was passed down for 16 generations. When the leader in the east heard the Reeds speaking his language, he knew they were the ones for whom his tribe had waited more than 350 years.
from Telling the Gospel Through Story by Christine Dillon
Sometimes the obstacle to “harvest” for the kingdom of God isn’t time, it’s place. A friend of mine moved and now teaches in a different state. The leadership in her new community has brought in speakers with a positive message to talk in the schools. Recently, a daytime presentation was followed by an evening meeting, where the gospel was presented. This would not, could not have happened in her previous school, she explained.
The harvest in her small town was ripe. When the speaker concluded the evening presentation with an invitation to accept Christ as Lord and Savior, over a hundred came forward, and my friend was privileged to pray with some of them. She texted,
The fields are harvest-ripe here! Glory to God! We had many to pray with those that gave their lives to Christ, but not enough.
Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!
John 4:35 NKJV
Then [Jesus] said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
My “harvest” prayer for us all:
that we may be courageous when facing “giants,”
that we may be wise with our words (written and spoken),
that we may recognize the right time and place to share the good news,
and that we may remember that God is the Lord of the harvest.
* * * * *photos of grape vines by Barb Briggs * * * * * Linking with
Not planted, yet sown
buried by debris swept off the sidewalk,
a sunflower grew tight beside the white porch railing.
A seed sprouted and stretched tender leaves toward the sun,
turned its veiled face to the east,
unfurled golden flags of ray petals,
waved emerald leaves in the breeze,
welcomed the soaking rain,
opened its seedy heart wide
and grinned a spiraled smile.
I joyfully watched the accidental sunflower grow and change from a castaway seed to a mature bloom. I saw the bees’ pollen-laden visits, the spider’s trapeze web, and the grasshoppers’ hungry gnawing.
I saw the ray petals burn bright gold and then fade and wither as the seed hulls swelled fat and green.
I saw the color drain away, leaving silver and brown as the seeds ripened and the birds found the sunflower’s final gift.
From life to life.
I saw and witnessed the meaningfulness and beauty of the sunflower’s life, which existed despite its “accidental” beginning.
Our Lord is the God who sees us . . . and cares for us, as He did for Hagar. Hagar was a slave who fled Sarai’s abuse and ran into the desert, pregnant and alone. Her life was not what she had planned, a life of disdain given and received, but
the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; . . . he said, ‘Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ Genesis 16:7,8 NIV
The Lord knew who she was and addressed her by name. He instructed Hagar to return to Sarai and told her about the future of her son. Hagar, an unseen servant, caught up in unplanned circumstance, called God el Roi.
She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.’ Genesis 16:13 NIV
Perhaps your life has not gone as you planned, like Hagar, and difficult circumstances tangle your feet like briars on a path. God sees. God cares. He knows your future and has a purpose for you.
Great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Jeremiah 32:19 NIV
Perhaps you have known, perhaps you have been the child whose parents did not love you as they should have, did not protect you, didn’t provide for your needs, body and soul. Maybe you are hurting as much as the woman whose mother hurled the words “unwanted” and “accident” at her. God sees. God cares.
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the Lord will hold me close. Psalm 27:10 NLT
Maybe you feel rejected by the one who said, “I do” and then didn’t. God sees. God cares.
Don’t be afraid. For you are very precious to God.
Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!
Despite our bleak beginnings and pained past and fractured faith, God sees and has a purpose for us: to love and be loved, to do what only you can do and be in the place that only you can be.
God knows where we have come from and where we are going. He sees. We can grow from an accidental and unplanned beginning to a beautiful, joyous, and meaningful life.
From life to Life.
But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. Exodus 9:16 NIV
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Photo of sprouting sunflower seed from the National Sunflower Association.
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The narrow, magenta ribbon of sunset faded over an hour ago, and the moon won’t rise for another hour. The neighbor’s security lights and the red blinks on radio station antennae and cell phone towers are the only lights visible from my house.
I slide on chore boots, zip up a jacket, and press the switch on the palm-size flashlight as I step into the blackness of the back yard. I walk down three steps and follow the familiar path across the lawn, between the apple and the fir trees, across the shop drive, around the diesel fuel barrel, and onto the gravel that leads to the edge of the field.
I retreat to a dark spot away from the house because I hope to see the Aurora Borealis. Although it’s rarely visible at my latitude, the chances are good tonight because of a solar storm two days ago. I click the flashlight off and scan the sky. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I begin to pick out single stars, then constellations, and finally the Milky Way stretched overhead.
Despite the deep darkness of the night, regardless of the shadows moving toward me (our black cats had followed me), and even though I’m alone, I’m not afraid. I remember Psalm 8 and am comforted by God’s presence when I gaze at the “glory in the heavens.”
Although I wasn’t frightened of being alone in the dark, others in the same surroundings might be. Years ago a group of inner-city youth visited a neighboring farm. In the same inky night where I found comfort and closeness to God, those children were terrified. They were afraid of the open spaces, the black night devoid of street lights, and the startling appearance of previously unseen stars.
What petrifies you may not scare me. What unhinges me may not scare you, but even the bravest will have something that makes their heart beat fast or twists knots in their stomach. David wrote of faith and fear in the Psalms. Remember Indiana Jones’ terror in the pit of vipers? “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”
I know the kind of fear that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t want to let go. I recently watched my new-born grandson being prepped for an ambulance ride to a NICU. Seeing the wires and sensors, the supplemental oxygen, and the IV in his tiny, splinted arm increased my anxiety.
Guilt followed the fear and led to dark whispers of self-accusation and additional fears of inadequacy. How can you write about faith when you’re so afraid? How can you lead a prayer group when you can’t think of a word to pray?
I need to ignore those dark whispers and listen to the “still, small voice.” The verse I repeat to myself is
When I am afraid, I will trust in you. Psalm 56:3 NIV
Not “if” but “when.” I’m grateful that God knows all about our fears and has compassion on us. Many of the verses in the Bible that command us not to be afraid have this same formula. Fearful? Look to God. His presence will comfort you. He will help you.
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.
Isaiah 41:13 NIV
What frightens you? Is it a metaphorical snake pit or a real-life hospital room?
Are you afraid when the road ahead is risky?
Are you scared of being alone?
Are you frightened when death stalks your family or
when illness is eating the heart out of you?
Are you scared when you compare yourself to others and think that you don’t “measure up?”
If I’m honest, I’d have to raise my hand and say “yes, I’m afraid of all those things . . . and more.” My list of fears may not be as long as Mr. Monk’s (the fictional, phobic detective), but it’s there and includes public speaking and crowded elevators.
I’ll try to remember the next time fear threatens to overwhelm:
trust in Jesus,
listen to His voice,
hold His hand,
and try not to let fear push me around.
Bravery isn’t about being fearless. It’s about being less controlled by your fear.
What are you afraid of, and how do you deal with your fear?
- I write today about garden-variety fear. I do not intend to demean or diminish the crippling anxiety or phobias some may endure. Medical and psychological treatment may be necessary in the healing process.
- My grandson is home and doing well now
Milky Way photo forestwander.com
In the opening chapter of Charlotte’s Web, eight-year-old Fern saves the runty pig from death. She cries over him and tenderly feeds him from a bottle. She loves him.
By the time the bus reached school, Fern had named her pet, selecting the most beautiful name she could think of.
‘Its name is Wilbur,’ she whispered to herself.
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.Zephaniah 3:17 NIV