Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Pressing Toward the Goal

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3: 12-14 NIV)

Perched on my bright, pink bike, I pulled out of my garage for an early morning ride. A slightly cooler temperature than normal welcomed me as rode in the sunshine. 

            A tiny breeze ruffled my hair while I went up and down vacant streets around the neighborhood. In my area trees shaded the street. 

            But in the newer sections, spindly oaks offered little cover. Only a few empty lots remained in the vast region. When we moved into our home, a forest of towering trees filled with wildlife occupied that space. 

            Frequently, I looked down at my Apple watch to see my distance and time. Two miles and then three miles. Watching the mileage motivated me to try completing four miles. 

            My legs pumped with renewed strength. I surpassed my goal of four miles and made it to four and a half. My heart rate increased but I kept pedaling past my home. I circled a lake beyond my house a few times to get to five miles. 

            When I pulled into my driveway, I checked the mileage and stopped the watch at five and three tenths miles. 

            For me, that was a huge accomplishment. As the pandemic began, bronchitis kept me down for two weeks. Gradually, strength returned little by little. Walks and bike rides brought on extreme shortness of breath. Going one half mile wore me out. 

            The doctor prescribed an inhaler. The first one did little to alleviate my difficult breathing. The second one helped but didn’t eliminate the problem. I persisted and alternated walking and biking almost every day. 

            Early exercise brought cooler temperatures. I talked to neighbors who passed by. On walks, I listened to podcasts of sermons which propelled me to continue. Improvements in distance and time motivated me to not quit. 

            Daily exercises produced more energy and awakened my sense of thankfulness for God’s creation as I noticed it around my neighborhood. Podcasts of Christian speakers fed my soul and kept me moving spiritually and physically. 

            In the midst of the pandemic with all of its horrible consequences, positive outcomes occur too. 

Father, thank you for meeting us during tough times. You appear in unexpected circumstances and strengthen us despite our trials. Amen

Friday, June 26, 2020

Waiting on my Bread

Rain shortened my early morning walk. All day, I watched drops hit the lake. Clouds covered the sky like a heavy quilt. 

            Although rain continued and kept me inside, I found plenty of tasks to accomplish. Dreariness produced a sense of comfort so I snuggled on my couch with a book. 

            A little while later, my mom’s bread machine called to me. Ingredients for oat bread lined my counter. Each one went into the metal container. Then I pushed buttons to begin the process. Kneading began with a hum and then a time of rest.  

            Three hours later, the aroma of freshly baked bread filled my home. Because the machine hadn’t been used in several years, I didn’t trust the timer. Twice, I opened the lid to see if it was done. Over and over, I looked through the glass on the top to see if it looked done. Reluctantly, I waited to hear the beep that baking was finished. 

            Although the smell called me to eat a piece of bread immediately, I remembered details from the instruction booklet. Take bread out of machine. Turn it over onto a wire rack. Let it cool before slicing. 

            Anxiously, I waited and watched the lightly browned loaf while I tried to keep myself busy with household tasks. The bread enticed me but I resisted. 

            Finally, I cut a small piece of the delicious looking goodie. With a touch of butter and berry jelly from a friend, I savored the warm bread. Later in the day, I enjoyed another slice before sharing part of the loaf with friends. 

            If I had taken the bread out of the machine early because of my impatience, it would have been doughy and inedible. Before cooling, the knife would have squashed the bread into a lumpy mess. Although waiting was difficult for me, the final product brought a wonderful outcome.

            During the pandemic, waiting has become normal. Impatience and anxiety increased. But remembering that God is in control helps reduce nervousness. 

            His timetable is usually not the same as mine. I need to wait on Him and read His instruction book, the Bible, for the best results.

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8 NKJ)

Father, waiting on you produces patience and better outcomes than when I try to take over. Amen

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Glimmers of Hope in the Pandemic

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.(Proverbs 3:5-7 KJV)
A cloak of black wrapped the sky when I stepped onto my patio. Twinkling stars and bright planets created a wondrous display. The largest and brightest object in the inky sky was a slice of moon which glowed through a gap between the trees. 
            A chorus of crickets droned before dawn. Traffic hummed on a highway outside my community. 
            Normally, I stay inside until the sun appears since I enjoy the sunrises and wakening of the morning. But the darkness seemed appropriate during my time of isolation. Beyond the patio light, I only saw a few stars, a planet and sliver of the moon. 
            Blackness concealed bears, armadillos, coyotes, eagles, cranes, turkeys and other wildlife. All have been spotted in my neighborhood. They could have been waiting in my yard just outside my patio and ready to pounce, rip or attack me. 
            In the daylight, I love watching a variety of birds, deer, turtles, butterflies and other creatures. They provide enjoyment. However in the darkness, my mind speculates about what dangers lurk outside my screen. 

            In the uncertainty of the pandemic, the mind conjures all sorts of horrible scenarios. What ifs can fill days and take over sleepless nights. Fear and distress replace peace and reason. 
            As the sky turned from black to a pale blue, birds awoke and sang a cheery welcome. 
            Just as dawn comes each day, we will come out of it. 
Gradually, our turbulent world will emerge from the pandemic with glimmers of hope.
            Each day, we can choose how to respond to the difficulties. Every morning I spend time reading the Bible, praying and delighting in the beauty of God’s creation. 
            Instead of constantly watching stories of doom on the news, I find uplifting shows and books. I think of creative ways to reach out during social distancing. 
            The books of Psalms and Proverbs provide wisdom, hope and encouragement instead of imagined stories of destruction.  
Loving Father, hold us in your arms as we navigate an uncertain pandemic. Show us your love and strength. Give us hope in the despair of the world. Amen


Monday, June 15, 2020

Small but Powerful

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil. Cling to that which is good. In love of the brothers be tenderly affectionate to one another; in honor preferring one another; not lagging in diligence; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; enduring in troubles; continuing steadfastly in prayer; contributing to the needs of the saints; given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don’t curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Don’t set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Don’t be wise in your own conceits.(Romans 12:9-16 WEB)

A string of tiny solar lights wrapped a wooden plant stand on my patio. At night, they twinkled in the dark. But during the day, nothing about the plain, green strands stood out. They dangled from the top to the bottom of the four-foot pole. 

            Sunlight streamed through the trees and onto my patio. A glittering surprise caught my attention. Spider webs filled in spaces between the lights. Intricate designs created a silky masterpiece. 

            A busy spider or group of them wove webs from one plant to another. Crisscrossing strands joined pots of aloe to the stand and down to herbs at the base with lovely lacework. Diligent workers must have taken days, weeks or even months to produce the artistic designs.

            Day after day, I sat in my chair next to the plant stand to read the Bible, pray and read devotionals. Each morning the lake beyond my yard greeted me with wonderful wildlife. Often, egrets, bald eagles, turkeys, sand hill cranes, and deer visited. 

            Although I loved the beauty outside my patio, I missed the marvelous creations next to me. I searched for what was far away but ignored what was near
            During uncertainty of Covid 19, unrest of the protests, and turbulence of the riots, I searched on TV, the radio and the Internet for glimpses of hope. I wanted to see what important people could do to alleviate world tragedies.

            I felt helpless and wondered what one person could do. God spoke to me through His Word and a dear friend. Looking backwards doesn’t solve problems. We need to look ahead and make positive changes.

            Within my world, I can pray for peaceful change and understanding. I can offer hope to those in turmoil near me. Give words of encouragement. Thank those who help me. Listen more than I speak. Instead of waiting for someone more prominent than me to solve the difficulties, I can make a difference in those in front of me. 
            The wee spiders did what they were made to do in a small way but with a powerful impact. If everyone did that, what a difference we could collectively make. 

Loving Father, help us contribute to peace and understanding in our part of your world. With your instructions and obedience, we can affect change. Amen 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Finding Joy and Purpose

The one who listens to me, who carefully seeks me in everyday things and delays action until my way is apparent, that one will find true happiness. (Proverbs 8:34, The Voice)
Swirling mist blurred vibrant reflections on the mirrored lake. Minutes later, little clouds dissipated and an up-side-down forest glowed on the water. 
            Cypress limbs, heavy with last night’s rain, drooped like a weary traveler. Water diamonds gathered on the patio screen and waited to twinkle in the sun. 
            A couple of trees in the forest glowed a brilliant green, but shadows subdued the rest of the woods. 
            Despite the somber mood, cheerful birds sang melodious tunes. A spider web glistened from one limb to another of my oak tree. 
            Isolation brought changes both favorable and unfavorable. For months, I stayed home alone. Normal activities stopped, but I discovered uplifting shows on television. My car rested but biking surged. Walking provided daily exercise. 
            During the pandemic, my time enjoying nature from my patio increased. A collection of birds appeared daily from a tiny hummingbird to majestic eagles. An abundance of vivid flowers graced my garden. My time with God each morning became richer and more bountiful as my faith grew. 
            After days of jumping from one activity to another with little focus, I wrote a lengthy to-do list. Gradually, the list grew smaller. Along with chores like cleaning the garage and purging files, I read many books, and returned to long forgotten crafts. With two butterfly cages, I became fascinated with the metamorphosis of Monarch butterflies.  Even though the Internet kept me connected to the world. But cards and phone calls to  family and friends relieved loneliness. Leisurely days, continued for several weeks. 
            Then Zoom enterer my life with three Bible studies, writers’ group meetings, writing critique sessions, and board meetings. Local charities needed supplies so I braved the virus, donned my homemade mask, and ventured out. After weeks of free time, suddenly, I needed a schedule.  
            When the sun rose and light replaced shadows, life around the lake changed. Likewise, opening up our country took me into a new phase. 
            Living in isolation restyled my life in positive and negative ways. Although I missed being with family and friends, I enjoyed a less complicated way of life. 
            Decisions await. Will I return to an often-hectic schedule or cut back on some activities? Will I continue pursuits I actually enjoy or hang on to stressful obligations? Will I remove the insignificant to concentrate on the significant? 
            In seclusion, I realized what was most important. Praying for wisdom and direction, reading the Bible, enjoying people I treasure, and serving with the love of Jesus give me joy and purpose. God takes it all and weaves something beautiful. 
Loving Father, thank you for working in my life and revealing your plan for me even in the midst of such change and uncertainty. Amen

Friday, May 15, 2020

Missing Another Miracle

Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (John 5: 17 NIV)

Not again. Hour after hour I knelt on my patio floor to examine the small butterfly cage which held two Monarch caterpillars. One hung from the top which signaled it was preparing to form a chrysalis. The second larva crawled along the side with tiny black legs. 

            As day turned into evening, the brightly striped caterpillar darkened. His long body began compressing into a smaller version. He hung up-side-down but his head struggled to look upward. 

            The plastic top of the cage blurred my view but hour after hour I went onto my patio to see its progress. I longed to watch the larva spin a small, green chrysalis around its body. Before bed, I made one last trip outside. Nothing had changed. 

            Just after dawn, I walked to my porch and looked down at the butterfly cage. A green chrysalis hung tightly to the cage. I missed the miracle of transformation. Perhaps the little critter didn’t want to be watched as he wrapped his body into a chrysalis.  

            Even though I missed the conversion from larva to pupa eighteen times, I marveled at the results of metamorphosis every time. The beauty and intricacy of God’s creation filled me with wonder and awe. 

            His miracles occur all around me. Seeds become exquisite flowers. Bare cypress trees fill out in waves of green. Eagles lay eggs and hatch tiny reproductions of themselves. I don’t observe the entire process of those changes either but the results astonish me. 

            Before Alan died, people prayed for his healing. When the doctor predicted six months of life for him, Alan continued living. For two months, he organized, planned and scheduled an array of things so I wouldn’t have to. He shared his faith with friends, family and even the man who brought oxygen to our house. During that time, I watched him move toward heaven as his faith grew. 

            Only later, did I realize how much he prepared for his journey to heaven and for me to live without him. Because he died knowing he would be with Jesus, I also had peace and strength to get through my time of grief. 

            Over and over, God has placed people in my life who are grieving so I can comfort them. During his final months, I didn’t realize all the changes in Alan or myself.  When I look back, I can see how God orchestrated another miracle. 

Dear Father, thank you for loving us and teaching us even when we don’t see it. You are constantly performing miracles. Help us notice small and big ones every day. Amen   

Friday, April 24, 2020

Conflicting Alerts

I lift up my eyes to the hills-where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip-he who watches over you will not slumber. (Psalm 121: 1-3 NIV)

As I tried to fall back asleep, my phone binged. Normally, I heard no calls or messages until after 7 am. My curiosity propelled me from my bed. 

            A weather alert proclaimed a severe thunderstorm warning for my area. At least it wasn’t a tornado warning like earlier in the week. 

            Since I was up, I fixed a cup of tea and headed outside. An ebony cloak wrapped my patio so I could see nothing beyond the screen. Wind rustled trees as I wrote in my gratitude journal. While I read my daily devotionals, lightning flashed closer and closer. 

            Wind rushed through my patio. Rain pelted the roof and dripped down the screens. Thunder rumbled. Another weather alert said there were no longer storms in my area. 
My eyes and ears disagreed. 

            Even though I enjoy sitting on my patio on rainy days, staying during thunder and lightning probably wasn’t a great idea. 

            With a couple of trips to transfer my tea, books, journal and phone, I settled down on the couch in my living room. Not my favorite spot to write, read and pray but safe and secure. 

            While the storm continued, I checked the weather channel on my phone. It showed thunderstorms over my town and a tornado watch for five more hours. How could my alert be so different from the weather channel? 

            Rain slowed. Rolling thunder and flashes of light moved away. A gray dawn crept across the lake. 

            Weather alarms and my own limited observations clashed. Even though I tried to find a clear answer, none came. 

            Likewise, I would love to have a definite answer to the end of the pandemic. When will I be able to visit my family? Go out to lunch with friends? Invite people into my home? However, just as I couldn’t see into the dark morning, I can’t see into the future. No one else can either. Predictions can be made but those don’t always agree. 

            God sees the whole picture when I only see a tiny slice. It is easy to worry about what is coming but better to trust that God has it under control. 

Lord, give us peace as we endure the pandemic. Help us trust you as our protector. Amen