A Clear View

FullSizeRender The azalea bush outside my living room window is putting on a glorious show this spring. I can see it from my favorite living room chair where I sit for my quiet time every morning. But I can also see how dusty and rain-streaked my windows are after the long winter months. So last Saturday, when the temperature climbed to nearly 70 degrees, I got out the buckets and rags and window cleaner to tackle the job. The window glass is divided into dozens of tiny panes that have to be individually washed, making the task . . . well . . . a pain!

You know that great feeling you get when you tackle a hard job and can immediately see the results? That’s how I felt when I finally stood back to proudly view my finished windows. It seemed as though there was no glass in the window frames at all!

FullSizeRender(1)Then I got up on Sunday morning.

Those windows face east, and as the brilliant sunlight streamed into the room it revealed every streak and smudge and swirl mark I had made. The mess hadn’t been visible until the light shone directly on it.

It was an appropriate lesson for me. I can delude myself into thinking I’m a pretty good Christian on the outside, all cleaned up and looking good—until Christ shines His light and reveals my spots and streaks. That’s exactly what happened when I spoke without thinking last week and my words came out in a way that hurt a dear friend. Words are my livelihood and I had used them carelessly. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Just like a dirt-streaked window.window

I’m not as squeaky-clean as I think I am. Unless I allow the Light of the World to change me, I’ll remain as flawed as my windows, as filthy as my pile of cleaning rags. I’ve asked my friend for forgiveness. And I’m praying that from now on the Holy Spirit will help me to “be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

The Enduring Feast

Passover-TableThe Feast of Passover begins this Friday at sundown. My Jewish friends, who call it Pesach, are busy cleaning their houses in preparation, careful not to leave a single crumb of leaven. They even vacuum their sofa cushions, something I probably should do more often.

The table will be beautifully set with all the traditional items in place. Family and friends will gather for this annual dinner that typically lasts several hours. They will remember how the Israelites were once slaves in Egypt. They’ll relive the ten plagues and the nation’s miraculous deliverance from slavery. They’ll sing joyful songs to celebrate God’s faithfulness.

Garden of Gethsemane
Garden of Gethsemane

Jesus celebrated the Feast of Passover with His disciples on the night He was betrayed. He broke the traditional unleavened bread and lifted the ritual cup of wine saying, “This is my body, broken for you…This is my blood, shed for you…do this in remembrance of me.” His closing prayer is recorded for us in John 17: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Then Jesus walked with His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane.

pyramidI marvel at how the Passover Feast has endured. It began with Moses on that long-ago night in Egypt and is celebrated some 3,400 years later. God’s people have also endured, just as He promised: “Only if the (sun, moon and stars) vanish from my sight,” declares the Lord, “will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me” (Jeremiah 31:36).

Destroyed Roman city of Scythopolis

Pharaoh and his pagan gods are gone, leaving only ruined temples and tombs. The Romans, who crucified Jesus and built impressive cites, are gone too. None of Israel’s neighbors worship Baal or Dagon or Molech as their ancestors did. Yet the Jewish people and their faith in the God of Abraham survive, nearly unchanged. And so does our Christian faith, some 2,000 years after Jesus died for our sins on Passover.

FootWashingEach year before celebrating the feast, I love to reread the story of Christ’s final Passover meal and the lessons He taught us that night (John 13-17). He began by washing His disciples’ feet, saying, “I have set you an example…no servant is greater than his master.” He commanded us to love one another saying, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” He told us that His Father’s house had many mansions and that He was going to prepare a place for us. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to empower us. And He gave us the beautiful picture of the vine and the branches, encouraging us to bear much fruit for His Father’s glory. He ended by praying for us: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me…”

communion-tableCommunion is our celebration feast when we remember Christ’s sacrifice. We begin by searching our souls for every speck of sin. We go to the Lord’s table to partake of His body and blood in the bread and wine. We leave the covenant meal cleansed, free from slavery to sin, empowered to bear fruit as He commanded. And we leave with a sense of peace, knowing that the Pharaohs and rulers of this world won’t last, but God’s kingdom will endure for all time. “Take heart!” Jesus told us on that long-ago Passover night. “I have overcome the world.”

Spring Thaw

The robins are back! I’m not sure where these red-bellied birds go for the winter, but I saw one for the first time this morning. A sure sign of spring.

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IMG_1786 So I decided to look for other signs as I took my morning walk. Some trees now have buds. Green shoots are poking up from the cold ground along with a few brave crocuses. The ugly patches of dirty snow are nearly all melted away. And ice no longer covers the nearby lake. These early signs of renewed life mean that warmer weather and summer gardens can’t be far away.

IMG_1774My search for new life outdoors made me want to look for signs of it inside, too—not in my house but in my soul. Winter settles over the northern hemisphere each year because the earth gradually tilts away from the sun. Spring returns once the earth tilts back again. That means spiritual winter must come when I become so busy and distracted that I subtly move away from God, the Source of life. Springtime reminds me to thaw any ice that has covered my heart and draw close to Him again. Jesus warned that in the last days, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). And He warned Christians in Revelation that “You have forsaken your first love . . . you are neither cold nor hot.”

IMG_1779It’s time to melt the snows of complacency and look for signs of spiritual life, the same way I searched for it outdoors this morning. Am I becoming more Christ-like every day? Do others see signs of change in me? The Bible says we’re supposed to continue growing throughout our spiritual journey until we “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

IMG_1784The best way I know to measure growth is to look for fruit in my life, using the familiar list in Galatians 5:22 as my guide: Am I becoming more loving—or becoming a permanent grouch? Am I increasingly joyful, no matter the circumstances—or do I keep reciting the same litany of complaints and excuses? Does the peace of God fill me—or do I continue to worry and fret? What about kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness? If these still aren’t part of my everyday personality, shouldn’t they at least be peeking through the surface by now as signs of Christ’s life in me? And how about self-control? They say the best test for this is when someone cuts you off in traffic. Or when family members frustrate you—again.

IMG_1777It will soon be time to clean out my flowerbeds, prune the dead branches, and cultivate my vegetable garden and plant new seeds. This year, it’s my prayer that these springtime chores will remind me to remove the dead weeds from my heart and cultivate spiritual fruit in my soul.

IMG_1790Which one of these Fruits of the Spirit do you most want to cultivate this spring?

Spiritual NICU

It is a pleasure to welcome my friend, Christine Bierma, as my guest on this week’s post. Christine is a talented young writer who posted this touching story on her blog, atrustworthysaying.com. We both know Baby Lucy’s parents and continue in prayer for this precious little one who was born at only 28 weeks.

Lucys-feetRecently I’ve spent many days inside the halls of the Rush University NICU while a little girl, who has captured my heart, fights to grow strong in a world she wasn’t meant to be in yet. She is being required to do things her little body isn’t ready for and to excel at tasks she isn’t at all qualified to accomplish.

It’s unfair.

It’s hard to watch.

It’s miraculous.

Each day she amazes her parents and her doctors as she clears hurdles and learns to be more and more independent. How much her tiny body needs to grow before she can leave the NICU is overwhelming if you look at it as a checklist. Each day has ups and downs and sometimes, it feels safer to just live hour to hour, your heart could break with concern otherwise.

Each time this little miracle clears a developmental hurdle all of her monitors are green and the alarms attached to her are silent for awhile then a nurse or doctor comes in to change or tweak something. Inevitably they take something away from her that has allowed her to rest comfortably or adjust something that will require her to adapt and change. As soon as they do, her monitors start vacillating from green to yellow to red and back again. The alarms in her tiny hospital room beep loudly signally that she is dangerously close to needing help. This constant push by the medical staff is maddening to her young mom who wishes with all of her being to see her little one safe and content and happy. It breaks her parents hearts to see their new baby girl fight and struggle, gasping for air or fighting to keep infections at bay.

Lucy-and-Danielle“Why?” her mom cried to me, “Why do they keep doing that to her? Why can’t they just leave her alone for awhile? I can’t watch, it feels like torture!”

As an outsider, an observer, I can clearly see that the doctors are simply doing what is required of them. I also can see that mom and dad are clearly doing their job. I can see that everyone has the same goal: to get this baby girl to graduate from the NICU. And yet, everyone has a different role to play. The medical staff has to push and push so that development will continue, even if it means pain, discomfort, risk and failure. The old adage two steps forward, one step back is very much a way of life. Our baby girl needs them to push her in order for her to grow strong and some day be independent.

However, in the midst of this pushing to develop, “kangaroo care” is so vitally important. Kangaroo care is “a method of caring for premature babies which involves holding a baby skin to skin with a parent for as many hours as is allowed.” This close hold will help regulate the baby’s temperature, heart rate, breathing and allow her to bond with her mother or father. She needs this love, this cuddling, and closeness. She needs to feel the warmth of her mother, to hear her father’s voice or rest in the rhythm of her mother’s heartbeat. There is no needle poking or prodding or pushing for a developmental milestone. There is only love and oneness and warmth and acceptance.

She needs both her doctors and nurses pushing and her mom and dad’s love in order for her to grow to the very best of her ability.

Watching her makes me think about myself, listening to her mom makes me think about God and how he cares for me in my spiritual growth. As I examine both her physical growth and my spiritual growth I have come to realize that God has me in a sort of “spiritual incubator.”

lucy-incubatorGrowth is never easy. It looks easy I guess, but there is a lot of effort involved, and sometimes pain. My own boy grew 6 inches in the year between freshman and sophomore year. He had tremendous pain in his legs and has stretch marks on his skin as permanent scars to remind him of that year. What kind of spiritual stretch mark scars do I have?

I sometimes feel like the alarms of my spiritual incubator are deafening as they continue to ring. There are times in my life that I have felt very close to needing to be “intubated” and I wonder out loud why God continues to push me and allow so much stress, conflict or turmoil in my life. Why is everything so hard? Why doesn’t He love me?

There are times that I long for God to pull me close and give me some “kangaroo care” and he does. I love the times when God feels so close I can hear him. The times when the words of the Bible speak directly to my heart and I rest in his close embrace. Unfortunately, it seems I can’t stay there…there is more growing to do.

This spiritual incubator is a hard place to be…it doesn’t feel safe all the time even if it is exactly the only environment that I can survive in. You see, as children of God, we are not designed to survive or excel in this sinful world. We need God’s constant touch, his constant oversight, his prodding and poking so that we can grow. We need his kangaroo care so we can survive. Let to ourselves we would not survive, we need Him. His goal for us is not to stay in this world, this time, this place…his goal is that we will graduate to someday be with him, in eternity.

This world is not our home, it’s the NICU…a period of time spent in a place that will one day be ancient history, a piece of our story. I don’t completely understand how it all works, God’s ways are mysterious to me on a lot of things. One thing I am certain of however, is that God loves me unconditionally and more than I could ever understand; just like my little fighter is loved more than she knows or understands. Her parents would give their life to save hers in a heartbeat if they could. They would trade places with her and take on all of her struggles to save her from one day of pain.

God loves us like that. In John 3:16 the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave is one and only son, Jesus, to die for us, to take our place. That whoever believes in him should not perish but would have eternal life.”

Jesus did give his life to save mine. One day he will take me home to be with him just like one day our rock star baby will go home to be with her family.

Until then…we grow.

To follow the story of the little fighter, Lucy, I have grown to love so much you can visit her CaringBridge site.

Written by Christine Bierma atrustworthysaying.com

King Hezekiah’s Seal

Gods and KingsIt’s been in the news but you may have missed it during the busy Christmas season. Archaeologists digging near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount have found a stamped clay seal that once belonged to the biblical King Hezekiah. As my readers know, I “wrote the book” on King Hezekiah—three books, in fact, and two more on his son King Manasseh. I used stories from the Old Testament along with my own research to create the five-book “Chronicles of the King” series about King Hezekiah’s life.667144301000100640360no

The Ophel in Jerusalem near where the seal was discovered
The Ophel in Jerusalem near where the seal was discovered

The clay seal that the archaeologists found was stamped with his name: Hezekiah son of Ahaz. It had once been used to seal a papyrus scroll, a document that was probably signed by Hezekiah himself. Archaeologists discovered it in a section of ancient Jerusalem where the king’s palace once stood.

Hezekiah's Broad Wall
Hezekiah’s Broad Wall

I love King Hezekiah! This descendant of King David and ancestor of Jesus Christ ruled from about 715 to 686 BC. And what a life he lived! A contemporary of the prophets Isaiah and Micah, he lived through the exile of Israel’s ten northern tribes by the brutal Assyrians. In fact, so many refugees fled to Jerusalem that Hezekiah enlarged the city and built a new wall around it for protection. A portion can still be seen in Jerusalem’s Old City. Hezekiah also dug a tunnel beneath the city to safeguard his water supply from the Assyrians, bringing water from the Gihon Spring to the newly built Pool of Siloam. He was in such a hurry to finish that his workmen began tunneling from both ends and met in the middle, an engineering marvel. It still carries water (and tourists) beneath Jerusalem.

Hezekiah's Tunnel
Hezekiah’s Tunnel

But what I love most about King Hezekiah, and what inspired me to write all those books about him, was his faith—his imperfect, often wavering, but true-to-the-end faith. I was intrigued by the fact that his wicked father, King Ahaz, sacrificed his sons to the pagan god Moloch, yet Hezekiah launched a religious revival in the first month of his reign, purifying the temple that his father had desecrated. He invited everyone to return to God and celebrate Passover, which hadn’t been kept in decades. Hezekiah’s faith grew as he faced trials. When the Assyrians first attacked, he asked Isaiah to pray for him. When they returned a second time, he went up to the Temple and bowed before God himself, asking Him to save Jerusalem so that all the kingdoms on earth would know that He alone is God.

Hezekiah's Tunnel and Gihon Spring
Hezekiah’s Tunnel and Gihon Spring

Hezekiah’s newly-discovered seal depicts a winged sun. Several news stories questioned his use of a non-Jewish symbol. But knowing what I do of his life, I think it’s a perfect symbol. Hezekiah became seriously ill and Isaiah told him to get his house in order because he was going to die. But Hezekiah prayed and God graciously granted him fifteen more years to live. As a sign that Hezekiah would indeed get well, God “gave wings” to the sun and caused it to briefly retreat backwards.

A few years later, the Assyrians surrounded Jerusalem and demanded Hezekiah’s surrender. Isaiah convinced him to trust God, promising that He would save the city. During the night, the Angel of Death killed 185,000 enemy troops and “the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!” God’s salvation from the Assyrians appeared as the sun was rising—just as centuries later our salvation through Hezekiah’s descendant Jesus Christ would come at dawn on Easter morning.

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Jerusalem

For a world that believes scripture is made up of fables and fairy tales, that its stories and people are fabricated and embellished, Hezekiah’s newly discovered seal offers proof to those who doubt, that God’s word is Truth.

For more information, try one of these links from December 4, 2015: colsoncenter@colsoncenter.org
http://www.timesofisrael.com/seal-bearing-name-of-judean-king-found-in-jerusalem/

Christmas Traditions

WP_000687For many years now, my book deadline has been January 15. That means I’m always racing to finish my novel during the holidays. With three children and a musician-husband whose busiest season is also Christmas, I decided several years ago to stop trying to produce a perfect “Hallmark” holiday. I sat everyone down and asked which traditions were most important to them, and together we came up with a Christmas celebration that is perfect for our family.

My husband’s family is mostly Dutch (except for his father, who barged into town and added the Austin name). To celebrate his heritage we set a pair of wooden shoes near our front door for St. Nicholas Day. Our kids never believed in Santa Claus since we wanted them to celebrate Christmas as Jesus’s birthday, but they loved those wooden shoes—and the fact that their father marched in them in Holland’s Tulip Time Parade when he was young.

WP_000686We also bake traditional Dutch Jan Hagel cookies and serve them with egg nog as we decorate our Christmas tree. The background music for this event is a CD that our church choir in Winnipeg, Canada recorded when my husband was their music director. Our tree isn’t magazine-worthy but we decorate it with love and with ornaments the kids made in school, as well as decorations from all the places we’ve lived and traveled.

WP_000685On Christmas Eve we hang the stockings that my sister Bonnie pieced and quilted for us years ago. She’s in heaven now, but we remember her with love when we see her beautiful handiwork. Our dinner on Christmas Day reflects my German background. Five days ahead of time, I begin marinating a beef roast in vinegar, onions and mixed pickling spices to make Sauerbraten. I also bake ginger snaps, which get crumbled up to thicken the traditional gravy. Served with spätzle and cooked red cabbage, this has become our favorite Christmas meal. Dessert is cake with candles for Jesus’s birthday.

WP_000682When our children were very small, I purchased an inexpensive nativity scene that they could handle without breaking. Every year they divvy up the shepherds and wise men and other figures and set each piece in place as my husband reads the Christmas story from the Bible. Now that our kids are grown and married, their spouses join in the tradition. I could buy a fancier nativity set but none of us wants to part with that old, well-worn one.

WP_000683Our traditions have continued to transform as our family has grown and added new members. We now celebrate Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, by lighting menorah candles and placing them in our window. I love eating warm potato latkes like the ones my great-grandmother used to make with sour cream and applesauce. Jesus also celebrated this traditional Jewish holiday (see John 10:22-23), a reminder of God’s provision and the rededication of His temple. For me, it’s a reminder that Jesus came at Christmas to bring light into a very dark world.

Jesus wants me to let my light shine too, but I can’t do that if I’m stressed out from trying to achieve Christmas perfection. The celebration of Christ’s birth should be a time to relax with my family and friends and enjoy God’s gracious gift of His Son. It’s in those moments with my loved ones close, that I feel the holy wonder of Christmas once again—Emmanuel, God with us!Creche Holy Family

Does your family have special Christmas traditions and foods?

The Festival of Joy

This past week I had the privilege of celebrating the Jewish Festival of Succoth with some of my Jewish friends and family members. Also known as the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles, it commemorates God’s provision in the wilderness for 40 years when His people lived in temporary shelters, protected by His Clouds of Glory. To prepare for the week-long festival, we built a temporary structure or sukkah using leaves and other natural materials. We covered it with a roof made of branches that allowed us to see the night sky above. Here is the work in progress on our back deck.

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When the booth was finished, we decorated it in fitting style for an outdoor, candlelit feast.IMG_4258

We enjoyed all our meals outside in the sukkah, but I especially loved our dinners after sunset when the air was cool and crisp and fall-scented. On the night of the lunar eclipse, we had a beautiful view of the “blood moon.” Dwelling outside is an act of faith. We leave our sturdy houses and all our material goods behind and step into a flimsy shelter to remind ourselves that our trust is in God and not in our own strength.IMG_4284

God commanded His people to “Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your feast . . .” (Deut. 16:13). Our menus included produce that we grew this summer in our garden, as well as fall favorites like carrots and beets and squash and apples from our local farmer’s market. The final harvest had been brought in, and we rejoiced in God’s provision.harvest

The Feast of Succoth is one of the three great festivals that God’s people are commanded to celebrate each year in Jerusalem (see Leviticus 23). The Festival of Passover celebrates Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt—Christians celebrate Christ’s sacrifice for our redemption on Passover (Good Friday), when we were redeemed and given new life. The Feast of Pentecost celebrates God’s gift of the Torah, the instruction book for this new life of freedom—Christians celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, equipping us to grow in faith and live for God. The Feast of Tabernacles celebrates our faith in God’s provision for our everyday lives; it’s a feast with God, our Beloved, where we invite Him to dine with us in our sukkah—Christians not only enjoy fellowship with God now, but we look forward to this promise given in Revelation 21:3– “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them and be their God.” To celebrate inside a sukkah is to get a tiny taste of the joy we will experience on that future day.IMG_4271

“Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles . . . For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete” (Deut. 16: 15). May God bless the work of your hands and give you His joy.

A Quiet Faith

handsWhen I think of the many Christian women who’ve inspired me, I always think of my paternal grandmother. I used to spend a week or two with her during summer vacations when I was a girl, and even though we were both eager to start each day together, Grandma always spent time with God first, reading her well-worn Bible and praying. Her faithfulness made a deep impression on me.

Sunday was the Lord’s Day, and I loved going to church with her. She was a lifelong member and a gifted pianist, playing for worship services and singing in the choir. My dad sang in the choir too, and thanks to Grandma, he had a perfect record of Sunday school attendance up to the day he enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 18 to fight in World War II. He was Grandma’s only child, and I believe her prayers kept him safe during those years. As scripture says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

T UnionGrandma was a teetotaler her entire life. She joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union when she was 16 and took the pledge to never touch a drop of liquor. Following the motto, “Lips that touch liquor shall not touch ours,” young temperance women vowed never to court or marry a man who used alcohol. Grandma married my grandfather when she was 25 and I never saw him drinking alcohol, either.

bookWhile researching one of my novels, I came across some fascinating information about the WCTU and it gave me even more admiration for my grandmother. I decided to feature this women’s organization in my novel, Though Waters Roar.

barThe Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was started in 1874 by a group of women who had firsthand experience of the evils of alcohol, often from family members such as their husbands, fathers or sons. At that time in America there was one saloon for every 300 people. In some towns, bars outnumbered all the schools, libraries, hospitals, theaters and parks—added together. The ladies of the WTCU vowed to do something about it. They held prayer meetings and vigils outside popular saloons (in all sorts of weather) and even went inside sometimes, to shame patrons into going home to their wives and families. When the ladies succeeded in closing one establishment, they moved on to the next, doing their work “For God, for home, and for native land.”

Carrie Nation, the wife of an alcoholic, took her protests a step further. She brought an axe to local train stations and smashed shipments of whiskey before the contents could be distributed. She was arrested numerous times, yet never quit.axe

On January 29, 1920, Congress passed the 18th Amendment and the Temperance women achieved their goal of total prohibition of the sale of alcohol throughout the United States. Remarkably, these women achieved this at a time when they still didn’t have the right to vote. Grandma was undoubtedly happy when the amendment passed—and likely disappointed when Prohibition was later rescinded in 1933.

hands pianoIf I could go back in time and relive any memory with my grandmother, I would choose the hours we spent sitting side-by-side on her piano bench, singing our way through her well-used hymnbook. How I loved to watch her soft, graceful hands caress the piano keys and hear her rich alto voice, a little shaky with age, as she harmonized with my girlish soprano. She taught me to love those old hymns, and I still enjoy them today, especially Grandma’s favorite, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Thanks to her, Jesus is my friend, too.

A Parable

IMG_3246I just drove down to the post office to mail an old, worn-out pair of shoelaces to a cat! It had to be one of the weirdest packages I’ve ever sent. But Dexter, who is my “grand-cat,” was lost without those shoelaces and overjoyed to have them back. Before you think I’ve gone off the deep end, here’s the story.

I’ve written about Dexter before—how he was a homeless, rescue cat that no one wanted. My daughter and her husband gave him a temporary foster home and “tamed” him to help their overcrowded, local animal shelter. When a permanent home was found and Dexter was suddenly snatched from our lives, we all realized how very much we’d grown to love him and his quirky personality. Dexter must have missed us too, because a week later, his new owners returned him to the shelter, saying things weren’t working out. My daughter and son-in-law welcomed him back, permanently adopting him into their home.IMG_2114

The old, tattered, half-unraveled shoelaces in this story came from my son-in-law’s hiking boots. He threw the laces into the garbage after replacing them with a new pair. Dexter retrieved them from the trash and made them his new favorite toy. Tied together, they make one long string that he entertains himself with for hours. He holds one end of the lace in his mouth and runs in circles around a chair or under the dining room table, wildly chasing the other end. Sometimes the shoelace gets so entangled in the chair rungs that his creation resembles a spider’s web. Unconcerned, he leaves it there when he’s finished playing. He has figured out how to unravel it again when he’s ready to renew the chase.

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I kitty-sat for Dexter and his cat-brother, Leonidas, when my daughter and her husband went on vacation two weeks ago. Dexter had a grand time chasing his shoelace all over my house while he was here and winding it around my dining room chairs. And I have to admit that I enjoyed my morning snuggles with him when he would climb onto my lap to be hugged and petted, purring like a chainsaw, shedding white fur everywhere. But when we drove the cats back to Chicago, we accidentally left the shoelace behind. No other cord or string or shoelace could take the place of the worn-out, fraying one Dexter had grown to love. So I mailed it back to him. He retrieved it from the envelope himself.IMG_3250

IMG_2662Now, I’m normally not one of those people who give human emotions to animals. But I can’t deny that Dexter’s shoelace makes him happy. And his story moves me because it’s such a perfect picture of redemption. My daughter and son-in-law took a wild, bedraggled cat into their home and redeemed him through their love and patience. He’s not the same animal that first arrived at the shelter. And Dexter’s “love” for a worn-out, discarded shoelace transformed it into a toy that was worthy of first-class postage.

indexGod redeems us because He is somehow able to look past our rough exterior and see a beloved child in need of grace. And the love He extends to us through His Son Jesus has the power to transform us and change our lives. Every time I look at Dexter and his shoelace I have to wonder how often I’ve turned away from difficult, unlovable people, judging them unredeemable, unworthy of my time or compassion or love. And I wonder what miracles might take place if I learned to see people the way this once-unlovable cat saw a piece of trash. Or the way our Heavenly Father sees me.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103: 13-14).

 

A Year in Review

It’s popular this time of year for TV specials to review the past 12 months and remind us of all the events that occurred. I did something similar on January 1st and looked at my own year in review. Every morning during my quiet time I keep a journal, jotting down what I’ve been doing, what I’m praying for, and any insights that God shows me as I read my Bible. Sometimes it’s easy to miss the miraculous in the details of daily living, but as I re-read my journal for 2014, God’s hand became amazingly clear.IMG_1509

His answers to prayer, for instance. I began the year with many pleas for guidance as my husband prepared to retire from his job after 22 years. All the details of his retirement seemed overwhelming to me a year ago and occupied my prayers: selling our home, packing and purging and cleaning, moving to a new home in a new state, enduring financial changes, leaving friends and family behind. But here we are, settled-in and thriving, enjoying the changes, and thanking God for bringing us here. All that worry—for nothing!

IMG_0304There were prayers for family members too, chief among them for our son to find a job after earning his PhD in May. It was a nail-biter and the waiting seemed endless, but in God’s perfect timing a job opened up for him at the beginning of the college year, one he is enjoying immensely. Looking back at answered prayers gives me faith to believe that God will answer my future prayers too, in the year ahead.

IMG_0326(1)On January 1, 2014, I wrote: “A brand new year. I can’t imagine what it will bring, but I’ll trust in God. I long to live intentionally, to enjoy life every day, and not simply mark time on a calendar or check off a to-do list.” Little did I know all the places I would go or how much I would need to trust Him! In March I traveled on a speaking tour to the Netherlands. When I returned I wrote, “God gave me strength and His words to speak. He is able to do more than we can ever ask or imagine.” I also spoke at Sandy Cove Retreat Center in Maryland, and went on a wonderful speaking tour in Germany in June. In my journal I recalled how terrified I used to be of public speaking and of flying. “I wonder how often my fear and doubt have caused me to miss the good things God planned for me,” I wrote. “If I had remained fearful of speaking and flying, I would have missed the blessings of serving Him in these amazing places.” I used to have so much fear—when all along, God held my life in His faithful hand.

QuoteAs 2014 drew to a close, I wrote on December 31: “This has been a year of so many changes and new beginnings! Lord, help me to change in the days ahead and become more and more like Jesus.” And when I think about it, maybe that’s what the trials and challenges we face are really all about—teaching us to trust our Savior and to become more and more like Him. As a New Year begins, I pray that God will help me replace worry and fear with faith and trust in Him.