Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Six Week Sprint

Thanksgiving is the starting gun for the race to the end of the year. I love this season. It seems to me that the month from Thanksgiving through Christmas, and then another week to New Year's Day, is so filled with family, celebration, general hustle and hilarity (yes...and football)  that the days simply fly by. The last twelfth of the year is here and gone before we know it.
Something I anticipate almost as much as the partying with family and friends is time by myself. These are the weeks every year when I do personal reflection and evaluation, and then planning for the next year, should I be favored with 365 more treasured days of opportunity. I look back through the months, weeks, days and moments that have passed, and take an honest 360 degree read: how well did I do? Did I make significant impact with my one and only life? Did the people who count on me for love, direction, support get my best? Do I look and act more like Jesus than I did on January 1? The things I did this past year--are they the significant things in which he would have invested his life?

I always have some moments of chagrin when I acknowledge particular areas I could have an should have done better. But my Heavenly Father is quick to encourage me to press on for the next days. That's a guarantee we only get as committed Christ-followers. We are the only ones who know for certain that the best is yet to come! So, after the evaluation is over, I celebrate my wins, and move on to the next chapter. Every year of my life I want to be more significant for Christ and His Kingdom than the year before. When that is true, every other piece of my life sees me attaining goals and significance. When He is your Life-Director, you do well in all the important arenas you surrender to him.

Years back a young man wrote to Mother Teresa with a compelling question--one that might be on your mind as you contemplate the year that will end and the one that will start in about 35 days. The letter writer knew that this humble woman who reached the world's stage from a life buried in the needs of the most broken in Calcutta's slums was obviously one who would know the answer. "What can I do to have a significant life?"

Mother Teresa's postcard reply was four simple words: "Find your own Calcutta." She was saying, "Find a person or people who need you, and then give yourself to loving them." That's a definite life plan for anyone who wants to actually do something significant with their one and only life.
You don't have to go to Calcutta to find YOUR Calcutta. Mine is right here. Akron, Ohio. All around me are people who are lost, like sheep without a Shepherd. They need truth--direct, honest, loving, delivered with an arm of help around their shoulders. They need someone to believe that they can flourish, and challenge them to it. They need to live with a Big Picture. God works with me to keep my radar tuned for people who need the difference He and I can make. I wake up every day with the expectation, "I am going to make a significant difference today."
But it's not a random expectation. It is a decision I made in the last twelfth of the year before. This is my shot. By God, it will be significant.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Stories You Didn't Hear in Sunday School

I'm not a sissy. Not particularly skittish or squeamish. I am a faithful fan of THE WALKING DEAD, for pity sakes. I think I've earned my stripes.

But I've been poring over the Old Testament in depth lately, reading quite a few stories Mrs. Jennings didn't tell me in Sunday School, stories Mom never read before we went to bed, either. Some of them give me chills. Goosebumps. Literally. Some downright brutal, awful things. Now, before you jump to conclusions about a raging, tyrannical, violent God, that's not what these stories are about. The God in them has a broken heart. He didn't want any of these awful things to happen. But every story has one theme in common. Every single horror story was acted out by someone who had put their own desires and opinions above everyone else, and had chosen to live out, "I will do this. What I feel, want, desire is more important than anything else."

Actually, I hear some pretty frightful stories that are being written and acted out every week myself. I haven't seen anyone cut to pieces literally, but I have seen people left with their heart, soul, and sense of dignity left in shreds.  Haven't seen eyes poked or burnt out, but I have seen people so seared by evil and poor decisions they can't see truth or goodness anymore. I haven't seen children sacrificed to Baal, but I have seen them sacrificed to careers, sexual precociousness and predators, dilatory parents...oh, so many idols of our day. Oh, the stories I could tell.

The difference in the Old Testament stories is that every one knows who the bad guys are, and calls them out.  Today we pretend we don't. We pretend no one (not even God in His Word) gets to decide what is wrong or right for someone else. Everyone gets to do what makes them feel good, empowered, fulfilled--no matter what.

Now there's a scary story.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The First Snow of the Season

While many northeastern Ohioans were crying, "OH, NO!" in dismay, I was gleefully exulting, "Oh, SNOW!" I love all four seasons, and the first snow sighting still revs my engines. Our three grandchildren were on our porch as the first flakes lazily drifted down. Apparently, snow dance moves are genetically passed through the generations, because I immediately recognized their hip-hops and hand claps, accompanied by delighted squeals. I had done the dance many times myself, and even now my feet started the snow boogie again.

Snow is so easy to love. For starters, snow is quietly powerful. Without a sound, it just does its thing. We go to bed at night, and by morning the silent snow has blanketed the world and shut the entire city down. No fanfare. Just consistently persevering.

Then there's that teamwork thing. Left to itself, a snowflake is infinitely fragile. It accomplishes nothing, melts and is gone in a nano-second. But together--wow. Those snowflakes are a mighty force. Together they can make 6 foot high drifts, bow tree limbs in half, and last an entire winter.

How about its way of making less than beautiful things shimmer and shine? There's a little old house on our road that is unkempt and substandard in every way. It would be a compliment to call it ordinary. But give us a good snowfall, and that house looks like a storybook cottage. The snow covers its flaws, and allows it to take a place among homes that please the eye during any season. Reminds me of Peter's perspective: "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." I Peter 4:8

Quiet, unassuming, persevering power. Consistency and teamwork. Graciously making things beautiful. 

 Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I love books. The best present I have received in a while was another bookcase for my office. About every six months, I have to go through my books and reluctantly divest myself of books I no longer have room to shelve. My overload spilled on the floor for a few weeks (ok...so it was months) until I got this new shelf. I have a red Kindle. I love it, loaded up with fascinating reading material. But dead truth, I love the feel of a "real" book in my hands, delight in leafing through the pages, marking it up, making it mine.

Books have long been some of my best friends ever. They have taken me around the world and into the far reaches of the universe. They have escorted me into military strategy rooms and the Oval Office, palaces and shanties, into the mind of a child and the wonderings of a sailor lost at sea. Books have counseled me, guided me, encouraged me, corrected me, taught me. Books have urged me to dream bigger, believe longer, try harder. When I was alone, books kept me company. On sleepless nights, books stayed up with me. When I needed to laugh or cry, books knew how to bring it out of me.  Many times I started a relationship with a book and its characters reluctantly because it was not a book I had chosen. But before the read was finished, I was hooked.

Books are potent because they are collections of finely chosen and well-arranged words. That combination speaks life and understanding. My daughter Rachel is an aficionado of finely chosen words. (See what I mean? Aficionado means "a person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about an activity, subject, or pastime". Isn't that more lively than saying "Rachel is good with words"?  She doesn't find something to be really hard--it is daunting.  That situation wasn't simply a mess. It was a fiasco. Words add color and life to our worlds. It is no small thing that Jesus Christ is called "the Word" in John 1. Every marvelous miracle of understanding, inspiration, and more that words can do, He does...to infinity.

This month of Thanksgiving I am thankful for Jesus, the Word. For my Bible, the first and most important book I ever read. For my parents, who encouraged me to read at four years, and immediately put the biographies of Joan of Arc, George Mueller, John Knox, Albert Schweitzer, and more in my hands . For my teachers who exposed me to hundreds of authors who would expand my world. For Barbour Publishing who gave me a chance to arrange finely-chosen words myself. For every person who has ever shared that something I wrote helped them on the journey.

I love words. I love books.