Waiting

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Today I sit in the waiting room. It’s pretty typical in most respects… rows of matching chairs, receptionist at the front desk, and tables with out-of-date magazines. The walls, however, lack the typical non-descript “art” intended (I think) to have a calming effect on the waitees. Instead, four large, toothy muskies hang on the walls, seemingly swimming through mid-air. Toothy seems consistent with a dental office. And stuffed fish, well, this is Wisconsin. Most of the men want to display their “trophies”, and most of their wives don’t want that “dead stuff” in the house. I’m guessing that’s how the stuffed fish ended up here.

I sit, waiting for my name to be called. I pass the time somewhat restlessly, writing to the serenade of high-pitched drills and airy suction tubes. An oldies station unsuccessfully attempts to disguise the sounds down the hall. It’s not that I mind going to the dentist. When I’m in the chair all is well. In fact, I’m often tempted to sleep.  (Those are about the most comfortable chairs known to man. Do they make them for home use?) It’s the waiting I could live without.

This is not the only waiting room I’m in right now. God has me in His spiritual waiting room. He is nurturing and preparing me for what lies ahead. I’m between appointments… marking time… trying to use it wisely, trying to do the things which honor God (though some days are definitely better than others). My soul is restless. I’m eager to move on, to continue my journey with Jesus. I’m having a hard time fleshing out Psalm 40:1, “I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined to me, and heard my cry.”

Of course, I’m in good company! Joseph sat in the waiting room of an Egyptian prison for a number of years before becoming Pharaoh’s right-hand man. David sat in the waiting room of a cave, hiding from Saul’s murderous ways, before ascending to the throne. And Moses’s waiting room was Midian, where he spent 40 years hanging out with the sheep before leading Israel out of Egypt. (At least my waiting room is comfortable!) These great patriarch’s were human, too. I’d like to believe they’d understand my restless impatience.

The last time God called me out of the waiting room, He took me through a time of incredible growth, complete with some growing pains. I learned about helping other people walk through life’s trials, face life’s challenges, and mourn life’s losses. I learned about my own shortcomings and sins. I learned a great deal about my God. All that I gained made the wait worthwhile… but the waiting I could live without.

Chicken Run

Today when I take the chickens their daily rations, my big Brahma hen tries to lead a prison bust, making a break for the door with half the flock at her heels. I dutifully block the doorway. A stiff north wind rushes down through the pine grove and across the small pasture (if you can call the unique blend of weeds growing out there pasture). The snow isn’t exactly “falling.” It’s racing horizontally across the barnyard, endlessly restless.

When we first moved to the farm, my cousin snuck through the yard and left eleven feathered friends in our newly-acquired coop (despite our protests). Had he not always been one of my favorite cousins, we might have protested more loudly. We knew nothing about keeping poultry.

We learned that first winter that chickens are prone to pneumonia… and that their combs freeze and turn black… and that their eggs freeze and crack. The coop was large and the flock was small. Even heat lamps couldn’t combat the cold. Nearly half of our layers died.

So, today I keep my ward of two dozen layers, and the body heat they’ve generated, imprisoned. Well, that’s how they see it anyway. They’re accustomed to their freedom, wandering through the yard at their leisure, consuming anything not fenced off. They resent their boundaries. However, today doing what they want will put them in harm’s way and could even prove deadly. If only they understood I’m trying to protect them. Of course, that would be expecting a great deal from a creature whose brain could fit inside a ping pong ball with ample room to spare.

I leave food and water in their cell and bolt the door behind me. The wind grabs me from behind and shoves me toward the house. As I race along with the snow, God calls me to consider how chicken-like I often am.

Like the chickens, I grow accustomed to my freedom, wandering about aimlessly doing what I please, saying what I please, eating what I please, spending money as I please… whenever I please. Yes, a few small fences keep me from total indulgence, but there is so much out there to feed the flesh: media, music, entertainment, gossip, endless and meaningless chatter, junk food, lazing about, obsession with our physical appearance, new décor, better and faster technology, big toys, little toys, you know, stuff.  Stuff that, when left unchecked, will put me in harm’s way and may even prove deadly.

So, God gives me boundaries. He makes His will known in the living Word, the Bible. His commandments are life-giving. When I walk in obedience to them, His boundaries protect me from Satan’s fiery darts, and free me from my own flesh’s desires (both of which are hell-bent on my demise). David captured the paradox so well in Psalm 119:44-45, “So I will keep Your law continually, forever and ever.  And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts.” I enjoy the greatest freedom when I willingly submit to God’s lordship… when I walk in obedience.

Too often I’m like that silly bird, foolishly trying to escape God’s protective care under the delusion I’m a prisoner. I try to make a break for it, knowing that satisfying me is a great deal of fun. Well, at least for a while.  Then I begin to see sin taking its toll on my body and soul, putting me in harm’s way and leading me toward death. If only I understood He is trying to protect me. Intellectually I do understand, but my choices often betray my heart.

If my brain could fit inside a ping pong ball with ample room to spare, running after my own desires would be understandable. I’d just be following my natural instincts.  But unlike my hen, I’m created in the image of God.  I have the ability to discern my options and the will to choose whom I will serve, my Friend or my foe.  I need strength and wisdom to use my freedom in Christ to the glory of God.

Cat Antics

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Today I enjoy the antics of our youngest cat. She is my daily reminder that God has a playful side. A Creator who lacked a humorous bent could never have created this cat. She is charmingly devilish, full of affection one moment and mischief the next.

Honey’s favorite trick is to pick up her toys with her teeth, and carry them around the house. She’s worse than a toddler, leaving a trail of discarded items exactly where she lost interest in them. (Can you train a cat to pick up its toys?) To make matters worse, her toys are not really her toys. She snatches things… strange things, from bedrooms, countertops, or dressers… things like scarves, packs of gum, necklaces and fabric scraps.

This morning’s toy of choice is a one-gallon Ziploc bag she pulled out of the drawer (thankfully it is clean and empty). She’s a small cat. Her toy de jour is a bit big. I chuckle affectionately as I watch her struggle to drag it down the basement stairs. She holds her chin high and walks wide-legged, the bag between her front paws, trying not to step on it. To her credit, she’s determined. But once the bag is halfway downstairs the game is over. Honey drops it and moves on to new mischief. As usual, I pick up the clutter.

A Creator who lacked a humorous, playful bent could never have created me either. There are times God must look down and affectionately chuckle at my antics. He knows how silly I can be! I struggle clumsily along trying to carry a burden that isn’t really even mine and is obviously beyond me. But I’m determined. I have something to prove about my own strength and independence. When I finally get tired, I drop the burden and it falls on God to pick up the cluttered mess I’ve left behind.

The only burden I’m called to carry is the yoke of service to Christ, a paradoxical yoke of freedom. It’s such a sweet call, “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)   All the other burdens I pick up along the way; cares, worries, anxieties, striving, busyness, conflicts, expectations, hurts, disappointments, sorrows… wear me out. They steal away my joy and freedom in serving Christ. I am called to cast these onto Jesus because He cares for me. (I Peter 5:7)

In a few years Honey will mature into a very contented lap cat. She’ll still play from time to time, but will have learned her own limitations. She’ll rest more. She’ll struggle less. A few years down the road, let’s hope I’m as wise!

God Unchanging

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Today the unbroken snow field sparkles with brilliant sunlight. It looks like the angels were making Christmas cards and accidently spilled the white glitter. Along the tree line, the sun casts long steel-blue shadows across the white field. I sit for a while, sipping my hot chocolate and admiring the view from our patio doors. As the sun climbs higher, the shadows slink slowly and quietly away. I can’t sit here all day, but I know they will only venture out again when the sun begins to sink. The changing shadows have a certain beauty. Though they are fleeting, they add depth and character to the monochromatic landscape.

Usually, my life ticks along uneventfully, my hours filled with the mundane duties of daily living. We aren’t world travelers. Our children aren’t prodigies. We have done nothing to merit notoriety. In short, we’re sort of monochromatic (some might even say “boring”). But fleeting circumstances do, from time to time, cast shadows over our lives. This year has had its share of shadows.

Some of those shadows were intriguing; for instance, trying to unfold the mysteries in my family tree. A few were a little scary — our teenage daughters (19 and 17 years old) road-tripping from Wisconsin alone to meet us in Nashville. Others were beautiful — making some new friends and being reunited with some old ones. And a handful were dark and ominous — discovering the enemy we’re supposed to love isn’t always outside the four walls of the church. God has used all these shifting shadows, good and bad, to add depth and character to my soul.

There were days the shadows nearly overwhelmed me. Things looked bleak and distorted, like a moonlit cemetery in an old black and white horror flick. One truth kept me grounded. The shadows would change, but God would not. James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:6).

As the shifting shadows come and go, God remains constant. I know He is good, even when my circumstances are not. I know He is with me, even when I do not sense His nearness. I know He is faithful, even when I am unfaithful. I know He will never fail me, even when people do. I know He is always truthful, even when the world is full of lies. I know He is gracious, even when I fail. I know He is just, even when life seems unfair. I know He is eternal, when all else is passing swiftly by. I know He is all-sufficient, when the stuff of life fails to satisfy.

“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee. All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”                  -Thomas Obadiah Chisholm

Beauty through Adversity

 

Today we climb in the car while Orion keeps watch over the wee morning hours. The girls and I doze while my husband drives west into the first hints of daybreak, then north into a sapphire sky. The roads are quiet and the miles between home and Cornucopia quickly fly by. We park near the snow-covered beach, don our ice cleats, grab our walking sticks, and begin the mile-long hike over Lake Superior’s frozen swells to the first of many ice caves.

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The Lord will See it. He will Provide.

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Today I watch the chickadees flit from tree to tree. They fluff their feathers against the bitter cold and go about their search for food, apparently carefree and confident their maker will provide their needs.

There are may names for God in scripture. The one this scene brings to mind is Jehovah-Jireh: “The Lord will see it… He will provide.” It was first introduced when Abraham took Isaac to Mt. Moriah to make sacrifices to Yahweh. Unbeknownst to Isaac, he was supposed to be the sacrifice. When Isaac asked his father where the sacrificial lamb was, Abraham simply answered, “God will provide.” And he did. He provided a ram for Abraham so Isaac would be spared.

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Whiter than Snow

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Today God covers all outdoors with a fresh, white blanket. A steady snow transforms darkness to light. It’s really quite amazing. God’s visual aid shows me the transformation of my own dark heart when I take my sin to Christ’s cross for cleansing.
“Purify me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)

Whiter than snow… I look out the window and wonder that anything could be whiter than snow. I wonder that my wicked heart could be made so clean, not just once, but over and over again, like each fresh snowfall, no matter how great the sin.

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Conforming

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Today I stop and watch the river running through our yard, a dark ribbon lying on a silky white sheet.  Don’t be overly impressed here.  It’s really only a creek (someone more athletically-inclined could jump across it) but it is the north branch of the Little Wolf River.  No matter how cold it gets, that little river never freezes over.   It just keeps moving steadily along its course.  When boulders and branches clutter the way, it alters its course to follow the path of least resistance, determined to reach its final destination.  That river refuses to be stopped.

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A Time to Mourn

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Today’s dismal sky mirrors my mood. The cold clouds seem to notice my demeanor. A crystalline winter shower sifts down as they try to shake off their indifference – the closest thing to empathetic tears they can muster this time of year.

One of our former pastors died earlier this week. The funeral was today. He didn’t die of illness. Or old age. Or an accident. He died of depression. Of desperation. Of irrepressible despair.

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God’s Heralds

 

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Today my windshield is frosted white with feathery finesse. The grass and trees have been powder sugared, and the damp air has an unmistakable edge. Jack Frost passed through last night, leaving his frosty fingerprints on everything he touched. I’m not sure what kept him this year. Maybe he was vacationing in the Yukon! Whatever the case, he arrived later than usual.

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