Category Archives: Faith

No Strangers Admitted

No strangers admitted. It sounds cliquish or downright hostile—not a legacy we want to leave as Christians.

Yet two of the most spiritual women I know (who are among my favorite people) practice this theology every day of their lives. And without apology.

Debbie and Mindy would never dream of admitting a stranger into their lives. Instead, they make everyone a friend and usually about as quick as it takes to say hello.

Years ago, Debbie and her husband John sat a few rows in front of us on a flight to Cancun. On arrival at the Mexican terminal, Debbie proudly introduced us to the third occupant of their row. She not only knew the girl’s name and story, but informed us that she’d invited her to visit us at our condo in Akumal sixty-five miles away.

That might not sound terribly unusual if you’re imagining a couple of twenty-somethings planning a beach party or splitting the cost of a boat rental.

Not the story here.

Though Debbie isn’t against being the life of a party, what she had in mind was encouraging a  new friend. You see, Debbie makes a habit of engaging those she can point to Jesus. And if you already know him, your burdens are hers. People are her calling.

When I walk with Mindy in her neighborhood, we stop to talk with people blocks away from her house. She asks one how his wife is recovering from a recent illness and the next about the job. She knows family members by name, and everyone seems to know her.

When Mindy’s in a crowd of teenagers, she’s no less popular. That’s because she has a knack for zeroing in on those who might benefit from her special brand of mentoring. It makes no difference whether they are church kids or random youth on a picket line; the eager and the hostile alike benefit from her gentle concern.

Those of us who find it difficult to dive into friendship with strangers often chalk it up to a difference in personality.

I’m just shy. Or that’s not my thing.

After all, we say, I ‘m friendly and caring. I chat with strangers in the line at the grocery store. I empathize with my friends, and even weep with those whose troubles are plastered on the television screen. But if you are like me, you’re usually too self-conscious and second-guessing of your observations to enter someone’s life without a direct invitation. It makes us uncomfortable.

At a Hume Lake marriage retreat we attended years ago, Bob Phillips and Ken Poure taught about the four basic personality types using the then popular Gary Smalley/John Trent Personality Inventory. Each character type is named for an animal with corresponding traits. (For a quick synopsis or to see how those line up with other assessments, check here.) At the conference we learned that Otters, for example, find it easy to talk to strangers, while Golden Retrievers are good listeners.

Those groups ought to shine at the hard and sometimes messy work of befriending strangers because it fits their personality. The rest of us rest of us are off the hook. Right?

But the Otters have a handicap. Sometimes they’re shallow and egocentric. And the Retrievers can be too fearful to approach people. So then maybe the job of befriending strangers should go to the adventurous Lions. But it turns out they might as easily be cold when it comes to people. And the discerning Beavers have a tendency to be unsocial.

God created every personality type to minister to people.

Though each of us has a strength we could use, we also carry one or more potential weakness that could sabotage the same mission. That’s because all strengths become liabilities when they are not continually nurtured and led by the Spirit. Sounds like these personality downsides might have something in common with sin.

The S… word is our clue that self-conscious reticence will have no place in God’s kingdom. We won’t be able to claim our quiet contemplative nature, our fear, or our lack of emotional warmth either. Our temperament does not excuse us from the business of loving. Besides, if we’re honest, we often don’t even see those who are hungry for kindness. We’ve got our nose in the grocery list, the meeting agenda or some other equally urgent matter.

Like Gears in Sync

Like Gears in Sync

All of us should approach strangers with our eyes open to possible friendship, witness, and service. Like Debbie and Mindy we need to let God empower the strengths he has given us. Though my friends do have winning personalities, their secret is that they are already moving in sync with Jesus when it comes to caring about people. And, like Jesus, people admitted into their lives don’t remain strangers. They become friends.

Ditch Picnics and Poetry

BooksThe spring my granddaughter, Kaylee, was five we took lessons in reading outside of the box. I, of course, had years of reading behind me. But she had only the alphabet and a handful of three-letter words at her command. Together we ventured by way of a picnic of cheese sandwiches into poetry and friendship.

My book club had met for a year or two when we settled on George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind. In the story, death is personified as the mystical, gentle, and yet fierce North Wind who takes the young boy, Diamond, on night excursions that foreshadow his impending death. Sunny and silly poems temper the solemn subject matter in the children’s story. The prose is light and lovely, devotional in nature.

In a new move for our book club, Jana, who has an English degree, wanted to read aloud a poem from Diamond’s idyllic day at the seashore. I remembered the one—birds flying, lambs skipping, daisies growing—sweet, but a little repetitive.

Jana thumbed through the book to find her place and began to read. Her voice of silver and earth soon dissolved the room. Meadow flowers overhung a brook crossing at our feet. Birds wheeled on the wind, diving fast with wings spread, celebrating the gift of life. Lambs stumbled and balked, then nosed each other before skipping away to beginning their worship anew.

Jana’s voice wavered with emotion. Tears came to our eyes while the daisies waved, showering thankful petals on the breeze.

I don’t know if I got all the details exact. But that’s due to time, not because I didn’t see it clearly then. Jana’s voice transcribed the poetry into pictures. Her emotion made them magic.

Tea Party

Tea Party

A day or three later, I was playing picnic with Kaylee. I sliced plastic donuts on petal-pink plates with a tiny plastic knife and fork. Kaylee poured pretend tea from her silver pot and looked up at me. “Couldn’t we have a real picnic?”

“Well…I suppose we could make sandwiches.”

“And can we go outside?”

The grass was damp, so we folded the old tan bedspread with the modern art flowers double on the flat grass above the drainage ditch that cuts across our hilly lot. We nibbled our potato chips and quarters of granny smith apples, pouring juice from a Popples thermos that had belonged to her mother.

With lunch finished we poked sticks into the gully, snagging winter-rotted leaves as they hurried for the pond that would be their grave.

When I retreated from the water, I grabbed my book and called Kaylee back to the blanket. “Do you want to hear a poem?” I asked, hoping to share the magic of the book club with her.

Kaylee plopped down to listen and lay very still, her feathery hair floating with the breeze. She seemed mesmerized by the song-like words. But when I got to the end, she bounced up without a word to pick the flowers, small as seeds, that littered the lawn.

Maybe she was a bit young.

At lunchtime the next day she brought the tea set downstairs. “Can we have another picnic?”

Her pleading eyes sealed the deal. I headed for the kitchen to make the sandwiches, but she called me back. “Don’t forget your book.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThough we had read Dr. Seuss and the Grimm Brothers all her short life, the ditch picnic marked the beginning of our literary friendship. We returned to the ditch and the George MacDonald poem more than once.

But soon, Kaylee was off to school and bringing me things that she liked. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo were two of our favorites. Later, we fell in love with A Bridge to Terebithia and Inkheart. Discussion questions sometimes led to thoughtful conversation we might have otherwise missed. And we celebrated too, rewarding ourselves with movie premiers or video rentals.

Kaylee has grown a lot. Our discussions turn now on the writing style of The Wind in the Willows, the faithfulness of The Hobbit movie to the book, or the moral issues in The Hunger Games. We continue to share our discoveries, but in addition  we encourage each other in our writing adventures as well.

We learned lessons in reading and listening outside of our little boxes that spring. And I learned that my granddaughter makes a thoughtful companion. Our picnic and poem inspired what I hope will be a lifelong legacy of friendship through books.

A Little More About the 1000 Generations

A Very Few Generations Back

A Very Few Generations Back

I want to dream big for a moment, because I think that’s what it will take to leave a legacy that will last a thousand generations.

On the about page I talked about why I incorporated Exodus 20:6 into the tagline of Carry the Blessing. I discussed God using us in his mission to bless a thousand generations.

In this post it’s the number in that verse that concerns us.

Take a look at it written a different way:

1000 Generations

Not a thousand years (the track my mind keeps wanting to turn down,) but a thousand generations. That’s a very long time. So long, in fact, that it dwarfs the distance from the cross. Generations are measured at anywhere from 20 to 30 years. If we take the shorter, 20 years, and we’re 2000 years from Christ and another 1400+ back to the giving of that promise to Moses, then we are a little past generation 170.

But is this a literal one thousand generations of direct descent?

I usually hope for a literal interpretation of scripture when there’s poetry at stake. Things like mountains singing and trees clapping their hands give me a shiver of anticipation. And if the stones start to cry out…I’m all in. I’d like to see God breathe life into the inanimate. While the natural world is beautiful and elaborate beyond word or art, it’s fun to imagine the glories that might be possible in a world restored. Images of singing mountains and crying rocks speak the wonder of God to our spirit.

A magic of a gray day not diminished by a dumpster in the foreground.

Facsimile of Glory

Of course, these scriptures could be figurative only. And so too our one thousand generations. While the Hebrew verse probably means just a very long time or, more accurately, a whole lot of people, neither of those express the magnitude of God’s blessing quite as well as the poetry of “one thousand generations.”

One thousand generations is a picture of boundless mercy—the love of Christ stretching through our life into the indefinite.

Or could it be both poetic and literal? Is it possible that a thousand generations could be blessed through us?

The Bible pictures our lives as branches grafted into a living vine. We bear fruit when the life of the vine flows through us to others in acts of love. But vines are often tangled, making it hard to see the whole picture. The multiple branchings are more obvious if you think of a tree. New limbs divide off of and run concurrently with main branches. The thousand generations might do the same thing. Think of the number of lives God has blessed through a Jonathan Edwards or a Billy Graham.

Most of us are not likely to reach a thousand outright. Still, we might reach it in a different way. Andy Andrews illustrates the phenomenon of unexpected impact in his book The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters. His inspiring video explains the premise much better than I can, but here’s my illustration:

Say the Compassion child you sponsor, has a mother, father, and maybe a grandparent at home. That’s three generations. If you help change a child’s life such that it affects his children and grandchildren, that’s five (not to mention the countless opportunities for blessing that each of them might have in their lifetime.) And if you support more than one child, it could really add up.

It’s likely that reaching any one person sends off side shoots you will never know about in this life. Good News Clubs affect curious older siblings that don’t attend. Prison or street ministries change families you never meet. Medical missions leave a graft behind in a foreign land. There are lots of places where blessings multiply over time.

But we need to dream big and take action. God has a legacy he wants to leave the generations. He wants to funnel our love and obedience into the lives of others until the blessing overwhelms them and they, in turn, bless a thousand others.

Do you believe God could use you to bless a thousand generations?

 

The Stuck Pickup…and other legends III

Stuck in the Mind

See Part I here, and here for Part II

The Innocent Party

The Innocent Party

Now we come to the finer points of waiting out a hot…did I say hot? Make that a miserable  day of extreme heat.

But I had no right to gripe. I got to spend it at the river, plunging in to cool off when I wanted. Nicole was easily the happiest member of our party, swimming, watching the boats, even napping in the porta-crib with sweat beaded on her face. My Dad, on the other hand—

But I’ll get to that in a minute.

We had high hopes of rescue every time a group of canoe and kayakers rallied to the chore of delivering us from the river. And that was often. The Buffalo National River is almost a mandatory pilgrimage for those who love paddle boats. And since it was summer and high season, an unending stream of boats nosed past us while our pickup dangled its slipper in the river’s main channel.

So how many canoeists did it take to lever us out of the water? I can tell you the magic wasn’t in two or three or even four additional sets of biceps. The legend gets a little hazy at this point. I chalk that up to that honest fish tale phenomenon mentioned earlier. While I’m sure it was ten who couldn’t lift the rear of the truck, my husband remembers it as at least eight.

With the truck resting on its belly, and the water deeper just off the right rear fender, those trying to muscle it upward stood low enough that they had to lift from the chest, unable to get their legs into it. My father was cautious too, not allowing anyone to get into a position that had a potential for danger. He didn’t want anyone swept under the truck or to have it fall on them.

After many attempts, my dad accepted the commission for a of a six mile slog through the Arkansas jungle to Morning Star in one hundred plus degree heat to get a tow truck . The fortunate got to spend the next several hours politely rebuffing all the high school youth who passed in their flotillas, assuring them that stronger men than they had already failed to evict the truck from the river.

A better way to cross rivers

A better way to cross rivers

*

The question is: why is repeating this adventure something of a family tradition? Why any story? Quirky details or hyped emotions might decide which stories we choose to tell, but they don’t explain our need to tell them.

I think storytelling reminds us who we are. Our lives are in a constant state of change as we grow, leave families, and make new connections and relationships. And the future will bring more changes.

Stories about our life link us to a fixed moment in time—something we can hold on to.

We spend most of our lives focused on the next thing—what we have to do, where we’re going. A Yoda quote puts it like this: “Never his mind on where he was—what he was doing.” Yoda taught that real life is not in a future that may not even happen. It inhabits the moment in which you find yourself—in other words, the now.

In that case, some might counter, stories about the past would be equally pointless

I disagree here When we tell a story, we slow down the motion picture of our life and get a freeze frame of a real moment—the people, the detail, the emotion, everything. We capture a little slice of life that continues to breathe. In telling our stories, we affirm that the puzzle pieces of our lives are important, not just the completed work.

And because we rightly make plans for the future, and look forward to our life with Christ, It is right to plant our feet deep in the life we are living. As we honor the past and the future we affirm the eternal nature of our souls. We affirm that God has been good, he is good, and he will be good.

*

Thankful to have hitched a ride the last few miles, my dad returned only half melted. With no tow trucks available he accepted help from a jeep owner who promptly got stuck himself in our thick bottomland sand. The driver had to wench both his truck and ours, one at a time, in a piecemeal fashion through a hundred yards of seasonally flooded ground.

Our river crossing was not an almost. With the boggy sand that awaited us we never came close to making it.

It would be great if all our stories were heroic and inspiring…or would it?

We’re seldom heroic people, after all. Things often go wrong. Even if its only the little stuff. (Don’t get me started on the farina again.)

But our stories still have the power to unite. In remembering them we frame our relationships and connect generations. But only if we are faithful to tell them over and over. So when your teenagers or grandchildren roll their eyes at you, ignore them. Remind yourself that you’re busy working on their legacy as well as yours.

A New Generation Takes to the River

A New Generation Takes to the River

 

The Stuck Pickup…and other legends II

Season with Emotion

Almost, but not quite.

Almost, but not quite.

For Part I check here.

We’d finished choking down the farina. With the crossing place chosen, we loaded our all too inadequate camping gear into the truck for a committed run at the Buffalo River. If we took it just slow enough not to throw loose rocks from under the tires, maybe….

The scouts had told us the water was slow and flowed no more than a foot deep for most of the crossing—no sweat. But, while rivers run anywhere in their course during the wet season, they like to carve themselves at least one deeper channel as insurance against going summer dry. That channel nested close to the opposite bank. It wasn’t more than a few feet wide and a foot deeper than the rest of the river, the rise from it quick. With a little speed, it should be no problem for the macho truck that had rappelled down to the riverbed.

That’s what we kept telling ourselves, anyway.

The Dodge powered across the sleeping river, bobbing up and down over the firm rock bed. When we came to the far side it lurched down into the deeper gully then pulled itself forward and up as the front tires found dry land. We started to congratulate ourselves.

But the right rear wheel lost contact with the riverbed. Our eyes grew wide as the river woke up, grabbing the flat panel of the rear fender. We feared the front tires would be torn from the bank. But instead, the river lifted and spun the back of the truck, pinning us against the bank with the one tire dangling.

Besides the details, there’s another thing that brings good stories to life—that gives them a shot at becoming a legend.

Stories with big emotions are stories we want to hear and tell.

I still remember the horror of the ride down the hill that day, and the sick “oh no” when the river grabbed the truck. I feel disgust at the thought of unsalted farina, though I’m pretty certain it couldn’t as bad as I remembered.

Garlic...or sand? You be the judge.

Garlic…or sand? You be the judge.

I bet you might have a story or legend about a time when you felt triumphant, like we did when we survived the descent to the river. Or maybe one that makes you laugh, like we do when we remember the time my Mom seasoned her Italian dressing with sand instead of garlic and we nearly rounded off our molars. (She forgot she’d refilled the empty bottle to make a music shaker for her preschool class.)

Telling the story of their vacation across several western states is a tradition in my husband’s family. The youngest, barely a toddler then, was in a hip brace consisting of a metal bar affixed between two industrial strength shoes. In the days before child restraints, my father-in-law built a raised platform in the middle of the back seat, extending across the foot space and butting against the front seatback, where little Julianne could stretch out for a nap or see out the windows with ease.

The only problem with the setup was that she used it for neither. She spent the entire trip climbing back and forth from the front seat to the back, flailing her weapon clad feet at the heads and arms of her older siblings, John and Margie, while they howled and whimpered.

 

Continental Divide

Continental Divide

When the story of this vacation needs telling, and it often does, no one relives the natural glories of Yellowstone. Nobody reminisces about Jackson Hole and the magnificent Tetons either. (In fact, I didn’t even know Jackson Hole was part of the itinerary until the first edit of this post.) But every time the story is told, I half expect my husband to cradle his arm and whine about the horror of his sister’s brace.

Though they might mellow a bit, they still have a kick.

Obviously, your feelings can be changed by time. You might laugh now at what once embarrassed you. And what scared you silly might only give you a shiver. But whether we exaggerate, or deny them, the drama of the past flavors your storytelling .

My dad wrestled the steering wheel while trying various combinations of gas, but it did no good. The engine sputtered and died. Like a half-submerged rock or a snag, the pickup had become a water feature in the Buffalo River, chevron waves rippling from its fender.

We got out of the truck on the dry side, of course. It was a shame; we’d come so close to making it. At least it was a relief to find the Dodge stable, resting on its belly like a Seaworld whale on the deck of a pool.

Only one question remained: How many canoeists does it take to pick up a truck?

The finale next week.

Diapers from Heaven

By Anoymous (Maciejowski Bible) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Anonymous (Maciejowski Bible) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Do diapers swirl down from the heavens, their soft fluff covering sidewalks? Do they settle in drifts on your porch?

The answer is yes. I know because I’ve sampled this rare form of manna.

Fresh from the hospital with a new baby, my husband and I discovered boxes of diapers piled high on the porch of our mobile home. Sorting them into two sizes, we counted thirteen of those big boxes they used to sell before everything was downsized—a fortune in baby-bottom protection. Though we weren’t poor, it was a windfall for us. Our infants were clothed in cloth except on Sunday’s to spare the church nursery workers.

But who were the diapers from?

We searched carefully for our benefactor’s note, eager to thank them. We couldn’t find a card or slip of paper. Nothing was written on the boxes either.

Jesus talks about anonymous gifts in Matthew 6:

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (ESV)

The verses warn givers to be wary. What might begin with a pure motive could end up giving us a hit of praise that goes to our heads. From believing we deserve thanks, it’s only a short step to making our own press—publicizing our good deeds.

Besides earning that title of hypocrite, we forfeit the reward of God. We settle for the little when God has a whole lot better in his storehouse.

That’s a lot of negative for the glory hound in these verses—a lot of incentive to get our eyes off of ourselves. But is there anything positive here?

If you take the vantage point of the recipient, another picture emerges.

We never did find out who gave us the diapers, though we pondered it for weeks, making guesses about all of our friends and relatives. In the end, there was nobody to thank but God. He had taken up the business of handing out manna all over again.

That might have everything to do with the reward Jesus mentioned.

Anonymous giftWe know God rewards the giver who is motivated by love for Him and for others; He accepts their sacrifice, regardless of the thankfulness of those who receive the gift. But do the get credit for the praise that comes to him through the one who receives the gift?

I’m thinking so, though it might not have the mathematical correlation of, say, doubling or tripling the reward. Their  service of gift-giving brings renown or glory to His name. And that’s a biggie. It is our highest calling as a Christian, our greatest act of love.

Gifts that remain a secret have a special staying power. They have a red flag on them that keeps them from being filed away and forgotten. Though our mystery diapers were used ages ago, I still wonder about them. I still marvel at the surprising goodness of God.

I wrote this post as a sticky note for my memory and to inspire me to action. I confess I’ve never given a practical anonymous gift like that despite having had such a good example. I hope to change that soon.

If you would like to make a commitment to serve an unsuspecting person, I welcome your silent company. Then, just imagine the multiplied blessings that might be waiting for the person who left those diapers on my porch so many years ago.

Do you have any stories about a secret gift you (or someone you know) received?

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Miss Hendrich

We refer to most women in our church as Miss, whether married or not. Some people say it more like Ms. (I think it’s the local southern flavor that colors their accents.), but the title evolved long before liberation. However you say it, Miss/Ms is a charming relic of our small-church past, the familiarity inherent in a family.Ms Hendrich

Since we attach the title to first names instead of last, it has the effect of making everyone feel no more distant a relation than aunt or cousin. Children don’t have to mangle difficult surnames, and adults don’t need total recall. Elderly Sunday School teachers, teenagers working in Awana, and janitors all garner respect.

Though she has the same familiar title as the rest of us, Miss Hendrich, a married great-grandmother, somehow merits a last name. I don’t know exactly how this happened. She is older than most of us. Or maybe it’s because she’s spent most of her life as a Child Evangelism missionary and has taught generations of children about Jesus. Maybe there’s no particular reason.

But if I needed to come up with a special merit, it would be her thankful heart. Many can attest to her attitude of near continuous thanksgiving. In person or by phone or written note, Miss Hendrich’s legacy is a never-ending stream of thanks offered up for herself and others. Though many are thankful for the huge blessings in life—salvation, family, and health—nothing escapes Miss Hendrich’s notice.

The first time I went to her house was for a prayer meeting to match prospective mentors with mentees. When we had completed our task, she surprised us with an invitation to stay for lunch. The smell of lasagna floating from the kitchen decided our answer.

While we waited for it to come out of the oven, she asked if she could show us around her elegant, but comfortably worn ranch house.

I expected to see nothing special.

But I was wrong.

Without a trace of boasting, she held up pillows of embroidery or crewel, pointed out pictures or quilts. “Look what God has given me. Isn’t it beautiful?” Then, with a radiant face, she would tell of the hands that made it for her or fondly remember the one who had given it to her. “Isn’t God good?” she said again and again, calling our attention to the giver as well as the receiver.

I was amazed, humbled by the Holy Spirit made visible in her thankful heart. I had never met anyone who literally, as it says in I Thess 5:18, gave “thanks for everything”.

Her sweet words inspired me, making me consider how I can be more like her. I asked myself what I could be more thankful for.

The answer that first came to me was everything. That’s the Bible answer, after all. And since I like my stuff a lot and think I am fairly appreciative of my blessings (I might be deceived in this.), I might have quit right there.

But it felt like a cop-out. To be like Miss Hendrich, I needed to attach my thankfulness to specific things and people. I needed to really appreciate them.

Carving 2One day my eyes fell on a Chinese made accent chair I got cheap at T.J.Maxx. I was thankful for the price and the colors that fit my living room perfectly. The wooden arms were beautifully carved, and the pattern match was precise, which is saying a lot. (I noticed that because I have done some upholstery and because the matching on my mass-produced sofa stinks.)

I wondered who made it. Did they know they were good at their work and that it was appreciated? And did they make a decent living wage? (A particular concern knowing what I paid for it.)

The chair became the focus of my thankfulness project. I often thank God for the fact that I get to enjoy it. Then I pray for the one/ones who made it, that they have the opportunity to know and love God, and that He blesses their life. I pray I will get to meet them some day and thank them personally.

Lastly, I thank God for the legacy that Miss Hendrich has left me. Because of her I try to make my thankfulness more specific and personal. I try to look beyond the things themselves to see the people behind them.

Is there someone or something that encourages a thankful heart in you?

Not as Scary as You Thought

Celebrating LifeWhew! That epic tagline needs a   little levity.

What better than the unbridled joy of childhood. Though our legacy surely is a weighty matter, much of it rests on intimate moments like this.

At “Carry the Blessing” I dream big and preach shamelessly; scold myself for squandered opportunities; share party games, love notes, and snowballs; and, oh yes, run with the donkeys every chance I get.