Welcome to my blog...

Green trees, cool water, a gentle breeze...the perfect place to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. Jesus taught so often on the shoreline, and He's still speaking today.

This is where I share the lessons He teaches me, often during the time I spend on the shores of a local lake. I don't have all the answers...and some days I don't have any. But I go here when I need to draw near to Him in a tangible way. Come with me...

Friday, February 17, 2017

Oh Where is My Hairbrush?!

The messages from the motel came in for days on end.

Each lasted several minutes.

"I need more food."
"I need a blanket,"
"I need clothes,"
"I need a hair brush."

No mention of the magic word "please." No intonation indicating the needs were requests.

They were demands.

This past December, I shared a story about a woman overjoyed to receive a can opener in The Best Gift Ever . She lived at a local motel where we assist the residents placed there by social services. My interaction with her gave me joy and made me view my world of relative privilege in a different light.

The motel occupant of Room 115 did not evoke the same warm feelings. Her reaction to our offer of help was the exact opposite of overjoyed. She complained about too many starchy items in her weekly bag of groceries. She complained there wasn't enough food to last her for the week. She complained her emergency needs were not being met - she needed food TODAY!

She asked, asked, asked and complained, complained, complained. 

It was obvious there were issues at play with her mental health, but the badgering still required an extra measure of grace I wasn't sure I was up to serving.

We rarely get items like hair brushes donated to our food pantry. During one half-hour long phone call with Room 115, I tried to explain the lack of hair brushes, and the fact that we have what we have, so if she gets chicken noodle soup instead of a requested "chunky soup that's more like a meal" it's because that's all that is available. And if I give her one can of tuna fish instead of two or three, it's because there's not enough to distribute one to everyone if I do. My explanations fell on deaf ears as she ended the call with yet another request for a hair brush.

"Okay" I thought. "I'll just run to the dollar store and pick one up. It's a small effort and maybe it will finally make her happy."

I imagined the next call would go more like "Thanks so much for sending over the hair brush! That was so appreciated!" I smiled a little as I played the scenario out in my mind. I might even go so far as to say I was feeling pleased with myself.

It was a short-lived pat on the back.

Her next message? "That type of hair brush doesn't work well with my hair. And next time, I need more bread!"

I was SO annoyed! Here I had gone above and beyond without any kind of thank you for the effort, even if it wasn't what she wanted.

How could anyone be so ignorant?

As I drove into work the next day, I thought about Room 115 and all her needs. I had provided her with a little more food than I'd given to other single people, had found her a blanket, had people on the hunt for clothes in her size, and had purchased a hairbrush, yet it wasn't enough. It wasn't even appreciated.

Then I heard God say "You know, you can be like that you too."

WHAT? Me, God? An ungrateful, demanding, full of needs complainer? You sure?

But I soon confessed there was more truth in that statement than I would care to admit.

How many times did I barely utter a cursory, hit the ceiling and bounce back "thank you" before launching into my prayer requests?

And how often was I unhappy with the gifts He'd given me because they didn't work well with what I wanted or thought I needed?

How frequently did I feel my requests were not fulfilled at the speed I would like, if at all?

There are times when all I did...when all I do...is ask, ask, ask and complain, complain, complain.

Yet God always serves up an extra measure of grace whether I deserve it or not.

Truth is, it's me who can be ignorant. I need to learn to rejoice more over can openers and complain less about hair brushes.

And I need to offer a little more grace to Room 115...








Monday, January 30, 2017

Confessions of a Fixer


I'm a fixer. I want to make everything better.  I want everyone to be happy. Unfortunately, that's just not possible.

Sometimes I just have to admit things are out of my control. Sometimes I can't make anything better. The need is too great and my resources are too small.

And I don't like that.  Not one little bit.

Still, there's nothing I can do about it, right?



Last week, a woman walked into my office. Homeless, she wanted a place to stay for the night. I tried to get her story, but with each question I asked, she switched the direction of the conversation and headed down another rabbit trail.

I don't think it was deliberate. I don't think she meant to mislead. She was just unable to stay focused. Her restless mind was jumping all over the place.

It was obvious she was chronically homeless. Several times she referred to previous periods of homelessness. She talked about "couch surfing". She knew all the places I was going to refer her to even before I shared them.

At one point, she buried her head in her hands and whimpered "please don't make me go back there" when I suggested contacting shelters in Trenton. There was no way to really know the extent of the hardships she had endured along the way to our doorstep.

I went into problem-fixing mode and spent an hour and a half with one ear pressed to my cell phone as I waited on hold for an emergency resource, and listened to her disjointed memories with the other.

When I finally got through to an operator, the answer was "there are no shelters available tonight, tomorrow, or for the foreseeable future."

Can you imagine?

And we've had a mild winter so far. What would happen when temps dipped into the 20's, the teens, or single digits?

Even so, she's luckier than most. She has a car. It offers some protection from the elements. But sleeping in 30 degree weather in a tin can with no insulation is still brutally cold.

In the end, all I could do was help a little with food and gas, but the memory of that afternoon has lingered. I've thought about her constantly since our encounter.

Yes, sometimes I just have to admit things are out of my control. Sometimes I can't make anything better.

And sometimes, I confess, I forget to talk to the one who can.

As I recounted what had transpired to a friend, their first question was, "did you pray with her? I'm sure that provided some comfort."

That question cut me to the quick.

I hadn't used the only real resource I had.

I was too busy trying to solve the problem on my own. Too busy getting annoyed at the long hold time. Too busy thinking about all the other things I still had to do that day.

I had forgotten to "Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always." (1 Chron.16:1)

I may not have had the power to change her immediate circumstances, but it was well within my power to intercede on her behalf with El Roi, the God who sees.

"He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; He will not despise their plea." (Psalm 102:17)

Although it felt as if the opportunity had been lost, I heeded my friend's question and prayed after the fact for this woman. The following day, I had a conversation with the person who is basically my counterpart at another church and I explained that she might be coming his way since we mentioned his church as a possible resource.

"Well, it must have been God-ordained" he said. "Last night, I attended a meeting and sat next to a woman who runs a program that is specifically geared toward helping people like this woman. Do you happen to have her contact information?"

In fact, I did. Although I had no idea why I might contact her, before she left, I asked for her phone number "just in case anything came up."

I provided him with that number and he was going to have the program reach out to her.

At this point, I don't know if they've made contact with her, but I do know this...This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of Him. (1 John 5:14-15)

The need is great, but my resources are not too small.

Neither are yours.

We possess the most powerful resource of all.

Prayer.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Lessons from an Orchid

I was proud I'd kept the orchid given to me as a birthday gift alive for more than two years.

It was quite a feat since I have a "black thumb". I have killed hearty cacti, and now I was responsible for this exquisitely fragile flower.

Every Wednesday, I faithfully watered it and in return, it offered up delicate white flowers with veins of purple for my enjoyment.

But almost a year ago, I was away from the office for a period of time that encompassed two Wednesdays and had forgotten to leave instructions on watering in my absence.

When I returned, my heart sank. 

In that short time, the flowers had dropped off, and one of the two stems was brittle and dry. The second stem was in desperate need of water and the only signs of life were two leaves at the base that were browning around the edges.

I mourned my mistake and for a few moments considered tossing the whole thing out. Instead, I took out a pair of scissors and clipped the lifeless stalk. Although I doubted I could revive the remaining one, I again took to watering it weekly. 

There were many days I wondered if my efforts were wasted. There was no sign of change. Just a brown stick propped by stakes and flanked by those leaves that hung in there.

Then one day, a strange thing happened. 

I noticed a new leaf and "aerial roots".

For some reason, roots that should have been at the base of the plant, appeared at the top. I looked up the phenomenon and learned this:

Aerial roots function as anchors, affixing the plant to supporting structures such as trellises, rocks and walls.

While there was still no sign of a flower, it was obvious there was life and growth and I was encouraged.

With a renewed sense of purpose and the growing anticipation of possibility, I continued to water the plant.

Then last week, I walked into my office to find...

...four healthy buds just days away from popping open to display their elegant blooms.

It took months of blind faith and persistent watering with no promise of success, but ultimately, life sprang from death.

Hope has grown out of discouragement.

My friend, are you in season where all you see are the decaying remains of something once beautiful?

Perhaps a relationship has died. Or a dream has withered away. Money, once plentiful, dried up after a lost job. Life has a way of throwing us unexpected curves that can leave us feeling neglected, brittle, and in desperate need of care.

Have faith.

Although you may not see it, life remains. 

It may take a lot of time and patience and nurturing, but God will water your thirsty soul. And if you are willing to receive it, that water will slowly, perhaps ever so imperceptibly, bring life back to the surface.

In the process, some aerial roots may grow. Situations that don't seem to make sense at first, but that God has created to serve as anchors to the Rock.

Then one day, what you thought would never be possible, is right in front of you.

Life, in all its fullness and beauty, returns.

Hebrews 11:1 puts it this way: "Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."



Monday, December 26, 2016

The Best Gift Ever

Her request was simple.

"If you ever have an extra one of those, could I have it?"

She stopped rubbing her thin arms against the cold long enough to point toward the hand-held can opener on the faded wooden table in front of us.



Anna continued..."the church gave me a can of tuna fish and I had no way to open it. I took a big knife and stabbed the can over and over trying to punch a hole in it, but I couldn't."

I winced as I pictured her waging battle against the small metal can with a large, sharp knife and all the ways that could have gone oh so wrong.

"There's one in the box we just put in your room" I said with a smile.

I wasn't prepared for the force with which she flung her arms around my neck squealing "thank you! thank you so much!"

I gave her a hug and then she began jumping up and down clapping her hands together with glee.

"You made my day! It's the best gift ever!!"

While most of us would not get excited over a dollar store can opener, to a lonely and forgotten woman, it was an exceptional gift. 

But the best gift ever?

No.

The best gift ever didn't arrive in a cardboard box in the parking lot of a welfare motel.

It came more than 2000 years ago in the lowly manger stall of a crowded inn.


Luke 2:4-7 "So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available to them.

What a scene.

A woman who was an outcast - unmarried and pregnant. A place most didn't want to go - a smelly, animal-filled stall. 

While most of us would not get excited over a child born in such a place and under such circumstances, to lonely and forgotten men...shepherds...the announcement of His birth was an exceptional gift.

Luke 2:8-12 "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to the, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'"

While Anna's gift of a can opener was essential for the need at hand, God's gift of His son, and through that son, eternal life, is an essential gift for every single one of us. It addresses all our needs - past, present and future.

It's the best gift ever.

Best of all, we don't have to hope it will come our way some day. It's been hand-delivered to us, free of charge. We need only to open and accept it. Today. Now. This very moment.

 Like Anna trying to puncture a can of tuna with a knife, have you been using all the wrong tools to experience all the fullness of life? Going to church won't do it. Helping others won't do it. Being a good person won't do it.

The only way to "have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10), is by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

My hope for you is that this year, this Christmas season, you will open the gift that is too large to fit under any tree. It costs nothing, but is priceless. The only requirement is that you open it!

"If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans 10:9

He's the best. gift. ever.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Day I Shoplifted...

So the story begins - yesterday. Yes, my indiscretion isn't a skeleton from the closet of my younger days, it happened just 24 hours ago.





Most of you can probably relate to the way this whole scenario started. I headed into Walmart to buy some cat food, and wound up with way more stuff in my cart.

One of those items was the wicker basket pictured, although originally, it was empty. I stood in the store and played with some flowers, a few leaves, two gourds and a pumpkin until, tada! I had the masterpiece above.

"Masterpiece" might be a bit overstated, but you have to understand that while I love watching HGTV and design shows, I don't feel I have an "eye". I'm so envious of those who can put together patterns and colors or see the potential in a blank canvas. So to me, my little basket creation was a big deal - I was really happy with how it turned out!

Now, I didn't really want to spend the $10 it all came to, and it crossed my mind that if I waited a few days until after Halloween, it all might go on sale. But I have absolutely no fall decor in the house and we've already established that I had created a masterpiece, so I treated myself, put it in my cart and finished my shopping.

At the checkout, everything went on the conveyor belt. The cashier was putting just one or two items in each bag and I encouraged her to feel free to fill them as much as possible.

A customer behind me said "you sound like me! The less bags to carry inside, the better".

As she and I continued the conversation, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the cashier pick up the basket.

"Could you ring that up without dismantling it?"

It was an innocent request. I just wanted her to use the register "gun" to scan each of the items within the basket without removing them.

I turned my attention back to the other shopper until I heard "your total is $85.20".

Yikes! How did I manage to spend that much?

I swiped my card and headed for the door where a gentleman in a Walmart apron asked to see my receipt. I handed it to him, he glanced at it and then in my cart. He handed it back, and out the door I went.

As I drove away, I had a nagging feeling that the cashier had not rung up all the items in the basket.

I started entertaining less than Christian thoughts...

"Well, if she messed up, I didn't really want to pay $10 anyway".

"The tags weren't hidden - it's not my fault if the cashier didn't catch it".

"I handed over the receipt, I'm in the clear".

When I got home, I checked the receipt. The basket was all that was on it. I knew I wouldn't be able to enjoy my little centerpiece creation until I had rectified the oversight.

Okay...so calling it "shoplifting" may have been a bit dramatic. After all, there was no intent to deliberately walk out without paying. But the bottom line is merchandise left the store without being rung up.

I was disappointed in myself. I had a suspicion that it hadn't been rung up and I waited until I was home to check. My thoughts on excusing the oversight weren't very holy. And I knew the longer I waited to make it right, the easier it would be to dismiss the problem, so I never removed the basket from the bag after walking in the door.

Today, I went back into the store. I went to a cashier and said, "this is gonna sound weird, but...." and I explained what had happened. She looked at me a little surprised and said "God bless you. Most people would never come back to make this right."

She's probably right. Most people probably would have seen it as a $5 win. They would have made excuses on why it was silly to go back once the threshold of the store was crossed without detection.

But as Christians, we shouldn't be most people. We're held to a higher moral standard because we know Jesus. We know the one who is the Truth.

I'm not telling this story to say "hey look at how godly I was. I paid for something when no one would have been the wiser if I didn't".

I tell this story to say it's just that easy for the devil to try to trip you up. If he came up to us with horns and a pitchfork, we could easily spot him and get our guard up. But he doesn't do that. He's subtle. He tells you things are inconsequential. No one gets hurt. No one will ever know.

It's the oldest trick in the Book. He's been using rationalization since literally the beginning of mankind.

I have a friend and former co-worker named Joan. I consider her my "spiritual mother". She took me under her wing when I was in my mid-20s. She showed me the benefits of journaling, taught me through Bible study, and was just a wonderful example of being a godly woman. Joan had 7 children, several of whom were in the Navy. She wrote to them every day. When she made a decision to move across the country to California, she brought in a huge bundle of pens on her last day. When I asked what they were, she explained that often she grabbed a pen off her desk to write letters with during lunch. Sometimes she'd throw them in her purse. Now that she was leaving, she gathered them all to return to our employer. She reminded me that even though it seemed inconsequential, they weren't hers to keep and she was returning them to their rightful owner.

That was a lot of years ago, but that simple act of honesty made a huge impact on me.

So maybe I didn't really shoplift, but I wouldn't have been able to fully enjoy my little basket if I hadn't gone and made things right.

It's important to remember that when no one else sees, God does. And not fixing the problem would have hurt someone...me.

"Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it".  James 4:17