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...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Opportunity Lost

Rounding the corner, I saw the sea of yellow out of the corner of my eye.

As I banked the next turn in the road a tad faster than the posted 40 mph, I thought, "Wow! What an awesome picture that would make."               

For a split second, I considered pulling off to the side of the road and heading back with my camera, but I was already running late to work.

"I'll get the shot tomorrow."

But tomorrow was the same scenario-too much to do and in a rush to do it. The photo would have to wait.

Unfortunately, it was the same story day after day after day.

Within a few days, the brightness faded and patches of brown appeared. I sensed my opportunity fading too, and while I made mental note, I did nothing to change the outcome. At the end of the week, there were more dead flowers than live ones.

Finally, a field of nondescript brown stems dotted with an occasional pocket of yellow from golden rod took over the landscape. The weed held none of the glory of the daisies.

I lost the opportunity to capture the beauty and wonder I had witnessed because I was too busy. Too focused elsewhere to enjoy the moment in front of me.

*****************************************************

A pastor once shared a story with me about a conversation he had with a young man. The youth had lots of questions about eternal things, and although this pastor sensed the man might be open to taking the final step and accept Christ, he didn't push it.

"I'll be sure to engage him again next week."

Next week never came. The young man was in a car accident that evening on his way home from church and was killed.

The pastor thinks often about the opportunity he was given that he missed. One that may have cost someone their eternity because he didn't take a few extra minutes to follow through, his thoughts not on the temporal nature of this life.

                            *****************************************************

Whether it's a chance to soak in the moment or a chance to change a life, how many opportunities do we miss each day because we don't take the time to seize them?

James 4:13-14 reminds us "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.'"

We are not guaranteed tomorrow. Not guaranteed another opportunity. Seize the one before you today and make it count. Take a moment to enjoy the flowers. Take a few extra minutes to encourage another.

Don't regret opportunities lost.

You may wonder how I have a picture of daisies if I never stopped to photograph them. It's one I took a few years ago when I slowed down to spend some time in a park and capture the beauty around me.

It was an opportunity found and capitalized on and now I have it forever. A much better outcome.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Message Received

I didn't think much of the email I got Tuesday night.

It happened many times before: a volunteer had a conflict and wouldn't be able to make her shift in the food pantry the following day.

I didn't realize then it would be the pebble that started the landslide.

Wednesdays are "pantry days" and are always busy, but with extra errands to accomplish before work, this one promised to be especially hectic.

First I swung into the dollar store as they opened. purchased items the pantry lacked, then headed to a mechanic we use when our cars ministry volunteers are too busy or the job is too complex for our resources. This visit was to drop off the title to a vehicle we decided to junk since it wasn't fiscally prudent to repair.

As I pulled out of the mechanic's parking lot, I glanced at my watch feeling pretty good about what I'd accomplished thus far. Only 8:45. I'd be in the office long before the 9:30 staff meeting.

Immediately, my phone pinged. It was a text from another volunteer. She was in a lot of pain and wouldn't be able to come in. I sent her an encouraging "rest up, we'll be okay" even as I thought - "ugh - what now?"

Both volunteers who cancelled were bi-lingual...the only bi-linguals serving in the pantry that day...and we have a 70% Spanish-speaking clientele.

My day just got more difficult.

I parked outside the pantry so I could unload my car later in the morning and headed through the building toward my office.

As I exited the pantry into the main building, an acrid smell smacked me in the face. Something electrical was burning and I could see a haze hanging in the sunbeams streaming in the windows.

"Good thing I came in that way" I thought. No one would have caught that for hours.

I notified the proper staff about the smell and met a pair of volunteers outside my office. They were waiting to pick up a food order and needed me to give them the key to the church's box truck.

After sending them on their way, my phone rang. It was yet another volunteer calling to say he was dropping off a bread delivery early. Would anyone be in the pantry to receive it?

I ran back to let him in. He noted the missing box truck and asked if I had gotten the Panera donation off it.

Face palm. "No. I totally forgot to retrieve it while I was running around. The truck is on its way to pick up the food order."

"Toni" he warned "they'll never get anything in there. Someone has it filled with furniture."

I could feel my shoulders tighten and my stress-induced palpitations begin. I tried several times to reach the truck-driving couple by phone and text, to no avail.

It was quickly becoming obvious I was going to miss the staff meeting.

I began unloading all the dollar store stuff from my car so I could drive over to the big box store and load up with some of the food order.

Now none of this may seem like a big deal. Each thing in and of itself really wasn't. But over the past few months I've been dealing with some overwhelming health and family issues and tears are often close to the surface. So in my little world, all the little things messing up my already busy day were adding up.

As I tried to jockey down the least congested lane of rush hour traffic, I cried out "God, I just can't do this today."

I flipped on the radio to my favorite station - Klove - and the chorus that met me was "When did I forget that you've always been the King of the World? I try to take life back right out of the hands of the King of the World."

Yes Lord, message received.

Was the rest of the day busy and hectic? Yes.

Was I stressed out about the lack of volunteers and the amount of work that needed to be done? No.

The King of the world who created the universe and cares about every detail of my life reminded me clearly and simply He was on the throne and in charge on crazy busy Wednesdays and every day.

"Just a whisper of your voice can tame the seas
So who am I to try to take the lead
Still I run ahead and think I'm strong enough
When you're the one who made me from the dust"

King of the World - Natalie Grant




Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Back to the Bench

It all started right here.
Ten years ago - it seems hard to believe it's been a decade - my heart was heavy. Almost inconsolable.

Then I began what I called Lakeside Services.

On this very bench, as I took in glorious sunsets each evening, I would cry out to God in my pain and ask Him a lot of "whys?"

I didn't get an answer to every question, but surrounded by the beauty of His creation, I found peace and comfort in the midst of the storm.

I went back to the beginning of this blog today. Back six years looking for one of my early posts that spoke of that time. When I pulled up Lakeside Services I was surprised at what I read, but honestly, I shouldn't have been.

The verse that has defined the past three months for me was there once again. The verse I wrote about last month in Flood and Fire.

Isaiah 43:2: When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.

In the Flood and Fire post I shared about my recent cancer journey. I have been blessed in that it was caught early, treatment was short and uneventful, and the prognosis is good. (Although prayers are gratefully accepted for my one month follow up July 3rd!)

What I didn't share was the other half of the past three months. The part of the journey that is the more emotionally taxing for me than even a cancer diagnosis.

The same day I received that news, my brother reappeared after more than a year; homeless, desperate, and looking for help.

He is almost four years younger than me, but hard living most of the past few decades has taken its toll. Most people think I'm the younger sibling by as much as 10 years.

He now suffers from short-term memory loss and a host of health issues. When he resurfaced it was from a place a little lower than rock bottom.

My profession is working with people in desperate situations. My office is often their last resort.

I thought that would have prepared me for working with my brother, but I was wrong.

No matter how intense the needs and demands of others who walk through my door, I could still go home at night, pray for them and move on to other things.

Not so when it's family.

There are no "work hours" and "down time."

It's all the time. 

The phone rings early in the morning and late at night. Work and weekends get shifted around to accommodate visits to social services, Social Security, and doctors offices.

I thought I was awesomely juggling all the balls in the air until the day the wrong button got pushed. I dropped him off at the temporary shelter where he's been staying the past three months and sobbed all the way home.

It didn't make sense to me. I was angry with him and his behavior - why on earth was I crying?

But cry I did. The ugly cry. The shoulder-heaving, snot running, torrents of tears so-thick-I-could-barely-see-the-road cry. And when I thought it had stopped, it started all over again.

The next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, tears lived in the rims. The mere thought of having to deal with him pushed those droplets over the edge and down my cheeks.

It wasn't my nature to be so down for so many days on end.

Through it all, I have continued to force myself to sit down and work on a writing assignment and my book. I would leave work, then write for several hours. I have deadlines to meet and I spent many days going from the computer screen at work to the computer screen at home.

Last night as I drove home I noticed the sunset, and the lake called to my spirit. I can't tell you how many long, long months it has been since I sat on my bench and watched the sun slip below the horizon.

I almost didn't heed the call.

At the last minute I rerouted myself and headed toward the park. It was 8:30 and the sun was already hanging low in the sky. As I drove in the direction of the marina, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.



There was a fawn prancing around it's mom, then taking off in wild abandon. It stopped in its tracks, abruptly changed directions, and charged off again.

I pulled off on the side of the road to watch for a full two minutes, laughing at the fawn and his joyous play.

It immediately lifted my spirits. 

I slowly drove off, then pulled my camera out of my purse, turned around, and was thrilled to see him still at it so I could record his antics.

A few minutes later I continued to the marina and headed down to the water with my camera.

The lake and the sunset did not disappoint. I sat on the bench and listened to the "whizzzz" of the fisherman's line being cast and the "plunk" as the weight hit the water to pull the hook below the surface, tantalizing the fish below with a worm or minnow.

I smelled the sweetness of the honeysuckles hanging in the air.

And I felt the warm breeze on my face.

This is where it all began for an aching heart searching to find joy again.

This heart, once more heavy with the struggles of this life, has returned to ask new why's. To seek answers once again in the stillness and beauty of creation.

To hear Him whisper "I am with you always, Toni. Sometimes in this life you will go through storms, but I am in control."

This heart has come back to the bench.











Saturday, June 3, 2017

Adventures in Community Outreach - Cares Day

Three years ago I stepped down from a volunteer position running a ministry I loved, in order to take on a full-time ministry manager position at another local church.
 
It was like leaving a child behind. 

I had birthed the ministry, grown with it, and been richly blessed by it. I had witnessed many miracles of God's provision through it, and in fact, I'm writing a book about it. 

There were many tears shed on my part, but I believed I was following God's leading and call in making the move. I knew I was handing the reigns over to a woman who had a similar passion for the community and that lessened the blow a bit. For the past few years she has loved and nurtured the ministry, keeping it going strong.

Then a few weeks ago, I sat in the sanctuary of that former church and watched as the baton was passed again to co-leaders. One started with us a few years ago as garden manager. The other was my "brain." I  was the upfront vision caster and she was the keeper of a million details and queen of our volunteer spreadsheets relishing in her behind-the-scenes anonymity. 

As I watched her speak that morning, tears streamed down my face. I was so proud of her for moving out beyond her comfort zone to take on a co-leadership role and so honored to see that God was continuing to use the ministry to impact the community.

Today was the first outreach since the two took on the leadership mantel. Despite a very rainy morning, a number of organizations in the area benefited from the practical acts of service performed.

This year, I was able to participate as a volunteer and I was so excited to experience the day from the "other side!" I signed on as photographer and drove around to the different locations capturing pictures of the good deeds.

At the church, breakfast bags were assembled for a local soup kitchen, snack packs were put together for an after-school program, and hygiene kits were created to hand out to the homeless. 








A team went out to the on-site location of the after-school program to clean and organize four of their classrooms. It was there I heard a conversation between a parent of a child in the program and our team leader about what was going on and where the group was from. People are always so surprised that an "outside" group would take an interest in helping to beautify/clean/improve their space.

Cares Day provides that opportunity to explain what we do for them is an outpouring of our love for Christ. Serving like this gives us the chance to share our faith in a way that might not otherwise be possible.





I left the second group knee deep in pencils, books, and craft pieces to head over to a local free clinic where the next group of volunteers were beautifying the grounds. 



Although the rains came and went, they managed to plant and mulch, bringing beauty to an area dominated by concrete and asphalt.





The next stop was the warehouse facility of an organization that primarily champions the needs of single parent families. Among the many services they offer, they provide a food pantry that includes much needed items like diapers. Volunteers sorted the diapers by size and bagged them up 25 at a time. After making quick work of that task, they moved on to a second one. 

Two of the projects had to be cancelled because of the weather, so my last stop was at a local park where a team bagged trash. They remarked how they felt God's presence as He held up the rains while they worked, then even sent a garbage truck by to pick up the trash, just as they finished! I love that God is always in the details.



Seven years ago, I was obedient to the prompting of the Spirit. I knew God wanted us to move beyond the walls of our church and into the community. I had no idea how, but God led the way. Through this outreach and many others, He continues to impact lives years later. I may have been the first person at the helm of CommunityConnections, but it successfully continues on without me because it was never me who was in charge.

What is He prompting you to do today? Don't brush aside the nudge. It's been said that God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called. You can be part of the miracle He's doing or you can miss the blessing. I'm glad I jumped on board and I'm excited for those who have heeded the call since He moved me on.

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Flood and Fire


When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2. 

I love this verse and have often shared it to encourage others going through difficult times. I'll remind them that it says "when" these things happen and not "if." God is not surprised by any trials that come our way. In fact, in John 16:33 He goes so far as to say "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." 

So the first time this verse popped up in something I was reading a few months ago, I smiled and nodded in affirmation. "Amen." 

The second time it appeared I thought "Well, that's confirmation of a comforting promise. Love that verse."

But by the third, fourth, even fifth time I either read or heard it in a short span of time, my thoughts were more like "Where you going with this God? Are you preparing me for something?"


He was.

I've been through a lot of "somethings" over the past decade, but this one has me passing through waters I couldn't anticipate and walking through fire I never saw coming.

About a year and a half ago I noticed a small "something" on my shoulder. Every doctor had the same reaction: "Hmmm...that's weird...I've never seen anything like that. I have no idea what that is." 

But during a routine physical last November, one doctor's comment was tinged with foreboding. "Hmmm...that looks different. Have it checked."

Three months ago, a dermatologist biopsied it and a few weeks later, after I'd all but forgotten about it, he called with the results. I was busy in the church food pantry wrapping donated bread and not really paying attention until I heard two words.

"Lymphoma." "Oncologist."

It still really didn't sink in. I went back to the job at hand and purposed to call him back in the morning when I could listen without distraction. Surely I had misheard. 

I couldn't get hold of him the next day and had to wait the weekend. But by Monday, those ugly words were back. 

"You need to call a hospital hematology/oncology department for further testing and tell them you have 'biopsy proven' marginal zone lymphoma." 

It sounded as if someone had slapped a little gold sunburst on my chest like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Hi, you've got cancer and it's "Biopsy Proven!"

My head was reeling in those first few days. Finding an insurance covered hospital and oncologist. Going for a CT scan. Having an ultrasound. Then waiting. Waiting. Waiting.


But as time has gone on, in the midst of scary words, unfamiliar faces, tests and new terminology, I have a peace. God is still in control and He uses people and things like music to remind me of His presence. 

On my first visit to discuss radiation treatments, Mercy Me's "Even If" came on the radio as I pulled into the parking lot.

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul
On my first treatment visit, I asked the tech if they "took music requests." He asked what I'd like to listen to and I told him Contemporary Christian. 

"My daughter is a Contemporary Christian artist. Would you like to listen to her CD?"

"Sure."

A few minutes later, as he left the room saying "the treatment is about to begin," I heard these lyrics "Set my eyes on you. Your love is all I need to live."

A few days later, the tech gave me the CD. Those well-timed lyrics were from a song called Psalm 16.

"Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, 'You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.' I say of the holy people who are in the land, “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.” Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more. I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods or take up their names on my lips. LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Ps. 16

One of my favorite bands is Tenth Avenue North. Their lyrics always touch my soul and their newest song could not have come out at a better time.

Take a minute to listen to I Have This Hope and I know it will minister to you wherever you are. (I'm smiling right now because as I clicked through the link to make sure it worked and listened to the song, Even If came on right after - so listen to that too. God is so good and in every detail!) 

I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You're with me and You won't let go
Yesterday marked the half way point in my treatments. A sweet friend gave me this necklace.


For those of you with "older" eyes like mine, it says "What Cancer Cannot Do. It cannot...invade the soul, suppress memories, kill friendship, destroy peace, conquer the spirit, shatter hope, cripple love, corrode faith, steal eternal life, silence courage."

All that is true but even more important is what God CAN do in and through me. He can...give rest to my soul (Ps.62:1), remember the righteous (Ps. 112:6), be a friend (John 15:15), keep me in perfect peace (Is. 26:3), make me more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37), give me a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11), save me because of His unfailing love (Ps. 6:4), do the impossible with the smallest bit of faith (Matt 17:20), give eternal life (1 John 5:11), and commands me to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9).

Yes, there is both flood and fire going on in my life right now. But my hope is in Him alone and if I set my eyes on Him, I'll see He is with me and He won't let go.













Saturday, March 11, 2017

Life's Like That

From my fireside vantage point yesterday, I watched the snow blow sideways. The wind whipped the tiny flakes into a fury, creating a visually impenetrable wall of white.

My mind flashed back to the day before.

61 degrees.

Warm sunshine.

Short sleeves and more than a fleeting thought of donning a pair of flip flops.

Barely 24 hours later everything had drastically changed.

But life's like that, isn't it?

Everything is going fine, or at least it's status quo. Nothing monumentally wrong.

Until it all is.

Perhaps like that snow storm it's a million little things all coming together to form a wall that closes you in from every side. Or maybe it's all dumped on you in one fell swoop like an avalanche.

Either way, it surrounds you, engulfs you, threatens to immobilize you.

That was how I felt almost three years ago when my "one word" for the year was trust. It was a year that stretched and grew me in ways I could never have imagined.

And it hurt.

I wouldn't have chosen any of it, but God saw fit to allow me to walk that path.

Now, once again, there's a storm or two brewing in my life. I didn't see them coming at first. I was looking at the horizon and they sort of blew in from the west, but I'm sensing the change in the direction of the wind.

It makes me wonder what kind of trip we're getting ready to go on, my God and me, especially since He never tells me what to pack for these excursions.

Because most of the time, it's more about unpacking.

Fears, hurts, anxieties, doubts, needs, attitudes, assumptions, prejudices.

It's a pretty long list.

But while He unpacks me, He never leaves me empty.

Instead of the baggage I would choose to bring along, He hands me a suitcase full of...Him.

Grace, mercy, peace, love, understanding, guidance, faith, trust, joy.

It's a pretty long list too. Infinitely longer than mine because, well, He's infinite.

And He's divine.

No surprises for Him. He saw the storm coming. He knew change was on the horizon.

He knew who would exit my life and who would enter. He knew, and knows, the good, the bad, and the as yet unknown to me.

That unanticipated snow storm stopped as abruptly as it started. The clouds parted and the sun returned.

The scenery was beautiful.
The roads were clear, but the snow remained on the grass and trees. A silent, glistening reminder that I had just gone through a situation that had altered things.

Yes, life's like that.

When we're in the midst of it, we can't see anything but the storm.

But the winds eventually change. The sun emerges from the curtain of clouds.

When we can see clearly again, we realize the storm has changed the landscape.

Nothing ever remains the same. But God.

No one enjoys going through hard things. I'm not running toward those storms on the horizon with open arms excited to see what they'll bring. I know how painful change can be most of the time. But I also know how faithful my God is, and that He can bring beauty out of ashes.

Psalm 46:1-3
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.


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 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."