One,Two–Calisthenics for the Soul

Dear One,

Have you ever been in an exercise class? Or chased kids around the yard? Or tried for five minutes to copy every move a baby makes during tummy time? If you’re like me, it only takes a few minutes of strenuous exercise to let you know what kind of shape you’re in.

The gift of faith, like the gift of muscles, needs exercise, too. 2 Peter 1:5 says to “…employ every effort in exercising your faith to develop virtue…” I’ve been thinking about what that means.July 2015 067

To exercise muscles means to put them to use–to stretch them, to test their limits, to work up a sweat, to get the heart pumping,  and to burn calories. In other words, this is not merely to go through the motions, but to develop physical and even spiritual virtues.

“…but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1Cor. 9:27)

One motivator for me to exercise is to lose weight so I’m lighter and faster on my feet, with improved stamina, health, strength, and appearance. But one look in the mirror or a few minutes of soccer with the kids shows me I’m not very disciplined in this area.

And so I’m wondering–am I similarly pudgy in the spiritual realm?July 2015 062

Exercising faith must look something like exercising the body. If I exercise faith, I stretch it, test its limits, work up a spiritual sweat, and a faster heartbeat. I burn the fat in my soul so I’m quicker to answer God’s call to obey, love, risk, and lay down my life for others.

If I exercise my faith, I want to improve my spiritual stamina, endurance, and health to withstand the attacks of the Enemy and “to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13) as God continues to make me beautiful.

I’m shakin’ in my tennies as I write this . But I remind myself “…we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16)July 2015 068 (2)

Like any rigorous program of physical exercise, the spiritual exercise of faith will have at least two results:

1. Sore muscles–physical muscles tear a little in strenuous exercise. That’s why they hurt. There’s a cost to spiritual exercise, too–a decision to tear away lesser practices for greater ones.

2. Stronger faith–in the healing process, muscles grow larger and stronger–if we persevere in the training.

Every spiritual training program will be as individual as each person’s weaknesses and areas of spiritual cellulite.  Just as distractions derail physical exercise programs, spiritual exercise is bound to meet with obstacles, too.

In fact, every time I determine again to begin a program of either physical or spiritual discipline, I find myself in a ferocious battle with God’s enemy and ours, the devil–a battle from which I often limp away–bruised, bleeding, and discouraged.July 2015 013 (2)

That battle is the test of my spiritual six-pack. How long does the Enemy fool me? How long before I remember he has no claim on me? That I’m not alone? That God has not and never will let go of me? How well do I know the character and promises of God?

How soon do I return to His path, and my discipline?

Do I know how to put on the full, protective armor of God, to thrust and parry with the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God–so that the Word Himself, this Jesus, fights for me? Do I have His Word hidden in my heart, thrust into my belt, my hand always on the hilt?July 2015 007

Lord–crummy as I am at sticking to a program of physical exercise and caloric restraint, I know I need Your help to exercise my faith to build my spiritual muscles and trim away the useless things I gorge on instead of You. 

I praise You for Your promise to us that “He who began a good work in you will complete it,” (Phil. 1:6) so we know that, while the choice to obey You in exercising faith is ours, You’ll transform our pitiful offerings and attempts into wholeness, beauty, and strength. Thank You, Lord. I love You.

 

 

Apple of His Eye

I c11034920_10153188937269214_2723384077591697003_nolor cardboard tulips on the kitchen table, sunlight streaming through lace curtains, illuminating dirty windows. I make a mental note to clean them tonight. Too much daylight makes glass streak.

I color yellow on the tulip edges so they’ll gleam under the black watercolor as though lit from behind, like my friend Wendy’s fat lambs in the late sun, glowing with halos through their fleeces.

I feel joyfully alive as I color, though my hands cramp and I must rest them frequently. Even the pain reminds me of the splendor of this mortality, that God made nerves to signal pain and pleasure, hot and cold, rough and smooth.

I brush waxy crumbs away and listen to birdsong. As a child I loved the songs of the Bible–the Psalms. Their truth and hope cut through all my pretend–joy, anguish, outcry, acquiescence, and rest–He is God of the real.

A favorite line became a life raft during the worst of the teen years–“Keep me as the apple of Your eye.” (Psalm 17:8)

I didn’t understand the imagery then. But despite feeling worthless and hated by others, I felt special to God–the apple of His eye. I saw myself as a literal polished apple–beautiJune 2015 019fully mottled, shiny, pleasing to hold.

Only later did I read the little footnote that said “apple” meant “pupil.”

The pupil is a hole into the eye.The iris surrounding it is triggered by light striking the optic nerve, and expands or contracts to regulate light as needed.

So if we ask God to keep us as the pupil of His eye, we ask Him to guard our spirits, to regulate His holy light of love and truth that we might always be able to see His path, whether in brightness or darkness. This is an amazing prayer.

The iris widens in darkness, to gather light into the pupil for illumination. Lord, when my soul is dark, open the iris of my heart to gather in Your light. You know how much I need it.

I need Your light when pickle juice spills on clean dishes, when I lock keys, towels, life jackets, and picnic in the car just as we arrive at the lake. I need it for my sore foot at day’s end when the little one wants me to stand and hold her for Rock-A-Bye-Baby.

I need it when I throw out burned eggs because there were FIVE emergencies while I tried to cook them, and everyone is crying because they’re hungry. I need it when the little ones I love wear body braces and face serious surgeries.July 2015 014

I paint black watercolor on my tulips and the waxy color springs to life in relief.

In addition to gathering light, the iris also limits light to protect  the pupil. But some protection is up to us. If we look directly at the sun, its brightness can burn the rods and cones at the back of the eye to destroy our vision forever.

Some people wish for more light, for the light of all knowledge, like Adam and Eve. They want foreknowledge of their futures–poverty, riches, and the day of their deaths. But I don’t want to know. I don’t trust myself with that much light.

I fear I’d turn every thought inward towards how to serve and preserve myself, how to keep instead of how to lay down my life, and thereby miss the joy and pain and real of the present. I want to live all the way here.

I want to watch my granddaughter’s face as she tells me about her new song, her dance steps, how she made a fairy dust necklace for her baby sister who cried because it couldn’t really make her fly.July 2015 048 (2)

The sun shifts. I hang my painted tulips on the tree branch above the kitchen table with frogs, butterflies, burlap, and grosgrain ribbon. The kitchen lies in shadow. I marvel how my eyes adjust. The light has fallen to the other side of the house–perfect time to clean the kitchen window.

Father, clean the glass of my heart. Help me see clearly. Keep me as the apple of Your eye. Hide me in the shadow of Your wings.

 

Four Reasons People are like Peaches

Sheep are individuals. A shepherd knows his or her sheep. Jesus knows my name and yours.

Are you there, Lord? I don’t know what to do. Am I trying to make a decision You have not called me to?

I count my old records–forty ewes, ten rams, 400 lambs in nineteen years–all different, nearly all with names. Peaches was a quiet Dorset/Finn cross, nothing like the Targhee, Amelia. Amelia ran if I came anywhere near her.OldCompBackup 2979

Am I running from what You have called me to? Help me stay.

Tammy let me get closer before she spooked. Apple would do anything for food. Peaches came readily to me, calm and trusting. I ran my hands through her fleece and latched her newborn lambs to nurse. Help me come to You in trust. Help me wait.

Sheep are social animals. They remember faces. They form cliques.

Bruisers like Lightning and Blackberry stuck together. They charged the feeder like bouncers, bashing others in their way. Sometimes they’d overeat and get bellyaches in all their four stomachs. Help me not covet what You have not given.OldCompBackup 435

Apple and Peaches, who were more neighborly sheep, stuck together, too. They shoved for food, but in a companionable way. They ate and chewed cud contentedly.

Cause me to be satisfied and nourished by the abundance You give.

Timid Dolly and Tammy found only tough stems left when the bruisers finished. I fed these ewes by hand in secret–the most tender leaves to make up for loss. Help me not fear. Feed me in secret. Forgive my want of lesser things.

Sheep have no natural defenses beyond flocking or fleeing.

Bruisers, neighbors, and timids hung out in different parts of the pasture. But when threatened, all the groups flocked together facing out–rams on the edges, lambs in the middle. Predators divide and scatter flocks to seek the loners.July 2015 014

Help me seek community for prayer and counsel.

Sheep prefer to be led, not driven. 

Effective leadership is based on trust. I moved slowly among my sheep, speaking softly so they could learn my voice. When I called, they came running for grain, hay, water, apples, and new pastures.

Sometimes they didn’t like what I gave them–shots, shearing, or worm medicine. But it was all for their good. Sometimes the neighbor’s sheep came to the fence. I didn’t feed my neighbor’s sheep, or treat their ailments. My voice was of no use to them.

Help me hear Your voice in this decision, Lord, and not mistake it for any other. Help me trust in Your goodness.July 2015 010

One day, when Peaches was huge with twins, she lay down, rolled into a hollow, and got stuck on her back with her legs in the air and her twin-filled belly pinned to the ground on either side, like saddlebags on a horse. This might sound funny, but it isn’t.

With her big lambs inside her and all her four stomachs pressing on her lungs, Peaches couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t make the tiniest cry for help. Her eyes rolled back in her head. But the Great Good Shepherd knew she was in trouble. Somehow, He helped me know.

I looked out the upstairs window and saw Peaches. I pulled my boots on and leapt down the stairs. I ran across the pasture. I tugged Peaches’ legs and rolled the heavy ewe onto her feet. She opened her eyes. They were brown and soft and scared. But she was safe.

Her two lambs and four stomachs hung away from her lungs. She huffed the fresh air in and out; all the wind scented with clover and plum blossoms. Her heart thudded. I rubbed her chest and spoke softly. Her eyes lost their terror. Her breathing slowed.OldCompBackup 2260

She waddled away happily to graze with the flock. A week later, her lambs came, strong and healthy. I knew God could bring His plans to fruition in my life, too. And in yours.

Thank You, Lord, for the story of Peaches. Help me remember her when I’m senseless with worry, when I’m confused and fall in holes. Please set me on my feet. Help me to follow only Your voice. Lead me on Your path, only on Your path, that I might accomplish what You made me for.

 

Even Caterpillars Speak

Tim has gone to work and Lara is still sleeping. I take the dogs out and tell myself today–today!–I will sit down with God to bow my head in His beauty and kindness and love. It has been too long. Even a day away from Him–how can I know I’m going the right way?

Sometimes I think for God to have a relationship with me is like me trying to have a relationship with caterpillars. I’m so big they can’t really see me. They certainly can’t understand me.

They bumble along and I watch over them, trying to put them in the path of food andJune 2015 026 (2) water and trees to climb, keeping birds and mice from devouring them, or the red-headed ants from turning them into larval snack bars. I divert them from crossing asphalt to oblivion.

Sometimes they head towards the clearing–bare dirt–where bulldozers move stumps and branches into piles for burning. Perhaps the caterpillars don’t know the cut green is already dead, that the parched soil holds no sustenance and no future for them.

The caterpillars stubbornly go their own way, not realizing they must stay in the living green where morning dew, rye grass, and maples rise. They don’t know they must climb higher to weave a temporary tomb and sleep in order to become butterflies.June 2015 010

So I put obstacles in their way to turn them from destruction they cannot imagine. I move them to where they think they don’t want to go. They are terrified of me, though I have only good planned for them. They writhe and twist in my hand, trying to get away.

That is me in the Lord’s hands sometimes–writhing–frightened and senseless as a worm, forgetting He has only good for me and for you.

When I had to give up my farm I was disconsolate. I fell into deep mourning. And my husband, who had been the catalyst for the move, came to agree with me it had been the wrong choice.

But, as our eyes gradually opened to the dew and green around us, to the new heights we could climb, we also agreed that in everything we had never left God’s hands. 

We came to see that, beautiful and healing as the farm had been for me, the move was necessary because of our stubborn hearts. The move kept us from a greater devastation–the destruction of our marriage.June 2015 036

Had we, in humility and reverence, addressed long-term marital issues while living at the farm, the move might have been averted. But the farm was big enough we could bury the truth and go our own self-serving ways, to the death of our vows.

So God took us to a smaller place where we could no longer escape the grave of lies. He is a God of truth, not a God of hiding. Like Adam and Eve, He searched out our runaway hearts and sent us from the Garden.

He led us into a relational wilderness where we had to speak truth to each other to forge a new life; to remove deep thorns we’d pretended didn’t exist, to learn how to listen, to hammer forgiveness and love into a strong shelter.

When the truth has been buried so long, exposing it releases a stench.For us, it stank of loud voices and deadly silence, slammed doors, bitter tears, despairing prayer.

And then, the little kindnesses began–times of red tulips and hauling trash cans, times of stumbling to learn how to nourish each other, to touch our deepest needs, to climb higher and join with God in His butterfly work of everlasting transformation.June 2015 022

And now, beginning to shed our caterpillar skins, we face new challenges and new opportunities for trust.

This time, there is a unity of shared joy as we go hand-in-hand writing the next chapter in the story of our lives, as we speak truth to one another about differences and needs, as we rest in God’s hands and seek His direction–as we prepare to stretch the trustworthy wings of the future He has graciously given us.

How do you see your relationship with God? What has He done in your life to give you new wings?

 

 

 

In a Manner Worthy

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called…” (Eph. 4:1).

I tenderly stacked the soft clay “blessing bowls” the morning campers had made in the crafts room at foster kid camp. I loaded them in the car, then  headed home to let the dogs out, unpack the kiln, load more pots, and return to camp by afternoon craft time. On the way, I stopped for a burger.June 2015 067

That’s when I saw her.

A young woman sat on a rock, weeping. Her boyfriend hadn’t arrived to take her to her second job. She said she lived only 5-10 minutes away. Here was a soul crying out in front of me–there was my responsibility to campers. I prayed for God’s calling: Whatsoever you do for the least of these... Whatsoever.

She climbed into my car.

Her parents loved her but had kicked her out of the house because of her boyfriend. She said, “I wanted to be a grown-up, and now I have to work.”

In the 25-minute ride, we covered a lot of ground.

I drove and drove. She apologized. I said, “God runs my day and He chose to place you in it.”

I told her she is important to the One who created her. She sounded uncertain about her recent decisions. I encouraged her to “…speak the truth in love…” (Eph. 4:15)–first to herself and then to others.

I was happy God allowed me to be a Good Samaritan, but worried about being late for camp. Mentally, I revved my to-do list to breakneck speed, despite the fact I stink at hurryJune 2015 057

Hurry  can turn my love on its ear like the flick of a lamp. Off.

“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love…”  (Eph. 4:2).

If only I’d applied God runs my day to the next precious person whom He gave me to serve.

At home, my husband was boiling a plastic tub of bean dip in a pan on the stove. He’d hoped it was homemade chili. Frustrated at this new delay, I marched to the garage and yanked chili from the freezer.

I had trusted God when He’d dropped a crying stranger in my path. But now, I grumbled about my husband coming for lunch–to his home, to his castle.

I slammed chili into a casserole dish to thaw, dirtying three pans to find the right size. I heard God calling, but I stormed past Him. I forgot to see Him in my husband’s face. I checked the tJune 2015 064ime–there wasn’t enough to prepare the chili before Tim returned to work.

I shoved it back in the freezer.

Flinging the pantry door open I gave him (or was it Him?) canned chili to cook for himself (Himself). I darted around–fussing, annoyed, and anxious.

But, back at camp–an hour late–no one had missed me. 

The other two helpers chatted. The campers swam in the lake (as it turned out) another hour-and-a-half. I heard His soft voice, “See, daughter? Do you understand now?”

My heart ached over my sin. I had to speak truth to myself–I hadn’t trusted God’s timing for camp or for Tim. I had failed the real test. I hadn’t walked in a manner worthy of the calling. I hadn’t been humble, gentle, patient, forbearing in love, or anything near a Good Samaritan.June 2015 054

I had been a robber.

I confessed it all to God. When I got home, my sweet husband apologized for “messing everything up,” which stabbed me to the core. I asked his forgiveness.

I dusted off my spiritual knees to try again.

How about you? Is it easier to walk “worthy” with strangers, friends, or family?

For me, family relationships are the most humbling litmus test of who I really am and a continual reminder of why I need a Savior.

In Ephesians, Paul called himself “a prisoner of the Lord” and determined to “walk in a manner worthy” of that calling.

I want that perspective with every one of my callings. I know I’ll fail again and again unJune 2015 048til heaven. I know I’ll need the Holy Spirit for every step of worthy walking. But whether wiping noses, pulling a lamb into this world, making a handmade card or even–as God calls– being a prisoner for His sake, I want to be intentional about what it looks like to walk in a manner worthy.

What are your callings? How do you remember to be intentional about walking worthy when the day zooms in and out of different callings?