Follow Dan on Facebook

 

 

 

Words of Hope for Everyday Life:

 

November 23, 2017

A Dog Named Trixie.

Somewhere beyond this fence post in southwest Oklahoma's Kiowa County stood a sharecropper's farmhouse where Claud and Mae Kenimer resided. As the Great Depression gripped the nation and the winds of the Dust Bowl ravaged the region, their daughter, Willa, gave birth to Dad within those walls in 1932.

Be it here and/or another location, Great-Grandpa had two loyal dogs who roamed the red dirt farm he worked: Rex and Trixie. He would tell Rex to go get the cows and his four-legged friend would obey his command, saving that tall, thin, gentleman in overalls some time and energy for other work needing to be done.

Trixie's job, on the other hand, was to kill rattlesnakes. I don't know how many times she fulfilled that duty over her lifetime, but it must have been a fair number for her to have such a reputation. The quickness and cunning with which she performed her work would have been an amazing thing to watch indeed!

What if Trixie hadn't been roaming the yard and fence rows as her family went about their business each day? How about when Dad toddled near a patch of tall grass or stooped curiously near a pile of rocks? The possibility certainly exists that he would have lost his life if Trixie hadn't faithfully been on guard and about her work.

Our lives contain countless strands of spaghetti, myriads of circumstances and possibilities that could have disastrously occurred...but didn't. On Thanksgiving Day, 2017 among the innumerable blessings that have filled the breaths and heartbeats of my life, I am very grateful for what didn't happen to me. A razor-thin miss with a dual-trailer gravel semi-truck at a greater-Flushing intersection on May 10, 1975 would have instantly claimed the lives of Dad, Dave, myself and a very dear relative. How many other times were there near-misses on the road, at home, at work or play? I can't count them all. Can I number the times something did not occur because of the faithfulness of someone that very day...or many years before? I cannot. I am thankful to God for the unknowable, unseen, uncountable things He has spared me from.

Trixie, God rest your gentle bones...lying somewhere beneath the red soil of southwest Oklahoma. I am grateful to God for how He made you and for how you faithfully carried out your calling each day. You didn't just help people 80 years ago. What you did is still helping folks up here in Michigan today. If you hadn't done your job, I may not have had a Dad who loved Mom and our family...a man who faithfully pointed Dave, Cheri and me to what I am most grateful for: Jesus, the Savior of the World.

"Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations." - Psalm 100:4,5

Image may contain: sky, tree, grass, plant, cloud, outdoor and nature

 


 

November 22, 2017

The Light in the Kitchen.

The wood stove door creaked open in the early, cold darkness. Thin of frame and weary of bone, Myrtle Pemberton shivered. She struck a match and lit the fire for another of a long line of innumerable mornings. As yellow-orange hues flickered across the floor, her breaths were seen in tiny clouds. For many years this had been her way of life...and would continue to be for many more. She would eventually raise 13 children within these walls. Electricity wouldn't wind its way among the hills to this East Tennessee farmhouse until the 1960's. This was Thanksgiving morning, November 28, 1929...just under a month into the Great Depression. The winds had howled throughout the night and carried a freezing rain, pelting the tin roof mercilessly. As she walked to the outhouse in the darkness, she left her angel footprints in a light covering of snow.

A 15 year-old girl was among her children that slept soundly beneath layers of quilts that November morning, a young lady named Edna. She would grow up to marry a man named Clifford...a man who would wrestle a living out of coal seams hidden deep beneath Kentucky earth for a number of years. One of their children, Larry, became my father-in-law when his daughter Debbie and I exchanged our vows of marriage in 1981.

As Myrtle did every other morning, she worked hard to prepare a breakfast to fill so many stomachs, including that of her husband Haywood. On top of that task, her mind was busily planning the preparation of a turkey which had roamed the hills only two days prior, plus putting together all the trimmings. She knew Edna would be at her side in a couple hours, but in the quietness of the pre-dawn she did what she always did...not only in the morning but all day long: she talked to Jesus.

Great-Grandma Myrtle knew Jesus heart-to-heart. It was He who sustained her through her countless trials throughout countless days. The Depression added yet another heavy blanket to her load but, as she always found in the past, it wasn't too much weight for Jesus to shoulder. Her gentle voice hummed "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" to keep her heart and mind calm when she heard heavy cares, worries and fear knocking on the door of yet another morning. Soon, the knocks went away...just as they did time and time before.

While she hummed and talked to The Savior in those dimly-lit predawn hours, there seemed to be a warmer, calmer, brighter Glow coming from the kitchen. It was the Love-Light of Jesus' heart. Myrtle Pemberton could face...and conquer...yet another day of endless responsibilities that wouldn't cease until way past the time the house was enveloped in darkness once again.

As she faced the first Thanksgiving of the Great Depression, somehow, deep within, Great-Grandma knew there would be a brighter day someday. Until then, the Love-Light of Jesus would be more than enough to warm her heart and light her way.

I am more than thankful for a saint that I never had the priceless blessing of meeting...a thin, small-boned lady named Myrtle.

 


 

November 21, 2017

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home; 
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field,
Fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown,
Unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade, and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear:
Lord of harvest, grant that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day
All offenses purge away;
Give His angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store
In His garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come,
Bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified,
In Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come,
Raise the glorious harvest home.

("Come, Ye Thankful People Come", by Henry Alford, 1844; music by George J. Elvey, 1868)

 

 

 

November 20, 2017

Gratitude in the Midst of Pain.

Martin Rinkart was a pastor in the walled city of Eilenburg, Saxony (Germany) during the horrific 30 Years War of 1618-1648. Being a city of refuge, the city was overcrowded, ridden with disease and starvation.

1637 was The Year of Great Pestilence and there were four pastors in Eilenburg. One left town for greener pastures. Rev. Rinkart performed the funerals for the two that stayed. Conditions went from terrible to horrific within those city walls and, as the sole pastor in town, Rev. Rinkart conducted up to 50 funerals per day (over 4,400 for the year), including that of his own wife. By the end of the year, with the death toll rising so rapidly, people were buried in trenches without ceremony. Yet, possessing little of this world's goods and struggling to have enough food for his own family, Martin Rinkart continued to give from his limited resources to those who were worse off than he.

Not only was Rev. Rinkart generous of soul, he was brave of heart. At one point, the Swedish army surrounded Eilenburg in seige and demanded a very exorbitant tax. He led a group of people outside the city walls and negotiated with the Swedish commander to no avail. Realizing that his only hope lay in God, not man, he fell to his knees in prayer to God before them. The military leader was so moved by what he saw that he greatly reduced the tax.

Wanting to provide his children with a prayer song of grace as they gathered around the dinner table...a table containing meager food scraps...he composed the lyrics to "Now Thank We All Our God" circa 1636.

Without finding reason to be thankful to God, we crumble in the midst of our difficulties...nor can we find healing from their wounds. In the midst of even the most devastating of circumstances, Martin Rickart's lyrics point us to The One whose love we cannot lose, though all else slips through our fingers:

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And guard us through all ills in this world, till the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven—
The one eternal God, Whom earth and Heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

("Now Thank We All Our God", by Martin Rinkart, ca.1636; music by Johann Cruger, 1647)

Image may contain: sky, tree, cloud, plant, outdoor and nature


 

 

November 19, 2017

Boulders in the Field.

I find this pile of boulders alongside a November farm field to be a source of great meaning. Perhaps they represent decades of toil, of a farmer faithfully working his field and gleaning this very significant collection one-by-one. In a farm field, boulders are a great nuisance...a significant obstruction to progress. In the field of life, they're an enormous blessing, a source of power that moves us ever-forward.

As we work the dusty, dry, routine fields of life day-by-day and year-by-year, occasionally our plow blade will catch on a larger stone...an inspirational life that captures our eye...causing us to pause for a moment, take notice and then move forward. On very rare occasions though, we unearth a boulder...a life so influential that we're entirely captivated by it. We stop the tractor, get off and walk with wonder toward it. The immensity of character of this life we've just stumbled upon has entirely stopped us in our tracks. So taken by what we've found, we eagerly and determinedly hoist this new-found treasure onto our wagon, proceeding to haul it across the everyday, dusty field of our life and gratefully place it upon our life-long collection of treasured trophies.

I've been spending some time at my boulder pile this November, this Season of reflection and gratitude. Most of the lives I treasure so much...these ones who've moved me in such a great and lasting way...were gentle, loving people who quietly stood strong and firm for what they knew to be God's will...no matter how strongly the winds of change blew across life's field. Hidden among the common dust of everyday life, they had no need for the limelight. Their only desire was to live in The Light...and thus their lives became very uncommon. I would be absolutely nowhere without my boulder pile...and at the top of the heap is Jesus, my Savior and Lord, the Rock of Ages.

It's so healthy and important to set aside some time to step off the field of everyday responsibilities, take a seat beneath the aged Oak of Memory, lean back against its strength and ponder the lives I've been so blessed by. As I look back across my life, my heart is warmed as face-after-face of boulder-after-boulder enters my mind's eye.  To then give deep, heart-felt thanks to The Giver completes the cycle of blessing.

I'm not done visiting my boulder pile this Thanksgiving Season. How about you?  How about you?

Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor and nature


 

 

November 18, 2017

Grateful for Unknown People.

It was a gray, chilly, damp Sunday night in November, 1985. Debbie and I, along with our 2 year-old son Luke, were returning home from a trip to Toronto. It had been a very difficult year of trial for us and we just needed to get out of town for a while. We were west-bound on I-69 near a small town between Port Huron and Flint...perhaps an hour or so from home...when all of a sudden I knew I had car trouble.

I pulled over to the side of the highway, lifted the hood and saw that we had a ruptured radiator hose. I got back in the car and drove to the nearest exit and into the driveway of the closest house. I knocked on the door, explained my situation to a total stranger and the next thing I knew, the lady of the house was a hostess for Debbie and Luke. Her husband placed a phone call and then he and I got into his truck and drove into town. The auto parts store was, of course, closed. Yet, this gentleman knew the man who owned the store and somehow he either had a key or we picked one up. Finding the proper replacement hose, we returned to their home, the new hose was installed in their driveway and we were on our way safely home.

Last year, Debbie and I stopped by the house just to see if perhaps this very gracious couple still lived there. I knocked on the door but there was no answer. As I stood on the porch, I noticed a very fitting statue standing nearby...an angel. There was no answer at the door...unlike many years ago...but a man was mowing the grass on a riding mower. We proceeded to visit together, learned that he was their son and that his parents had both left this world by then. I recounted our story of their kindness to us many years before. He was pleased to hear of it and said he would pass it on to some relatives. We learned that our story was one of many, that his parents had helped a significant number of people down through the years...one of which was a hungry, vagrant man that was discovered sitting on their porch. The Mrs. proceeded to fill his stomach.

Over the years, I have been blessed countless times by complete strangers. People who were very gracious while on the job, watching an elderly couple tenderly shuffle down a hallway together, a blind man walking through a mall with his hand resting upon the shoulder of a friend and on-and-on. God's grace abounds in common people on common days in common places.

I don't know the names of those November-night "good neighbors". But I do know their essence: kindness, grace, mercy, patience, compassion and availability. 32 years later, I am still very grateful for that couple and my heart continues to be warmed by their memory.

Total strangers, they were angels in human form.


 

 

November 17, 2017

A Sacred Blanket.

I love the beauty of a low-lying fog hovering over an autumn field, the early-morning cotton that thickly inhabits Smoky Mountain hollows, a blanket of mist that clings to a lake of glass as the rising sun peers through it. These sights carry a sense of sacredness, of serenity, of other-worldliness, of a much- longed-for peace. They cause me to think of the Spirit of God drawing very near.

Don't we long for moments when God is so near that we feel time stand still as we're enveloped in The Eternal? When, just for a short time, everything makes sense when all around us tragedy, brokenness, abuse and danger abound? When we can almost touch Him as we run our hand through The Mist?

Jesus taught us "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Luke 11:13). This is a request that God the Father loves to answer! He wants to give us His very essence. He wants to draw near to us. He wants to restore a kingdom of love and grace upon this world that only He can provide.

I can't think of a time in my life when we've needed God's Holy Spirit to come down and hover over our world more than right now...to dwell among us like a thick blanket, to conquer the forces of evil in the hearts of individuals, and thus society as a whole. We need Him to brood over neighborhoods, cities, states and nations.

We also need a thick, sweet blanket of God's Spirit to cling to us in our houses of worship. We must ask ourselves if we are more hungry for things to go our way or God's way as we gather together. Do we have the wisdom to realize He can accomplish so much more than we can...if we'll but step out of the way? Are we completely yielded to "The Blanket" that longs to come down and wrap us in Himself? I have long been impressed by the time God drew so near that "...the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God" (2 Chronicles 5:13,14). Oh, that we could not stand on a Sunday morning because He was so near that all we could possibly do is kneel, weep, confess our sins, our brokenness, our absolute need for Him...and soak in all that He so longs to give us!

Would you please join me in prayer, asking The Loving Father to descend upon us with His Spirit, to dwell among us, to linger and hover over us like a thick, sacred blanket of love, peace and grace?

We've all seen what the Enemy of our Souls can do for us...it's what is all around us today. It's time to see what the Friend of our Souls can do.

"And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." (I John 5:14, 15)

Image may contain: sky, tree, ocean, outdoor and nature


 

 

November 16, 2017

Plenty for Today.

When growing up, Mom would sometimes send one of us kids downstairs to the fruit cellar in the basement. It was usually around suppertime and she would need some potatoes, an onion or two, perhaps a can of beans or fruit. We would open the door, walk inside and pull the light-string hanging in the middle of the room. The bare light bulb would illuminate that small room and I still remember the smell very well...potatoes and onions on the shelf create a unique, earthy aroma. Mom would watch for sales and stock up on various canned goods from time to time. It was a very good feeling to see those cans on the shelves, to take what was needed and head back upstairs.

God's supplies will always exceed our needs. The infinitely-long shelves of His "fruit cellar" are lined with the staples required for life on earth. Whatever we need, be it love, food, finances, grace, physical, mental or emotional strength, wisdom, guidance or a need within our spirit, the Father in Heaven is telling us to take a trip to His storehouse. Oh, that we will take Him up on His offer, to have the courage to open the cellar door, to walk inside and pull on the light string. To take in "the aroma of enough", to see that there is more on the shelves than we can possibly devour, is a very beautiful thing indeed! We can freely fill our hands with plenty for this day's needs and draw from it hour-by-hour...we don't need any more than that. We can only take one breath and chew one mouthful at a time.

What we need, He has. It's time to boldly walk in...He's told us to do so...and gratefully take from His shelves all that we need...not anxiously grabbing extra for tomorrow's demands, but only enough for this day.

"Give us this day our daily bread." - Jesus (Matthew 6:11)

"But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19)

"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

Image may contain: 1 person


 

 

November 15, 2017

The Weight of Gratitude.

As a kid, I remember having a bag of marbles. One side of the bag was made of clear plastic, enabling those round treasures inside to be seen. I had numerous "cat eyes" of various colors, a "steelie", and at least one "boulder". I enjoyed taking the marbles out of the bag from time to time and admiring them. When finished, I'd put them all back in the bag and tie the string at the top, carefully preserving those little spheres of beauty until next time. I can still feel the weight of that bag of marbles in my hand.

As this Season of Thanksgiving moves forward one day at a time, the sense of gratitude in my heart has been so empowering. November is not a month without pain for me. There are dates on the calendar that carry deep sorrow for me each year...days the clouds hang gray, heavy and low. Those days and what they mean never go away...they are a weight I do not want to bear but I have no choice. Yet, for a number of reasons, I still find these 30 days, as a whole, to be one of my 2 favorite months of the year. It is a month intended to be soaked in the the beautiful simplicity of gratitude. I greatly enjoy that focus.

I'm finding there to be a real beauty in the weight of gratitude. Just like the sensation of that treasured bag of marbles in my hand, I can feel the weight of faces, voices and moments in the "hand" of my heart. One at a time, I can hold a face and a voice in my memory...each a bag of treasure...and oh, how precious their weight is! I can empty out the priceless moments that accompany each face and voice and admire those snippets of time one-by-one. There is no earthly price that can be put upon them. Then, I can put all those treasures safely back inside the bag, tie them up, and save them to be admired on yet another day.

November is a month unlike any other...a month of reflection, of a heart full of thanks, of feeling the treasured weight of a lifetime of gifts in our hand...of then giving our heart-felt thanks to The Giver.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights..." (James 1:17)

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor and nature


 

 

November 14, 2017

The Power of Aged Leaves.

There is such a power in scooping up a handful of leaves, bringing them close to your face, and breathing in deeply. Suddenly, everything melts away and you're in a time warp, leap-frogging backwards over decades of countless obligations and duties to things that are truly priceless.

I find those deep breaths take me back two generations: first, to when our kids were little and we'd play together in a pile of leaves in the backyard. Those are priceless memories for me. The years have so swiftly flown away, like crisp leaves in the November wind. To draw from those memories shortens the gap between us, as all three of them now live in states other than Michigan.

Secondly, my mind travels even further back, to when I was a kid on Flint's northwest side. For a number of our childhood years, we lived on Winona Street, across from Sarvis Park. Among other trees, we had two towering oaks in our yard, one in the back yard and one in the front. We didn't lack for work in the fall months as there were so many leaves to rake. Picking up acorns was more fun because I would use my imagination and pretend to be Roberto Clemente, practicing my baseball throwing arm by hurling them at a tree or light pole across the street. In the park there were countless towering, old trees that shed their leaves for childhood feet to scuffle through on brisk days.

I have a Bible by the easy chair in our living room. On the fly leaf, in ink, Dad filled in the blanks: "Presented to" Dan Hays, "by" Dad & Mom, "on" Christmas, 1970. Nearly 47 years in my possession, to pick it up and turn its leaves takes me back across many significant highlights on my spiritual journey. Underlined verses are common, as are dates and thoughts written in the margins. In a sense, it's like a large, priceless "road atlas for life" that's been given to me. By putting a pen or pencil to its sacred pages, it's as though I've traced the roads I've traveled on my way Home to Heaven...my own personal journey...marking sign posts along the way. As I've traveled down life's ever-varying pathway, I've found the words of these pages to be timeless and unchanging. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard from God through its words...exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. The Bible's words are ever-alive because they are inspired by the One who lives forever, who inhabits eternity, who rules the universe every millisecond. To breathe deeply from these words takes me not just across my own life but across many lives through thousands of years...heroes of faith who point the way back even further...to the One who spoke all things into existence.

While technology changes by the day, the most important things do not. God, Jesus Christ, the ageless words of Scripture, the human soul, family values, morality, the physical laws of the universe, the rising-and-setting sun, the courses of planets and galaxies, and more, do not.

There is immense power to be found by breathing deeply from aged leaves. It's never too late to start.

"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." (Psalm 119:105)

Image may contain: plant, flower and nature

 


 

November 13, 2017

Nicht mein Wille, aber dein getan werden.

It was November 13, 1957. She had reached her 55th birthday about two weeks earlier. The ravages of diabetes...kidney failure, heart failure and near-blindness...were bringing her very close to the finish line of life in this world. Grandma Weisgerber, a mother of 7, kept clinging to life on earth until someone told her that Paul, her son from Florida, had arrived. She promptly sat up in her hospital bed, gazed around the room, laid back down and slipped into the arms of Jesus forever.

I wonder what went through her mind as she watched her health disintegrate. A quiet woman of Volga German heritage who deeply loved God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures, she must have talked long and often with the Lord about what lay ahead. Grandma would be leaving the love of her life, John. For 34 years he was her husband and companion through the countless trials of raising a family during the Great Depression. They watched together as their oldest son, Ed, joined the Marines and fought in the South Pacific during World War II and then in Korea, never knowing if he would return (thank God, he did). They later watched Paul become a Marine as well.

Grandma Christine knew how highly Grandpa John valued her, how much he appreciated all she had done to make their house a home and raise their family. Ever dedicated, he would come home from work as a millwright at Chevrolet, find her laying on the couch in ill health, ask her "Chris, do you need anything?" and then lay down on the floor beside her. Only God knows the thoughts that ran through their minds as they lay there in the silence...memories, sadness, fear, helplessness. Grandma's body was failing her beyond her control while Grandpa, the strapping, strong man that he was, was powerless to stop it.  Hot tears of impending, deep grief may have silently rolled down their cheeks as a clock softly ticked away the sleepless, midnight hours.

While some of their children were married, including Mom, their youngest child, Kathy, had just turned 18 in October. Little grandchildren joyfully ran about their home on Sunday afternoons that she would never see grow up. There were more to be born that she would never see. How would Grandpa fare in her absence (and oh, how he missed her when she was gone)? All these concerns and more must have been taken to her Lord in prayer time and time again. Being bilingual, I wonder if from time to time, as she wrestled with her mortality and early departure from this world, she prayed in German. Could she have whispered "Nicht mein Wille, aber dein getan werden" ("Not my will, but thine be done")*? They were the words that Jesus prayed to the Heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane as He wrestled with facing His death the next day, bearing the sins of the world on the cross at age 33. Like Jesus did, I believe Grandma must have eventually reached a point of resignation to the will of God in the midst of her disease. How long it took to get there was between her and the Lord. Although it must have been a difficult journey of sorrow to reach that point...and despite her heart-felt questions as to why...she found the deep, peace-filled release of being completely held within Jesus' hands and in the center of His will for her life.

As soon as Grandma felt The Savior's arms wrap around her 60 years ago today, she understood why. As she lay her head against His chest, perhaps she even whispered those words of complete resignation one more time...in the Mother Tongue...this time, with utter, complete joy.

*Luke 22:42

(Painting, "Christ in Gethsemane", by Heinrich Hofmann, 1890)

Image may contain: one or more people
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglasses and closeup

 


 

November 12, 2017

Life is like a mountain railroad,
With an engineer that’s brave;
We must make the run successful,
From the cradle to the grave;
Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels;
Never falter, never quail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
And your eye upon the rail.

Refrain:
Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
Till we reach the blissful shore,
Where the angels wait to join us
In Thy praise forevermore.

You will often find obstructions,
Look for storms and wind and rain;
On a fill, or curve, or trestle
They will almost ditch your train;
Put your trust alone in Jesus,
Never falter, never fail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
And your eye upon the rail.

As you roll across the trestle,
Spanning Jordan’s swelling tide,
You behold the Union Depot
Into which your train will glide;
There you’ll meet the Sup’rintendent,
God the Father, God the Son,
With the hearty, joyous plaudit,
“Weary pilgrim, welcome home."

("Life's Railway to Heaven", vs. 1,3,4 by Eliza R. Snow & M. E. Abbey, 19th Century; music by Charles Tillman, 1891)

(Photo: Colorado Mountain Train along the San Juan Skyway, Public Domain, by Sally Pearce)

 

 

 

November 9, 2017

The Anchor Chain.

A fisherman will select the strength of fishing line they're using based upon the size of fish they're seeking to catch. A line rated as "6-pound test" should not break until 6 pounds of pressure is exerted on the line (although, amazingly, a fish weighing much, much more can sometimes be caught with it).

I'd love to know the rating on this old anchor's chain. Assuming it was designed to hold a large wooden sailing vessel in place during a severe storm, it's rating would have to be a significant number of tons. What amazing strength! Had it been coupled to a backyard swing set chain, the anchor would have been useless in a gale. No matter how large the boulders it clung to beneath the water, the chain would have snapped like kite string.

Our faith is like an anchor chain. God gives each of us an innate ability to trust in something...we trust the chair we're sitting on without thinking about it. Anchors abound, be they our own rationale, money, substances, achievement, people and more. We can have the strongest faith in the weakest of anchors and we will always meet disaster.

The Infinite Anchor is always available for us. The Maker and Sustainer of the Universe is utterly solid and immovable in even the worst of storms. It's the strength of our "chain of faith"...or the lack thereof...that makes the difference as to how we'll fare as we face our deep trials.

We've all faced our storms, upheavals, disappointments, losses, long-term trials and deep sorrows. Sleepless nights, fear, and uncertainty seem to be common fare on the journey from time-to-time. One of those nights for me occurred 8 years ago last night.

One of my bosses had called that November Sunday afternoon and informed me of the near-imminent closing of our business in 12 days. No ensuing miracles occurred and thus his words came true. Jobless in midlife, I was forced into the very real, cold, uncharted waters that many thousands faced in the Great Recession and its fallout. My faith-chain was tested to the max. I couldn't see past the end of my nose in the darkness and I was in a state of upheaval within. Like the 6-pound test fishing line with a huge fish on the other end, I was facing something way beyond my rating. God understood. In the midst of my turmoil, He waited for my ship to right itself and to look to Him. Deep down beneath it all, He was my very patient Comforter, Companion, Guide and Strength. I kept attaching and re-attaching my thin chain of faith to Him. He saw me safely to the other side of the storm and into a new, fulfilling day. Without question, I couldn't have made it without Him. Psalm 118:23 rings very true with me: "This is the LORD'S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes."

Jesus likens our faith to a grain of mustard seed. He knows it's not much...He's so familiar with how we're wired within. Yet, when we, as frail as we are, keep looking over and again to Him the best that we can, He supernaturally takes our "6-pound line" and turns it into an anchor chain.

""But when he (Peter) saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (Matthew 14:30,31)

Image may contain: plant and outdoor

 


 

November 8, 2017

Follow the North Star.

High atop a hill above the town of Ripley, Ohio stands one of the most sacred homes I've ever set foot inside of. In the 1800's, it belonged to Rev. John Rankin, an abolitionist. He was run out of the South for preaching against slavery. So, he moved just across the Ohio River from Kentucky, a slave state, into this little southern-Ohio town. In the first photo below, his home is the small brick house in the clearing at the top of the hill. The red brick steeple of his church is seen down the hill, directly below the house.

A pastor's job is very difficult. The responsibilities of shepherding their flock never ends. On top of their family responsibilities, there is prayer, Bible study, sermon preparation, preaching on Sunday, visiting the sick, counseling, funerals, praying with the hurting, meetings to attend...that and so much more could be found on Rev. Rankin's plate every week. Yet, on top of his many duties, this husband, father and pastor was a Conductor on the Underground Railroad. As a result, there was a contract on his life. In 1841, he and his sons fought off those who came to burn down his house and barn. Gun shots were fired from one or both sides. Despite the many threats, he was not deterred. He knew in his soul that people of color were people, too...just as valuable as any other race on the planet. If he lost his life rescuing them, so be it. Over the course of roughly 30 years, it is estimated that ~2000 slaves found their way to freedom through his home.

The Rankins left a lamp burning at night, a beacon of hope in darkness. Stories differ as to whether it was placed in a window facing the Kentucky side of the Ohio River or atop a pole...perhaps, over time, it was both ways. Can you imagine the quickening pulse of a slave who owned only the clothes on their back as they saw that warm lamp burning at midnight? They faced one last, huge obstacle...the chilly, strong waters of the mighty Ohio. Scratched, scraped, bruised and scarred, their journey to freedom from brutal oppression was nearly over...and worth every fear-filled step. I wonder how many of those slaves, once they found their way across those waters, knelt in the dirt of southern Ohio and wept as they prayed a prayer of gratitude to God. How many, still on their knees, grabbed two fistfuls of the sacred dirt of a free state and gratefully whispered "this is the soil of freedom, this is where my life begins anew".

In all kinds of weather, as the weary, desperate, fleeing slaves ascended that steep hill toward the Rankin home, they found their door to be unlocked. Inside, they found safety, warmth, clothing and food. In the ensuing days, they would be smuggled even further north and, after the Fugitive Slave Law was enacted, even into Canada. The slaves had a saying as they made their way slowly-but-determinedly out of the South. As they fearfully hid in barns, waded through snake-infested swamps, shivered in the snow and stumbled down bramble-filled ravines in night's deep darkness they continually remembered the phrase "Follow the North Star". The way north was the way to freedom...the way home. Interestingly, the lady named Eliza in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was reportedly based upon a slave who crossed the icy Ohio River with her baby.

What about you and I? Do we "leave a lamp burning in the window" of our lives? Is the front door of our heart unlocked? Is there a calm sense of love and peace about us, an approachability, a sense of safety, an uncondemning spirit full of grace? Are we trustworthy enough for someone to bare their soul to?

Like the small Rankin home sitting on a hill above the Ohio River, each of us can offer something to the world, a little-but-valuable stop on the road to freedom-of-soul for others. And, like that house set high on a hill, the road to freedom for each of us must eventually pass through an old, rugged cross set on a hill called Mt. Calvary. That cross, and the Christ who died upon it, towers forever over the ages. All who kneel there and humbly confess their sins will receive His pardon. The thirst for Divine Love will be met here by The Savior. New life begins in Him...His life is supernatural and exceeds all that we can find on earth. Like the fleeing slaves, we then continue our journey further "north" with the aid of personal prayer, Bible reading, good friends, caring pastors, licensed counselors and well-founded literature.

The journey to freedom is never easy, but it is always worth it. We must let go of all we know in our past to wrap our arms tightly around Jesus, the One who frees souls. His love and life, taking up residence within us, makes us free.

Follow the North Star. It leads us Home.

"If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." - Jesus (John 8:36)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rankin_(abolitionist)

Image may contain: house, sky, tree, outdoor and water
Image may contain: sky, house, tree, plant, grass, cloud and outdoor
Image may contain: house, sky, outdoor and nature
Image may contain: people standing, night, sky, tree, plant, outdoor, water and nature


 

 

November 7, 2017 (entry #2)

One of the greatest sources of wealth on earth is not found on Wall Street but on four feet. (Photo: My father-in-law, Larry Wright, on the Kentucky-side of the Ohio River, 8 years ago today. Ripley, Ohio is across the river.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, hat, outdoor and nature

 

 

 

November 7, 2017

Cold, gray skies of rain turn blue, then gray, then blue again. Night and day take turns. A summer afternoon's onshore breezes are forgotten in a November night's roaring gale...and vice versa.

Undaunted, year-after-year, The Lighthouse stands faithful, rugged, and unmoved through it all...ever-shining, ever a Place of Refuge.

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock." - Jesus (Matthew 7:24, 25)

 


 

November 6, 2017

Pillars of Strength.

Moving a day further into November, the Thanksgiving Season, I am seeking to warm my heart with the fires of gratitude much earlier than Thanksgiving Day. As my mind considers both the small things and the big for which to be thankful, 4 men cause unspeakable gratitude to rise within my heart. I have known the greatly-undeserved blessing of having 4 great men in my family. Real men. Men of strength. Men of commitment. Men of faith.

My paternal grandpa, Cletis Hays, did battle with the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, GM factory layoffs/strikes and the subsequent scrambling to find work with odd jobs. He grew up in an era when you did well to complete 8th grade, which he did, and then on to a short stint in business college. He worked his way up to the skilled trade of Machinist at Buick. He didn't own his own house until age 50. In 1938, he nearly died of complications from appendicitis in the days preceding penicillin. Jesus stood at the end of his hospital bed and gave him the option of going to Heaven or staying on earth. He knew he had a wife and 3 young children at home to support so he chose to stay on earth, to hang on, to fight on through. He and Grandma were married 59 years, until cancer took him away. He was a man of deep faith in God and Jesus Christ and he loved talking to them. Grandpa loved the Holy Scriptures and sought to follow them. My memories of him are many, warm, and treasured.

My maternal grandpa, John Weisgerber, fought his battles as well. The twin barriers of language and education were two of them. He was a Volga German immigrant, coming to America with his family at age 10. Being "behind" the American school system, he found himself awkwardly in school among children younger than himself...of course an embarrassment, as understandable as it was. To my knowledge, he completed 5th grade...again, in an era when higher education was not the norm. He was a skilled tradesman, a millwright for Chevrolet Manufacturing in Flint. He could add a stack of numbers in his head. He would work in a field of sugar beets with some of his older children to earn money to put linoleum on the kitchen floor. A father of 7 during the Great Depression, their sturdy, cozy house didn't know a coat of exterior paint for years. It didn't matter. They had a house and they had love inside of it. Grandpa was greatly devoted to Grandma. Diabetes robbed him of her at age 55, after 34 years of marriage. Before she slipped into Jesus' arms, he made a bed for her in the back of the car and drove out to Lincoln, Nebraska so she could say her goodbyes to family. He also took her to see the Mackinac Bridge, over 3 years in the making, soon before her death. Grandpa, a man of faith in God, Jesus and the Scriptures, succumbed to cancer nearly 2 years later. I have no memory of him, as he died when I was an infant.

Dad, Carl Hays, is still with us. We laid Mom to rest in December, 2012 after two years of renal dialysis. The vows they exchanged in 1953 lasted 59 years. What gave Dad the strength to stick by Mom's side through not only kidney failure but many years of physical trials? The example and faith of his dad no doubt had a lot to do with it. There comes a point when each child must own or disown what they've been handed. At age 14, Dad chose to own the faith of his father. He has walked in that faith, he has studied the Bible, he has talked to the Heavenly Father and to Jesus the Son since then. He is a retired engineer from AC Spark Plug. Dad showed us 3 kids what faith in God and commitment to family looked like. We were, unknowingly, in "family school" from birth until we left home. I treasure his example and memories of home deeply.

Dad Wright, my father-in-law of 36 years, is a man of faith and commitment as well. The "I do's" that he and Mom Wright exchanged in June, 1957 have now reached the 60-year mark. He tasted of great economic challenges as a child, the son of a coal miner. Raising 6 children on a blue-collar wage at Dayton Power & Light posed its own financial challenges, yet every one of his kids know what it means to work hard and be deeply dedicated. Dad and Mom pray together daily, love God's word and people...especially underprivileged children. Dad is literally a relational-genius with children...he instantly connects with them like a magnet and steel. It's an amazing and wonderful thing to behold. He has treated me like a son since before Debbie and I married. I could not ask for a better father-in-law and I treasure countless memories of him.

There is a severe crisis all around us...a tremendous lack of strong, solid, men who love God, who love their family, who shoulder responsibility rather than run from it, who think of their family before they think of themselves, who live a sacrificial life in order to bless those who depend on them. Boys need strong men to follow, a worthy mold to grow into. Grown men need other men, other heroes to keep them moving forward.

Don't ask me why I have 4 such pillars. I don't know why. All I can say is that they looked to the Heavenly Father and tried to follow what they felt He wanted from their lives. I am beyond-grateful for their examples and deeply humbled to have had them in my life. Although I don't deserve these men, and though I'm dwarfed by their lives, I will continue to try to follow them.

My footprints are led...and swallowed...by theirs.


 

 

November 5, 2017 (entry #2)

November Gratitude.

I greatly enjoy the month of November. Though in Michigan it means trees become increasingly barren, days shorten and there's a higher dose of gray-cloud days, I find it to be a time of unique reflection. It's an in-between month...bridging the colors of October with those of December...it's a month of gratitude. As crops are gathered in and we begin to hunker down for the north's long winter months, there is a heart-dynamic that I notice taking place:a taking-stock, a sense of warmth resulting from the pondering of another year's blessings from God's hand.

There is an immense power in thankfulness. It releases something within us that nothing else really can. All around us, in the smallest of ways, there are reasons to be thankful...despite our struggles. A squirrel nibbling on an ear of corn, a perfectly-timed song on the radio, a steaming cup of one's favorite coffee, the sense of God suddenly drawing near at an unexpected moment, a cardinal chirping in the pre-dawn darkness...these are just a few of the countless reasons to allow the warmth of gratitude to increase within us.

I don't want to simply wait for one 24-hour day...the 4th Thursday of the month...to feel the warmth of Thanksgiving within me. I'm attempting to "warm up the oven" of my heart early-on this month. I want to have an ongoing dialogue with The Giver for the gifts He's sent my way, don't you? It's too special of a feeling...too greatly needed...to confine to a single day. Or a single month.

Image may contain: sky, flower, outdoor and nature


 

 

November 5, 2017

The Light, The Anchor, The Joy.

Our journey through life on earth is so much like a ship's voyage across the sea. The variance of weather conditions we face on our journey Home runs the gamut between calm, mirror-glass days of peace to fear-filled storms of howling gales and heaving, mountainous seas. To sail life's seas without wisdom...drifting about on our own whims and impulses...and without proper equipment and guidance, our ship is doomed to succumb to the relentless, hungry waves.

I cannot imagine the leap-of-joy a ship captain's heart would feel when he suddenly spotted a beam of light in the midst of a nighttime's, cold, angry sea. Silently but powerfully, a lighthouse can cast its rays of hope far across the water...sometimes exceeding a distance of 15 miles. The hope engendered at the moment the light caught the captain's eye was priceless and he would turn the ship toward the harbor of safety. Changing his ship's course didn't immediately calm the storm. The bright, silent beams simply meant there was a place of refuge awaiting, a worthy direction to take. He chose to no longer focus on the darkness, roaring winds and monstrous waves but rather to fix his eyes and course upon the distant, ever-enlarging point of light and safety.

There were times when no light could be seen in the storm. A rocky, rugged, lifeless shoreline was the ship's imminent destination as high winds helplessly propelled the wooden vessel toward its demise. As a last resort, the captain ordered the anchor to be dropped in hopes of finding sturdy, deeply-submerged rocks to grab onto and halt the ship's certain path to destruction. Imagine the joy felt when the ship lurched to a sudden standstill as the anchor found "home" and held firmly!

With myriad storms heaving and howling all around us, we desperately need a light, a harbor of safety, an anchor and a solid rock for it to grab-and-hold to. Jesus Christ, the Light of the World (John 8:12), has stood unwavering, sturdy-and-strong through every single storm down through the ages. Hundreds of millions of people have followed His Love-Light to the Harbor of Safety. Through every war, famine, disease, trial, personal loss and upheaval...He has been there, continually loving, continually calling. He marks the way Home.

If we place ourselves at the whim of the sea and the wind, we will end up dashed against the merciless rocks along life's shores. We must have an anchor of faith...and each of us has one. It comes down to how we employ it. We can place it in ourselves and oh, what a mistake that is! Our wisdom runs as thin as the water in which we sail...it will fail us. There are countless sandbars we can attempt to bury it in...ideologies and people who promise life and safety...but, in the end, the sand gives way in the worst of storms. Why not allow our anchor of faith to plunge through the icy waters and take hold of two huge, solid, immovable rocks? The Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ, the Son of God is waiting for our anchor of faith to desperately and determinedly drop down and hold onto Him. Standing immediately next to Him are the immutable words of the Bible, God's word. These twin boulders will hold us rock-steady through the most ferocious of storms...if we'll allow our anchor to rest there and not pull it back up to clunk aimlessly against our heaving, hopeless hull.

Rough seas are a given in life. Ask any ship captain. Safe harbor, on the other hand, is an option. We can employ our own whims and head out into the darkness in a direction we think is safe. Yet, the good ship of Joy finds its way Home by choosing to head directly toward The Light. When no light is to be seen, a conscious choice to drop anchor between the massive, twin boulders of Christ and His words, rather than within the sand of this world, will always sustain us until the storm passes by and the light of day returns.

There is an infinite, deep-down comfort that we can know even though life is crumbling all-around us. It is the comfort of possessing that which we cannot lose: the Light of Christ's love and His rock-steady words. Closely inter-woven with this comfort is a deep-down joy that only Heaven can provide.

Image may contain: sky, tree, twilight, night, outdoor and nature
Image may contain: outdoor
Image may contain: sky, outdoor and water

 

 

 

November 4, 2017

The Point of Decision.

On numerous occasions over the years, I have visited the grounds of Sturgeon Point Lighthouse, 4 miles north of Harrisville, MI on Lake Huron's western shore. I love this place. Before our kids left home, we were here twice while on vacation...including our last family get-away, camping at Harrisville State Park in 2007. In addition, Debbie's parents have accompanied us here, as have mine.

While walking these grounds, I always like taking a walk out to "the point", to the furthest visible portion of this 1.5 mile-long reef that extends into Lake Huron's waters. By far, most of it is submerged...thus, the need for the nearby lighthouse which began operation in November, 1870. Over the years, the point lengthens or shortens, depending upon water levels. I find the crisscrossing wave patterns here to be unique, beautiful and fascinating. It is as though Lake Huron is torn between two choices as it comes ashore.

On one of my visits to "the point" a number of years ago, I was alone and my heart was very heavy. All I could do on that small sand-and-rock peninsula was pour out my heart to Almighty God, sob and weep. I emptied out my soul...to the very bottom...before Him. He met me there. He listened. He understood. He forgave. He gave new hope.

I felt much closer to the Lord when I walked off that sacred ground than when I walked onto it. I guess you could say that, just as in the photo below, my dreary, sand-and-rock-filled heart now held a pool of refreshing Water from the limitless Freshwater Sea all around me. The air was clear and my heavy, gray skies had taken on a clearer shade of blue. The past was unchangeable but the future was not. I had a renewed spirit within me to face what lay ahead.

To find peace with God, we each must take a lonely, soulful walk on the point of decision. As we linger and ponder upon our soul, our sins, our regrets and our needs we reach a crisis point in our journey. In our despair, we find that God is all around us. When we call out to Him in heart-felt desperation, we find that He is a perfect Listener, a gracious Forgiver, a stellar Counselor and an all-wise Guide.

Having made a distinct choice to go with God, we walk off the Point of Decision a different person. We find new, fresh Waters within us...a microcosm of the Infinite Waters that continually surround us. Those Waters repeatedly called to us one wave at a time for days...or decades. Now, having let down our walls of resistance, Jesus, the Living Water, lives within us.

What a divine transaction has occurred there: a heart full of sand-and-rock now holds a pool of Living Water.

"But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." - Jesus (John 4:14)

Image may contain: ocean, sky, beach, water, outdoor and nature
Image may contain: ocean, sky, beach, outdoor, water and nature

 

 

 

November 3, 2017

A New Beginning.

To leave behind the chilled, lifeless sands of the past, we must make a deliberate effort to push off from those shores and climb into our small, wooden rowboat of faith. There is an alluring, warm Glow silently reaching toward us across the early morning's still waters. A deep pull within us calls for our pursuit of its Source.

One tentative but desperate pull at a time, the oars move us forward. With left and right hand pulling equally, our tiny vessel stays on course...directly within the center of The Glow. We reach a distinct point in the morning sea where The Glow clearly tells us "dump your garbage overboard...right here, right now...your sins, your regrets, your failures, your anger, your pain." One heavy, rotted piece at a time we tearfully drop each piece overboard into the warm, bottomless waters of God's compassionate, pardoning grace. As we do so, the surrounding waters suddenly take on an intense Glow of Love that we've never experienced before. Then, the same Glowing Voice is quietly but firmly heard: "Move forward. I no longer can see what you dropped into the sea nor am I able to recall those pieces. They will remain forever at the infinitely-deep bottom of these waters. Never return to this place."

We then find renewed strength and vigor flowing through our veins. Within our heart is a depth of gratitude and joy we've never known. With determination we pull ever-forward across these glowing, warm, peaceful waters of God's grace. They mark our way to the shores of Home, to the ever-loving, ever-shining Face of Jesus.

"He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." - Micah 7:19

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” - Ephesians 2:8


 

 

November 2, 2017

The Forest Speaks.

On October 29th, life took on an exceptionally-clear focus for me, as though an entire forest was condensed within a single raindrop that clings to a leaf. The meaning of those moments continues to develop in my heart and mind as the days move forward...including the wonderful birth yesterday of a little Texan named Caleb, son of Luke and Lindsey Hays, our 6th grandchild!

Dad, Debbie, my brother Dave, sister Cheri and I took a winding, paved, leaf-strewn pathway through part of the Old Growth Forest at Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling, MI. The thermometer was reading in the lower 30's, the air was still and a recent rainfall left its fingerprints everywhere. The stunningly beautiful forest began to tell a story...a story much bigger than any of us passing through it...a story of life itself.

The trees of the forest represent our lives in all its stages. We need to be surrounded by every stage for a healthy, complete community and perspective on life. Nature does not forget this fact, while fast-paced, ever-forward-thinking humanity can frequently have a propensity for doing so.

Lying motionless upon the forest floor are the giants who have gone before us. Some we remember while many we only know through photographs, stories, or names on a census register. October 30th marked another anniversary of my maternal grandfather, John Weisgerber, slipping from this world and into Jesus' arms. He is one of the many sleeping heroes whose life still speaks to me, though I have no memory of him...he died when I was a baby.

Other trees in the forest speak through their towering stateliness. The length of their lives is obvious...as is their wisdom...they are very mature. While some continue to stand upright, others are leaning heavily upon a stronger, younger neighbor, their journey's story nearing its final pages.

Many trees stand tall and straight, although obviously younger than their aged neighbors. In the busy strength found in the midst of their lives, they do well to take glances both forward and backward...above and below...to the old and the young. This perspective yields what the years ahead will hold as well as the promise of new tomorrows for those coming behind them.

The young, bright undergrowth is fully alive and vibrant. Almost all of life is ahead of them as they grow up slowly-but-quickly among those who've already been where they are. Towering, stalwart, time-honored examples abound all around for their pondering. Lives within immediate families, friends, historical figures and within the sacred pages of Scripture are there for the following. To refuse to see, to listen, to imitate these heroes is a choice that will greatly stunt their growth toward the sky. Some of the greatest wisdom in life is not found at the university level but at ground level...

All of the trees in the forest, young and old, towering or short, are dwarfed by the sky above them. They silently but clearly point above themselves...to the sun, to the eternal reaches of the heavens, to the Master Artist who so grandly painted such a beautiful and complete mural of life on earth.

The forest whispers. It's words are ever-so-clear...if we'll but take the time to listen. It's wisdom is rooted in the Ancient of Days.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor and nature

 


 

November 1, 2017

The Grace of God.

Over the course of time, these maple leaves have been painting the brown earth of the neighboring soybean field with gold. One-by-one they silently land on a fair-weather day. On windy days, they quickly arrive in flurries. Leaves laden with frost or rain fall heavily to the ground. This silent maple, like a master artist, moves to the moods of the day. Sweeping-stroke after sweeping-stroke, dab after dab, it adorns the barren ground with beauty...each "drop of gold" finding its needed destination.

God, the Master Artist, stands majestically, wisely and silently at the canvas of our lives. His eyes behold our days and our barren spots of need. Lovingly, His heart of infinite mercy is moved and the paintbrush of provision stirs in His hand. Whether one-by-one or in flurries, golden drops of His infinite grace find their destination...exactly when and where they're needed.

One day at a time, one need at a time, one barren patch of canvas at a time, He is painting the story of our lives. He moves in response to our needs. It will take until our final breath for our life-canvas to be filled. He won't contentedly sign it until He removes His work from Earth's easel and hangs it on Heaven's living room wall, joining a host of others.

The countless masterpieces adorning His walls carry a common, resplendent theme: perfectly-placed drops of golden grace adorn each one.  Our part in it all? To simply stand still and allow Him to paint upon our hearts and lives.

"...My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness...." - Jesus (2 Corinthians 12:9)


 

 

October 31, 2017

What we love the most is the direction we'll go within our hearts...and thus with our lives. So many pursuits, possessions, directions and ideologies call for our heart's deepest affection...and our time and energy. The further we find ourselves down these pathways of promise, the fainter their lure and the thinner their reward. We weren't made to walk these paths.

We were made to set the love of our heart upon the Maker of All. There is a beautiful sense of completion within, of love going full circle, when we do so. When the focus of our deepest and greatest love is upon its Source, life is no longer trivial and empty. Other pursuits find their proper, ordered place or are abandoned entirely.

And we are delivered from chasing what we were not made to pursue.

"Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name." - Psalm 91:14


 

 

October 30, 2017

He's in the Gray.

It had been a gray, chilly, rainy Saturday afternoon. Suddenly, driving south along the eastern side of the Leelanau Peninsula, "Michigan's Little Finger", there it was! Over the western arm of Grand Traverse Bay, a stunning, vivid rainbow brightly adorned the eastern sky. It's arc of beauty extended all the way to the water, where the colors seemed to come alive, amazingly dancing on the surface. I've never seen a rainbow quite like this one, and I may never again. I was captivated and stunned in awe.

A rainbow's 7 colors are visible to the human eye only when incoming sunlight is refracted from innumerable water droplets at very precise angles, ranging from violet's "signature" of 40 degrees to red's 42. During a rainy day, sunlight reaches our eyes in a wide range of angles and all we see is gray. Present- but-hidden amidst it all are those 7 beautiful colors...just waiting for the proper moment to burst forth and bring us joy. Not often do they do so, but when they do, it's a beautiful, Divine moment. A spark of hope is engendered deep within us.

Where is God on our gray, rainy, soaked-and-chilled-to-the-bone days? He is just as present as He is on our sun-drenched ones. Our senses easily become dulled amidst the hum-drum. Our trials have a way of dampening our spirits like low-hanging clouds. Yet, the Lord is all around us, continually reaching out to us from from all angles...in all kinds of weather of the soul...much like gray light. Many times, we may not sense Him in our dark valleys. Yet, just as gray light shrouds 7 brilliant colors of beauty and hope, He is continually there despite our inability to see Him...lovingly watching and caring.

Then, at just the right moment, He bursts from the gray and onto the scene once again. Many times, He does so in the smallest of ways...little, perfectly-timed twists in our pathway...rainbows so precisely conveying His presence that we cannot help but stand in awe and smile with joy.

We do well to then take a snapshot with the camera of our soul, storing the God-moment safely and sacredly away in our heart...and perhaps also on paper or in digital form. These are moments to remember, to treasure, to dwell upon and ponder with wonder. The rainbow will soon fade away from skies of gray...but The Brilliant, Hidden Light never will.

"...I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." - Jesus (John 8:12)


 

 

October 28, 2017

Raindrops in Autumn's River.

This time of year brings such a sense of reflection, of the passage of time, of the seasons of life. Finding myself in the autumn years in this short "year" we call life, Fall is becoming even more vivid to me.

A river is formed by runoff from sites very distant, be they farm fields, city streets, mountainsides and more. One raindrop, one snowflake, one pelt of sleet at a time it's formed. So slowly a tiny puddle becomes a trickle...a chattering stream...a meandering river. Crystal-clear mountainside snowmelt mingles with browns from forest tannins and open fields to create hues that tell a story.

Our lives are a river, a composite of moments distant and near. Countless warm, summer raindrops from decades of blessing have fallen upon us...every meal from childhood to today, every breath, every step, every smile shown to us, each act of love and kindness we've been given. Blizzards and gale-driven sleet have pounded our lives. They're past now...melted into our river of memory...but we still shake our head as we recall "the blizzard of such-and- such year". A mixture of joy and heartache, our river flows forward.

This river is flowing ever-more-swiftly towards its Source. I find that as I recall the common, small-but-big blessings of years long-past...as well as those of today...warm drops of Autumn Rain are gently, meaningfully falling.

An Autumn River of Gratitude is rising.

Image may contain: tree, plant, outdoor, nature and water


 

 

October 27, 2017

Resilient Grace.

Life has a way of taking its toll on us, of leaving us worn thin and running on fumes. Gut-wrenching trials, though uninvited and unwelcome, are part of our journey. Pause to think back upon certain times in your life when the pressures were crushing, the days long and the nights restless, when no the light at the end of the tunnel was either nonexistent or a pinpoint at best. How did you and I make it through? Where did the will come from to hold on, to keep struggling uphill until a better day? Grace...God's grace...whether we knew it or not.

The story of our journey Home is, in one word, grace. All that we possess has been given to us. That which we may be inclined to think we've attained on our own, we haven't. Where did the breath, heartbeat, health, talent, drive and determination come from to get us where we are today? Certainly not from ourselves. They're gifts to us. Connections...no one gets anywhere without the assistance of others. Somewhere along the line there was a golden handshake, a favorable nod of the head, people who just "happened" to be in our path in strategic places at crucial times, an opportunity we just "fell" into. Again, it's Grace...God's grace.

Grace is a River from God's throne. There are times when its current is so strong we're swept off our feet, overwhelmed by its beauty and power. All we can do in response is to humbly worship its Source. Other times, there seems to be only a tiny thread slowly trickling through a rocky, parched creek bed. As difficult as it may be, we must pause here, kneel and wait upon the Source. Inevitably, in the distance a faint sound will be heard...growing ever-closer...the sweet waters of Resilient Grace are again rising, chattering over the rocks of difficulty until they're buried in its depths. Buoyed in this current from Heaven, we are carried ever-closer to Home.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

(Amazing Grace, vs. 3, by John Newton, 1779)

Image may contain: plant, flower, outdoor and nature


 

 

October 25, 2017

Like a Mighty Oak.

To see a large tree in the middle of a farm field is such a great sight to me. It is a stately symbol of enduring strength, a magnificent presence rising tall above its surroundings. When farmers used to work the fields with horses or mules, they would intentionally allow a tree to grow in a centrally-placed location as a place of rest from the hot sun.

Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a tiny mustard seed that takes root and grows into a large tree, a place of safety for birds to rest (Matthew 13:31, 32). Like birds of the air, we can find refuge in The One who is infinitely stronger than we are. We can talk to Him and what we say goes no further. He quietly and intently listens to each word from His perspective of immense knowledge, wisdom and strength. Rooted in eternity, He is unshakable. He's already heard it all, so nothing shakes His rootedness. Then, as gently as a mighty oak's rustling leaves in a slight breeze, He whispers His reply.

In a sense, each of Christ's followers is like a tree. We are to be a sturdy place of loving refuge for the hurting, our heart beating more-and-more in rhythm with His each day. We are to be "safe places of listening", rooted in God, compassionately and confidentially listening to others. Our advice, if asked for, must be gentle and wise...much like a whispering oak.

With one ear we listen to mankind, with the other we listen to God. What He lovingly whispers, we lovingly whisper...no less, no more.


 

 

October 24, 2017

36 Stones in the Sand.

Today marks the 36th year since Debbie and I said "For better, for worse...'Till death us do part". I shake my head in wonder at how swiftly those years have passed us by. My heart is humbled and grateful beyond words that God would give me a lady to walk through life with who, if I had the chance to live life over a second time, I would again say "I do" to...someone I love beyond the capacity of words to express.

Like any other story, ours has had its share of laughter and tears, smooth roads and rocky, "I love you's", regrets and rewards, "I'm sorry's, I was wrong's and please forgive me's". We are two imperfect souls who desire to walk across life's temporary sands with our hearts built upon The Rock of Ages. Without question, He has been there for us on the brightest and darkest of days. "God is Love" (I John 4:8). He is the Glue that brought us together, knit us together and has held us together. Heart-to-heart conversation with God and each other has been so very important on our journey.

36 tiny stones, 36 short years - each one different, yet each one the same because the shadow of the Infinite Rock has draped across our pathway. Whether there are 36 minutes or 36 years remaining to be written in these unpredictable, blowing sands we call Time, I want to walk them hand-in-hand and heart-in-heart with Debbie, this wonderful lady I call my wife. She has been such a gift to me, so good for me...a rock to go through Time with.

Image may contain: outdoor


 

 

October 23, 2017

Respecting the Scars of Dignity.

This old buoy, now resting on the grounds of Lake Huron's Sturgeon Point Lighthouse, silently did its job for years as a navigational aid for ships. As it faithfully fulfilled its duty, marking safe passage for vessels large and small, wind-driven sleet pinged against it, summer suns warmed its walls and freezing rain clung to it like glue. While ship captains and wheelsmen greatly appreciated the buoy's thankless work in chilly waters, other crew and passengers likely paid it little or no mind as they went about their activities.

To keep the buoy at its much-needed station of service, it had to be chained to an anchor-of-sorts at the bottom of the lake or river. An "eye" was welded to each end of the buoy, a place of attachment for the chain. It is obvious which end was submerged beneath the water. As this buoy rode innumerable, heaving, up-and-down waves in all kinds of weather, the heavy chain which moored it in place rubbed incessantly against the eye below the water's surface, wearing it thin. This deep groove of wear is a battle scar, a badge of honor, a sign of dignity, the proof of a job well-done, the long-term beauty-mark of reporting for duty countless days on end. It's an unspoken symbol of lives saved. Yet, who utters to it their gratitude and respect?

While some portions of our world grant honor, respect and gratitude to the aged sector of their societies, others do not. Sadly and tragically, our nation is among those who, in large portion, do not. Every generation does its part to reinvent the wheel, only to eventually realize it has already been done. While music and technology changes with the times, hearts and minds do not. Love, compassion, listening and caring are timeless qualities that are found in abundance in those who find themselves in the Autumn Years. They also possess more of that all-important, priceless commodity we call time. Yet, so often, these people are raked to the curb as fallen, worthless leaves...regarded as simply being in the way, refuse that's in the way of progress, clutter in the "yard" of the latest-and-greatest. Yet, the latest-and-greatest becomes the oldest-and-least very quickly. In the mean time, lessons learned only through experience are time-and-again taken silently to the grave. Painful lessons that could have been avoided must thus be re-learned by the young.

Stooped shoulders, slower steps, silver hair, swollen knuckles and lined faces are medals of dignity and honor, beauty-marks carved by countless days of duties. The elderly's well-worn clothes and food-caked hospital gowns are dignified robes worn by those who've earned Honorary Doctorates in The School of Life.

It's time we played "Pomp and Circumstance" for these lifetime students as they slowly-but-swiftly march Home. Let's pay them honor by not taking away everything they've known and treasured along the way. We have so much to learn and the deadline to sign up for classes these professors are longing to teach us is swiftly nearing. Let's dive into a pile of "autumn leaves", roll in their lessons and deeply inhale their seasoned essence with great gratitude before they're gone.

Our future depends, in large part, upon honoring those before us and learning from their experience. Like old, well-worn buoys, they mark the way to a safer, better tomorrow...if we'll only heed their presence.

Image may contain: outdoor
Image may contain: plant and outdoor

 


 

October 22, 2017

The Faith of Job.

We're familiar with the phrase "they have the patience of Job". Whoever "they" are, they breathe very rare air for few are the people in this world who possess such a trait...and I'm not one of them! Looking at this Old Testament hero, I greatly marvel at another aspect of Job's life: his faith. Despite suffering more horror and loss than most people would endure in 100 lifetimes, regarding God, he stated "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him..." (Job 13:15)

Try to imagine this: Job lost all 10 of his children, nearly all of his hired personnel, as well as his wealth...massive flocks of camels, donkeys, sheep and oxen...all in a single day. He then was miserably afflicted physically with boils that covered his entire body. It is impossible for me to comprehend. It brings to front-and-center the age-old mysteries of this world, a place which so many times seems so upside-down. Why do very good people such as Job suffer so immensely? Why does evil go unchecked for so long and those who perpetrate it seem to go unscathed? There are no thorough answers known to man. We are powerless to unlock these mysteries within the realm of Time. They are hidden within the limitless, eternal mind and scope of the Almighty. Jesus taught us that this world is not all there is. The story of the rich man and Lazarus the Beggar bears that out (Luke 16:19-31).  Things even out in the next world.

Yet, in spite of Job's indescribable suffering and loss, he remained rock-bottom-solid in his faith in The God of the Universe. Stating that God would be his focal point of trust even if his very life was taken, he then states in the following verse "He also shall be my salvation." Amazing. It begs the question "Why?" With the wooden sailing vessel of his life heaving up-and-down in monstrous, vicious seas...nearly shattered in the-storm-of-the-millennium...the anchor of his soul continued to be immovably rooted in The One who could have kept the storm from coming his way in the first place.

It begs another question: what other option did he really have? "Curse God and die", as his wife suggested (Job 2:9)? In so doing, he would have abandoned the Source of All Hope...his soul lost not just for the remainder of Time but also for all of Eternity. Another choice would have been to cut the anchor chain of his faith and put himself at the mercy of the merciless sea, hoping against hope to perchance drift safely to an unseen shore. Though his faith-chain was repeatedly stretched to the very last fraction of its strength, it didn't break. He chose the only logical option: to retain his trust in the Maker of All and steadfastly hope for a better day. And, that day did come; God gave Job 10 more children and twice the wealth he formerly possessed.

How about me? You? When wave-after-wave-after-wave of loss pounds our soul against the rocks, what will we do? When life turns bitter and sour, when the floor of our life is ripped out from beneath us, will our anchor...our focus of trust...be rock-solidly rooted in Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth? Though our anchor chain be stretched to the strength of a spider's web in the blackest of nights, will we still choose to rest in the unseen, unfelt heart of God?

In reality, what other logical choice do we truly possess but to have the faith of Job? God will grant it to us if we but ask for it. A better tomorrow, a better life-chapter, an incomprehensibly better eternity awaits on the horizon if we do.

Image may contain: ocean, water, sky, outdoor and nature
Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

 


 

October 21, 2017

An Unobstructed River.

The Yellowstone River is the longest remaining free-flowing river in the lower 48 states. No man-made obstruction halts its flow (though it is partially diverted for irrigation purposes near Glendive, MT). Beginning on Yount's Peak in northwestern Wyoming's Teton Wilderness, it winds 692 miles through the Old West to its junction with the Missouri River in western North Dakota. Part of its course includes Yellowstone Lake. I fondly recall strolling and talking with Mom along that gorgeous lake on a July's early-evening in 2001. 

Earlier this month we were in Montana to visit family. I pulled off west-bound I-94 at a rest area somewhere between Miles City and Billings in hopes of seeing some spectacular scenery. I was not disappointed in the least. I walked to a bluff and looked down upon the Yellowstone River below. A photograph simply cannot do justice to a scene, the one below included. The morning sun was brilliantly shining and the sky was huge. Cool, crisp, clear air surrounded me as the gray-green waters flowed powerfully below, being split in two by a beautiful island. To top it all off, being the train lover that I am, a set of tracks coursed along the river's southern edge. I was overcome with awe...a very tiny being standing in such vast and stunning beauty. In an attempt to express my overflowing heart, I couldn't help but sing the chorus of "How Great Thou Art" to the Fabulous Maker of it all. It was a very special one-on-one moment...just my heart and His. I will not soon forget it. 

As we enter another pristine October day in God's Art Gallery, He is exhibiting His latest works-in-progress on woodlot easels here in Michigan and across the country. City streets are adorned with paint-drop leaves that brighten the strolls of the young and old. Inland lakes...watercolor masterpieces...possess wooden frames of autumn's rustic hues. Hearts will be continually stirred by beauty today...October has its once-a-year way of plucking our heart strings as only it can. 

As stunningly beautiful as God's handiwork is, His heart and mind exceeds it all. Art is never greater than its creator. It is simply an outward expression of the thoughts and feelings that stir deep within the one who is creating. I stand in utter, stunned awe as I futilely attempt to fathom the heart and mind of The Master Painter. 

Voices will gasp today in response to a stunning maple. Hearts will thrill to the serenity of a glass-covered lake. Quiet tears may course the cheeks of one who is overwhelmed by pristine beauty. Spontaneous phrases of thanks to The Creator will erupt. Each of us in our unique way can let The Almighty know how much we appreciate what He has done. In so doing, we each are a small tributary of an unimpeded River of Praise that continually flows directly to the throne of God.

"O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!..." (Psalm 8:1)

Image may contain: plant, sky, tree, mountain, outdoor, nature and water