Nov 7, 2012

A Mother's Love

Where can we go when we're afraid, vulnerable, sad, or lonely?  In our increasingly violent world is there anywhere we can be really safe?  Yes, there absolutely is such a place.

Pastor Malcolm Smith, who was at that time a pastor in rural Ireland, tells the story of an Irishman whose farm had been ravaged by fire.  The day after the blaze, Malcolm and the farmer ambled through the smoldering remains of the property surveying the black wasteland that just yesterday had been verdant and full of life.

They came across what looked like a pile of burned rags.  The farmer kicked the clump and bubbling up from the ashes came  baby chicks! What looked like a pile of rags was actually the remains of a mother hen who had gathered her babies under her wings and bravely faced the flames.


I imagine myself in her place. (Now let me first say, I know that chickens aren't very smart. In fact, I had a couple of roosters once, and when I cleaned their cage, if I did not put it back exactly as it had been before, they could not get out. When I opened the door, the chickens, like feathered MMA wrestlers, would slam themselves against the bars of the cage where the door used to be. Even so, like all of God's creatures, chickens still have a strong instinct to live.)

I suppose the mother hen's first impulse was to run, leading her chicks through the maze of flames, scrambling frantically through a labyrinth of dead ends. But at some point, she was surrounded by fire with no way of escape. She gathered her chicks under her body and waited. Two choices. Her life or the chicks?

Most mothers would have made the same choice, I imagine. But I wonder if time slowed down in that moment. Did she waver? How did she quell her instincts to run? What is it like to resign oneself to death?

I believe that the hardest choices are not so much sacrifices and self denial, as choosing what we want the most. The hen must have wanted to save herself. But she wanted to save her babies even more. That is all dying to self means. Ironically, it is choosing what we ultimately want

So the hen chose. She chose what she wanted the most, and that was to protect her chicks at any cost. Even the cost of death by fire.


As the two men watched the reborn, yellow chicks scurry pac-man-like over the blackened earth, a promise came to life for Malcolm:

Christ determined to face his own "fiery death" of  crucifixion rather than let you and me face the flames of hell.  Like the mother hen, He anguished over his decision in the Garden of Gethsemane. But he chose what He wanted most and paid the ultimate price so that we could experience the joy of knowing God intimately and personally  forever.

"For the joy set before Him, he endured the cross." (Hebrews 12:2) Do you wonder what that joy was? Freedom from the evil of earth? Freedom from finite, human limitations to be God again? Being crowned King of kings and Lord of lords, to whom every creature will one day bow?

No, the joy Jesus died for is relationship: God longs for each one of us to know Him because He loves us with a mother's love. (Psalm 131What the God of the universe wants more than life itself is to know you. He wants to be more than your Lord, He wants to be your father and mother, your brother, your lover, and your friend.

So, my dear friend,

"I pray that out of [God's] glorious riches 
he may strengthen you with power 
through his Spirit in your inner being, 
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. 
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 
may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, 
to grasp how wide and long and high and deep 
is the love of Christ, 
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge
—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, 
according to his power that is at work within us, 
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus 
throughout all generations, for ever and ever! 

(Ephesians 3:16-21)

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Nov 5, 2012

God's Goofy Kids

As you probably know by now, I'm stupid in love with my animals. I'm sure people sing silly songs about their children, however, since we can't have children, I sing over my pets just to amuse myself and let them know I love them.

Today is your lucky day. You are about to be graced by my lovely singing voice and some cute pictures of my animals. Turn up your speakers, but not very loud. I'm just warning you.

This is a silly song about, Ladybug, a diffuse calico Manx who lived with us for 17 years. We lost her to kidney failure in 2010.

OK, now a little walking song. I'm very conscientious about cleaning up after my dogs, and so, to make "light" of transporting baggies and baggies and baggies of doggie "muffins" (my dogs are prolific, I'm telling you), I made up a little song. This video features our extremely brave blind dog, Snickers!

Now, the point. (I suppose you thought I forgot that.) Did you ever realize that God sings songs over us?  (Zephaniah 3:17) Imagine the warm feelings you get for your children, or a favorite pet, or chocolate chip cookies and milk. God has the same emotions toward you, but more. (OK, maybe not the cookies and milk.) Right now, God is loving you, laughing at you and thinking you are pretty dang cute.

Jesus called God Abba, pretty scandalous in his religious culture. The English translation of this word as "father" is unfortunate, in my humble opinion. Abba is a baby word. I learned this as a speech pathologist. Words that mean mother and father in every language are based on baby sounds:  !Kung ba, Aramaic abba, Mandarin Chinese bàba, Persian baba, and French papa (all "father"); or Navajo amá, Mandarin Chinese māma, Swahili mama, Quechua mama, and English "mama." This is because these are the first sounds an infant is able to make. I guess it is like us egocentric adults to think they are talking about us. They are probably giving a theological treatise on the Trinity and we miss the whole thing because we think they are trying to say mama!

Takeaway: God has the same feelings for us, his babies, that we have for the things we love the most. Different in degree but not in kind. Believe it: God delights in you!


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Oct 29, 2012

"Teacher's" Pets

Numerous passages in scripture refer to us, God's children, as sheep. Sheep, incidentally, are just about the dumbest animals on the face of the earth!  Sheep are totally unable to survive without their shepherd. They are fearful, fragile, weak, vulnerable, and stupid. They easily get lost, fall prey to wild animals, succumb to illness, and eat or drink things that can kill them.

Our society today tells us, "You can do anything you make up your mind to do."  But God tells us, "Apart from me you can do nothing."  (John 15:5) We couldn't even take our next breath if He wasn't keeping our hearts beating! Self sufficiency is not pleasing to God, and the fact is, we're fooling ourselves if we think we don't need Him.

Lambs of God 
But what a Shepherd we have! Look at the familiar Psalm 23. One translation says, "The Lord is my Shepherd, and therefore I lack nothing."  He promises to provide for all our needs. He is intimately concerned with the things that concern us. In this Psalm, He promises rest and peace, freedom from fear, power to do what's right, protection, and a life overflowing with blessings. This doesn't mean that we won't ever suffer, but God's blessings and comfort are always there in the midst of suffering.

In the times when the Bible was written (and in some places in the Middle East even today), shepherds cared for their sheep like pets. They named each one of them and lovingly looked after their needs. Isaiah 40:11 gives a beautiful picture of Christ as our shepherd:  "He tends his flock like a shepherd:  He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young."

Takeaway: Imagine the warm feeling you have inside for a favorite pet or beloved child. Magnify that times 1,000,000,000 and that's how God feels about you!

Oct 26, 2012

He stoops down to make me great - Psalm 18:35

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Once upon a time, there lived a king who was a grizzly bear. This bear was a hunter and a mighty warrior — enormous and mighty.  He was so very big that the ground trembled when he walked!

It happened, as he was moving through the forest, that his heavy steps shook the trees sent the birds into flight.  There was a tiny thud and the giant turned to see what had fallen. A spot of red and a tuft of yellow caught his eye.

Laying his bow and arrows down, the king stooped very, very low and squinted to see what it was. There among the moss and ferns was a tiny creature, covered in blood. A chick had fallen from it's nest! His footfall had done this thing!

The king looked closely at the broken little body and was remorseful and filled with compassion. King Bear lay down beside the poor animal and waited to see if there was any sign of life.
King Bear lay down beside the poor animal and waited

He waited and waited. He was still lying beside the tiny form when he shadows grew long and he was about to give up. The bird was dead.

Just then there was a tiny movement, and the bear's heart beat faster. It was alive after all! "Hurrah!" said the king, "I shall give you the best care in the kingdom — nothing shall I withhold from you."

Then, very, very carefully, he used his nose and mouth to pick up the chick and nuzzled it into the fur on his neck.

The bear lived in a giant cave. Torches lit the sparkling walls and it was very beautiful. There, royal doctors worked over the little body to save the chick. But it hovered between life and death, day after day.

Slowly, the bird grew stronger, until one day the doctors looked in and the chick was happily pecking for food!

"You shall sit with me on my throne"
With time, it grew well and strong and gained even more of the king's favor, because the bird was good and kind. "You shall sit with me on my throne and rule alongside me," said the giant. And so the tiny chick became second only to the king in authority, and all the land marveled at the greatness of this tiny creature.


We who are wounded and helpless become great in the kingdom of God because of His great mercy and compassion. (Psalm 113:5-7)

Oct 25, 2012

Relentless as the Forest

I feel closer to God in the hammock in our backyard, especially when breezes tousle the branches above me, all shades of green, a kaleidoscope in the sun. Here, in a city neighborhood, in the hilly, forested part of Arkansas, my oak tree hosts a soprano choir of birds who seem to sing for the joy in it. 

Not far from here, the parking lots make it hard to believe there ever was a forest. Yet today in my hammock there is a distinct sense of the wild places still being present. Perhaps it’s the moss carpeting the rocky ground, mottled now and again with purple violets. Or maybe it’s the little nest of birds in the siding of our house. Yikes! Yes, the forest is still here, waiting. If not held at bay by homes, SUVs, and concrete, it would return, craggy roots imperceptibly yet relentlessly creeping into crevasses and crannies until there were few signs of civilization.

God is like the forest, it seems, patiently waiting to enter a crack in the concrete of the flawless persona we put on for the world. If we were to put aside the weed-eater of busyness and the chain saw of materialism, the Holy Spirit would set up residence in our lives and grow a forest of goodness there. How often does God plant a wildflower only to have it crushed with the steamroller of ambition, paving our lives with humanly achieved successes? What a glorious garden would flourish in our hearts, would we let our Gardner in. But instead, He waits longingly and relentlessly, like the remnants of the forest in our backyard.


This article won first place in the writing contest for the Little Rock Chapter of American Christian Writers in May of 2010.

Twist on Mistakes

"Mistakes can either be valuable — 
or invaluable." 

 ~My Aunt, 
Cindy Phillips

Oct 22, 2012

Rendezvous by Chance

It was the fragrance of pines that lured me out into the forest that morning, unsuspecting. In the cool summer of 1996, light filtered through the woods, a kaleidoscope all shades of green. A gentle breeze tousled branches in the Wyoming Big Horns. I padded through lush ground cover following a narrow path that wound through the trees.

Me at 27 and a  braver deer
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a movement. It was a deer! I stifled a gasp. The doe and I were both riveted to the spot, each observing the other with caution and wonder. Slowly and carefully I pulled a banana out of my pack. The doe could smell it, and her black nose quivered, wet and shiny. She took a few, tentative steps toward me and longingly stretched her neck toward the banana.

I was in awe to have a wild creature so close—I could have touched her. Wishing hard that there were some way—any way—to show her that I was worthy of her trust, I remained still. Though my heart was pounding, I spoke softly and sweetly. But it was no use. After a couple of minutes, fear won out over hunger and the doe darted off into the woods.

After that trip to Wyoming, I had a rheumatoid arthritis flare up that left me unable to even dress myself. Even after doctors got the pain under control, I had so much fatigue I could only stand on my feet for 10 minutes at a time for 6 months. The disease that is well-controlled today left me debilitated in 1996. In the midst of my suffering, God brought back my memory of the doe and showed me that He was holding out his precious gift of infinite love to me—just like I had held out that banana to the deer. He was worthy of my trust. God talked to me softly and sweetly through His Word and He longed for me to respond.

Like the deer, I could see the fruit and was hungry for it, knowing inside how desperately I needed that kind of unconditional love (the kind no human being can give).  God wanted me to dare to believe His love was more than a cold, theological fact. God was showing me that He has fond affection toward me and longs to spend time with me; He actually likes me!

The doe wanted the fruit but lacked faith in me. She left with her needs unmet. Unlike the doe, I dared to put my faith in God’s love, and began a healing journey of self-acceptance—a sense of worth that is based on what God thinks of me, not on what others think of me, or even what I think of myself.

Before my rendezvous with the doe, I knew God loved me in my head. In 1996 that knowledge dropped down into my heart. This gift is a treasure I would not trade for anything—not even for my health.


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Oct 7, 2012

Harvesting What We Don't Sow

If you plant cucumber seeds then you will harvest shiny, green cucumbers. Cucumber seeds never produce onions ... or celery ... or corn on the cob. If you plant tulip bulbs then you will reap a beautiful display of tulips. Tulip bulbs never reproduce zinnias ... or evergreen trees ... or forget-me-nots. You will always reap what you have sown. Seeds are only able to reproduce what their genetic code determines.

This is also true in the animal kingdom because cats only spawn kittens and never give birth to elephants, humpbacked whales or even to piglets. Animals, human beings and insects only reproduce what their genetic code determines.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.”
And it was so.” 
~ Genesis 1:24

However, in the Kingdom of God, there is an exception to this irrefutable code of genetics. In God's garden, when you sow in tears, you will always reap in joy! If you have cried yourself to sleep too many times to count and have experienced the sorrow of depression, disappointment and sadness ... do not give up! Joy is on the way! Your tears have fertilized the seeds of joy that God has planted in the garden of your life. 

~ Author unknown


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Oct 3, 2012

Recipe for bearing fruit

John 15:5

Abiding ... and bearing fruit

1) Sink down into the present moment where God is. Because He calls himself the Great I AM and not the Great I Was or the Great I Will Be, the present moment is the easiest place to find God.

2) Breathe naturally and observe. Note what your sense with hearing, touch, and smell. Do this objectively, without evaluating or judging because evaluating awakens the mind and which often drowns out the Spirit.

3) Now observe with your spirit God's omnipresent love. He dwells within us whether we are walking in darkness or light (Psalm 139:11-12).

4) Sense the rhythm of your surroundings, of nature, and align yourself with God's pace, thus keeping in step with the Holy Spirit as you pray and as you get up and move through the day (Galatians 5:25).

5) Now hold your spirit in an attitude of listening to what God might have to say to you (Isaiah 30:15-21).

6) This is abiding in Christ, and He promises that this will bring the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatans 5:21).


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Sep 22, 2012

A Twist on the Theology of Fear

Evil “spawns” fear … BUT

The swat team raided the crack house with swift efficiency. But even the seasoned veterans were surprised at the tuft of white through the bushes. In the cage that had been her only world for five years, a small dog huddled silently, cringing in the terror of a certain death. It was a terror that even the most compassionate rescuer could not dispel.
As you have probably already guessed, that dog is “Doodle” (the dog we brought home this Spring).
As “children” do – or in this case “furkids” – ;) Doodle taught us an invaluable lesson. In this case, it was a new understanding of the problem of fear vs. trust.
Many times we think of fear as sin – or at least a shortcoming. After all, how many times does the Bible say “Do not fear”? At the very least, fear must cause God to be mildly disappointed.

Fear “Births” compassion in God

When we brought home this dirty little pup from the Shelter, she was basically frozen – just a little glob that you could put into any position without resistance. Scared to death.

A Firefighter -- unknowingly reflecting image of Chruist,-- revives a kitten 

So we cleaned her up and began nursing her out of fear. We gently stretched her comfort zone, patiently coaxing her into trust.
We’ll never forget her first “blitz.” It was the day she finally let loose and ran for all she was worth – her tiny frame in full stride, flying around our big back yard in wacky puppy-whirls and loops.

Wacky puppy-whirls and loops
It was impossible to do anything but throw back your head and laugh with delight at Doodle’s thrill and *pure joy* in her first taste of freedom!!
Dare to imagine that God the Father actually throws back His Head and belly laughs when we finally “get it”!
God doesn’t expect trust. He knows it’s hard to be human because He took on human flesh. No, trust is received as cherished gift … a little bouquet of violets in the dirty hand of a child.

What is your cherished gift of trust to God?
  • Is it the courage to witness to the cashier at Taco Bell?
  • What about the courage to reconcile with that friend or relative when it's just too much trouble and probably won't change anything …
or will it?
  • Perhaps it's to expect respect when you know you don't really deserve respect …
or do you?
  • To face the fear of failure by taking that first baby step toward your dream
Perhaps it's just believing for the first time that God is safe.
That the Lion of Judah sent a
tiny “newborn sheep” to save the world
just so we wouldn't be afraid
~ *** ~
A sruffy little dog comes out of her trauma, filthy and fearful hiding a little lesson from God ...

We are safe
~ *** ~
Perfect Love casts out all fear”
1 John 4:18


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Aug 19, 2012

Gleanings of Imperfection

Oh Christ, my Beloved,

As I walk through the fields of my day, I choose by Your grace to drop a few sheaves of imperfection in everything I do -- as little sacrifices for you to glean1. Please receive them as tiny crosses2 -- tokens of praise. Each one a small death to my obsession to be perfect and my lust for closure. May these grain offerings become a "soothing aroma"3 to You.

I acknowledge that only You are Perfect and I leave to You the delight of being The Perfect One --

The Only Perfect One

With all the love in my heart,
Your Child


1 Leviticus 19:9-10 and Matthew 25:35
2 Luke 9:23
3 Leviticus 2:9

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Jun 23, 2012

How God Sees Me ...

All beautiful you are my darling; there is no flaw in you.

~ Song of Solomon 4:7
Wow, wow, wow.

Jun 9, 2012

Say what?! Jesus was feeble?!

I was drawn to a familiar verse this morning and did some digging that took me beyond the dullness which familiarity can bring into a freshness and light, like coming out of a coal mine into a fragrant forest with a store of diamonds. Let me take you on my adventure.

This comforting verse is Hebrews 4:14-16:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace boldly, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The first diamond is the word “sympathize.” The King James translates this “touched with the feeling of, “ the Amplified, “shared feeling.”

Did you catch that?? God has feelings. The same feelings that we do!!

The Catholic Public Domain Version, uses the word “compassion.” Last, my favorite, “commiserate mutually” (Strong’s number 4834-5).

So, Jesus mutually commiserates with us.
He feels the same way we feel,
soul to soul, brother to brother, friend to friend.
Jesus is not just my Lord, he is my brother and closest friend.
Wow, wow, wow!

Second is the word “weaknesses.” Strong’s number 772 translates this as “feebleness of mind, body, or morality (soul). The lack of ability to do things great and glorious, to restrain corrupt desires, or to bear trials and troubles.”

Do you grasp the significance of this word, feeble?
In my wildest imaginings I never thought of Christ this way.
Not only does He feel the same way I do, 
but He has felt “corrupt desires.” 

At times, Jesus was weak, 
feeble in mind and body -- and even in soul. 

There were moments when Christ felt like he wasn't going to be able to do anything great and glorious
Jesus doubted Himself.

This makes me think of Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, weeping tears of blood. I’ve always known he felt anguish. But I never thought Jesus felt weak or doubted his ability to do the right thing! 

But He came to earth in weakness as a helpless infant.
And, even though He rose in power and glory
Jesus is still the Lamb of God. 

Few things are weaker than the newborn babies
whether of men or sheep.

This blows my mind! Jesus (that is God Incarnate) has felt this weak -- even feeble. He gets us. He was human. But he was the only human to feel this way, to BE this way and not screw up. That is the only reason He could take our sin upon his own shoulders. And that is the reason we can come “boldly” before God, the third diamond.

By now, I hope you are starting to see that God is safe. Not only does He not condemn us, but he feels like we feel. So when I am tempted. When I want to do the wrong thing. Or when I HAVE done the wrong thing, there is no barrier between me and God. ... None.

"Boldly,”(Strong’s 3954) means, “bluntly, frankly, openly — speaking freely, clearly, and fearlessly.” 

If you are feeling like a failure,
or if you have failed, 
go to God and spill your guts. 

Don’t mince words. Tell it like it is. Talk to God like you are talking to the only Person you have ever been able to trust. Do you hate someone? Or maybe you just hate God. Are you angry or consumed with the desire to do something unspeakable? Maybe you have done something unthinkable. Go! Go bluntly, frankly, openly — speaking freely, clearly, and fearlessly to God.

And you know what you will find? You will find the fourth diamond, “mercy.” Strong’s 1656 tells us that mercy means “tender kindness joined with the desire to help.” So much for the idea of a hard-hearted high-and-mighty God holding a scepter on His judgment seat. That is not the God of the Bible. He did have to judge sin, but because He is the kindest, most loving, most compassionate Being in the universe, he judged Himself instead of judging us. No other god did that.

To us, He extends the last diamond, “grace,” my favorite. When we have done the unthinkable and we go to God, believing in the Gift given to us by the death and resurrection of His Son, we find:

Grace gives 
and loveliness.


If that is the way God treats me, how much more must I extend the same thing to my fellow man, no matter how offended I am by what he or she has done. As Jesus said at the end of His story about the Good Samaritan who loved and cared for his enemy who, under different circumstances, would have hated him, “You — Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37).

The real Gospel is scandalous.
Dare to believe it
and then live it!

BTW if you like to dig around in Scripture like I do, check out the awesomest iPhone app ever: 
The Touch Bible Loadedavailable in iPhone, Android and Nook. 


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May 10, 2012

Impossible Love

It may take a few years of trying hard to be good to discover that the Christian life is impossible.

Impossible! Tiger mom nurses baby pigs ...
However, this is not cause for despair but for rejoicing. For only then can we enter into the journey of rest. Christ becomes free to express Himself through us. The One who lives in our hearts ("one with our spirit" - 1 Corinthians 6:17) is enabled to live in us like a hand filling a glove ...

Our mouths speak with Christ's wisdom. 
Our hands heal with Christ's tender touch. 
And our hearts ache with Christ's love. 

When we finally give up "trying harder," the impossible becomes reality!

Hover mouse over verses below to read:
Galatians 3:3
Hebrews 4:1-2
John 15:1-17
Impossible love

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