My Need; His Peace

Peace I leave with you: (my own) peace I give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. …(Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.) (Jesus) John 14:27 Amplified

There is a reason why the last sentence of this verse is highlighted in my Bible: I do it so often!

It happened again recently—right in the middle of our summer’s best weekend.

We were hosting a rare family reunion. My brother, sister-in-law and their whole family had come from the Washington, D.C. area. So unusual was their visit that our second son and his family took precious time from moving to a new house to join us.

And it was great. Pastor McDevitt was right: families are a gift from God—especially when they work together as they’re supposed to. There are few things better than spending time and having fun with people who know you to the bone and love you, anyway.

But hosting the event threatened to take me into full “Martha mode”–you know, “distracted by all the preparations…” (See Luke 10:38-42.)

I woke up far too early one morning, running logistics in my head. Where was I going to seat everyone? Did I have enough plates and silverware? What about drinks…and glasses? Were all the food bases covered? Round and round my brain went, like a hamster on a wheel.

Those of you with big, casual families are laughing at me right now. But I came from a small, formal one. My Mom would get into such a swivet about “entertaining” that she didn’t do it very often. And I could swivet right with her.

But I really did know better. It was my family, after all, and I could see how I’d had Help all weekend—as He quietly unraveled one knot after another, exchanged our plans for His better plan. God would help me now, too.

Then the enemy started me beating up on myself for not having enough faith to live what I knew. Sheesh!

It took me an hour to pry my hands off the controls and tell Martha and her demons to go back to sleep.

Sure enough, it all went fine. My son and my nephew’s wife cooked the dinner; everyone had food and drink and seating and fun. I could even relax and enjoy them enjoying each other!

We live in the peace Jesus bequeathed us when we do what He says: let go and believe the words of the old hymn:

“All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided/Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” September 8, 2019.

A Lesson from My Dog

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV

She had no idea.

Three years ago, almost to the day, our rescue dog, Misty, arrived on the plane from Texas—a quivering, pile of red-brown fur huddled in the far corner of an airline crate. Knowing how noise-averse she is, how frightened she gets when faced with the unknown, I can only imagine what that plane ride was like for her. She landed at the airport completely shut down, terrified beyond terror.

Little did she know, when we finally managed to coax her out of that crate, she was stepping into doggie heaven. Unlike the hostile streets of Fort Worth where they found her, she would be safe and warm and well fed, with a clean comfortable place to sleep. All her needs would be met for the rest of her life. Never again would a hand be raised to her in anger. All she had to do was hang out with a couple of old people all day and go for easy walks in the dog park.

I looked into her trusting brown eyes this morning, saw that happy, wagging tail and said, “You had no idea three years ago and I couldn’t tell you. You were too busy being afraid.”

Then I heard that Whisper in my heart.  “She was just like you are, child.”

Ahh. I knew immediately what He meant.

You see, I’m at the stage of my life when I’m ever more aware of its end. I’m watching my friends weaken; losing them, one after another, knowing someday it will be my turn. But I don’t know when or where or how. It’s enough to make a barely-reformed control freak panic.

I’m like Misty climbing into that scary-looking crate in Texas: terrified of the trip ahead, afraid to trust, not knowing the end of it will be wonderful beyond my imagining. There’s no way God can explain it to me; I wouldn’t understand it if He could.

Misty came from a world where people called her, leashed her, then abused and abandoned her. Why should I have been surprised when she ran from me, hid when I offered to take her on a walk? Only now is she beginning to come, tail wagging, like every other dog I’ve owned.

Trust takes time for broken dogs. People, too. Yet trust is what it takes.

To the extent that I’m willing to trust God and believe His promises, I can be free of fear.

At last.

FATHER GOD: Thanks for the lesson. Help me remember it when the doubts come. Amen

First published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle, August 11, 2019.

Of Sparrows and Drivers’ Licenses

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered…” (Jesus) Luke 12:6,7 NIV

Do you doubt that? Yeah, me, too. How can the Lord of the measureless universe care about me at all, let alone the smallest concerns of my life?

A recent devotional reading suggested we fight that doubt by noting the little ways God shows us His love.

My first entry is a lulu.

Have patience with the details here. They turn out to be important.

It was 4th of July weekend—a holiday for many but a normal Friday for me. My “to do” list included buying groceries, getting some cash for the Farmers’ Market, and, looking at the stuff piled up in the garage, taking in the recycling.

I live in between two towns about ten miles apart. I’ve been doing the first two items in the smaller town—easier on a Friday afternoon—but the recycling in the bigger one.

Surely, I thought, the smaller town must have a place. I googled it, got a company and an address, loaded up my car and set off, only to find Google was wrong. The company no longer existed.

What now? I wasn’t going to unload all that stuff again. I couldn’t just keep going, either; I could hardly see out of my car. With a sigh, I went to the bigger town, only to find the first recycling place closed for the weekend. Third try: Wal-Mart. Success at last.

By this time, the afternoon was getting late. Should I just go home? No, I needed the cash as well as the groceries. With a frustrated sigh, I re-traced my steps.

Groceries bought at last, I chatted with a friend from church as I stood in line at the bank counter, while the teller smiled and handled his business.

My turn. I slid my check and drivers’ license over the desk.

“Did you know your license is expired?” she asked.

What? Sure enough, there it was. It had expired on my birthday back in April. I had no idea–and neither had all the people who been looking at it since then. Only this sharp-eyed teller had taken the time.

I ran home and checked the Department of Motor Vehicles website. Good news: I had three months’ grace period. Bad news: the first appointment I could get at our licensing station was August 28. I would have to go in Monday morning, hoping they could fit me in.

So there I was at opening time on Monday with a small group of other folks…most of us without appointments. They gave us a form and a number.

When I finally got to the desk, the clerk looked at my license and gasped. “You could be in serious trouble here.”

“Don’t I have three months?”

“No,” she replied. “It’s—90–days.” We added it up. My birthday is April 9; today was July 8. 30 days in April minus 9 = 21; plus 31 in May = 52; plus 30 in June = 82 days; plus 8 days in July. Grand total: 90 days!

Exactly.

Now all those unimportant details became critically important. If I’d decided to go home on Friday, or decided to shop at a different store, if I’d gone at a different time, hadn’t chatted with my friend who just happened to be there, giving the teller time to look, or had a different teller, I’d have been too late. My license would’ve been cancelled. In Montana, that means complete re-testing—written and driving. Since such tests are only done with appointments, I’d have to wait until the end of August before I could drive again!

You say all that was coincidence? Perhaps.

But you’ll never convince me.

 

 

The Gift of Forgiveness

…and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 NIV

What are you giving your Dad this Fathers’ Day? How about something that will cost you nothing…except your pride and your need to be right? Something worth more than all the shirts and fishing gear and steak dinners put together? A gift that can yield you both peace into eternity?

Forgiveness.

Most of you know my father was an alcoholic. “Bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor” (vs. 31) echoed through our house on many nights, sending me under the covers, trembling in fear.

But he wasn’t always like that. When he was sober, he shared my love of history and a good story, enjoyed singing funny songs to make us laugh, cherished his beloved football and baseball games—first on radio and then TV.

I never knew which man was walking in the door at the end of the day.

I now understand things I didn’t know back then—how my great-grandfather had abandoned the family when my grandfather was little, leaving a sad legacy of men not knowing how to be fathers. How my father was forced by the Depression into a job (in sales) he was completely unsuited for, how he fought down the fear of rejection and failure every day in order to make a living. How he worked in a milieu saturated by alcohol, one in which a man was measured by how well he could “hold his liquor.” How admitting he couldn’t and getting help to overcome it was more humiliation than he could bear.

Knowing how life wounded him helps me forgive him. Bible teacher Joyce Meyer, who knows a few things about forgiving a toxic family, says “Hurt people hurt people.”

Life in this broken world wounds us all. We all then do things which hurt other people—usually the ones closest to us. We all fail to live up to the potential God created in us.

That’s why Jesus came.

On the cross I believe He took all our failures, imperfections and sins upon Himself. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God pours His blessed balm of forgiveness on my wounds, offers me love and healing and acceptance without condition.

How can I then refuse to offer that same forgiveness and love to my father?

My Dad never repented. It doesn’t matter. My Dad never asked for my forgiveness. That doesn’t matter, either. I forgive him as God through Christ forgave me.

So we are both free.

Forever.

FATHER GOD: Through and because of Jesus, I forgive my father for his failure to be the Dad I needed. May my children forgive me. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” June 16, 2019.

 

Remembrance…and Gratitude

 

The Nazis invaded Norway on the day I was born. Before I was two months old, Poland fell, ending the so-called “phony war.” Europe was crumbling like a piece of rotten wood; England was hanging on by the tips of its fingernails; Japan was sweeping through Asia, crushing its subjugated peoples with sadistic brutality. I was about 18 months old when the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.
I grew up in a world at war. One of my earliest memories was praying with my mother for “the soldiers and sailors overseas.”
I didn’t know what it meant. At age 3 or so, I had a dim idea of what soldiers and sailors were but I remember wondering about “overseas.” Was it a place? If so, where was it? And why did people there need prayer?
Many a child of my age throughout the war-torn world knew only too well what we were praying for, why we prayed, as they trembled in bomb shelters, fled as refugees, knew hunger as I have never known it.
I met some of them the other evening.
Flipping through the channels on a rainy afternoon, I stumbled on a PBS special called, “America’s Finest Ambassadors.” Did you happen to see it?
Germans of my age shared their memories of the names and the faces of American GI’s who had showed them kindness and compassion at the end of the war, sharing their rations in a time of great hunger, protecting and helping them, playing with them, giving them candy bars and gum. One battalion stationed in bomb-wrecked Berlin even held a Christmas party, complete with a turkey dinner and gifts of candy, for 200 children of their neighborhood. 75 years later, their eyes filled with tears and voices with emotion. They are still grateful.
I, too, found myself moved to tears. I was so proud of those young men whose faces filled my TV screen—ordinary boys from ordinary backgrounds, fresh off the horrors of the battlefield, who could show such compassion for the hungry, frightened, traumatized children of the enemy.
They were real soldiers who had just fought a real war, war that demanded terrible things of them. What they had seen and done there would haunt them forever.
But they were good men who had fought for the future, for the children of the world…and I was one of those children. They gave their lives, their health, their safety, their innocence so we wouldn’t have to. They bequeathed us a better life than they could ever have dreamed of.
I pray my life was worthy of that sacrifice.
For on this Memorial Day, I look back…and like those Germans, I am grateful. And humbled.