The Many We Didn’t

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands. Psalms 31:15 NIV

Everyone who’s been to the Park has their share of “foolish tourist stories.”

One of my favorites wasn’t in Yellowstone but in Glacier 60 years ago. Two irritating preteen boys in our campground were busy amusing themselves by throwing an axe at every tree within range. Fortunately, their strength was as weak as their father’s discipline; the trees survived without serious damage. Then they found a new game. At the end of our campground loop was one of those old culvert-style bear traps, baited with a big piece of meat at the far end. The boys began throwing rocks at the bait, leaning into the trap waist-deep in their fruitless attempts to hit it–apparently unaware they could have triggered a door capable of containing hundreds of pounds of angry bear–or slicing up a foolish boy in one blow.

I got a new perspective recently, though, when I read “Yellowstone Ranger” by Jerry Mernin, a man who was in the thick of things during those bear-fraught summers of the 60’s and 70’s.

Mernin recounted following a 600-pound grizzly one night until it came within 10 yards of a wall tent while its occupants were sitting inside, playing cards. There was a chihuahua-sized dog tied outside, yapping and yapping, until the bear finally had enough, walked up and stood nose to nose with the now-terrified (and quiet!) dog. Then, for reasons known only to the bear, it simply walked away. Mernin heard the people inside the tent attribute the silence to the toughness of the dog–while he was praying no one would stick their head out and discover what really happened.

And I, who’ve spent many a night in the mountains in a tent, found myself wondering how many times a bear had walked by our camp while we slept on, unaware. Or why that culvert trap was in our campground in the first place. I realized it wasn’t routine, as I had always assumed–not baited and ready, like that. There must have been a bear in camp…

And yes–more than one foolish tourist in the picture.

We escaped damage, injury and even death all those years by the mercy of God and the wild creatures, not by our own expertise or cleverness. In this season of thankfulness, I’m moved to thank God for all the disasters that didn’t happen—the few we knew about, the many more we didn’t.

I recognize anew that our times are, indeed, in His hands. What can I do but trust and thank Him for His loving protection?
Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” October 23, 2022.

9/11 and the Power of Love

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. … So faith, hope, love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:7,13 RSV

“Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?” asks country singer Alan Jackson in a song that still makes me cry. Like our parents and Pearl Harbor, everyone above a certain age can answer that question precisely. But unlike the victims of Pearl Harbor, the people who died on that awful day 21 years ago were just innocent civilians going about their lives…you or me.

My own connection is easy to find. I’m a New Yorker by birth. One root of my father’s family goes back to early Dutch settlers in 1657. Their clay pipes could have been among those unearthed when they dug the foundations of the World Trade Center in 1973. My Dad worked on Fulton Street, a mere block from that future site. The summer I was 19, I cataloged travelers’ checks (remember them?) for American Express just 3-4 blocks away.

I’ve been gone from New York much longer than I lived there. I wasn’t prepared for the cold wing of death brushing my face when I realized that, had I made different decisions, I could’ve been there, or that my million-miler husband could so easily have been on one of the planes. Shuddering, I ripped my eyes from those horrible images until, over the years, I’ve become almost indifferent.

I don’t think I’m alone.

We said we would never forget…but we have. We said we would always honor the First Responders whose courage and sacrifice took our breaths away…but they have been attacked and even vilified.

It’s enough to make me feel hopeless and sad and guilty, all over again. Until my heart was lifted by a story I heard about only this week.

When the Towers went down, the people of lower Manhattan were trapped. All the normal methods of exit from the island—subways, trains, bridges—were closed. People ran to the waterfront in panic. New York boatmen, ordinary people, rallied to help. Ferries, tugboats, even private party boats flocked to the sea wall, rescuing 500,000 people in 9 hours. It was the greatest marine evacuation in history—larger even than the famous one at Dunkirk. https://air.tv/?v=j2HvkexjTGKFjLa6mvpf0A)

At the darkest moment of that darkest of days, the best of us emerged. Love won.
And that thought gives me hope.

Jackson ends his song echoing the ancient words of Paul:
“Faith, hope and love are some good things He (God) gave us/But the greatest is love.”

It is indeed.

FATHER GOD: Restore our country to its best. Help us renew our commitment to live in love. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” September 18, 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Live Out the Truth

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

Six years ago, almost to the day, we went out to the airport to meet our new dog who was arriving on the plane from Texas.

She was a rescue dog so we knew she’d be scared, but we weren’t prepared for the terrified bundle of fur that huddled in the corner of her crate, shut down, refusing to move. Never have I seen such a frightened creature. We found some help and hauled her out to the car in the crate, knowing if she got loose in the airport she’d run away and we’d never find her. After we finally coaxed her into the car, she flattened herself on the floor, looking like every cell of her body was screaming, “Oh no, oh no, oh no.”

How I wished I could have told her that her bad days were over, that she would be loved and cared for the rest of her life.  Now she would get food and water regularly, a warm safe place to sleep, even medical care when she needed it. All she had to do was be a companion to a pair of old people, go on occasional walks and ride in a car once in a while. I laugh that, when she got on the plane in Dallas, she thought she was going to hell but actually she was going to doggie heaven! She had to live out that truth, one day at a time.

One of the things the pandemic has robbed us of is confidence in the future. We make plans these days with our mental fingers crossed, wondering if something else will come in and snatch it all away. It’s so hard to relax and trust.

I was thinking about our future, feeling that frisson of fear and worry, when the Lord called my attention to the dog sleeping quietly at my feet.

“You couldn’t tell her about all the good things that were going to happen to her; there was no way you could make her understand. Your perspective was so much greater, so different from hers. She had to learn to trust your love enough to let her life unfold day by day. Well, I can’t explain it to you either; My perspective is so much greater than yours. There’s no way you can understand all the wonderful things awaiting you. You have to trust My love enough to live out My truth, one day at a time.”

DEAR JESUS: Banish my fear, my lack of trust. With the power of Your spirit. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” August 14, 2022.

 

A Prayer for My Country

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16 KJV

1776: the year our country was born. We all know that. But do we remember it wasn’t fife and drums and fireworks and picnics back then?  Far from it.

Our country had a difficult birth.

True, General Clinton and his beleaguered troops had left Boston for Halifax in March and the Declaration to which the signers famously pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” had been signed in July. And then George Washington and his untrained ill-equipped army of volunteers had to get down to the ugly business of war: fighting the best professional army in the world. The results were sadly predictable. In Brooklyn, New York City, in Westchester County and White Plains, where I grew up, the army suffered defeat after defeat after defeat. Many died in battle; many more of diseases rampant in the filthy camps. Prisoners thrown into rotting ships in New York harbor succumbed to yet more disease and deliberate malnutrition.

This was not the glory these men signed on for. They began walking away. Historian David McCullough recounts it in his prize-winning book, 1776.

“American soldiers were deserting as if leaving a sinking ship, thirty or forty at a time, many defecting to the enemy. Disobedience and theft were epidemic. It was far from an army of heroes only. ‘A spirit of desertion, cowardice, plunder and shrinking from duty when attended with fatigue or danger, prevailed but too generally,’ wrote Joseph Reed (Washington’s secretary), who had become so demoralized that even he was on the verge of quitting.”

Several signers of the Declaration took the King’s offer of amnesty and recanted.

It seemed all would be lost.

But then came Christmas night and the Battle of Trenton. The battered army could finally catch a breath. And another. Somehow, they survived the brutal winter camp at Valley Forge and the nine long years which followed. A new nation, born in blood and suffering and loss, came forth into the world.

That is what we celebrate this weekend.

Not all the Founders were people of faith; I know that. But the ones who were wore out their knees praying. I’d like to believe their prayers “availed much,” as the old King James puts it, that they brought our fragile country through.

Now we face another moment of darkness and decision. On this, our nation’s birthday weekend, could we join our faithful ancestors in seeking the face of God for the country who bore and nurtured us? For I believe those fervent and effectual prayers can bring us through.

Again.

FATHER GOD: We need you desperately. Help us; guide us; strengthen us. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” July 3, 2022.

 

 

God’s Help…Just When I Need It

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Jesus) Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

The image was stunning.

There lay Jessie Diggins, the silver medalist in the womens’ 30K cross country race, sprawled face first in the snow at the finish line, skis splayed out behind her. Utterly, totally, completely exhausted. She seemed unable to move, let alone get up on her feet.

People rushed out, of course, to help–get her skis off, wrap her in one of those white puffy quilts you saw everywhere, congratulate, support, comfort. But when she tried to rise and her legs buckled, when her eyelids fluttered and she looked close to fainting, I wondered if they wouldn’t have to carry this young, strong athlete off the course.

Now I can’t imagine skiing 30K at all, even when I could possibly have done it, much less skiing it in a race.  But I can imagine Jessie’s exhaustion.

Because that’s what this winter has been like for me.

I’ve had one medical challenge after another, capped by a second bout of COVID in mid-January. My days have been consumed by doctors’ appointments, tests, trips to the emergency room. There have been times when I questioned my endurance, my ability to get up one more time.

Even writing this column has seemed more than I could do. How could I encourage other people in their journey of faith when I could barely stagger in mine?

But then the words of Jesus flowed over me like balm over sore muscles.

Ahhh. Right. I have the Lord by my side, ready to get me through. I am not alone. He gives me people, as there were for Jessie, to help, pray, support, encourage.

Yes, it’s hard to be the recipient, to recognize I’m not in control, to depend on the kindness of others. It’s hard to admit my faith gets shaky when the race goes on and on and there seems to be no end.

But I am yoked to the Lord of the universe. He walks with me, carries my burden, gives me just the help I need at the moment I need it. He will see I finish my race.

All I need to do is relax. And trust Him.

LORD JESUS: I come to You, weary and over-burdened. I give You everything I’m trying to carry—including the things I shouldn’t be. Help me to humble myself, receive help, rest in You. Amen.

This column was scheduled for publication in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” February 27, 2022. For some reason, it was never published.

Even to Old Age

…even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save. Isaiah 46:4 RSV

Old age has surprised me. If I expected anything, I expected it to move in like a thief, steal one or two small abilities, then run away again. What I got was an assassin who jumped from an alley and left me beaten and bleeding, gasping for air like a beached fish.

That’s what this winter was like.

Turns out I have a condition called congestive heart failure—something many of you know well but I’ve never heard of before. As one doctor put it, it’s a pump problem: the heart is just not able to process the fluids in my body as efficiently as it once did, leaving me swollen, most noticeably in my legs. They are heavy, hard to raise; the joints don’t work well. Walking is difficult; climbing stairs worse. Putting on pants, socks, shoes is a real challenge…especially before I went online and found these wonderful shoes I can just step into.

And the support stockings–! Imagine, if you will, a balloon covered with wet tissue paper. Your task is to pull heavy elastic over the balloon without ripping the tissue paper. No wonder we’ve made multiple trips to urgent care and the wound clinic with dripping legs. Last week I had a gusher of blood and serum all over the bathroom from the simple act of trying to pull up a stocking that had rolled down my leg. That wound is still healing…and may be so for a while.

So where is God in all this? I’ll confess I asked that question more than once.

The answer is: where He promised to be, with me. I prayed to be lifted out of the situation. That didn’t happen. What He did, and what He’s still doing, is walking me through it.

I’ve been surrounded by caretakers—my husband, my family, doctors, nurses, physical therapists, people from my church, friends. When I was younger, I could be the one giving help. Now it’s time to humble myself and receive it.

“For everything, there is a season,” wrote the wise man, long ago. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

God bears, carries, saves us through this stage, too, as He promised. He weans us from earth as He prepares us for heaven—where there will be no failures of any kind.

Even of our hearts.

FATHER GOD: This old age thing—it’s tough and humiliating. Help me to humble myself and receive Your help as You give it through Your people. Help me accept what I cannot change. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” March 27, 2022.