God helps with even the mulch piles

It’s probably not my most eloquent prayer.

It’s the one that’s shown me He even cares about the problem piles in our lives.

Last year I swore I would never order 9 cubic yards of mulch for the garden again. Yet, the bids for someone else to do all the work came in consistently over $2,000.  So, I ordered it — due to mulch envy. My neighbor ordered mulch and it was the most lovely shade of dark brown (I wasn’t a Fine Arts major just for gallery items.)

There it sat. For three months. It was due to work and life pressures I told myself. I really didn’t want to do this work, yet it blocked the front path to my home. As well as a full parking space.

So I prayed. The answer I received was not an audible voice, of course. It was the message, “chip away at it a little each evening.”  He helps me even with the mulch piles and gives me so much more. Fresh air and a way to decompress after work. Exercise for muscles that had not used a pitch fork in a long time. And mostly, He gave me wonderful comfort that He can help — and is listening — to even the simplest requests like, “how can I tackle this big job?”

I’m almost done. I would have been finished by now, but He sent rain. The much-needed rain that’s even more important than mulch.




Prayers for a Teenager

I found this prayer last night, written when our girl was young. I am not its author. It may be from a MOPs group (Mothers of Preschoolers), yet it is even more relevant today. She’s a teenager facing the universal and unique struggles of young people today. It’s shared, hoping that it might be useful to you and the young person you love so much.

Lord God,

You are her shepherd. I surrender her to you. Lead and guide me so that I can lead and guide her. May I never get in the way of her relationship to you. Be her Lord, her shepherd, her God. Let her see You through me and in spite of me.

Provide wise teachers, mentors, and leaders for her, and may she begin to see You as her only shepherd. As she follows You, lead her into an increasingly close relationship with you, looking to you to fulfill her every need, physical, spiritual, and emotional.


Every Good and Perfect Gift

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” ( James 1:17, NIV)

I’m not big into public displays of emotion. But last Sunday in church, when the pastor offered an unusual suggestion that anyone in need of deep prayers could come to the front altar kneeling rail, I walked there and prayed.

It was my usual prayer with a measure of intensity that somewhat startled me..

“Lord, I pray that you will bring my husband and daughter to a healing faith in you. I pray for their salvation. Please, Lord, if there’s anything you want me to do in this regard, please, please show me the way.” Then, without warning tears flooded my eyes and dripped down my face. In a brief teary, blurry squint toward my hands entwined near my chin, my wedding ring reflected a brilliance from the front altar light that completely filled my vision.

It was a flash. Just a fraction of a moment. Yet that image stays in my mind and makes me think of the perfect light that must be in heaven. A kind of light that none of us have seen. And even in the week’s ups and downs I hold onto the faith that He will show me what to do. That He is present in their lives. That the precious gifts from Him — the husband who appeared in my life after I had given up all hope for marriage, and the daughter, born to us when we were well into middle-age–would not be lost.

He who knows how to give every good and perfect gift will not leave them.

Blessings to you all.


Standing in Cool Water

I was tickled to see the suburban equine surprise.

Two well-tended, 16-hand horses and their attractive owners turned the corner and came out of the wooded parkland near my home. We’re not total strangers. I see them a few times each year as they clop on asphalt residential streets. “How are they surviving the heat?” I asked.

“Not well,” said one of the women. “We’re walking slowly. We just let them stand in the creek for awhile.”

I know that creek. It’s dry here, so the water can’t be more than a few inches deep. How delightful that a few inches of water could refresh an 1,100-pound creature. Probably just barely covered his hoof. And that image, on a hot Virginia day, let my mind drift into other small refreshments that have recently covered me.

An unexpected, brief coffee with an old friend was as satisfying as a leisurely gourmet meal.

A LinkedIn connection with a long-ago colleague unearthed that she’s been living in Johannesburg, South Africa for 12 years. Better than a detective novel.

A phone call from a Parisian friend has me scurrying to ready a guest room for her impromptu visit. More enjoyable than planning an expensive trip to see her.

Swimming and movie invitations extended to our daughter from a variety of friends. More pleasurable than multiple dinner party invitations.

These small gifts, triggered by seeing Trigger down the street, give me so much joy and help me remember how many blessings are all around me. I also remember the source of all that joy in John 7:38 that tells all of us that “whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

He knows our names

“Hello, my name is Bub.  How may I help you today?”  the call center worker in India said. “I’m sorry, what’s your name?” my  husband queried. “Your name is Bub? Are you sure?” my multi-lingual hubby gently pressed.

“Yes sir, Beb.”

“OK, now I’m confused,” he humorously and somewhat sweetly persisted, as he always does, with these hard-working young people. “Is your name Bub, Beb or could it possibly be Bob?”

“Yes sir, it’s Bob,” he replied.

“OK, Bob, I’m not trying to give you a hard time, just helping you with your English. I’ve lived in the same part of the world where you’re located and I know your name is probably Bharath, not Bob, but that’s alright. I ordered two 100-foot garden hoses, not four 25-foot hoses. Can you please sort this out for me?”

I love talking with my husband at the dinner table and comparing our days. His sense of humor is one of the reasons I married him and he gives me endless material for blogs. And while I laughed about his telephone exchange it made me think about God knowing all our names. Not just our given names, or the name that an employer might want us to use, but His names for us. Beloved, my children, my sheep, my chosen ones, my little ones.  Contemplate that He knows the name of the young worker in India and everyone else on the planet if  you want to get a humbling perspective on His omnipotence.

As I sort through today’s tasks I’ll remember that He knows my name too. Isaiah 43:1 tells us “….Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

Listening to His Calls

The Lord is patient. I know that to be a fact.

For two years (over two years if I’m honest) I’ve been avoiding doing something that I believe He’s called me to do. The last time I avoided His call for a “leap of faith” it took me one and a half years to act on it. The outcome was remarkable. It led me to a new career, gave me an education in U.S. politics and foreign news, and maneuvered me to a place where I met my husband.

With such a positive outcome, why would I hesitate a second time? I had insight to my inaction when I listened to the guest speaker at a recent career network event. He was Gregg Levoy, author of “Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life.” Along with a crowd of about 200, I took Mr. Levoy’s verbal quiz at the end of the talk.

Levoy asked a series of questions to help us uncover if we’re being called. (Now, a calling can be anything. A call to be a better parent or spouse. A call to develop new friendships, hobbies or careers. It could be a call to do or be something different or better. It doesn’t mean that one is necessarily called to be a missionary in Sierra Leone.)

“Do you have song lyrics stuck in your head?” Levoy asked. Well, yes. This happens to me frequently, but the one that’s nipping at me currently is Matthew West’s, “Hello, My Name Is.”  The song starts, “Hello my name is regret. I’m pretty sure we have met. Every single day of your life, I’m the whisper inside, that won’t let you forget….”  Ouch. Yes, this one hits me nearly every day. Unless it’s a day where I’m working toward what He wants me to do. On those days I do have a sense of peace and accomplishment.

“What’s the prominent quote in your mind, or tacked up in your home?” the author queried. That one’s easy, “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” Well, this is getting interesting.

“What was your road not taken?” Levoy asked. Then, before I could answer, he pressed, “What is the one problem you were meant to solve?”  There’s a definite pattern here and the conviction is growing. “What decision have you backburnered?” Levoy continued. “And if you had the opportunity to try your hand at another profession, what would it be?”  By this time, I’m laughing at myself and my answers because they continually loop back to what I’ve been avoiding.
I know what I need to do, and I know who will help me. So to get me going, I remember the end of West’s song. It’s a little bit more uplifting than the beginning, “….Amazing Grace is the song I sing. Hello, my name is child of the one true King. I am no longer defined by all the wreckage behind. The one who makes all things new, has proven it’s true. Just take a look at my life….”

So, I’d like to complete what I’m here to do. I’d like to make all things new and be a better parent and spouse. And lead others to Christ. And use my skills in projects that He leads me into. I hope that at the end of my life, I can take a look back and know that I did not avoid His callings.

Music to My Ears

It’s two in the afternoon and I drive to her school with a gloomy heart. That day was the fourth visit to a concussion specialist to help resolve her head pain after a sports collision.

I don’t mind the hour-long drive to a specialist. It’s the anticipated attitude and entitlement snippets coming from our tween that I can’t stand. These nasty noshes peck at my peace and seem to have slipped into the house when we were all sleeping.

“Mom, turn the radio to my station,” she barked. “No. We’re going to have some quiet conversation,” I said (trying to remain calm.)  “Oh. Well, can I sing you some of the songs for our upcoming school concert?” she offered.  Even before I could say a silent prayer of thanks to the Lord, the car concert began. And it was lovely. As she passed through the early American ballads and swing style songs for the concert (staid, non-controversial fare, innocuous enough), she ended with, “Now would you like to hear my song from camp last summer?”

“Yes!” And the funny, entirely accurate lyrics in Francesca Battistelli’s song were music to my weary ears. “This is the stuff that drives me crazy, This is the stuff that’s getting to me lately. In the middle of my little mess, I forget how big I’m blessed…” surrounded me with the calm and perspective I needed. It was a gift from the Lord and a reminder to stay the course, no matter how trying parenting can be.

Later that evening, when she was showering and I was putting away clothes in her closet, I heard her sing a pitch perfect current rendition of  “Amazing Grace.”  “Did you like my song?” she  asked.

“Of course I did!  How did you know that was my favorite song?” I praised. “Oh, Mumsy,” she said with the tiniest bit of tween intonation, “I do listen to you. I hear you humming the tune sometimes.”

Oh my goodness. As I always suspected, our children hear and see everything. So every time I try to stay calm, turn the noise down,  or refuse to answer my cellphone while driving, and a million other things that seem an effort at the time, I know I’m doing the right thing.

Thank you, Lord, for the music we hear right when we need to hear it.

Speaking the Truth in Love

At a dinner party many years ago, the host asked us, “why do you two still seem like newlyweds?”  I quickly answered, “it’s because my husband is the only person who can really tell me the truth about myself. He’s the only one who can speak the truth in love to me and I don’t get upset.”

Today, my dear husband still speaks the truth to me. Sometimes I accept it and sometimes I don’t. After all, I’m only human.

There is one voice, however, that can speak the truth in love to me and I unconditionally accept it. Well, after some period of stubbornness, that is. The voice comes from the Holy Spirit. Oh, please don’t stop reading and count me as a lunatic. I don’t actually hear audible words from the Almighty. (I wish I did. It would make knowing His direction for my life that much easier.) Instead, the words come into my heart. They might come from a friend, my husband, a radio message from Dr. Charles Stanley, the women in my Bible study group, or often from reading the Bible during a quiet time. But I know where the message really comes from.

The truth is always there if we’re open to it. This morning, after listening to Dr. Charles Stanley’s radio message, I was struck by something He’s been trying to show me for a long time. As a recent college grad I relentlessly pursued a job at a prestigious magazine and publishing company in Washington, D.C. After a long period of unsuccessful attempts, I gave up, and miraculously the Lord led me to another opportunity with a different company where I happily worked for over 20 years. Now during the past year I’ve been reconnecting with former colleagues at that original coveted company. And there has been no job forthcoming. In fact, when I checked my LinkedIn messages yesterday, I found that one of the jobs I had applied for was filled by a former colleague. He’s someone with impeccable credentials and I’m nowhere in his league. That’s not to belittle myself, it’s just the truth.

This morning, I realized that in addition to speaking the truth in love to me, the Lord has a great sense of humor. Today I have before me an incredible opportunity to develop my own business from home. This is a tremendous blessing because I still have a child in elementary school. Why would I want to repeat a former desire to work somewhere — where they obviously don’t want me — when I have the chance to do something different for a few individual companies? One of which is a group that has a mission to help other unemployed adults like myself? Yes, I think God is laughing at me. In a kind way.

So today, with this course correction, I can hear the truth about myself. It’s spoken in love. And it’s telling me to stop living for myself, and live with the purpose and passion that He has kindly placed before me. The place where I’m supposed to be. Right here, writing to my family and friends, assisting some start-up companies, and guiding others in their quests to learn new technologies to find employment. I hear you Lord, and thank you for the truth given with a dose of humor.

Seeing Through New Lenses

A dear friend recently stayed overnight at my home. It was a luxurious time for long conversations and reminiscing. I always thought she was either an adamant agnostic or potential atheist so I talked gently about the extraordinary ways God has affirmed His presence in my life.

“Oh, of course, that’s what you saw because you’re looking at life through your lens as a Christian,” she said. She said this gently too, as if not to unravel a 40-year friendship. Because of my deep affection for her I didn’t blurt out, “if you could allow His light into your life you’d see the same things.” But I didn’t. I simply told her my stories and she seemed interested. But it didn’t go any further.

Yes, my lenses are not her lenses. It’s similar to the new eyeglasses on my face. I had waited a long time to update my trifocals, so much so that I was horribly disappointed when I put them on. Everything at the edges seemed worse than before. Distortion and discomfort were now my fields of vision.”If you can try to be patient for a few days,” the optician said, “you’ll probably find that your brain will make the adjustments, the accommodation for this extreme change in your corrected vision.” Noticing my alarm she also added, “and if it doesn’t work for you we’ll call your eye doctor and see if we can downgrade the strength in one of the areas of vision.”

She was right, of course, and within a day I was singing the praises of these lenses and my brain had indeed submitted itself to this new way of seeing. And this reminded me of the Lord’s promises. He promises to be our light, our new way of seeing in Isaiah 60:19,”The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.”

He doesn’t promise only light and clear vision and happiness, though. We know that in this life we will have hardship, pain, and struggle. But he does promise that He will guide us, He will bring us light, He will use us to help others, and He will always be with us, and with submission that He will correct our vision.

If that’s what He promises in living life through the Christian lens, then I’m in. And I will ask for His guidance to reach the friends and family members who do not yet know Him.


Grace and a soccer game

shoes and ball

Quiet remains from the soccer game.

This morning’s indoor soccer game loomed over us like a severe weather watch. Our daughter didn’t want to go. And I can understand. Her team has lost nearly every game for two consecutive seasons.

My husband and I privately bolstered each other. This truly was no fun for any of us. And although we missed the morning service at church at least we could salvage the day by attending the 5:00 pm service. “It’s a life lesson she must learn. It’s painful, but she has to speak up to the coach herself and express her frustration. We can even role play with her, such as, ‘coach, I can’t stand being on a losing team. What can you do, what can I do to help the team win?'”

We pushed and we prodded. We got our normally exuberant girl out the door to a game she didn’t want to play. “Your team is counting on you to be the goalie. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing even when you don’t feel like it,” we preached. As we walked into the sports complex I said a private prayer aloud with her, “Please Lord, bring her the courage and confidence she needs. Bring all of her training to mind when she’s in there playing the game.”

Then, with utter fortitude she played like a mini-Olympian, batting away balls, defending the goal, perfectly placing her punts. The entire team was on fire, a wondrous sight to see all the lessons of teamwork, playing in position, aggression and the determination to never give up. Everything worked. As I watched the entire field from the upper level viewing area, I realized that these 10 and 11-year-olds are learning lessons about aggressive commitment that I’ve never fully practiced in my own life. As a contemplative writer and editor I live in my head and heart more than I do on the playing field of life.  They are out there, fighting for their team, those little aggressive, highly charged athletic machines.  With such grace!

Ah, grace. Our unmerited favor. I’m not ashamed to admit that I prayed for a girls’ soccer team, for some change to help bring them out of total frustration, defeat and loss of self-confidence. God’s help and the girls’ commitment certainly was in full view today. And I was reminded of Max Lucado’s definition of grace. He says that grace is God’s ongoing, aggressive commitment to change us from the inside out.

Thank you, Lord, for today’s victory. For the reminder that you do work on us from the inside before anything shows on the outside. And thank you for the ultimate victory that can be ours when we surrender to your grace and glory.