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“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11

A friend once noted, “Your dad reeks of integrity.” And he was right. I am blessed to have been raised by a man whose choicest swear words were, “Oh fish” and whose worst vices were peanut brittle, Pecan Sandies, and pocket watches. Some, however, may have considered his corny jokes a fault:

“I once dated a girl named Olive…until I took her to dinner and found out how much it costs to stuff an Olive.”

Dad had other unique ways of speaking. Instead of a simple “thank you,” when someone did something kind, Dad would respond, “I’ll dance at your wedding someday.” When my brothers and I were kids he often greeted us with, “Hey, Posqually,” or “Hi, Pastamazoo.” He nicknamed a granddaughter “P.M.” because of toddler legs in perpetual motion.

An elementary principal, associate pastor, and adult Sunday School teacher for 35 consecutive years; Dad crafted words for sermons, weddings, funerals, lessons, and principal’s notes. His greatest legacy, however, was not in his words. Dad was respected for his faithfulness, even temper, integrity, wisdom, and compassionate heart.  In over fifty years of marriage, he never took off his wedding ring. Not once. His was a life lived louder than its words.

One of my most vivid memories of Dad occurred on a hot day in late spring of 1987. I was headed home, south on Oregon’s Interstate 5, in my Volkswagen Scirocco. By the time I reached Azalea, an hour from home, I called Dad in tears. My Scirocco had stalled several times coming over Canyon Creek Pass, and each time I had watched my life flash behind my eyes as the rearview mirror revealed tractor trailers fast approaching my motionless vehicle. Dad blamed it on the fuel-injection system, told me what to do to my car, and said I would be fine.

As I continued down the road, I eventually stopped worrying about my car and started worrying about my recent decision to accept a teaching job in Nassau, Bahamas. I was driving over the Sexton Mountain Pass, talking to the Lord about moving to the Bahamas alone, when I recognized a refurbished red Corvair in the northbound lane. It was Dad. He had jumped in his car and headed for his girl. A paraphrase of Matthew 7:11 immediately came to my mind, “If your earthly father knows how to give good gifts, how much more your heavenly father?” I have never had a clearer picture of God’s love and care for his children. Through the actions of my earthly father, God assured me He would take care of me in the Bahamas.

I was gifted a dad who offered a glimpse of our heavenly father. And for the godly heritage he left, I am truly thankful.

See you later, Daddy. We’ll dance at the wedding, someday.

David Jenkins, 1927 - 2012

I bought a bottle of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider with the hope of someday celebrating a publisher’s decision to purchase one of my picture book manuscripts. The bottle resides at the back of an unused cupboard. Its top label is coming unglued. It’s stained. It’s dusty. It’s ten years old.

I am good friends with the first half of Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I told myself if I received 25 manuscript rejections, I would throw a party. I lost count somewhere in the mid-thirties and never had my party. But I still have my bottle of Martinell’s. And even though its drinkability died about seven years ago, the hope it represents has not. Hope deferred is still hope. It is hope prolonged…not annihilated.

I love Psalm 71:14, “As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” It’s a statement. A resolution. A choice against odds. Hope needs to be a determined purpose because it is difficult to sustain when its fruit seems nonexistent. But ponder hope’s alternatives: despair, self-pity, cynicism, anger, depression.  As for me, I will always have hope. Micah 7:7 is similar:

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”

Expectancy while waiting. Confidence that the One you trust will deliver.

I look forward to the day (soon, I hope) when Proverbs 13:12aHope deferred makes the heart sick” is no longer relevant to my picture book dreams. Instead, I anticipate the “b” portion of the verse: “…but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” So the next time I’m at the grocery store, I’m going to buy a fresh bottle of Martinelli’s. Because I don’t want “a longing fulfilled” to make the stomach sick.

As for me, I will always have hope.

What are you hoping for?

Have you ever known a young child with an imaginary friend? My daughter, Hannah, had an imaginary country. Dinka-Dinka, whose residents lived in lime green trees above hot pink grass, was referenced at her convenience:

Me:  “Here. Try this yummy broccoli.”

Hannah:  “I already tried it in Dinka-Dinka. I didn’t like it.”

*                *               *                *

Me (Smiling):  “Time to sleep!”

Hannah:  “No. It’s not bedtime in Dinka-Dinka.”

Me (Not smiling):  *Sigh.*

When she was in trouble, Hannah would threaten to run away to Dinka-Dinka, even packing her Pooh suitcase on one occasion. A scapegoat country. Good idea…for a three year old.

During difficult circumstances or when we’re in trouble, many of us would enjoy running away to an invented country where life is easy and operates on our terms. But competent doctors have a scary name for adults who habitually live in make-believe locations…schizophrenic. Many hurting people prefer more socially acceptable platforms for fleeing to imaginary worlds–including video games, the internet, movies, and fictional novels.

Although everyone relishes opportunities to “get away from it all,” the truth is, Christians do not need a fantasy location for escaping life’s harsh realities. We have an authentic one. Because Jesus became the scapegoat¹ (escape goat) who bore our sins and failures, we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”² Through Christ’s blood “we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into the Holy Place.”³

We can boldy go to the Holy Place:

A safe, sane haven.

Immediate openings.

Direct access to the grace and place of God’s presence where there is mercy, help, “fullness of joy,⁴” and rest for the weary.⁵

Can you think of a better place to get away?

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¹See Leviticus 16

² Hebrews 4:16, NIV

³Hebrews 10:19, The Message

⁴Psalm 16:11, NKJV

⁵Matthew 11:28

Picture Source: Dreamstime

Outside of the Bible, there are two quotations I have used as creeds for decades. One is Alexander Hamilton’s “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” The other comes from a key chain I had in high school which featured a confident, dolled-up Miss Piggy proclaiming, “You’ve gotta go with whatcha got!” In the last year, however, I’ve added my own simple creed:

“Be fully present.”

Like many multitaskers, I spend too much of life physically present in one location and mentally in another. I feel like Luke Skywalker during his Jedi training–being poked in the chest and chastised by an irritated Yoda, “All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph.”

© Nicholas Sutcliffe | Dreamstime.com

In our pressure-cooker culture, I’m sure some  of you can relate. Physically, you’re watching your child’s soccer game, having lunch with a friend, or listening to a sermon…but mentally you’re organizing your schedule, making a grocery list, solving a conflict, or editing mistakes. Almost everyone has difficulty sustaining focus for long periods, but consistently choosing to be in two places at once can create several problems:

1. Divided Focus Can Be Unsafe

While driving, have you ever missed your turn because you mindlessly headed in a routine direction…rather than toward your actual destination? Some tasks are too critical for mental multitasking. We trust childcare providers, airline pilots, knife-wielding surgeons, drill-operating dentists, and coffee-bearing baristas to be fully present.

2. Divided Focus May Be Sin if…

  • you’re attending to the voice in your head more than listening to your “neighbor.” That’s called selfishness.
  • …the cause of your lack of focus is worry. The Bible is clear, “Do not be anxious about anything.”¹
  • …mental preoccupation hinders you from doing “whatever you do”…” with all your heart.”²

3. Divided Focus Can Rob You

Being “lost in thought” prevents you from: embracing moments with your children, fully enjoying the company of a friend, entering deeper into worship, maximizing time spent in God’s Word, or maintaining peace of mind. Divided focus can rob you of life’s simple pleasures and keep you from being content…whatever your circumstances.³

I’ve been praying for the mind of Christ and working on being fully present, but I’m not there yet. Not. Even. Close.  I’m going to keep trying to live my creed for several reasons…but especially because my time as a full-time mom is more than two-thirds gone. I don’t want to lose out on memories with my children because my mind is preoccupied. I want to be fully present. After all, “You must be present to win.”

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¹Matthew 6:25, 31, 34; Philippians 4:6

²Colossians 3:23

³Philippians 4:12

Photo Link: http://www.dreamstime.com/free-stock-photography-pensive-businesswoman-rimagefree405679-resi3675470

Is viewpoint important? Ask an artist. His success is linked not only to skill, but to his “way of seeing” a person, place, object, or event. Discomfort, delight, disgust, or humor may surface when an art observer’s perception differs from the artist’s…which is why the following biblical paintings entertained my brain:

"Loths Flucht" (Lot's Escape), Albrecht Dürer, 1496

Somehow, I never  imagined Lot and his daughters escaping their exploding home so fashionably, calmly, or slowly. And it took me a long time to figure out that Lot’s daughter rescued some sort of yarn holder…and not a monkey on a stick. The figure in the background has “combo deal” privileges–it doubles as Lot’s salty wife and the Grim Reaper.

"Pharaoh's Daughter and Her Handmaids with Moses in the Reed Basket," Jan de Bray, 1661

Does anyone in the second painting look remotely Egyptian? Jan de Bray was famous for painting contemporary people in the pretext of historical events–vanity gifting the world with Baby Moses’ Discovery, the Shakespearean Edition.

'The Women at the Sepulchre" ("The Angel at the Tomb of Christ"), Benjamin West, 1805

Why is this awkwardly posed, flush-faced angel glaring over his shoulder? Is he angry because the women are ignoring him? Upset about his Poseidon-trident hairdo? Oh, and West’s model for the undignified angel must have been one of Gene Wilder’s ancestors.

My point is, the gap between these artists’ portrayals and my perspective produces humor. However, when there’s a gap between the way God is working and my perception of how He should be working…it’s not so funny. You see, viewpoints are crucial. They form beliefs, engage our emotions, and lead to actions.

In his book Our Ultimate Refuge, Oswald Chambers writes, “An accepted view of God has caused many a man to fail at the critical moment…only when he abandons his view of God for God Himself, does he become the right kind of man.”

In these tough times of job loss, financial strain, family conflict, and life-threatening illnesses; we don’t always understand the way God chooses to treat his children. Heartache rattles our view of God. IT IS OK when our finite minds do not comprehend what an infinite God is doing. However, we must trust the One who is doing it:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,”

declares the LORD.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55: 8-9

Although I found the above paintings comical, many I viewed were beyond my imagination. Breathtaking. Insightful. Powerful.

"The Storm on the Sea of Galilee," Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633

And that’s why I’ve got to stop trying to fit God into my viewpoint. Stop “painting Him into a corner.” He’s the Master Artist. I’m the apprentice. And His painting of my life, of yours, will be “immeasurably more” beautiful than all we could “ask or imagine.¹”

__________________________________________________________________________

Are there areas where you need to abandon your “view of God for God Himself?²”

__________________________________________________________________________

¹Ephesians 3:20

²Oswald Chambers

Nightlight

jcarloson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Even

in darkness

light dawns

for the upright…

Psalm 112:4a

Cancer. Rebellious children. Unemployment. Transition. Financial strain. Loss. Depression. Several friends and I recently discussed the number of people we know who are embroiled in adversity. None of us could recall a time when so many friends and family were facing darkness.

Most of us don’t comprehend the darkness created by suffering or uncertainty while we are busy surviving it. The Old Testament’s Job didn’t understand it. He brazenly informed God and misguided friends of his anguish, his confusion. Yet in the middle of his sufferings when he was “nothing but skin and bones,” when his breath was offensive to his wife, when friends had forgotten him, and when young boys taunted him;¹ Job made a bold statement, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth.”² Unwavering faith–despite his conviction that this same Defender had “blocked” his way and shrouded” his “paths in darkness.”³

During two of my blackest weeks, I was restricted to a hospital bed in the Cayman Islands. My tactful physician from the Grenadines warned, “If da clot in ya pelvis come loose den ‘BOOM,’ ya dead.” I embraced Psalm 18:28 and have returned to it often:

“You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.”

Roberto F (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The prophet Daniel desperately needed darkness illuminated. He, and all King Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men, faced execution unless someone could interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream–without being told the dream. After God revealed the dream and its meaning, Daniel lifted words of praise including:

“He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells in him.”⁴

We may not know what lies in our darkness, but The Light does…and “at night His song is with” us.⁵ Our God “will turn the darkness into light before” us.⁶

jcarloson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Do you have an encouraging story or scripture for dark times?

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¹Job 19: 12-20

²Job 19:25 (NASB)

³Job 19:8 (NIV)

⁴Daniel 2:22b

⁵Psalm 42:8b

⁶Isaiah 42:16b

When my dad was teaching me to drive, he advised me to “Back up only as far as is necessary to go forward. Backing up too much is how you get into trouble.”  Two separate scrapes in my van’s bumper testify to the wisdom in that statement. But I think I’ve remembered his words for thirty years because they comprise a good analogy for life. Some backing up is necessary to recall God’s faithfulness or to avoid repeating mistakes, but constantly dredging the past gets me into trouble.

There is a Japanese proverb that says:

“My skirt with tears is always wet, I have forgotten to forget.”

While it can be a struggle to forget wrongs inflicted by others, I mostly wrestle with forgiving my own sins or failures. Although my greatest opportunity for having a manuscript published is before me, I “forget to forget” dozens of previous rejections, and wonder if I should “ditch the whole writing thing.” However, if I am writing for God’s glory, I need to overcome fear, put my “hand to the plow,” and not look back.¹

After listing his prestigious religious accomplishments, the apostle Paul “remembered to forget” them. He did not want pride getting in the way of moving forward:

“But one thing I do:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,

I press on toward the goal

To win the prize

For which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:13b-14 (NIV)

I appreciate the word “straining” in Paul’s verse, because forgetting and pressing onward require strenuous effort. However, the alternative consequences are more agonizing. If I have “forgotten to forget,” then pride, bitterness, pain, and fear offer stagnation, slow progress (three steps forward, two steps back), or retreat. And focusing on the road already traveled obstructs my view of God’s new way ahead:

“Do not call to mind the former things,

Or ponder things of the past.

Behold, I will do something new,

Now it will spring forth;

Will you not be aware of it?

I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,

Rivers in the desert.”

Is. 43:18-19 (NASB)

Even if an ill-chosen path abandons me in the wilderness, the fingers of God will carve a new one. And if the omniscient God of the Universe remembers my  sins no more,² what grace should I extend to others…or myself? I must “remember to forget,” and drive forward.

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¹Luke 9:62

²Isaiah 43:25

Photo: http://www.picturearchive.co.za/index.php/cms/contentview/action/view/frmContentId/150076/image/0/name/No%20MCs…just%20old%20car%20pictures/

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