Tuesday, August 21, 2018

My Own Personal Lifeguard

My husband often jokes that if he can't find me, I'll be at the lifeguard station a few miles south of us. We stopped there once - when we first moved to Florida - to ask about vacancies at an oceanfront hotel. I started to get out of the car only to see a dozen nicely tanned, muscular men jogging past me. It was like Baywatch come to life.

But seriously, the red lifeguard stands dot the Atlantic coast. Most of the time, I do not see an actual person sitting atop the own at our location. Budget cuts mean lifeguards only truly guard the more popular areas of the beach. Ours often sits empty.

And while it is beautiful, the beach poses real danger. There have been the occasional shark sightings. And, there are often viscous rip currents. Special flags are used to warn swimmers to take caution. But people don't heed the warnings, and there are too often accidents where someone is swept out into the ocean with no one around to help or rescue.

As I passed this empty lifeguard station, it made me stop and whisper a prayer of thanks.

Because I have a Lifeguard who is always on duty. He never leaves His station. He never takes His eyes off of me. While I may not always be mindful of God and His watchful plan for my life, He is constantly present.

Proverbs 15:3 says, "The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good."

Psalm 139:2-3 assures me, "You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways."

And my favorite verse: Psalm 32:8, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you."

Friend, you and I are known by God. He loves you and sees you. He has His eye on you.

What a blessed assurance that is to me, to know that I am not alone, that I trust in a God who is completely available and dependable. I can go to Him at any moment, cry out in need, in my worry, in my fear. I will never be turned away. I will never be ignored.

In the truest sense, God is my constant, faithful lifeguard.

I have a sparrow tattooed on my right shoulder, and it reminds me of this passage in Matthew: "Are not two sparrows sold for one penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (10:29-31)

The hymn, His Eye is On the Sparrow, was inspired by this verse. The author speaks this truth simply and clearly: "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me." Here is a beautiful rendition of this hymn by Mahalia Jackson for you this morning: His Eye is on the Sparrow

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Airline Adventures

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It was Friday, and I wanted nothing more than to get back home.

I visit Chicago four times a year for work meetings. And, despite the hassles that come with travel, I love those visits. I soak in face-to-face time with my coworkers (not on a little Skype screen), have dinner with my sister Julie, and squeeze in as much girlfriend time as possible.

But by Friday I am definitely ready to head home. My introverted self often feels exhausted after a week of non-stop work and visiting.

So I headed to Midway airport with plenty of time before my 4:15 p.m. departure time. Tucked safely inside four ziploc bags was a frozen pizza for my husband. He is still in deep withdrawal from Chicago pizza (not the thick crust variety, but thin crust, cut-in-squares, from Aurelio's - extra sauce).

My trip was off to a good start. The TSA line was miraculously short. In fact, they had a new bin procedure that allowed four people at one time to empty their bags, take off their shoes, and shuttle their belongings on the conveyer belt.

I dutifully removed my puffy coat, my boots, my laptop. I even removed the pizza . . . just in case.

Stepping through the x-ray machine, I noticed that two of my bins were being channeled away from the rest. Separated by Plexiglas, they were awaiting further screening by an agent.

Sigh. So after being cleared, I stepped aside to wait. I was behind a middle-aged women wearing sweatpants. She had three children under the age of 12 jumping up and down behind her. Her husband (I'm guessing) sat on a bench and watched.

"Don't touch my stuffies!" exclaimed the youngest child. She wiped her runny nose with one hand, the other flailing desperately at a pile of stuffed animals that were popping out of the suitcase as the TSA agent opened it.

I stood back, trying to dodge any renegade flu germs she was spewing in my direction.

"Ma'am, you have to keep your children out of the way while I check your luggage," the TSA agent said.

"He's touching my stuffies! What's he doing to my stuffies?" The child was shrieking.

The mother swatted one child behind her, and the TSA agent rooted around in the bag for the offending item. Then he pulled out an enormous Ziploc bag filled with 12 individual applesauce cups.

"Ma'am, you can't have these in carry-on luggage," he explained.

"But the Disney mom website said you can," she said. "They're 3.4 ounces."

"Well, I don't know what they told you, but you can't," he said. "You can check them if you want."

"What am I going to feed my kids all week at Disney?" she said.

At this point I was seriously contemplating pulling out a $20 bill and offering it to her for snacks at Disney. Her husband was equally perturbed by the delay. "Oh for god's sake, throw them out," he said.

"I can't throw them out!" whined the mom. "What will we I give the kids for snacks at Disney?"

This went on for a bit as the mom's lip quivered. Apparently applesauce cups are a rare commodity at the Magic Kingdom. As they debated their options, I glanced at my phone, the time ticking by quickly.

"Okay," said the TSA agent. "I'll tell you what. I'm having a good day. I'm going to let you keep them." The children cheered, still grabbing for the stuffies.

He zipped up the bag, and I sighed with relief. But then the mom said, "That's our bag, too."

Sigh...really?! A second bag?

So the TSA agent zipped open the second suitcase, and - get ready for it. I am not kidding. There were FOUR more gigantic Ziploc bags of applesauce cups. FOUR! That means about 60 applesauce cups in all. AND, another Ziploc bag filled with peaches.

The TSA agent looked equally angry and overwhelmed by his job, "No way. You can't take this much on board. Can't do it."

The mom shrieked again. The dad gave a loud exploding moan and slammed his hand down on the bench. The kids circled with nervous energy.

"Throw em out!" yelled the dad. "No!" yelled the mom. And the TSA agent looked as pained as I felt.

"Look," he said. "You can just check them."

"But then we'll miss the Magical Express," said the mom. "We sent our other bags onto the Magical Express shuttle."

Finally they discovered an extra sticker for the Magical Express and slapped it on the treat suitcase. The dad agreed that he would return to check-in and check the bag. And, if it somehow missed that magical shuttle, he would Uber to Disney.

God has a special reward in Heaven for that man.

Finally it was my turn. They swabbed each of the four bags of frozen pizza and then swabbed my laptop (which had been randomly chosen). I was still laughing to myself as I pulled up to the Southwest gate, only to discover two things:

1) My plane departure was delayed.
2) Applesauce lady was on my flight.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

In Praise of the Good Guys

We've heard an awful lot of horrible stories about men recently. Famous men who with prestigious jobs have fallen from grace as brave women stepped forward to tell of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

One by one their names appear in the news. And each time, I recoiled a bit in astonishment. Really! Another one?

But at the same time, it is not altogether unexpected. Is it? Nearly every woman I know can tell a story of sexual misconduct or inappropriate treatment. In fact, today I was sitting next to two young women at Starbucks who were discussing the latest news, that Matt Lauer, of Today Show fame, had lost his job.

The one girl said to the other, "It's almost a rite of passage to be harassed."

Incredibly, the other one nodded.

This is terribly, horribly sad.

I am a 52-year-old mom, and I can only hope and pray that my 20-year-old daughter does not have to suffer this type of treatment by her professors, her bosses, or the other men who cross her path. I am glad women are speaking up and pushing back. I am thankful the issue is being addressed.

At the same time, I feel obliged to note that I have worked with men who have treated me with dignity and respect. They are the good ones. And I am thankful for them.

These men gave me credit, in public, for accomplishing a job. They took chances on me, even fresh out of college, and treated me seriously. They promoted me. They listened to what I had to contribute at meetings, calling me in to ask for my opinion and advice.

They told me I looked nice without making me feel demeaned or uncomfortable. They laughed at my jokes. They asked about my family. They complimented not just how I looked, but who I was as an employee, a mother, a creative professional.

They rode alone in elevators and in cars with me. We went on business trips, and their behavior was always above board, never making me feel less than or imposed upon.

They talked to me, taking me seriously, looking me in the eyes, and valuing me for far more than being a pretty face. They hired me for hard jobs. They confronted me when I was wrong. They expected me to do great things, sometimes beyond what I felt I could even accomplish.

When I cried, they took compassion and offered a kind word or a Kleenex. They prayed for me. They asked how I was doing. They wrote me notes of encouragement when I needed it most.

These are the good guys. No, these are the great guys.

For each of them - for my friends, my colleagues, my neighbors, my bosses, my professors, my mentors, my dates, who made me feel respected, loved, and valued as a person, I give you heartfelt thanks.

In this current climate, where men are being scrutinized, you are to be praised. Thank you for setting an example that others should follow.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Fear Not: Even When Irma is Breathing Down Your Neck

Just a few mornings ago, I was listening to Jen Hatmaker's audio book Of Mess and Moxie as I walked the Atlantic beach. Hurricane Irma was still dancing in the distance, and I was trying to figure out lots of details: evacuation possibilities, canceling travel plans, where to get gas and water, whether or not to pick up my daughter from college. The usually peaceful walk was being marred by my ADD mind of distressful random concerns.

But in her "I've got your back friend" kind of way, Jen gently spoke into my earbuds, "We are not to be consumed by a spirit of fear."

And then, she said something that made me tear up a little bit, "Remember...fear is a liar."

She's right, you know. Fear tells us crazy, horrible things. Fear whispers into our deepest insecurities and shouts that we are never, ever going to make it through whatever trial is ahead. But God tells us something else.

Over and over again, we read, "Fear not" in the Bible. In fact, it's there more than 365 times - that's one for every single day of the year.

I don't know what your fear is today. Maybe you're like me, watching weather reports and fretting. Maybe you're worried about a health issue or unpaid bills. Maybe you're worried about your kids - even grown ones off at college.

It is common to us all. Everyone of us will face those days when the fear is oppressive and close, and it is hard to release the tension in our shoulders.

To you (and to me), I say, Take a deep breath. This is not the time to let your worries take control. As Jen says so well, don't stand on your toes letting yourself rise into the whirlwind of doubt and fear. Instead, "flatten your feet" into what you know and believe to be true.

So, in case your heart, like mine, can use a little refresher course on the anti-fear thing right now, here are some truths that I cling to when troubles threaten to undo me:

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and hep you; I will uphold you with my right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

"Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. (Psalm 46:2)

The Lord is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, "Do not fear; I will help you." (Isaiah 41:13)

Be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when the heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:8)

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, 1 John 4:18

Sending love to all of you this Sunday.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Sea Turtles & Watchful Waiting

On my morning walk, I saw a 40-something man and woman jump out of their beach patrol van and run to the sand dune about 500 yards from shore. They were checking a sea turtle nest.

May to October is sea turtle season on the Atlantic coast of Florida. This is the time when the mamas come ashore to lay their eggs, and Floridians takes this sea turtle stuff very seriously. Volunteers carefully mark and protect each nest, putting wooden stakes in four corners around the perimeter, securing it with a line and a stern warning sticker – not to disturb the protected nest.

Almost every day, you will see volunteers trekking up and down the beach stopping to check each and every nest on the miles of shoreline. They’re looking for any damage (there are laws against disturbing the marked nesting zones), and they set up new markers when beach goers call in a sighting.

They’re waiting.

Waiting for those babies to hatch.

When they hatch – it is amazing. The little babies flip forward on the vast expanse of sand, following the moonlight into the ocean.

For that reason, the homes situated on the beach are not allowed to have any exterior lights beach side during those summer and fall months. They don’t want to confuse the babies.

Now, I’ve yet to see a sea turtle hatching. But I’ve seen video capturing the event – and it’s the cutest thing ever.

And you can’t help but admire the diligence of those sea turtle volunteers. They are so faithful day in and day out. They are motivated by the knowledge that the hatching turtles could appear at any moment…and they want to be ready.

When I was little girl, growing up in the 1970's in a Baptist church, we talked a lot about waiting and being ready. The Rapture was a favorite subjects for us Baptists who believed that – at any given moment -  Christ could return and we would be caught up to meet the Lord. Some of the Rapture-talk, especially the eerie apocalyptic film Thief in the Night, made waiting seem an awful lot like dread.

But in Titus chapter 2, Paul has something else to say about waiting on the Lord's return:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (2:11-14)

Scripture tells us that we do not know the hour or day when Jesus will appear, but we are promised that He will indeed come again, and we are to wait, not with dread or fear, but with hope!

We’re supposed to be a lot like those sea turtle volunteers. Waiting with expectancy. Being assured of what will come gives us reason to say "no" the things that are bad for us, and to say "yes" to what is upright and godly.

One of these days, I do hope to catch one of those baby sea turtles wiggling its way toward the water. But, of course, far greater is my anticipation of Christ’s return. So I will wait faithfully, not with dread, but with this type of energetic, expectancy for the blessed hope that could appear at any moment.

What a joy-filled day that will be!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Power in the Blood

Remember those thick, crusty scabs you would get as a kid? My skin-the-knee-years were in the early 70s, and I would often return from a wobbly bike ride with my knee scraped and bloody.

Tears streaming down my face, I would park my purple, banana seat bike – with its white flower-covered plastic basket, in the driveway and burst into our ranch-style suburban house in search of my mom. She would get the “cure-all” basket out of our bathroom, wipe the dirt off of my injured knee, and apply Merthiolate (the pinkish liquid applied with a dropper) to my cut, blowing on it to soothe the sting.

But the days afterward weren’t pretty either. The scrape would scab over. And it was hard to resist picking at its itchy ugliness. Blood, I learned, was not my friend.

Not only did I fear blood, I was terrified of any sort of injury. A safety first child, I dreaded gym class and even opted out of outings to the toboggan hill or roller skating rink. Blood and fear were forever linked in my mind. Self-protection became my mantra.

For me, safety was found at home and at church. First Baptist of South Holland was a small, sturdy, Dutch congregation with salt-of-the-earth suburban families. We liked to camp and potluck (both relatively safe and injury-free activities). And we really, really liked to sing.

My dad was the piano player in our small congregation, and he played that instrument with gusto. Visitors would remark that my dad was the Jerry Lee Lewis of Baptists, and they were right. In fact, if you looked beneath the piano, you could see an indent in the beige linoleum right where he would tap his foot in time to the music.

Once a month, on Sunday night (yes, we went to two services) we had choose-your-own-hymn night. My best friend’s dad, Mr. Aarup, would lead singing. And I was always ready to request one of my favorites: “There is Power in the Blood.”

Written in 1899, by Lewis E. Jones (who happens to be a very early Moody Bible Institute grad!), the song had an upbeat tempo for its somber lyrics:

“There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r,
In the blood of the Lamb.
There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r,
In the precious blood of the Lamb.”

Now, I have to wonder why a 10-year-old girl – especially one so fearful of injury - was deeply in love with this particular turn-of-the-century hymn. The music was rollicking, but the words were somber. I was singing about blood, after all. The thing I feared the most.

Nevertheless, I would sing the chorus with gusto, an odd juxtaposition of my childish enthusiasm and the painful, impactful reality of Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus bled. He hurt. He suffered. His red, thick, sticky blood was no different from the stuff that scabbed over on my knobby knee.

But Jesus’ blood did much more. His blood paid my debt and guaranteed my future. Christ’s blood freed me from doubt and guilt and fear. His blood was indeed filled with “wonder-working pow’r.”

No wonder I felt such freedom when I sang those words. His power became mine as well. This kind of blood was not the type I feared. It was rich and healing and life-changing!

“Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.”

That hymn still speaks to me today, some 40 years later. I may still feel like that wobbly 10-year-old girl with bloody knees, but I cling to the powerful truth that my sins are covered by “the precious blood of the Lamb.”

Friday, April 28, 2017

In Search of Great Abs: Planks, Faith, and My Inner Core

There's this exercise that isn't really an exercise. It's more like an instrument of pain and torture - called the "plank."

I found it when I was googling "exercises for women over 50," specifically designed to get rid of that annoying pooch that resides right at my waistline. And I've been doing them. Kind of.

If you know what a plank is, feel free to skip to the next paragraph. Basically, you lie flat on the ground (stomach down). This is my favorite part. Next, you place your palms down, keeping your elbows on the floor (this is my second favorite part . . . it gets harder). Then, you push slightly up, raising your chest, torso and legs off of the ground. Use your upper arm strength, your amazing abs, and your toes. Your body should be straight with your stomach sucked in (more than I'm doing in this embarrassing photo), Your torso should be parallel with the ground. Now you count - oh, and don't forget to breathe. This looks amazingly easy. Unfortunately, it is not.

I can hold the plank position for a short bit. Ten seconds, maybe twelve. And then I get all wobbly, and sweaty, and eventually collapse back into my favorite position, which is lying down.

But I'm told the plank is good for me in so many ways. It strengthens my inner core. It tightens my abdomen, shores up my back, and even improves posture and balance. So, planks it is.

Why am I telling you about this horribly healthy exercise? Because, while I was staring at the ground, trying desperately not to immediately lie back down on it, I had this thought.

It's good to have a strong core. Not just physically, but spiritually, too.

As I've waded through the first years of my 50s, I've felt the earth move a bit. I've gone through some major, life-changing, soul-rattling events.

My core was trembling.

In the span of about three months:
  • My only child left for college.
  • My next door neighbor and then a dear friend died unexpectedly.
  • My mom was diagnosed with round two of breast cancer.
  • A hurricane blasted our hometown.
And it's not even the big stuff; it seems that the list of life-shaking events just keeps going on. Sometimes it's simple things - like when I dropped a glass jar and cut my toe. Or when I was out of town on a business trip and received a tearful, worried phone call from my daughter. Or that time I made a stupid, entirely-my-fault mistake while doing my job.

Even these small, every day things can cause their own special kind of pain and distress. They make us wonder what to do and where to turn.

That's where the core part comes in. I really believe that my faith in Jesus keeps me upright during difficult and bewildering times. In my connection to Him, I have been promised an anchor that holds, roots that go deep, and, time and time again, that inner core has kept me from being blown away by life's trauma.

Psalm 27:1

The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall  I be afraid?

A stronghold is a fortress, a safe place. Certainly - in times of war - a fortress offered protection from the enemy. The big castle-like structure with enormously thick  walls would shield its inhabitants from oncoming attacks.

When Hurricane Matthew came through our Florida town last October, I realized the importance of a stronghold. I saw enormous trees literally yanked out of the sandy soil by their roots and thrown on the ground. Huge chunks of concrete. Entire boat docks. Uprooted. Tossed aside like they were nothing.

But I know this much is true. No matter what life has tossed my way, God has been my stronghold - and He can be your stronghold, too. Even at age 50, with my flabby stomach and weak abs, I have a God who offers me His resilient, incredible, unfailing strength - and all I have to do is run to Him.

When I'm shaking, when I feel weak, when my core trembles,He is my stronghold, my safe place. He gives me strength. No matter when. No matter where. No matter how weak I might feel...

What do you believe? What holds you firm when the waves of life crash onto your shore?

Turn to Him today. Give Him your troubles, even the really big perplexing ones. Take a walk. Whisper a prayer. Let God's strength become yours. He promises to be your stronghold, your lighthouse, your safe place.

Friends, great abs may come and go, but strengthening our inner core has never been more important.

My Own Personal Lifeguard

My husband often jokes that if he can't find me, I'll be at the lifeguard station a few miles south of us. We stopped there once...