The Blog Challenge

This blog was many months in the making. You might think that means it’s going to be brilliant, but you’d be wrong.

It started last November when a friend sent me a blog challenge. Considering my severe lack of regular blogging, this challenge was needed desperately. Unfortunately, she didn’t give me a deadline. So the challenge sat in my inbox along with several hundred other “to-do someday soon items.” Which reminds me of a great poster I saw today: Each week contains seven days, none of which are called “someday.”

Hence, several months later, it was still sitting in my inbox when I sat down to my Thursday writing session and the severe temptation to nap instead.

“I will let myself nap if I write for one hour,” I said.

Then I procrastinated nearly 30 minutes trying to find the email that contained the ancient blog challenge. This left me 30 minutes to write a blog containing the words cactus, friend, hike and a reference to Psalm 42:1.

Done.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what she had in mind, but I’m telling you, naptime is calling something fierce. You might even say that as the deer pants for streams of water, so my eyelids pant for sleep.

That, in case you missed it, was a bonus reference to Psalm 42:1. The proper translation goes more like this: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” And I have perfectly and unwittingly just demonstrated my personal struggle with this verse. Let’s explore.

I’m more familiar with the well-watered deer of the deep woods or prosperous farmland, but I can picture a desert deer panting in the shade of a cactus. I can feel the dryness on the tongue, the burning of the sun, the blowing of a scorching wind. I’ve lugged enough bottles of water on dusty hikes to appreciate how sweet those cooling streams can be. So I can appreciate this image and the deep need and longing that is being depicted here.

The conviction comes in the rest of the passage. When I consider the things I long for deeply in my life.

I long for friendship. I long for love. I pant after peace and rest. This makes me question where I place God. Do I chase down time with God as dearly as I chase down time with friends and family? Do I crave time with Him as deeply as I crave time with a good book, or a good friend, or even a good bowl of ice cream?

I do, I realize, but only after all the other longings have left me wanting. When relationships let me down. When I hunger and thirst again. When I realize that even sleep doesn’t truly bring rest. Then I start craving for God to come and piece me back together.

Jesus knew what He was saying when He said “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:13).

There are temporal needs in this world that can be met in temporal ways. We need water. We need food. We need friendship. But our deepest needs are not met by a reliance on the things we crave. They are met through a recognition of and a relationship with the One through whom these blessings flow. The difference is like repeatedly asking for a glass of water instead of asking for the wellspring.

I need to recognize amidst my scattered needs that there is an all-surpassing need that girds my pursuits. I need to recognize my longing for God. Then I need to spend time reading my Bible, praying, walking alone, or inviting God in for a bowl of ice cream. (I’ll help Him eat His.)

I need to recognize within my longing for that nap, that there is also a deeper longing for true rest.  Both are important.

Which reminds me, I’m well past my hour of writing, and still in need of that nap.

Advertisements

Green Blessings

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day I had the brilliant idea of taking a picture of every green thing I saw today. I quickly learned 2 things:

  1. I apparently really like the color green, because there are a lot of green things in my apartment, and
  2. God has blessed me with many wonderful things that happen to be green.

Here are some examples:

daffodils

Daffodils! It was still dark on our morning walk, but I know even in the dark that these brave flowers have some green beneath that yellow blossom. Like the birds that sing before sunrise, this early flower lets us know that good things are coming soon!

 

SewagePipe

Okay, so I’ll admit I wasn’t quite as excited to see this sewage pipe as I was the daffodils, but let’s face it. I do like indoor plumbing. (And for that matter, I like heat and hot water and electricity, too.) I’m also grateful for all the utility workers that recently put this in. That’s certainly outside my skill set.

 

doingwellsticker

This sticker greets me every time I enter my apartment. It reminds me of friends, and that no matter what I might be facing, I’m doing okay!

 

Leash

Even my dog’s leash is green. And what can I say about that? I love long walks and soft fur and the friends I have made through various canine activities. This green leash has connected more than me and my dog all these years – it has connected me to many wonderful friends and adventures!

 

dish soap

I also have a green dishtowel and green mop and green toilet brush. I can’t say that I particularly enjoy using these items, but I do always appreciate the result!

 

ovenmitts

Ahh, oven mitts. We may not live on bread alone, but a nice warm loaf that’s still fresh and crusty from the oven is a blessing I’m not going to pass up. That scent that lingers in the air… I think I can smell it…

 

addressbook

For those of you in the electronic generation, this is a paper version of your smartphone’s contact list. It comes in handy when your battery dies. I’m grateful for a handy way to organize important addresses, and most of all for all the people that fill this book.

 

safetyshower

I pass by several labs on the way to my office, and I couldn’t help but pause today at these brilliant green signs. May God shower us all with the safety of his presence today and always.

I could go on, but I think it’s your turn. What green things are all around you? You may be surprised just how many green blessings God gives you today… and every day.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside waters of rest (Psalm 23:2).

Debt Free

I recently paid off my student loans. With submission of that last payment, I was – for the first time in (too many) years – debt free. You might think this would result in feelings of relief, elation, excitement, happiness…

You’d be wrong.

Instead I was plagued by sporadic moments of irrational panic. The moments were brought on by thoughts like these:

What if it’s not really paid off? What if I made the final check out for the wrong amount? What if, when I consolidated 8 years ago, they missed one of my loans and that loan has been sitting out there accruing interest for all these years? What if there is some other debt I forgot about?

These thoughts were quickly followed by others.

What if I suddenly have a major medical expense that plunges me into debt again? What if something catastrophic happens that forces me into a loan I can never repay? What if, just when I reach this major milestone, something happens and I am never debt free again?

And then it dawned on me.

In this life we have debts we can never repay. They may be financial. They may be physical or emotional. They may be spiritual. I am in debt to friends. I am in debt to strangers. I am debt to the gentleman who stepped out of his way last week to hold the door for me.

But most of all, I am in debt to God.

God has loaned me this life. All of it. The good, the bad, the everything in between. He has rained down blessings. He has walked with me through struggles. He has pushed me to grow. My life is a loan I can never repay. At some point, because I have no choice, this loan will run out. I cannot buy it. I cannot extend it. I cannot even ask to have the terms and conditions adjusted. When the loan is up, I will leave this life behind.

That’s a pretty big debt. But it’s not even the biggest one. Because in addition to this loan, God also has offered me a gift. He has invited me, when I leave this life behind, to go instead and stay with Him. He has offered to pay off the debts of this life. The emotional debts, the physical debts, and most of all, the spiritual debts.

If we compiled all the money in the world, it would not be enough to purchase passage for even one person into God’s house. Or, if we all worked our entire lives, trying to pay off such a debt, it would still not be enough. And yet, God has invited each one of us to join Him, free of charge. It is not a loan. It is a gift.

God sent His Son Jesus to show us our way home. God sent His Son Jesus to remove the great burden of debt under which each one of us would otherwise live. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:23-25).

I thank God for the reminders in this life of what it means to carry a debt. I pray that He guides me toward good stewardship of all that He has given me. And then I thank God that even when I am under the burdens of this world, it is through His gift that I come to understand what it truly means to be living debt free.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).

Shed Happens

That’s what the sweatshirt said: Shed Happens.

It was an appropriate statement, as anyone who has ever worn black pants near my khaki-colored dog can attest.

I was thinking of that sweatshirt the other night as my dog and I turned for home, leaving what could have been the remnants of a small furry animal in our wake. She isn’t the only one depositing tufts of fur. All along our favorite hiking trails are the signs of springtime shed – caught on branches, wrapped around old wire fences, snagged against the rough bark of a tree-turned-scratching post. I think of the timing of this, and how I once saw a little bird pounce happily on a ball of animal fur and cart it away to her nest. Since then, I often leave strands of dog fur on my porch. (Dear neighbors, No I’m not just being lazy every time I brush my dog. Some people put out bird feeders, I put out nesting material…)

sparrows with dog fur

Who knew a shedding dog & nesting sparrows were a match made in heaven?

Springtime shed makes sense. Animals are losing their heavy winter coats in preparation for the warmer summer months. But springtime shed does not just benefit the one putting on a sleek new summer coat. God’s design is far more intricate than that.

So often we see just one small piece of life’s puzzle. There are so many things we will never understand this side of heaven. But in the intricacies of nature, we sometimes glimpse something deeper. Yes, nature can be harsh. One creature’s loss is another’s gain, and that loss may not be as innocent as a tuft of fur. But in the peaceful symbioses that do occur, we get a glimpse of what Eden might have been. Where all things worked together for good in a way that was immediate, and obvious, and universal. Imagine these simple, mutually beneficial relationships on an even grander scale. Imagine everything working together as happily as a shedding dog and a nest-building sparrow.

Kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

sparrow flying with fur

Off to the nest!

Too often the beautiful relationships in this world are overshadowed by relationships of conflict. We live, after all, in a world that struggles with pain and death and spiritual sickness. But if we look closely, we will find that there are still elements of God’s good design all around us. These evidences point us back to a Creator who has not abandoned His beloved creation. God still holds all things together (Colossians 1:17).

Even shed happens for a reason. Think about that the next time you’re brushing pet fur off your pants.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21)

p.s. – Thanks to my photographer friend for these great shots!

Opportunity to Give

Ever wish you could make a down-home difference?  I mean, do something real.  Not just send money to a consortium but see your donation actually clothe the one in need?

I do.

Which is why I was so excited to learn that one of my friends is doing just that.  Here’s an opportunity to get involved:

My friend Stephanie and her friend Ann saw a critical need during a missionary trip to a Peru orphanage: babies in desperate need of clean diapers.  Something so simple… surely there was something they could do?

Jake’s Diapers was born.

Jake’s Diapers is a cloth diaper bank founded earlier this year that has already impacted the lives of more than 100 babies in need in Congo, Haiti, as well as here in the U.S. Future shipments are planned back to the orphanage that first inspired Ann and Stephanie in Peru.  Through their efforts, babies have gotten out of re-used disposables, plastic bags, or no diapers at all and into washable, re-usable, cloth diapers. The impact on these babies’ lives and those that care for them is great; Jake’s Diapers is providing a basic necessity to uplift their lives and share God’s love with them.

Babies with Cloth Diapers from Jake's Diapers

Modeling their newly donated cloth diapers from Jake’s Diapers!

As they continue to expand their outreach, my friends at Jake’s Diapers are calling for others to join them.  Sunday Nov 3rd is Orphan Sunday, a day dedicated to the plight of the orphan, and this is a great time to become involved!

Prayerfully consider donating urgently needed items or – better yet – doing an Orphan Sunday Collection Challenge to help the babies in need. Urgently needed items include (new or used):

  • modern cloth diapers
  • cloth wipes
  • blankets
  • pillowcases (to be made into pillowcase dresses and shorts)
  • powdered formula and baby bottles
  • baby powder, coconut oil, and other rash creams
  • used suitcases and duffle bags (which are loaded with diapers for one-way trips with missionaries and other travelers)

Jake’s Diapers will send these donations to babies in need, wherever they may be. Monetary donations are also welcome, and will be put toward shipping and urgent-needs purchases. Jake’s Diapers has agreements with at least one cloth diaper producer that allows them to buy diapers for about half the price of retail.

Jake’s Diapers is a grass-roots outreach organization, which is one of the reasons I am excited about their work.  They work with other organizations and ship their supplies with missionaries and others who are traveling to areas of need. They continue to hear of needs through the grapevine and reach out in whatever way they can.  They do not yet have non-profit organization status so any donations will NOT be tax deductible.  They are in the process of completing that paperwork now.

Learn more about Jake’s Diapers and see the results of their outreach:

On Facebook: www.facebook.com/jakesdiapersforperu

On TV: www.fox11online.com/news/making-a-diff/area-women-collect-cloth-diapers-for-babies-in-need

Or email Stephanie and Ann at jakesdiapers@gmail.com to learn how to send donations.  If you know of a baby or orphanage in need, also contact Stephanie and Ann to let them know of the need.

heart made of Jake's diapers

Today’s Question

What made YOU smile today?

Sunflower

This flower may look brilliant enough to be a standard stock image, but it is actually a picture a friend sent me – the result of her gardening (and photographic) prowess!  It made me smile.  How about you?

From the fullness of His grace, we have all received one blessing after another (John 1:16)