The Widow Lamp of the Journey

(photo credit) Each year on the first Sunday in March, the Iditarod Trail Committee lights a small gas lantern and hangs it from the Burled Arch. Called the Widow’s Lamp, it remains lit until the last musher is off the Iditarod trail. The extinguishing of the lamp by the final musher signals the official end of the race. (https://iditarodoutsider.wordpress.com/tag/widows-lamp/) Life is full of journeys. Physically, emotionally, or mentally we all experience periods that require endurance, patience, and growth.  The tendency to rush a process that refuses our advances and takes its natural time to develop, often unfolding longer than we expect or hope, is familiar to most of us. For some, the start and finish of the journey is perhaps the toughest. For others, the long stretch in between,  feeling alone on the trail, exhausted, with no real sign of advancement, is the most difficult stage. Seasons of transition or waiting can be a big part of a journey where there is little light or knowledge of what is to come. Every winter in Willow, Alaska, dog sled teams start the beginning of March on the toughest marathon trail with whiteout conditions and blizzard temperatures. It is not unusual for mushers (dog sled drivers) and their dogs to push through inky Alaskan blackness, unable to see clearly what lies ahead. Yet, on the final stretch of unforgiving ice after days of remarkable journey, competitors realize the finish line is attainable with the vision of one small hanging lantern: a symbol of completion. I imagine for the musher and his team, sight of the widow’s lamp is an unparalleled prize...

Blessings Don’t Always Feel Good

We were sitting in Applebee’s when he said it. It was over steak, potatoes and salad with too much ranch dressing. “My cancer saved me, Holly.” That was the last thing I expected to come from my father’s mouth. The cancer had plagued him, kept him awake in the middle of the night due to debilitating pain and intense fear. The cancer  had robbed him of his physical health and made him look like a concentration camp victim. (he always joked he was trying out for the next Holocaust film) How in the world had cancer saved him? He continued, “Before I got cancer, I was so consumed with me. There were things I was holding onto that I would not fully give to God, until the cancer. I am at a place with God now like I’ve never been. I have peace and feel Him with me like never before.”  That day as I sat looking at him, I saw a different man before me. He didn’t look the same — his outer appearance was fading — but his inner spirit that dwelt with Christ was gleaming. Oh friends, we look at blessings so incorrectly sometimes. We always equate them with good health, prosperity, and warm, fuzzy feelings. We say, “I had a blessed Christmas” because we got a lot of things and gorged on yummy food. True, these are blessings, but what about the person in the hospital whose body is wracked in pain and feels alone? Are they not blessed? I was studying the word blessed today and the Greek meaning. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor...

What Will You Give?

Easter Week Easter is a few short days away. We will worship on Good Friday and rejoice on Easter Sunday. We know the story: Jesus came, was crucified, and rose again. The grave would not be his final resting place. No, Jesus would take his rightful place at God’s right hand. Days before Jesus’ crucifixion, religious leaders were yet again challenging Jesus’ authority. It is here, in the days before the cross, I have been challenged. Give It Away My husband and I are inconsistent about reviewing our budget. We know our expenses, and they do not change much month to month. I know how much to pull out for the upcoming month. We have tried, oh we have tried, with spreadsheets and conversations, to be diligent in this task. I promise we have. But, we are consistently inconsistent. There is one category, and only one, we have agreed will only see an increase: our giving. We give above the ten percent, but I wonder, are we giving as much as we could? Learn From A Widow And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4) She gave all she had to live on: two coins worth very little. Yet, to the Savior? She gave a...

In the Face of My Enemies

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5 Who are my enemies? I don’t have the kind of enemies King David faced every day. I don’t go into physical battle to fight other nations. I doubt my son will ever wage war against me, as David’s son did. But I do have enemies. My biggest enemy is the enemy we all have: Satan. Our accuser, the father of lies, the evil one. He’s the one who wants to steal from us, kill  and destroy us. I also face the enemies in my own heart: my pride, selfishness, apathy, jealousy, self-protective bent, and desire for comfort to name a few. Sometimes when I am struggling with these “enemies,” I have a hard time writing or sharing spiritual truth. I find it difficult to write out scriptural insights because my enemies accuse me and tell me I’m not worthy. As I was reading Psalm 23:5 one morning, it struck me that God wants to prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. When I come to Him in the morning to read the Bible, pray and write my thoughts, He has promised to spread a table before me, to give me truth and insight into His word even in the presence of my enemies of pride, selfishness and sin. Even in the presence of the accuser, the devil. When I come to Him with an open heart and mind, confessing my sin and seeking Him, He will give me truth. He will feed...

Dieting and My Christian Walk

Recently, my hubby said something in a sermon about people being willing to give God some of ourselves, maybe even most of ourselves, but until we give Him EVERY-thing, we won’t experience Christianity the way God intended. So I’m thinking to myself, “That’s sounds a lot like dieting.” (Probably because I would REALLY like a huge plate of nachos for lunch instead of the baked fish waiting on me.) The comparison occupied my mind for several days as I adjusted to my new diet. Each time I made a poor food choice, I was reminded how similar choices hinder my Christian walk. What if I eat mostly “allowed” foods, and give up all the “bad” foods except maybe one or two? Can’t I give up the extra pizza and sugary soft drinks with friends, but eat a pack of cookies in private? I mean, giving up MOST of the foods that make me fat counts for something, right? Surely giving up MOST every “forbidden” food allows me the right to a nightly bowl of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate syrup and candy coated sprinkles. Of course not! I have to wonder why so many of us do the same with our Christian walk. We give up most everything, only holding on to those “little” vices that we “deserve.” Surely giving up most of our sinful desires counts for something. Giving up MOST of our “old life” gives us the right to hang on to one little part of it, doesn’t it? I can have all the tools to get healthy. I can join a gym, carry a gym pass on my key ring, pack my gym bag...

Solid

I’m not really fussy at all. Except when it comes to chocolate. I don’t require much. All I want is my chocolate, milk or dark, to be solid. No mystery filling, not a hollow shell. Solid. Simple enough. Mystery chocolate.  Those “mystery chocolates,” the ones that you are afraid to bite into for fear of what you’ll get. Sometimes it’s a nice chocolate cream filling and other times it’s some foreign jelly like substance or worse yet, a toothpaste like filling. In any event, it’s simply not fit to be paired with chocolate.  Hollow.  But perhaps worse than a mystery chocolate, in my mind,  is a HOLLOW chocolate. Ever gotten one of those? The anticipation of a SOLID chocolate egg only to be shattered, completely shattered, by the hollowness of nothing.  Our faith and walk with Jesus really is kind of like a box of chocolates.  Am I a mystery to those I meet? I admit, my heart isn’t always aligned with Jesus and there are times when it’s easy, in the rush, distractedness and circumstances of life to give off the, “you really don’t know what you’re going to get vibe.” And, there are times when it all looks good on the surface, but go beneath only to reveal some pretty disgusting inside filling. Pride, jealously, bitterness, idolatry. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 OR Am I hollow? The faith and walk that LOOKS solid but when tested crumbles and disappoints. The shell is lovely and enticing, but cracked,...

Behind The Makeup

Over the years I’ve been blessed to serve in ministry at the local church. Most of the time you hope and pray that what you are doing is making an impact, but truth be told you never fully know just what that impact is. A good friend of mine, Michelle Garrison, shared this with me a few weeks ago and I immediately knew that this was something that needed to be talked about with you as well. This is something that many of us wrestle with, as a matter of fact, it’s one of the things that I talk/write about more than anything else: Girlfriends, vulnerability and being real with each other. It’s not easy to do, that’s for sure, but something incredible happens when we start to get behind the makeup. I pray you are as encouraged by her words as I have been…she is not an author, speaker, or even someone that likes to be in the spotlight, she’s a real woman, doing real life and trying really hard to live out her faith and I just love that about Michelle. Her words are from the heart and I know that it will challenge you as much as it did me. As I assessed my face in the makeup mirror this morning, I was so thankful that I was able to hide my imperfections under the mask of makeup. The day before, I hung around the house and wore no makeup. It is amazing how good you feel when you look all put together. On that no makeup day, I wasn’t feeling at my best. Then, my thoughts...

If You Give This Girl a Cookie

I’m sure you know the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It tells the story of a sweet little mouse who is hopelessly trapped in a circular tale of desire. He gets the cookie and realizes he wants milk. The milk makes him need napkin. The napkin reminds him that he wants to color. Coloring reminds him that he’s hungry. And so it goes… A couple of months ago, I re-read this book inside Minneapolis’ Wild Rumpus Bookstore for Children. As a chicken ran around my feet and a cat nuzzled my leg, I was struck by this bedtime story’s similarity to my twenty-something life. Then again, isn’t that often how it goes with things that were meant for little ones? Because, for as far as I’d like to imagine that I’ve come, I’m really no better than the mouse. Except we’ve swapped cookies and coloring for larger circumstances, life-related answers, and more adult-sized longings: If the Lord gives Maddie a cookie, she’ll probably wonder where she’s going to eat the cookie. When the Lord tells her where she can eat the cookie, she’ll probably wonder who she can share the cookie with. When the Lord tells her that the people she will share the cookie with aren’t here yet, she’ll probably wonder when they will show up. In waiting for them to show up, she’ll probably realize she wants some milk to go along with the cookie. So she’ll start praying for milk. When the Lord gives her a glass of milk, she’ll drink it (probably forgetting to say “thank you”) and then ask for a napkin to wipe her face with....

No Ordinary Love

Matthew 27:45-46, 51-53 From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I began the week wading in thoughts of the selfless love of Christ on the cross. The time between the famous “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” and his last mortal breaths was where I dropped anchor. I pondered the suspension. It is a picture of unprecedented darkness. A place where God seemingly abandons his son by placing humanity’s plight on his back to burrow. The darkest of dark. Abject abandonment and withdrawal of God from earth.  As I sipped my morning coffee, I let it sink in. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[c] went into the holy city and appeared to many people. A probing question circled up from my warm cup: “Why did Christ (who was above reproach) at the stygian hour continue forward in what must have been a most unusual experience for the Trinity— something completely unnatural— an unbearable separation?” As the only place in scripture where Christ’s words imply triune separation, I imagine it was a new experience for the Godhead. And I presume no person since has experienced that kind of complete withdrawal of God on earth. Hebrews 13:5b And God has said, “Never will I leave...

Still Frame

{The Vision} I looked out to see sheets of green dipping into valleys where early morning shadows hovered over the moist earth, only to build up again into curved slopes where wind curled and crashed over the top. From my mind’s eye, the hills stretched up, each touching the horizon in sequence, continuing into an infinitely of wide-open space. Eyes closed, I’d take off running towards the skyline, tension in my arms and the wind at my back. {The Backstory} I spent most of my childhood, until age 13, on a single street in rural North Carolina. Summers were my favorite. I’d wake up early, pick out mismatched clothes from my beloved pickled oak cabinet, and hurry out in search of the morning. A pasture bordered one side of our house. The rusty barbed wire fence, overgrown with prairie grass, separated us from a few cattle, occasionally grazing. The pasture, though small, would not only become a backdrop for some of the first conversations I’d have with God, it would appear as a still frame on a reel of memories, long after my family moved away. God knew that certain events in my life would crush me. He knew that I’d believe things about myself that weren’t true: that I would compare myself to others. Was I enough? Was I too much? He knew that I would strive to please, and how heavy this self-made mantle would become…with anxiety, panic, and exhaustion. He knew that I would make decisions, albeit with good intentions, in order to gain control. He knew that others would betray me, and how many sleepless...