Monday, December 27, 2010

There's a Puzzle on my Kitchen Table...

Steve and I have been sitting at our kitchen table every evening for the past 11 days putting a puzzle together – at the request of our sweet Maggie.

I love puzzles, but rarely take the time to sit still long enough to focus and successfully place the pieces in their predestined spaces. However, this puzzle is special and so we persist.

Maggie has been gone these past 11 days, visiting a friend in California. She planned the trip months ago. She purchased her own tickets and eagerly anticipated the trip. But as the day drew nearer we all realized this would be a tough time to be apart. We relish the holiday season and enjoy the fireside, cookie baking, Christmas lights together. She will arrive home 36 hours before Christmas, and so the holidays have felt “different” with our Maggie away.

But she left a gift behind. Actually she left 13 gifts behind, one for each day she would be gone. Here were her instructions to us:
“Each day at 4:00PM when dad is home from work, go into my room, turn on my cd player, play Charlie Brown Christmas music, open my Mac and click on the prerecorded message to you for that day. Then follow the instructions of the message, and finally, call me on the phone.”
She had Christmas candy overflowing from silver servers she decorated her desk with – candy canes spilling out of the silver teapot. It was decorated elegantly with that perfect Maggie touch.
First, her video message would lovingly greet us and share something special she was thankful for in our home, our relationships, or our walk with God. Beautiful reminders from our daughter of what she has received in her heart as she has grown up in our home. Next, she would tell us which Christmas movie she wanted us to watch that evening (she had all the Christmas movies stacked neatly on a side table).  She would share a “Maggie Commentary” on each movie and then remind us to choose a box for the day (there were 13 boxes pyramid stacked on one side of the desk). We would choose a box, which held several puzzle pieces ---- and carefully carry them to our kitchen table to continue on the with the project of completing the beautiful Christmas puzzle. Several days into the routine, we realized the puzzle would reveal a photograph of Maggie and a message from her. A hidden message, one we would have to be patient and diligent to uncover.

So each day we have sat dutifully and attended to the puzzle pieces on our kitchen table, eager to complete the project and find the hidden message.

You may have already learned this lesson, or at least experienced it at some level. It was not a new concept to me, but it came packaged in a fresh new way that ministered to my wonderings of late.

A puzzle is much like our walk with God. With all its pieces and all the unknowns, there are still truths we can hold on to and these should never be ignored. (If ignored, life can become hopeless.)

With the puzzle --- we know there are many pieces, and it will take time to find the home of each uniquely designed part. With this puzzle, we have only been receiving a few pieces at a time. So patience was key. We knew eventually we would complete the puzzle and the fullness of the message would be clear. But we could do NOTHING about the mystery of the unknown pieces until they found their way to the table.
With life --- we know certain things about our life, but much of it is still a mystery. We know what color our eyes are and what our favorite food is, but we do not know what tomorrow, or next week, or next month will look like. We can have an idea, but we do not know for certain. It is a mystery. We do not have all the details we would need to even make an educated guess. We can not guess or presume to know, we do not have all the pieces.
With God ---- we can find a deep, abiding peace in knowing that He has all the pieces, He knows what the finished puzzle of life will look like. HE and only HE can make it a beautiful finished product.

No one – no one --- knows. No matter how successful, how wealthy, how healthy, or how happy they are --- no one knows what the finished puzzle of their life will look like.

God does.

And what’s more, He wants the outcome to be beautiful and worthwhile.
God was the designer of the puzzle called me. God designed the puzzle called you.

I’ve received just enough wisdom from God to know, that in my hands alone, my puzzle is in trouble. But when I remove my hands from trying to manipulate the pieces and when I rest my mind from trying to manage the results, when I wait for God to reveal the pieces and place them according to His good plans, life has hope and becomes exquisite. It becomes so --- because the Creator of the stars has His hands on the pieces and I get to simply enjoy the feeling of being “placed” by Him.

Our flesh wants to be in charge. But our soul knows we are unfit for the task. 
Our mind thinks it could maybe figure out where to place the pieces. But our soul knows our mind will never be able to accomplish in 3 lifetimes what God can accomplish in one.

I want the puzzle on my kitchen table to be complete. But it is not.
I want the puzzle of my life to reveal glimpses to me of what the outcome will look like. But it will not.
I want to place my puzzle in the hands of the One who can orchestrate the most with the pieces. And He will.
It’s a matter of patience, endurance, and surrender.

I wouldn’t want to see what would be pieced together if left in my human hands.
I look forward to seeing the finished product in His.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

(photo by Steve, of Maggie's puzzle to us)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Faith at 19,000 feet...

The gentle bumping and rocking of the small plane doesn’t give me concern. The fact that we’re rocking along to the noise of the sputtering plane engine at an altitude of about 19,000 feet in the air, with wind currents that seem to playfully toss the plane about in a sort of childhood type game doesn’t cause alarm. Instead I actually love the feeling of being jolted about a bit in the air, in a tiny plane, knowing we will either fly through safely or not --- and God is the One who decides; I’m comforted that there is nothing for me to do but to sit and trust. And I allow myself, at my inner core, to imagine I’m a child being rocked about in a cradle with a parent that is in control. It’s not something I convince myself of, it’s just the way I naturally respond to the turbulence felt in a small aircraft bouncing through the atmosphere.

Flying from Nairobi, Kenya north to Lodwar, we fly over a portion of the Great Rift Valley and watch in silent awe as the landscape below us transforms from what feels like one planet to another. We leave the lush, greenery of the Rift Valley and slowly relinquish the shades of green to tints of browns. The “life” seems to be drained out of the earth before our very eyes. Flying over the equator, we laughingly remark that there really is “no red line” defining that mystical line our minds have tattooed in red marking this outermost point circling our world.  The roads all merge into one road that travels a perilous path to northern Kenya. We opted to fly, because the drive can be much more dangerous and the journey of 18+ hours on land is efficiently covered in 3 hours in our 10 passenger prop.  The noise inside our silver capsule doesn’t allow for chit-chat among us, but instead noisily guides us to plug Ipods in, listening to music, and for me praising and praying. I love the moments, that can roll into hours for me – when I’m left alone to just talk with and listen to my Daddy God. And that was the agenda for the 3+ hours I flew over the earth He created through the sky He made.

The views were perfectly matched by the soundtrack of praise being played in my ears. It was a time of surreal positioning 19,000 feet above the norm of my gravity laden world; I embrace the opportunity to “hear” my Father’s voice.

Years before this, I had come to know the deep, unearthly goodness, the peace that surpasses what words can express, as I learned to pray intimately to my God for those around me, and in pursuit of the me He looks on --- not the me I live with, but the Donna He sees. And in those moments of being in His presence, my one complete addiction took hold --- nothing compares to holding onto His ankle (or laying my head on His toe), breathing the air that surrounds my Father as I feel the wisp of His robes swirling about me, and listening, just listening to the sounds that come from Him to me. But that’s for another posting…

So I relished the thoughts of my 3+hour flight with Him.

Just north of the equator, our prop plane flew into a bank of white clouds that allowed us continued glimpses of the earth below for a short time, but then seemed to encapsulate us in a God sized cotton ball. We rode silently through the blue skies with nothing but white softness below us, beside us, and above us. We could see the delicate shapes of the clouds and distinguish one cloud from another as they overlapped one another and completely surrounded us. The phenomenon was beautiful beyond description, we were wrapped in a world of white beauty. And that’s when my Father whispered to my heart.
“You can’t see the ground below you anymore, but you KNOW it is there. That, my dear daughter, is faith.”
When God through the Holy Spirit speaks so clearly to my heart and mind like this, I often times spin my head around just to see if perhaps someone else caught it too. It’s so CLEAR and real.
But no one else in my flying silver capsule seemed to notice and so I resumed my window view and began the daughter dialogue with my Daddy God.
I revisited the verse in Hebrews – about faith being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you can not see. And I listened.

You see, I was nervous about meeting these people we were flying to serve. In the remote areas where we would be going, they live exactly as their ancestors have lived for hundreds of years. They do not know my world and I knew I was not ready for theirs. And so this journey was a step, leap, well --- it was actually more like a hurl of faith. God wanted us to serve there, to go there, to see, and to be changed there in HIS hands. And so we were simply obeying.
But first, He, in His goodness, would teach me a sweet truth about faith at 19,000 ft. over the world.

I could not see the ground below us, it was, if relying on sight alone, it was gone. But my mind KNEW the ground was most certainly below us, as it had always been. I knew there were people, trees, animals, rivers, I knew there was life just beyond where my eyes were being allowed to visit. But none of it could be seen. I looked up to see the blue sky I knew would be above me, for it had always been there. For over 4 decades I had looked up and seen the sky over my head. But on that day, there was only white. I KNEW the sky was over head, it had always been there, it’s a core reality of life right --- the sky is overhead and the ground is underneath. But for miles and miles of bumpy reality ---- the sky and the ground were not in sight. If I relied on what I could see --- the earth and sky were gone. But if I inferred with what I knew and had experienced, if I tapped into what I had learned and been told by others, I could move forward with the complete assurance the earth and sky were unchanged and very much present, but simply out of my range of sight for a time.
That is faith.
To KNOW that what you can not see is there.
To KNOW because of what you have learned and experienced in the past, that just beyond what you can see --- is the reality of what is real ---- that is faith.
It’s a place of unearthly reality ---- that carries God’s smile and our quizzical wonderings.
God and I conversed for miles and miles about His lesson to me about faith. He shared with me that there would be more lessons of faith in my earthly existence. He clarified to me, it was vitally important to receive each lesson obediently and with a childlike surrender, so I could move to the next level and know more.
More about faith.
More about HIM.
More from Him.
Less of the confusion of this world.
Less of the dependence on what I can or can not see.

In the clouds over Kenya, faith came alive for me. I revisit those clouds often when the clouds of doubt and trouble surround me. I remember ---- and smile.

"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."
Hebrews 11:1

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The King's most treasured possession...

(Written for and given to a beautiful young lady who loves her Heavenly Father, wants to live for Him, but is wounded and unappreciated by those around her in this world. I share it now with you --- in case you are or you know someone who is "the daughter of the King".)

There once was a King, a wise, honored, much loved King who ruled over many lands. He was handsome and brave and all who looked on him, both men and women, thought him to be the most remarkable of men who ever lived.

The King had a daughter who looked very much like her father: the King loved her with all his heart. While every day the King had many matters to attend to and many people asking him for help and guidance, always the King was most attentive to the world surrounding his daughter. For she was his treasure.

Those living in the kingdom were loved and cared for by the kind, wise king as well, but many of them cared more for their lands and their wealth than they cared about the King’s guidance and instructions towards them. For they had a secret hope that they too someday could become as successful and as wise as the King himself. So while they were thankful for the goodness of the King, deep inside they longed to have what he possessed.

His daughter, the treasure of his heart, cared only for the King himself. She did not let her eyes wander to the things that caught the attention of others, for her heart was fully devoted to her father, the King.
Because of this loving devotion, the treasured daughter grew more beautiful with each passing year. Soon, her beauty began to reflect the handsomeness of her father, and those in the kingdom took note of her transformation.

With the seed of greed growing in their own hearts, they longed to have what she undoubtedly possessed, and so they began to press her for her attentions and for her secret. They wanted to know her more, to share in her good fortune, so they could become acquainted with the secret of her glowing appearance. They wanted what she had - and if necessary, they would use her to try and get it.
But as the beautiful daughter had grown in her love for her father the King, and as her heart had become more and more like his, she had bloomed from the inside out with a beauty and wisdom that grows out of the soul. It can not be touched by the hands of greed or self ---- it can only be tended by the hands of a loving King. And this was the pearl that grew steadfastly inside the daughter of the King.
As she grew in beauty, wisdom rooted in her soul and glowed from her eyes. And with this wisdom she came to know she would only be safe in the hands of her father, the King. For many in the land wanted what she had, but would be careless with her.

In her wisdom, the daughter of the King sat quietly in his counsel and she listened intently to his words. Many around her clamored for other things, and at times their lives looked enticing and intriguing. But deep inside the daughter knew, her peace and good pleasure would come through the wisdom of the King. And so she held true.

She was loving and kind. She cared for those around her deeply and often offered her gentle hands of care and support to them. But she never gave herself over to their ways. She held fast to the guidance of her father, the King. And each night when she lay her head on her pillow, she kept her thoughts on the ways of the King and the peace of his words comforted her heart and mind.

Other fair ladies in the land were courted and wed, each with the hopes of becoming the wife to someone who would someday become as magnificent as the King. Young steeds in the land sought the attention of the King’s daughter and while she would enjoy conversation with them and encourage them in their quest of knight hood, she never veered far from keeping the focus on the ways of her father. She valued most --- the ways of the King.

As time passed, the daughter grew in beauty, --- deep, profound beauty --- until the King himself knew she had become the most enchanting in the land. She had grown in wisdom, had chosen his ways above all else, and had kept herself separate from her suitors who pursued more than just her heart. It was at that time, the King knew she was fully ready to receive the greatness of the gift he had been secretly preparing for her during all the years since the day of her birth.

There was a young knight, who had been born to a simple farmer,  the farmer was a man of depth and character. While it is true knights are usually born in homes of royalty, the king knew the boy to have the heart of a knight, and so from birth, the King saw the young boy for the knight he was destined to become.The farmer had raised the boy in the same wisdom that flowed threw the heart of the King, and the boy had grown into a man of character and purity. The young man desired what was right and true, honorable and good. The young man had a heart that paralleled that of the King when he had been of that same age. No one in the land had taken note of the young boy, no one except his father the farmer, and the King. For the boy did nothing to draw attention to himself, he was simply focused on growing with depth of soul and character of heart.

When the time came, the King knew the boy would become the man he would share his most treasured possession with. For she had grown from the seed of his soul and the boy had grown with the ability to adore what was to be treasured most.

In the commotion and busy rush of the kingdom, few were wise enough to pause and see the beauty that resided among them. To many were focused on how they could have what the King had ----- to few were focused on how they could become like the King. And so most missed the beautiful union of the King’s most treasured possession to the quiet farm boy whose soul was a perfect fit. But the joy of the two--- the Kings daughter, and the Kings chosen one for her ---- was so true and deep, the King took good pleasure in knowing they too would raise little ones who would grow in wisdom and truth. They would continue to plant seeds in the souls of his grandchildren that would enable their eyes to want what the King could grow in their hearts.

And the King was very pleased with his most treasured possessions -- for they were a reflection of Him.

For God is the King of all the earth;
   sing to him a psalm of praise.  Psalm 47:7

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

From the Wood in my Wheelbarrow

What’s this? “Surely this woman is losing her marbles…” some might posture. But in truth, when the marbles in our heads stop colliding with each other and clanging around in our minds, we are sometimes better equipped to “hear”, to actually “hear” what is being whispered to us in constant, gentle, steady, patient streams of life-giving words.  Words that don’t actually come from the wood in the wheelbarrow; what a frightening notion it would be if they truly did. But rather, when the “madness” of life is held at bay just long enough for us to “hear” the steady flow of messages being sent to us from God above through the work of the Holy Spirit. And since He is God, the creator of the wood, and the Holy Spirit is His messenger to us, it makes perfect sense , in a wonderfully odd way, that God could whisper to me through the wood in my wheelbarrow. Only God. That’s the beauty.

Our family loves to sit by a glowing fire in our cozy family room. We have opted to decline the pleasures of the central heating system on the main floor of our home and instead we fully embrace the good pleasures of a warm fire on cold days. We’re a bit odd there some would say. We love the whole process: downing the dead trees surrendered by nature for our firewood, splitting the wood into usable pieces, stacking and storing the promised winter warmth, hauling the wood to our precious front porch, and even stoking the fire to ensure the continued presence of our warm glowing friend throughout the cold wintry days in Georgia. We love it all. It’s a way we remind ourselves of our dependence on God’s provision and we see and feel His blessings in the warmth of that fire.

Friday, I snuck out to the woodshed to load the wheelbarrow with more wood to be delivered to the front porch. I have to sneak, since my dear husband and sons would much prefer I let them bring in the wood. (I love being a lady who lives with gentlemen.) But the boys were away, Steve was on an errand, and I seized the opportunity. Loading the dried oak pieces onto our decades old wheelbarrow, I talked with God as I worked. Sweet are the moments when the tasks at hand will allow the heart, mind, and soul to visit with their Father. And as I prayed for those on my heart, the whisper came to me while carrying the wood in the wheelbarrow.
“What sort of wood do you want to be?” was the thought, the whisper, the pondering that came to me. “What? I wouldn’t want to be any sort of wood Lord. Wood is destroyed, used up, of value for a season or two, but then forgotten and only remembered in the ashes that are strewn after its sacrifice to our warmth.”

And then it came more clearly. How very much like wood we all are. Silly perhaps, but I saw and heard the connection.

Someday, we will be used up – we will not live forever – we will see the ending of our days.
We may seem of value for a season or two, just like the firewood in my wheelbarrow. Granted our “season” will hopefully last for years. But eventually our summer will turn to fall, which will roll into our winter, and we will come to our end.
We are told in God’s Word, and we know it to be true, dust will return to dust and ashes to ashes. We will not always be here. Period.
And what will remain after us will be the legacy in the ashes left behind. Will our ashes leave a remembrance of warmth or a chill?
In the end, we will come to an end. But not many of us want to dwell on those sort of thoughts --- for we are fully alive and want to embrace life instead. Yet there is value, great value, in pondering the possibilities of the end results with regards to our present choices.

Still, the whisper came to me, “What kind of wood do you want to be Donna?”
Not all wood is used as firewood. Some wood lives and dies in the forest, never having been seen by anyone --- only known by its surrounding brothers and sisters and the animals that lived on it, ate from it, or rested near it for a time. Some wood becomes lumber to be used for building roofs, walls, floors, and ceilings. Other wood is used for making furniture or carvings. Sometimes, the tallest and strongest wood is used to form beams that will be forged into great ships or offer supports in massive buildings of beautiful character. All this came to mind as the whisper came to my heart. What kind of wood do you want to be?
Some among us do not pause to wonder that there might be options; choices that could be weighed and pondered and allow us to make decisions that give way to us being forged into a strong beam, or becoming a perch for those who need to rest, or giving ourselves completely for the short but certain warmth of another.
Granted, some choices are taken from us, we can not alter where we were planted or what opportunities have or have not come our way. But we do have many options before us regardless of the circumstances we are handed.

In truth, we have a Father who is persistently hopeful we will  “be still and know that He is God”. And in the certainty of who He is, He allows us to make choices concerning who we will be. Yes, He knows the plans He has for us, and they are not to harm us, but to give us a hope and a future. But God in His sovereignty has not created us to be puppets. He has chosen to give us the ability to learn, think, and decide for ourselves --- What do we want? Who do we want? What matters most to us? Who do we believe? Who is our God? What do we do with Him?

Therein lies the importance to the simple question. What kind of wood do you want to be? When the ashes are strewn after your seasons are finished, what will be the legacy they whisper in the wind.
Each of our answers might be different. They are actually suppose to be, right?

It’s in the search for the personal answer that we are better equipped to pursue the warm fire, or peaceful perch, or safe covering, or strong beam, or comfortable place for others to sit and rest.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
   I will be exalted among the nations,
   I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

What kind of wood do you want to be?
How will our choices exalt Him among the nations and in the earth?
Even in a piece of “wood” there are so many possibilities.

(I’m so thankful to have grown in a tree near yours.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lessons from my Christmas Garland

New garland is so lovely whether fresh off the tree or fresh out of the package. It looks so beautiful gracing the banisters, mantels, and doorways of homes during the Christmas season. We lavish it with ribbon and entwine it with sparkling lights, and for the festive season of December, the twinkling decorations entertain our awaiting eyes.
Then when the holiday season is passed, the garland is either tossed in the fire or stored away until next year. This is when the garland can best begin sharing her lessons with us.
Each year I decorate our home with the kind of garland that can be stored away each year and reused year after year. This is for purposes of thriftiness, to save a few dollars and also to allow the trees to keep their life and limbs. This year as I retrieved the garland from its large green Tupperware nest, and carefully placed it on the mantel and stairwell, Mrs. Garland has some personal revelations for me that I’ll now share with you. She is tired and in some ways, she’s falling apart, but she will do all she can to extend her grassy wires and hold the ribbons and lights once again this year.  As I tied her securely to the stairway railings, her plastic green foliage shed as if she were a cat in the springtime. I remained focused on my task, tying the limbs, twirling the ribbons, and twisting in the lights. Knowing that after the trimmings were complete, I would diligently clean up the fallen greenery. It was then that the lesson came to me.

We are so much like Mrs. Garland aren’t we? We do our best to accomplish what is asked of us, to hold everything in place, and shine brightly for those who pass by us. But we, personally, deep in our gut, we know so often we’re falling apart and we need to be cleaned up, freshened up, restored.
Mrs. Garland can do nothing about her aging, and neither can we, but this lesson is not about the aging part of our year-to-year activities. The lesson is more about our year-to-year baggage, our heartaches, the things that have happened to us as we waited for the next season of decoration, the tremblings in our soul that have left us unable to hold on to all our pretty foliage. We hope sincerely others around us will only notice the twirling ribbons and the shiny lights entwined in our existing foliage. We hope they will not pause long enough to look down, at the ground around us, and see the many scattered pieces that lay shattered and fallen. Just like Mrs. Garland, we weakly hold up our distracting decorations, hoping someone will come along quickly and clean up what has fallen off.
Mrs. Garland has no hope, no options, after all --- she is simply a man-made decoration with a limited warranty at best.
But we, people with souls and hearts and aging bodies, are not man-made (although some choose to add on man-made parts). We are not meant to be decorations and our warranty is not limited. Yet so often in the reality of life, we act as if we are sisters to Mrs. Garland.
Yes, we do age, and scripture says our days are numbered from the first to the last, but we were not created to decorate and amuse. We were created with an eternal purpose in mind. Our trembling “limbs” might become tired and weak, after all, life can be so very hard on us. But we have a Savior eagerly waiting to “make all things new”.
When life deals a blow that makes us tremble or ache or even moan in pain, we may drop some of our pieces, we may begin to fall apart. We may even wonder if we can continue to hold all the trimmings and tinsel that decorates our world. But God is there. He may or may not take away or change the circumstance, but He will use each and every detail to enhance the beauty of our lives. He and only He can gather up the painful pieces and re-graft them into our lives, making our branches fuller and more complete than they were in our initial, brand new state. Only God can bring beauty from the ashes and shine His light into our dark spaces. The twinkling lights we fill our “branches” with will undoubtedly have holes and gaps of unlit darkness, but God can and will fill those places with His Light, if we allow Him to tend us and remake us.
All too often, we think we are the only ones who can manage our lives and decorate our limbs. We worry over what has fallen off, but we can’t seem to “fix it”. So we focus on what we can hold, all the time lamenting deep inside over the parts that fell and shattered.
Our God is a good, good God. He stands at the door and knocks, hoping we will ask Him to come in. Come in and adjust the decorations He has blessed us with, clean up what has been messed up, and fill up the dark places with His Light.

Mrs. Garland will see my vacuum cleaner suck up and throw away the pieces she could no longer manage to hold.
Not so with our Lord. All we have to do, is open the door to Him, and surrender the decorating to His most able hands.

Revelations 21:5 – …”I am making everything new.”

©2010 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe