Monday, October 26, 2015

The Faithful Farmer

My Great Uncle Paul was a farmer. He grew corn and soybeans. But instead of driving a tractor down long rows, planting seeds until he grew old, he traded farm machinery for a car and wore a path between the homestead and the assisted living and nursing care facility in his small hometown. His wife Donna Lou, diagnosed with Huntington's Disease, went to live there when she was 62.

I remember Donna Lou as a happy, friendly lady with curly salt and pepper hair and cheeks that made her eyes disappear when she smiled. She used to organize extended family gatherings at the farm, where the tables groaned with fabulous food.

I also remember the woman Uncle Paul would sit with, wheel around the halls, and feed. Her head would loll to one side, she needed a bib, and she could not communicate. Uncle Paul's commitment to cultivating a life with her never wavered.

She lived with Huntington's for 17 years.

Paul and Donna Lou had three daughters, Barb, Jackie, and Teresa. Jackie and Teresa inherited the neurodegenerative genetic disorder from their mom. Jackie died in 2007, two years before her mom, at 56, and Barb and her husband Rick took Teresa into their home and cared for her until she died last week at 58.

Imagine burying three members of your immediate family. It would challenge the strongest seed sower to find good in the soil of that situation.

But not Uncle Paul. Now in his eighties, through it all he has always maintained that God is good. All the time. And the faith he modeled for his family planted deep roots of trust and hope in each of them. At the funeral Saturday, someone shared how Teresa, Barb, and Rick chose to start each day. They recited Philippians 4:13 together: I can do all things through Christ Who gives me strength. That seed of faith was sown years before the difficult times came, and sustained them when they had a difficult row to hoe.

I have been blessed to have many seed sowers in my family--persevering people, like my Uncle Paul, who quietly lived out their faith before me.

Thanks, Uncle Paul.

What seeds are you sowing in this season for the difficult times ahead? 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


I tried not to think as I walked in the afternoon shade. Re-entry had been intense after our weekend away and Dakota's disappearance, and all I wanted was to be present, unplugged, in the cool of the woods.

It caught my eye because I was looking down, watching my step among the pinecones and dead branches.

Its beauty wasn't what drew me to it. It was the holes.

The leaf bore the scars of its diseased host. Tiny holes freckled its surface, and the grey brown gave no hint of its original color.

I picked it up and turned it over to see if any of its original beauty remained. Yellow tinges of what once was were muted by a deeper brown, and the tiny holes looked like dark specks.

Disease is hard to live with. I want to present my whole self--not my holey self--to the world. I want people to see my beautiful colors, not my grey-brown underside.

As I stared at it, I remembered the words of the apostle Paul:

But this beautiful treasure is contained in us
cracked pots made of earth and clay—
so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen 
as coming from God and not from us. 
(II Corinthians 4:7)

The beautiful treasure, the transcendent power Paul is talking about is the presence of God. God wants to make Himself known through my life. "Cracked" is what I'm supposed to be, so that others will be attracted to His presence, His power they see at work in me.

I find that so challenging. How can the authentic display of my brokenness help others see God? Won't they just see the holes, not the Light shining through them?

That leaf was literally eaten alive. Any who passed by while it was hanging on its branch would've pitied its condition, but its existence brought greater understanding of its Creator to me on my casual walk. While that leaf was still green and holey, no one would've suspected that would its purpose. 

Yet, when I held it up to the light, it became a thing of beauty. 

So here's the question I'm asking myself: do others see my dark specks or pinholes of Light when they look at me?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Running Scared vs Running Free

As I watched Dakota chase the ball in the backyard, I marveled she ran with abandon. I could tell that she felt free and safe, very different emotions than the one that sparked her 42-hour adventure this past weekend.

Six days ago, Dakota ran out of extreme fear. She had been enjoying all that our friends' farm had to offer: another dog to play with and several cats to chase, chickens, a rabbit, and kids to interact with. The loud crack of a falling tree spooked her, and she took off, trying to get away from whatever horrible thing she perceived was happening.

She was surrounded by the same loving people who had been taking care of her and playing with her for two days, and she was completely safe. But all rational thought left her pretty head in that moment, and all she could focus on was fleeing fear.

I see myself in Dakota.

I’d like to think I possess greater reasoning skills when faced with sudden, unforeseen, perceived danger, but often my reaction is similar to hers. RUN! FLEE! TAKE CONTROL! I can jump to a conclusion, determine a course of action, and set the wheels in motion before someone can get my attention, slow me down, and correct my perception.

This happens most often when I believe it’s all up to me. When I think that I must protect myself, that I must discern the best way through, that I must avoid failing at all costs, I forget Who I’ve trusted my life to, Who is truly in control and loves me.

Just like Dakota, I’ve bolted.

In complete hysterics, I’ve gone off on a crazy tear down some unknown country road, not knowing where I was and not knowing that until I finally stopped to catch my breath.

But it has always been the quiet Voice of the Lord that has guided me back to what I knew to be true, back to reality, back to belief.

When my dear Girlie came back from her adventure, she sniffed out the yard and rested. During this week I’ve sensed that she has become increasingly more aware that she is Home, that we are the people who deeply love her. She knows she’s safe, so she can play fetch and run. Freely.

Today, watching Dakota, I remember, too.

I can run because the Lord deeply loves me and has set my heart free.

How do you typically respond to fear? What has helped you find your way back?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I thought that today’s blog would be about something I observed while Bob and I were in Montreal on our anniversary trip this past weekend.

I also thought it would be more my “normal” length. (I just thought it fair to warn you.)

But all that changed when Bob got a text Sunday as we were preparing for our flight. It was from our friends who were taking care of our dog Dakota:

Dakota was being brought back in from playing in the field
and a Bradford pear tree fell and spooked her.
She ran around the house and up the driveway.
Paula hit the shock collar button but she didn't stop.
We have looked and looked and cannot find her. 
We have alerted our county shelter and all our neighbors. 
I know Jenn will be devastated.
I am sorry.

Suddenly Bob and I knew firsthand how anyone who has ever lost someone or something very important feels. Disbelief, shock, fear, anxiety, numbness...

The place we had fully enjoyed was now the last place we wanted to be. We just wanted to get back home.

Facing the fact that we were utterly helpless, we joined hands and Bob prayed. "God, You care when things are lost. A lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost boy. We ask that you bring our lost Dakota back to us."

After we prayed, a verse came to mind:
"Look at the birds in the sky. They do not store food for winter. They don't plant gardens.
They do not sow or reap--and yet, they are always fed because your heavenly Father feeds them.
And you are even more precious to Him than a beautiful bird.
If He looks after them, of course He will look after you." (Matthew 6:26)

I'd read that so many times, even memorized it a few years ago. But never before had Jesus' words about how my heavenly Father cares for His creatures meant so much to me.

We headed to the airport where our attempt at a standby flight failed. While we waited, Bob channeled his emotions into composing "missing dog" posts on Facebook. We were each fighting for faith in our own way, but I couldn't get involved in Bob's efforts. I knew all it would do was increase my anxiety. I had to physically turn my back so that I wouldn't get drawn in.

Finally on board, we each began to rehearse the misgivings we'd had about leaving Dakota at the farm. Both of us had thought something like this could happen--it was one of the few times we had left her since we found her by the side of the road 18 months ago. But we couldn’t go back and change any of it. We accepted that it was a freak accident and waited.

We landed, hustled to our car, and headed home. We hardly arrived in the vicinity before we lost daylight. Bob pulled out flashlights and we drove slowly with the headlights on high, breathing prayers and straining into the darkness for her.

We didn’t find her.

As we drove, I asked Bob what strategy we should implement the next day. I needed to do something to ward off the helplessness. Bob was pretty sure Dakota wouldn't be found by driving the roads and calling her name. We'd just have to trust that someone would find her and call us.  

We sat in silence for the rest of the 45-minute drive home.

Back in our kitchen, Bob looked at me and said, "I don't know how to do this." I told him that he didn't have to know how, that he didn't have to be strong. All I knew was that we needed to hold onto hope until there was reason not to.

Now it was my turn to put out the word. I texted friends and asked them to pray against coyotes.

Sleep didn't come easily.

But early yesterday, in the middle of the morning rush at Starbucks, my boss handed me the phone. It was Bob.

"Jesus answered your prayers."

Somehow, Dakota had made her way back to our friends' farm and was found curled up asleep on their back porch.

We both cried happy tears.

Bob went on to share what God had told him when he woke up in the middle of the night and asked what he was supposed to learn from this situation. He said, "It seemed like God said to me, 'If Dakota comes back, it's because I love you. If Dakota doesn't come back, I still love you.’"

I am still processing what God wants me to learn and what parallels this experience has to my own walk of faith. But here’s where I am so far: just like Dakota found her way home, God has put within each of us the need to find Home, to know peace and safety in His Arms. I believe He allows us to come to the realization that we are far from Him before He shows us how to get Home, so that we will know what He saved us from.

Dakota is still sleeping off her little adventure. Meanwhile, Bob and I are hugely relieved and utterly grateful and completely amazed...and a little more aware of what it means to be...Home.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Getting a Grip

This past weekend, I received an unusual gift. My dear friend Molly and her husband Mark had just spent the entire rainy weekend (thank you, Hurricane Joaquin) moving all their worldly possessions into their new house.

When we visited them Sunday night, I noticed a bunch of glassware in the kitchen being staged for their new places within the cabinets. I hadn't remembered packing sets of camouflage gloves, though.

While we were eating dinner, she said, "Oh hey, I have something for you." She handed me one of the pairs I'd just seen on the counter.

As I examined them, I noticed the palms were completely coated with silicone.

"They're for when you need to get a better grip on something," she said. While we'd packed her belongings over the summer, we'd struggled to lift awkward-shaped cardboard boxes and other gangly items; she knew I'd appreciate them. Molly also has rheumatoid arthritis, and one of the side effects is the inability to get a firm grip on things like jars.

When I glimpsed these in my utensil drawer today, I was touched by her kindness. She knows me and my desire to have a firm hold, not only on boxes, but life. I'm thankful every single day for her presence in my life. She is so generous--not only in gifting me with those glove. She shows me how to let go of daily parenting as an empty nester and a reminds me Whose Hand to reach for when life seems to be giving me the slip. Love you, Molly!

Has someone ever helped you get a grip? I'd love to hear your story today.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Oval Track vs The Open Road

Yesterday in church, our pastor said, "You cannot passively achieve what you do not actively pursue." When I heard this, my mental engine revved: "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

But I couldn't put the car in gear.

It feels like I've been sitting in neutral at the starting line since June. I thought I'd rack up all kinds of productive miles with the extra time I have after cutting back my hours at Starbucks. Instead, I've found that I'm reluctant to press the accelerator.

I grew up in Indiana, home to the Indy 500.  If you're not familiar with The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, let me bring you up to speed: professional drivers maneuver high performance cars at speeds in excess of 200 mph around a 2.5 mile oval track for 200 laps on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend for a prize of $2.5 million before 250,000 fans. Interesting job, if you can get it.

I consider myself skilled; not race car driver skilled, but still. Lately, as I've had more time to examine those and consider how I might use them in some way other than serving people and coffee, I feel like I'm a circling a track than a tearing up the strip.

I don't think God intended my life to be defined by how I fast I can steer through turns one through four, or how fast I can maneuver through traffic on the straightaways. But I'm used to the pressure of the race's pace, the roar of approval from the fans, and the thrill of seeing the checkered flag waving as I finish the final lap. God is showing me He wants me to exit the track and drive.

There's open road before me and I don't know what to do with it.

Where am I going? 
How long will it take to get there? 
Are you saying I should go NOW? 
Do you want me to go by myself? 
Who has the directions?

He's just saying, "Drive."

Friday, October 2, 2015

Truth or Consequences

It’s either truth or consequences, there’s no other way;
Put truth aside, the other takes its place.
Well, you can close your eyes but that won’t make it go away;
The truth or consequences must be faced.
--Steven Curtis Chapman

It was a cold cold night in Michigan at a winter retreat when I decided to retaliate against a friend’s meanness by freezing her underwear to the hood of the church bus and standing it up outside her cabin door. It wasn’t until I saw the tears shimmering in her eyes from my hiding place and heard the humiliating laughter that I realized the enormous implications of my actions. The shame and regret I felt haunted me for decades.

I learned a very painful, yet important lesson that night: when I don’t think through my decisions or deny the reality of the choice before me, what I’m really doing is ignoring Truth. And when I do that, there are always consequences.

I learned this from my ancestors, Adam and Eve.

Imagine having perfect clarity about every situation you encounter. Adam and Eve were the only two people ever to have had that luxury. For reasons we’ll never comprehend, they didn’t fully understand evil or its consequences. Did God really say? was all the enemy had to suggest to call into question the truth of their reality. Their decision not to see the truth of their situation for what it was had consequences that affected them and all of humanity forever.

Like Eve and Adam, I have trouble discerning the far-reaching impact of my decisions in the heat of the moment, even when the truth is obvious. It’s not any easier to connect the dots with the long-term implications of good decisions either. Sometimes an upside I won’t experience for months is enough to motivate me for awhile, but often I can’t maintain the discipline even when I see the results.

It’s truly crazy.

I eat poorly after consistently making good choices, just because I feel I’ve made enough good choices that I can “afford” a bad after all, there won’t be consequences for just one. And when I don’t feel the impact immediately, I choose the delusion again. I’m sure you have your own example, but here’s mine.

In 2011, I decided I wanted to look good in a bathing suit during my family’s Christmas vacation in Captiva, Fla. I worked out diligently the six months before and had a nice six pack by the time we arrived. I continued my exercise routine until the fall of 2013, when I decided I could rest on my laurels. Today, I have a soft belly.

So, what’s the solution? I’ve concluded that I can’t discern truth on my own well. The only way I know to successfully defeat my own willful ignorance and stubborn denial is to admit my need for divine help--help to see truth in the midst of intense emotion, help to see consequences before I choose poorly, and help to believe that God’s forgiveness and grace can redeem anything.

Even spitefully frozen underwear.