Earthquakes, Floods, Fires and …

That was the title of a talk I gave several years ago before a group of international women. Several of them had personally experienced such tragedies and asked the question that frequently plagued me: “Where is God in the midst of tragedy?” “Where is God in the midst of my tragedy?”

Sometimes there are alerts before disaster. Scientists send out notice that tremblors are detected between earth’s plates. Heavy rainfall precedes overflowing banks. Smoke detectors allow parents to save their children. A doctor warns about increasing blood pressure.

But then comes the unexpected quaking in Haiti that sends terrified children and adults from collapsing buildings. The normally friendly Ahr river in Germany roars with devastating force into homes once thought to be lifetime sturdy. A small town in California cannot be saved by wind-whipped fire. The diagnosis is terminal.

My husband’s symptoms crept in over a matter of a few days. Slight breathlessness, increasing fatigue. Is this just another sign of advancing age? Should we soldier on having heard “old age isn’t for sissies”? Better judgment and past experience indicated a trip to the doctor, a wise man we’ve learned to trust.

When he sent my husband home with an oxygen tank and warning to see a pulmonologist without delay, we again faced one of those unexpected junctures of life. The ultimate diagnosis was pulmonary fibrosis, leading to oxygen 24/7, a walker to assist with movement, a transfer chair for longer distances. 

In spite of a lifetime of healthy habits (no smoking) and physical exercise—running, biking, hiking, skiing, mountain climbing—his lungs are riddled with scarring sacs that impede oxygen utilization. This is not a find-a-cure disease, but something that medical experts can only control as much as possible.

Earthquakes, floods, fires and…lung disease. In a letter sent shortly after the diagnosis, we wrote about other challenges we’ve faced since entering full time ministry. Heartbreaking misunderstanding, our young child’s kidney disease and his ultimate death as a teenager from cancer, financial obstacles, etc. Where was God then? Where is he now?

The answer seems trite to some but lifegiving for us: He is exactly where he has promised to be: never leaving or forsaking us. Equally important, he is simply who he promised to be: loving us with everlasting love, a God whose way is perfect, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. 

Those are the answers, but one question remains: will we continue to trust him? We know dark days may lie ahead, but he remains our light and salvation. Walking in that light means greeting each day with gratitude, deliberately turning our eyes on Jesus even while acknowledging the circumstances, enjoying good food, appreciating time with family and friends, stretching our minds with satisfying reading, and finding humor in the most unlikely places.

Years ago as I sat through the darkest of days, God seemed to personally point me to Isaiah 43, words originally given to his beloved Jews, but applied to my heart:

… this is what the Lord says—
    he who created and formed you…
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…
…you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and I love you…

True in 1980 and true today.

A Look Inside

“You took another personality profile??” On a recent Saturday morning I participated via Zoom with several others—some as far away as New Zealand—in a discussion about personality strengths and weaknesses, natural tendencies “under fire,” etc. In fact, every January before writing a word in my new journal, on the back page I paste a copy of the results of my profiles such as Strengths Finders, Your Personality and Your Spiritual Life, Myers-Briggs and one or two others. (In case you’re curious, I’m ISTJ!)

This practice and the occasional review isn’t useless “naval gazing,” an attempt to anoint my soul with soothing human oil when reviewing my strengths and gifts nor a self-administered sackcloth and ashes outpouring when my weaknesses surface, but more the opening of the gate for the Holy Spirit to thoroughly, practically look deep within, to cry out with David: Search me, O God. Know my heart (Psalm 139:1). 

In this age of “I am woman, hear me roar,”* and the preponderance of narcissistic behavior, I need time for a deep inspection and cleansing. A time to discern when to whisper and when to roar. When politics shout to storm the gates, I need wisdom to know when to march with bold signs and when to lament in quiet prayer.

Here’s a caution especially for younger readers but not limited to those bright young souls. When you examine the results of your own personality indicators, don’t disregard the traits that make you squirm. Don’t blithely announce It’s just the way I am or I blame my parents/background/culture.  “Walking in the light” as prescribed by the Apostle John (1 John 1:7) means being increasingly aware of tendencies that draw us away from Jesus and others, honestly acknowledging them and asking for God’s help for growth. What in younger years could perhaps be excused as mere weaknesses, annoying reactions, or even easily ignored habits, as we age these same traits easily grow into cemented barriers to personal growth and hindrances to healthy relationships.

If you’re older and in the habit of saying, I’m too old to change, don’t ignore what the Apostle Paul wrote near the end of his life: One thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Or as paraphrased by J.B. Phillips: I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me… I concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honor of being called by God in Christ (Philippians 4:12-14).

So yes…I enjoyed my Saturday morning journey, retracing the way God made me and asking for wisdom and discernment for change. The process was fun, some of what I discovered simply affirmed what I already knew, and some caused me to cry out in repentance and experience the joy of forgiveness. Try it. You might like it.

*Helen Reddy

He Makes Less More

As I think and write about women in this Women’s History Month, my heart aches for the six women (and one man) of Asian descent killed last week in Atlanta. This morning my mind swerves as I consider how this catastrophe—and, yes, it is that monumental—should influence what I write. Should racism be my emphasis? Sexism? Our churches’ lack of sound discipleship? (The shooter is alleged to have once been an active member of a church that identifies itself as evangelical.) Political rhetoric?

Bubbling just below the surface of what I’ve been reading on some social media sites is an attitude that, quite frankly, veers dangerously close to what-can-they-expect-in-their-‘business’? And that brings me to the title of this blog: He Makes Less More. When was the last time you heard a sermon, or participated in a co-ed Bible study emphasizing God’s choice women: Rahab, Tamar, Hagar, Bathsheba, the Samaritan divorcée, or the New Testament adulteress? (I actually heard a sermon about the latter where the primary emphasis was on Jesus’ words, “Go and sin no more” to the neglect of all other applications.) 

Crucially important in the process of discipleship of women and men is biblical knowledge and understanding. Many have written about the dearth of same and the obvious sad results. While I wave the flag for meditative reading, thinking, pondering, I’m afraid we have neglected to ground children and adults in the facts of the sacred word. And when we are faithful teachers, we neglect emphasizing all the heroes of the faith—women who broke the patterns of religiosity and culture to stand strong. The women who were and are brave ezers (the Hebrew meaning of “helpmeet” so often mistranslated in Genesis), women who lead armies, rock cradles, start churches, and—in centuries past and still today—brave danger in their response to God’s call.

So what can we do? Some will be politically involved to change policies. Some will carry banners as they march. Others will insist that men and boys as well as women and girls understand women’s equal standing with God, acknowledge and promote women’s gifting in the church, and their unique call in marriage and singleness. All of us must refuse to be silent when innuendos and even crude jokes about women and marriage are bandied about in the office and even in the church. Encourage our daughters, granddaughters, nieces to Think Big, to consider how God may be calling them in the fields of faith, science, medicine. Read about the lives of Lilias Trotter, Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward, Lottie Moon, Katherine Bushnell and others. While we may disagree with some of her findings, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in her book Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, examines “a pivotal moment in each of these women’s lives, describing ways in which they broke with conventional behavior in order to re-create themselves and make a place in history.” 

In ages past and today, God always makes more out of what—and who—is considered less in the eyes of culture and community. May we work for, applaud, and pray for women who are changing the world in response to God’s pivotal call.

March 14: A Very Special Day

Photo used by permission: Joshua Duneebon

Not only is this Pi Day (Greek for the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter—see what you learn on this site?!), but it has been dubbed Pie Day throughout the U.S. and to acknowledge the date, a mixed fruit pie—with homemade crust!—is bubbling in the oven. In case pi and pie aren’t enough for festivities, we remember that in 1918 the first concrete ship was launched in San Francisco and in 1888 New York recorded its second largest snowfall—twenty-one inches. This latter event doesn’t elicit applause this afternoon as we’re having one of our own typical “spring” semi-blizzards. Wind is whipping snow into great piles and small birds are finding our window feeder a welcome refuge.

In our family circle, March 14 is cause for celebration because it’s our daughter’s birthday. A few years have passed since her birth in Des Plaines, Illinois, but through them all she has brought joy and talent and beauty to the world.

Throughout the month of March, however, my attention if also drawn to the hurts and joys and challenges, the losses and wins, the occasionally celebrated but often neglected, lives of women. For many years March has been designated International Women’s Month with March 8th International Women’s Day. It is women like our daughter—especially single women—who capture my heart in an era where so much distracts us from honoring God’s special creation of woman.  

Too often encased in restrictive roles by some in the Church, today Christian women are making their God-anointed voices heard as they “rightly divide the word of truth,” challenge leaders (usually male but not always) who would deny them their calling, and respond with strength to social ills throughout the world. Along with men, they teach our children, sit in the boardroom and protect us on the street. They bake bread and round up horses. They win gold in the Olympics and Swati Mohan announced the successful landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. 

I want to write more on this subject, but what applies to speaking—“the mind can only absorb what the seat can endure”—has its less succinct twin in reading: “Believe in brevity.” Before the special month of March is over, I will highlight women—from the past and present—who have imprinted this world with their special gifts. For now—if you are a woman, rejoice that God has loved and gifted you for a purpose. If you are a man, describe to a woman her specific influence on you and on the world.

Covid’s Miry Clay

We were building our dream home in the country and one spring afternoon I loaded our baby and toddler in the car to check on the construction process. Because the ground in this area was primarily clay, workers had laid wide wood planks between the driveway and building site to safely haul tools and equipment into the structure. But I’d parked off to the side. The clay side. The only way I’d get to the house was to set out through the clay. “You do what you gotta’ do” is a maxim for any situation and one I employed that day. 

With a squirmy baby tucked under one arm and a resisting toddler in death grip in the other, I took a first step out of the car. Please understand that I grew up in the country, mowed a lawn which, in my imagination, seemed a full ten acres; helped my parents with a large garden which meant plowing and cultivating the ground before stretching 40’ cords for the seed rows. Along each line we scooped out a shallow valley for the seeds, then gently placed corn and pea kernels, miniscule carrot seeds, and occasionally the tiny pepper, cabbage, tomato plants my mother had carefully grown in a greenhouse in the preceding cold spring weeks. Tedious work that demanded patience.

All that garden talk to illustrate that I wasn’t an urban neophyte stepping into the clay. My boots, previously thought to solidly fit, soon proved to be useless fashion statements, sinking like stones into the miry mess while my feet threatened to slide out. I feared I would soon slog bare footed toward the house with howling children.

I was reminded of that Michigan scene while reading David’s words in Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.

It doesn’t take much imagination to apply David’s words to this past year. How often did you feel as though you were walking through slimy pits, in miry bogs as the months crawled by? One definition of mire is “a situation or state of difficulty, distress, or embarrassment from which it is hard to extricate oneself” (emphasis my own).

Some believe the first half of Psalm 40 was written after David had finally escaped enemies seeking to prevent him from taking his position as king. Those he thought friends become enemies. Caves, not palaces, become his hiding place. Misunderstanding, family division, God’s seeming absence. David is a fugitive in the miry clay.

What role, position, goal was stolen from you by Covid? Some grieve over death of loved ones, but even more of us lost jobs, suffered shattered dreams, felt the downward pull into the slimy clay of loneliness or depression.

David said he waited—in Hebrew: “In waiting, I waited.” This indicates not moments of waiting, but long times when God seemed silent. It’s good to slowly read psalms like this one. Make that   s   l   o   w   l   y read!   I believe there were moments, maybe even days, of waiting before David could confidently say that God placed his feet on a rock, gave him a new song. How long was it before he finally said, “I desire to do your will, my God”?

We now have the blessing of a vaccine but experts warn that we’ll be wearing masks for a long time. Waiting isn’t over and we cry out with David, “…come quickly, Lord, to help me.” 

Small Houses Don’t Mean Small Minds

I have lived in many houses in my lifetime, from the house of my childhood on ten acres where I could roam, to the cozy house my husband built for us to begin our life together, to the house in the country for our growing family, to a one-bedroom apartment in South Central Los Angeles where for eighteen weeks we lived with two teenaged sons(!), to the three-story house in Bonn…and several between. We’re now in a two-bedroom condo where, because of minimal storage space, I’ve decided that no new item can be purchased unless its replacement is donated to Goodwill!

But as the rooms have shrunk and the walls may seem to have closed in at this time of life, I’ve observed in others and the temptation in myself, to succumb to a small world mentality along with a small house. Matters that concern me more important than events, circumstances, conditions that affect the larger world. 

The tragic events in Washington, D.C. are just one example. While not advocating 24/7 attention to mind-grabbing media, neither could I avoid deep, heart-searching, even weeping attentiveness. On January 2nd I wrote in my journal: I want this to be a year of continual newness, continual growth, greater awareness, deeper thinking. So what practical, though uncomfortable, steps to the goal? As I watched the tragic events in our nation’s capital, was I merely a viewer? Or was I being called to ponder and pray? To ask hard questions about myself, about motivations of the mob, their targets, our leaders?

I realize that this process doesn’t occur in isolation from the “dailies” of life. Beautiful babies were born as rioters wreaked havoc. Grandmothers peacefully died of old age as others struggled for breath in the grips of Covid. But a “double life” is reality for the serious Christian. We dare not let our minds hide in seclusion as our bodies live in shrinking shelters. We must purposefully walk into the blur of hard questions, carefully weigh what we’ve “always believed” and—equally crucial—those leaders we’ve “always followed.”

No matter the size of my house, I want the “square footage” of my heart and mind to continually expand. As a French writer of the early 20th century wrote, It’s never too late to think big. Widen your horizons. Look beyond your normal limits. See things in a larger picture. Consider the next step… Perspective will emerge… (Paul Bourget)

Advent Promises

Thursday, December 24
Christmas Eve

He did not wait till the world was ready,

till men and nations were at peace.

He came when the Heavens were unsteady,

and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.

He came when the need was deep and great.

He dined with sinners in all their grime,

turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came

to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.

To a world like ours, of anguished shame

he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,

to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.

In the mystery of the Word made Flesh 

the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane

to raise our songs with joyful voice,

for to share our grief, to touch our pain,

he came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

—Madeleine L’Engle

Soli deo gloria

Advent Promises

Wednesday, December 23
I am the Lord’s servant… May it be to me according to your word.   Luke 1:18

When Mary spoke those words, she had no clue what lay ahead. We dwell in pandemic; she endured grief over murdered boy  babies. We live with loss of jobs, security and health; she traveled as an immigrant to a foreign country. We mourn the death of loved ones; she would watch her oldest son whipped and stabbed, mocked and crucified.

Mary’s profound I am the Lord’s servant was picked up years later by Paul as a standard for those of us calling ourselves servants:  Here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. (Romans 12:1-2  The Message)

Have you heard or sung Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” this season? Are some of the words yours today? Listen well. And maybe weep.


I am frightened by the load I bear

In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now…

Hold me together
Be forever near me…

Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness…

But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong…
Hold me together
Be forever near…

Advent Promises

Tuesday, December 22

After (Joseph) considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home to be your wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:20-21

“Don’t be afraid, Joseph. I know I’m asking the impossible. Breaking all the comfortable cultural and familial rules sounds incredible. I know this is hard to believe; I know your reputation will be in tatters; I know your business will suffer. I’m asking you to believe something no one else—except Mary—will believe. I’m asking you to act on your belief. Just trust me.”

Has God ever called you out of the believable, the normal, the expected, the comfortable? Maybe no angel appeared but you knew as surely as Joseph that this was something BIG. You knew that—if you obeyed—friends and family wouldn’t understand. Financial security might be threatened, social standing be in jeopardy. 

But God’s call—often a whisper—may not be as grand as a career choice or a move across cultures. It may be as simple as inviting a Muslim or Hindu or gay neighbor to join you for Christmas dinner. Would you be misunderstood? Or would you too see miracles?

…Forget convention and marry the overshadowed girl.
Forget plans and flee to a place
as alien and angular as its monuments.

Forget your fears and journey again through the desert
to the occupied country of your father.

Forget home and settle instead in the land of prophecy…
Who acts so boldly on what he knows in himself
against the evidence of everything he sees?Who believes so humbly that he is chosen, too,
for a role that makes miracles possible?

                                         —Author Unknown

Advent Promises

Monday, December 21

“Don’t be frightened, Mary,” the angel told her, “for God has decided to wonderfully bless you! Very soon now, you will become pregnant and have a baby boy, and you are to name him ‘Jesus’… 
and she gave birth to her first child, a son.
Luke 1:30-31 and 2:7 (The Living Bible)

The longest nine months in young Mary’s life! The faithful Jewish remnant had been waiting six centuries for the prophesied Messiah, but a chasm existed between theology and personal application. Gabriel’s message to Mary gave her an inkling of the profound event that lay ahead but her swelling belly, aching back, and sleepless nights are her current and very human reality.

Madeleine L’Engle beautifully captures what might have been Mary’s experience:

I know not all of that which I contain,
I’m small; I’m young; I fear the pain,
all is surprise: I am to be a mother,
that Holy Thing within me and not other
is Heaven’s King whose lovely Love will reign,

my pain, his gaining my eternal gain
my fragile body holds Creation’s Light;
its smallness shelters God’s unbounded might.

The angel came and gave, did not explain.
I know not all of that which I contain.

For some God occasionally reveals his plan with clarity. On occasion the call is clear enough to take calculated steps relying on continual guidance from the Holy Spirit. But the “nine months” between the call and the “giving birth” are frequently filled with what a 14th-century mystic called the “cloud of unknowing.”

There’s no going back. Labor pains will begin because pain is part of the process. know not all of that which I contain… But the promise is sure:

…(be) confident of this, that he who began a good work (in Mary and in you)
will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 1:6)