Tuesday, January 29, 2013


A friend in her advanced years gave me a nudge to look into what is called “body grounding” or “body earthing.” No, it doesn't refer to burying a dead body in a grave. And you may or may not buy the idea. In a nutshell, it implies giving a human (or animal) body electrical connection directly to the earth for optimum human performance and normal health benefits. My friend practices it—says she really benefits from it.

For instance, walking barefoot with direct contact with the earth or in the grass supposedly provides electrons the body needs by letting the earth stabilize and modulate the electrical potential of the body by signals from the earth. Think of it in terms of electrically grounding the human body. It does seem to make sense.

Humans during the last century have been using synthetic shoe soles which isolate the body electrically from the earth. That contributes to blocking the physiological benefits of receiving valuable antioxidants for reducing oxidative stress. Grounding enables the earth to provide electrons that reduce the viscosity of the blood. Leather soles and leather sandals, worn for some thousands of years, gave a partial earthing as did our ancestors who slept directly on the earth or on beds made of wood. Earthing was the natural lifestyle throughout almost all the time humans have existed—until the synthetic habits of this modern age took over. I recall that my grandmother from Europe preferred walking barefoot while she gardened—and I trailed barefoot behind her delighting in the feel of grass wet from dew in the early morning or when I chased fireflies on hot summer nights. The good old days!

Jesus, as an example, walked from village to village throughout His entire years of ministry. Barefoot or in sandals, feet got dirty and having them washed upon entering a home was customary. In history, pilgrims almost always walked to holy places, sometimes barefoot or with sandals and staff, sleeping in shelters close to the earth. Today we fly by plane to the sacred destinations and perhaps drive the rest of the way. Moreover, spiritual pilgrimages were slow paced with enough time for meditation and prayer. Nowadays we hurry everywhere and don't walk unless we are forced to. Surrounded by our cement and steel world we are isolated from contact with the earth itself all in the name of civilization and progress. We walk on the earth's crust far under our feet, far from the benefit we could derive from how God created it for our welfare.

A selection from “The Prayer Tree” by Michael Leunig says it well. Although he may not have known anything about “body grounding,” he expressed an appropriate analogy to “spiritual grounding.”

“Dear God,
We pray for another way of being: another way of knowing. Across the difficult terrain of our existence we have attempted to build a highway and in so doing have lost our footpath.
God, lead us to our footpath: lead us there where in simplicity we may move at the speed of natural creatures and feel the earth's love beneath our feet.
Lead us there where step-by-step we may feel the movement of creation in our hearts. And lead us there where side-by-side we may feel the embrace of the common soul. Nothing can be loved at speed.
God, lead us to the slow path; to the joyous insights of the pilgrim; another way of knowing; another way of being. Amen.”

It may be that in every season of life we should ask God to “Lead us to the slow path” because that's usually how God works in our lives in spite of the frantic whirl of our daily lives. We want everything done yesterday, and every prayer answered as soon as we express it. God is Eternal, however, and not in a hurry. But by the time we are in our advanced years, we are happy to start pacing ourselves to His slower pace.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin writes on “The Slow Work of God.”
Trust in the slow work of God. We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end
without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new, and yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability–and that it may take a very long time.

Your ideas mature gradually–let them grow, let them shape themselves without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make them tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. Patient of being on the way to something unknown, something new, and yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability–and that it may take a very long time.”

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Is wisdom the same as knowledge?

Some think so. The possession of facts and information seems to be all important. We live in the so-called “information age” with its explosion of knowledge and data. Our parents would never have dreamed of the technology that has given rise to the ease in obtaining information online. No one needs The Encyclopedia Britannica anymore.

Thomas a Kempis in his classic work of spirituality, “The Imitation of Christ” which we are reading in our book study group, wrote “There is a great difference between the wisdom of an illuminated and devout man, and the knowledge of a learned and studious scholar.”

In the Wisdom literature of our Bible the theme of wisdom of course abounds. It is often personified, referring to wisdom as “she.” In those works, wisdom is found in knowing, understanding, and obeying God's law and being true to the covenant. In short, wisdom is revealed in humble and true worship of God. 

In the Book of Wisdom chapter seven this personification stands out boldly. Wisdom is “her.” 

“I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light because the splendor of her never yields to sleep. Yet all good things together came to me in her company and countless riches at her hands.”

That mid-sentence stood out for me. Health and comeliness (outward beauty) are two things that we often seek above all else. Both things gradually or sometimes rapidly diminish with advanced years. Many times I hear the comment, “If you have your health, you have everything." Apparently a person's attractive appearance runs a lose second. Watching the plethora of advertising for beauty products and anti-aging creams and potions on television should make the case. 

Wisdom is to be loved and desired more than these? And more than prestige, popularity, power, gems, and gold and silver? But that when you receive wisdom you get “all good things together” too? It's all in the package of wisdom? That sounds too good to be true! 

But that's exactly what King Solomon received. Because he asked God for wisdom and not for the rest of the other things, it pleased the Lord to give him the “everything else” as a fringe benefit. Jesus brought that promise even more abundantly into the New Covenant by saying that when we “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these things shall be added unto you.”

Wisdom is not a commodity to be kept for oneself. Wisdom is like wind. You can't see the wind; you can only see the results of it by hearing the rustle of leaves in the trees or feeling the gentle brush of a breeze on your cheek on a sweltering day. I know I have received wisdom when I carry out a wise action or speak a wise word, like Solomon did when he “practiced wisdom.” 

People expect wisdom from those in advanced years. That's why I have asked the Lord for it above all else. Where will wisdom come from? It is bound up in the person of Jesus Christ. The Scripture says “He was filled with wisdom.” Through Him “we are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God.” It is one of the Gifts of the Spirit—“the word of wisdom”—to be received. God gives us “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Saint Paul prayed not that we might have a trickle of wisdom, but that we might “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” We are to “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom.” 

Clearly, wisdom is available for me to receive and to express. But I feel deficient in wisdom. I don't have enough. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Other translations say that God gives wisdom “without resenting your asking” and “without finding fault” with your asking, or “reproving or rebuking you” for asking. It's not a shame to ask God for wisdom. He welcomes me to confess my need for wisdom.

I need generous amounts of God's wisdom! So I'm going to be greedy in a positive way and ask God for His wisdom to constantly flow into me and out of me. And I'm going to be on the lookout for “the everything else” that He promised will come along as a bonus!


 "...AND NOW AM OLD!?"

It's difficult for children to realize that their parents or their grandparents were ever young like themselves. It's even hard for me to remember how I felt when I was young. I'm still the same person as I was in my youth, but sometimes I have to pinch myself to realize that I'm one of "the elderly" now.

I can understand how King David must have felt when he looked in his mirror and possibly blinked, “I have been young and now am old....” (Psalm 37:25) I too feel that shock! When did that happen?

Nevertheless, I know that God has purposely ordained the changing seasons in nature and in life. He offers me spiritual insights to explore. The gnarled, weathered, bare branches of an old oak tree have lessons to teach me. It stands courageously through the harshness of winter stripped of its leaves, shivering in the wind, unable to hug itself with the luxurious green leaves of high summer. I too am chronologically in the winter of my life. Sometimes winters are very long; sometimes they are short.

My friend Marion emailed me today comparing weather news between Ohio and Virginia: “My snow is deeper than your snow!” She wrote, 

“Winter is my favorite season because of crisp, fresh, cold air, and the beautiful white carpet of snow the Lord spreads everywhere. I experience a calming, hushed silence as I walk in my snowy woods. I pray as I walk. And I love to gaze at the outline of the bare branches, how they turn this way and that but always reach heavenward. Those are things you don't notice in summer when leaves obscure the skeletons of the branches. I actually cut branches in the winter and bring them inside placing them in vases around my home. I'm fascinated to study the angles and twists. There is such beauty in their temporary bareness. They seem to speak to me of God's sure promise that spring will come again. They remind me to trust my Heavenly Father who is working even now in what appears to my eyes as dead and devoid of color. God knows what He's doing inside those trees, those bare limbs in winter—and I trust His Providence.” 

Bareness is not barrenness. The bare branches are not dead. God has planned for their safety and protection. Deep within the trunk of the oak tree the sap is still flowing and the bare branches remain connected to the trunk, abiding in the trunk. To everything there is a time and season. God has planned that the leaves should fall off in the autumn so that the tree could withstand the strong, fierce blasts of gale winds that would otherwise topple it. The winter hurricane winds blow right through the branches without harm to the tree. If the branches were still covered with leaves, the heavy snow and ice accumulating on them would cause them to break with the weight. Yes, God knows what He's doing inside those trees and with those bare branches. They will live to bear leaves again and the fruit trees will bear fruit in their season.

The angles and twists of my bare branches in my advanced age may now be visible to others in this winter season of my life. But they give witness to the greatness of God's faithfulness to me through the years. He is even now my Protector from the stormy blasts that may come upon me because of the fragility of my bare branches. No matter how they seem to twist and turn, they continue to point heavenward to thank God for His “goodness and mercy that follows me all the days of my life.” 

God is my Keeper. In winter as in the other seasons of my life, if I keep abiding in the trunk, “in Christ,” and He abides in me, I will stay alive in Him and will bear leaves and fruit in His appointed season.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Journey is Not a Destination

GUEST POST from the blog of a brother in Christ who took a giant new milestone step on January 24th for “the first day of the rest of his life.” He is on a journey of transformation, as we all are.
            (On the Feast Day of Saint Francis de Sales)

The Journey is Not a Destination

by Earthy Monk

I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me...(Galatians 2:19)Neither shall they say: Behold here, or behold there. For lo, the kingdom of God [God's very Being] is within you. (Luke 17:21)

Our journey with God and into God is not about a “destination” but a transformation. It is a transformation from (just) me living, into one where the Living God becomes an ever-present Reality living with me! It is a journey of re-membering, God ‘putting’ me back together as he sees fit. And this journey is filled with real life stuff: depression, hope, miracles, addiction, freedom, anger, love, joy, ‘failure,’ listening, following, sometimes leading and sometimes being led.

And lest I forget, if Messiah is living in me, then every single life I come into contact with and touch is being touched by him. So, daily, I am being and becoming - through the power of the Spirit - the fleshing out of God's love here and now. As it was said to me some 20 years ago,"Niles, your life may be the only Gospel people ever see and hear! So, how you living, brother?!"

This transformative journey is one of me becoming more transparent – a transparency where you see more and more of God in me and less and less of just me. It is a paradoxical beauty, for I lose my life in order to get it back, more whole/holy, more loving, more real, and in truth—more Niles. For me Without God I am a selfish, spiteful, oh-so-full-of-myself addict. But me letting God live in and through me, (and this all through the Spirit) is a Niles who is gentle, compassionate, loving, honest, forgiving, and a playful servant.

What an amazing and hard thing to grasp: God lives in me! Me?!? For any of you who have been touched by the darker sides of me, you too can scratch your heads along with me. But – and that is a big but – all praise be to the God Who forgives, heals, and loves. When God decides to transform a life that is fully surrendered to him, there is no limit, NO LIMIT, to what God can and will do to and through that person.

So I ask: are you and I on a journey that is about a destination? Or are we on a journey that is about Transformation?

Here is a Beauty-Full Truth to assist and comfort us on the journey: the moment – the very moment– we ask him, God comes into us and begins the transformative work immediately (although it does take a lifetime for completion). I echo the sentiments of the Scriptures, “that I am sure of this, that [God] who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion... (Phil. 1:6).”

I’m on a journey. I walk it day by day, sometimes two steps forward, sometimes a few steps backwards. But I’m still walking in and with God. I am reminded of the ringing truths spoken by an old, salty recovering alcoholic friend of mine who said to me after one particularly trying day, “God loves the man that I am today; but God loves me too much to let me stay this way.” Amen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


True or false?

That disputed statement has been kicked around like a football by both sides of the political spectrum. However, applying it to my life at this late chronological season, I'm quick to admit that I'm not self made. 

Whenever I view the rolling of credits at the conclusion of a movie or a TV documentary I'm amazed at how many people and how many diverse skills and professions and talents and technical and artistic abilities it took to “build” that entertaining or informative project. For some epic production the screen roll of names and their specialties goes on for many minutes.

No, I didn't build my own life. God is the Master Builder who chose to give me life and breath in the first place, and has sustained me for nearly eight decades. I have tried living according to His blueprint but with admitted deviations and detours since God thought it was good to endow His human children with the gift of free will. Unfortunately, I confess that at times I have sung with Sinatra, “I did it my way!” Thank God, He has always drawn me back to the high road from the low road of my self-will.

I didn't build my ethnicity, my gender, my parentage and place of birth, nor my DNA. God built that. He ordained the moment of history when I should live my life and decreed the global events of the earth that would affect me. The Lord brought into my life from my infancy to my present age exactly the people and circumstances which built the human and spiritual infrastructure which makes me who I am. I still don't look exactly like the picture on the top of the box of puzzle pieces since I'm still a work in progress. Each person who touched my life was a puzzle piece God provided to build my spiritual life and character.

I want to roll some credits.

For the record, and because it is the will of God in Christ Jesus that we should “give thanks in all things,” I want to give credit where credit is due. My parents' decision to have me baptized as an infant built the first spiritual framework for my life marking me as a child of God. My gentle, immigrant grandmother from Europe who didn't speak any English was my first loving and patient caregiver in her late years while both my parents worked. Grandmother built the earliest spiritual graces into my toddler life through her prayers and godly example. I grew up in a safe neighborhood with playmates whose parents all knew one another. My classmates in school helped build into me social and academic skills. I credit an English teacher who built into me a love of reading and encouraged my potential for writing.

My teen years centered around my church, youth group activities, and Christian summer camps. As a result I made a life commitment to Jesus Christ. I credit faithful Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, and the preaching of my pastor for building my strong biblical foundation. My closest friends were Christians which helped build my character. Professors in a Christian college solidified my sense of call to mission work overseas and prepared me for my career. My marriage to my husband set my direction to China and ministry among Chinese students on university campuses which continues to this day.

Were I to roll the credits with the actual names of the many people around the world who invested themselves into my life, as I invested myself into theirs, the scrolling would go on endlessly. God knows who they are since He selected each one. And I too haven't forgotten the face and life of each one who added another brick to the edifice of my life. Even after I thought my faith-structure was complete, God surprised me. He brought MORE of His people to build still MORE understanding of my faith in me and to point me to THE LAND OF MORE. There I have found MORE of the fulness of faith from the deepest roots of Christian history. All of which continues to give my life the finishing touch I could never have envisioned.

“You didn't build that!” That's absolutely true. 

 I didn't build my own life on earth; many other people built into it. Neither did I build the life that is prepared for me “from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). God is providing that through Jesus Christ, not of my own works.

 God is my Architect, Contractor, Provider of materials and Supervisor of workmen whom He chose to help build my life-house. He is the Cornerstone and Author and Finisher of the building that is me!

Monday, January 21, 2013


But not always. In fact, at times I haven't felt like singing.

I have been impatient, frustrated, rebellious, and stamping my feet like a pouting child. I didn't sing a happy song while I walked through some dark and fearsome valley or through some fire or while nearly drowning in some flood. Like the captured people of God who were carried away to Babylon in ancient days, I have sometimes asked how I could be expected to sing when my heart is aching and my tears are flowing. I've “hung my harp on a willow tree” and no song crossed my lips.

Sometimes I've been confused when God is silent to my prayers and seems to overlook my urgent needs. When His hand doesn't seem to be moving on my behalf even when I've called out to Him in desperation. Nevertheless, through long experience, I perceive that God doesn't blow trumpets to announce His plans in advance for the life agenda of His children. He promised that His plans for me are good and not evil, to give me a future and a hope. Without fanfare His plans simply unfold like the petals of a beautiful flower—silently and fragrantly and according to His perfect timing—for His pleasure and for my happiness too. With the patience of His eternal Fatherhood, Abba God has put up with me through the long life He is generously granting me. He comforts and assures me with His eternal, unchanging, unconditional love when I misunderstand His guidance. 
Hindsight is revealing. It is as if I were blindfolded and yet walking with my hand in God's hand, trusting Him to guide me over the rough places, avoid the detours, and draw me on to reach His predestined goal. In my latter years I haven't wanted to keep walking uphill; it is too tiring. My feet drag and my energy flags. 

I've even suggested to the Lord that it might be time for me to retire. But His loving silence seems to remind me that "retire" rhymes with "reach higher!" He always encourages me to press on the Upward Way, to desire More, to stretch my spirit, to seek to draw closer to Him.

Looking in life's rear view mirror now, I'm beginning to understand how all the experiences the Lord brought me through were meant to position me step by step into the place and circumstances in which I find myself now at the summit of my life. I would never have dreamed where God's guidance would take me, but it has been all good!

A hymn familiar to me from my youthful years as a Christian by Fanny J. Crosby, the famous songwriter of a past century, expresses it well:

“All the way my Savior leads me; What have I to ask beside? Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who thru life has been my Guide? Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, Here by faith in Him to dwell! For I know what-e’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well...This my song through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way!”

When I first sang that song as a teenager looking down the misty and idealistic corridors of time to seemingly endless years of unknown adventures, I could not imagine what “all the way” and “what-e’er befall me” could involve. With youthful trust I simply put my hand in the hand of Jesus to “lead me all the way.” He has been faithful! He has never left me or forsaken me. Now at the summit of life with the mature trust of years, I put my hand in the hand of Jesus to “lead me the rest of the way.”

And that is a good reason to “take my harp off the willow tree” and sing!

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Too much stuff!

Through the years I've had nightmare-ish dreams about having to pack up all our possessions quickly to prepare for a imminent move.

Dreams are typically mixed up; the location, time, and people are all in a fantasy blender. In my dream I'm running through the house trying to decide what to take, how to pack it, what to leave behind, and what to send ahead, all by a deadline. I am anxious about what our four little children would need during the travel transition. (My adult sons are always still toddlers in my dreams!) In my dream I always have to fit the essentials into only two small beat up suitcases—the rest had to be left behind or disposed of in a hurry.

No wonder this scenario keeps cycling; we were married right after college graduation and we've moved across the country and around the world multiple times in our mission ministry. Our children probably attended a dozen different schools. My late husband and I weren't avid collectors of anything. I tend to be a “thrower-out-er” but my husband was a “squirrel”--unwilling to throw anything away. So things simply amassed as time went on. 

By the time I'm in my eighties, the accumulation is considerable. Sort of like the barnacles clinging to and covering the bottom of an old boat. Just before I wake up even now, I have an unsettled feeling wondering which country or city I'm in! This in contrast to some childhood friends who have lived in the same city and even in the same house all their long lives. 

I'm not an interpreter of dreams, but a few things shout at me from the context. In our advanced years we must think seriously about decreasing worldly goods and increasing in our spiritual closeness to God. With John the Baptizer I need to declare, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Eternal values must take priority. I think of my elderly widowed friend who lived in her own comfortable home among her familiar things since the passing of her husband. With the sudden onset of serious health problems, within three weeks her family had resettled her in an Assisted Living complex. She was reduced to living in one room without any of the possessions that had given her comfort and security. A weekend “garage sale” had disposed of everything she had treasured over a lifetime. 

We can't take anything with us when God calls us to leave this mortal life—not even two small beat up suitcases. The only investment we have is the treasure we send ahead to Heaven. I like the analogy of pulling up to a drive-through bank, putting a deposit in a cylinder, pushing a button and sending it up and over to the bank teller who deposits it into my account. The bank may go belly up and somehow I can lose my savings, but whatever I send up to the Bank of Heaven is everlasting.

I look around in my non-dream state and conclude that I have too much stuff! I need to get to it without delay. This is the time of my life to reduce, to trim down, to dispose of the things that I have become too attached to—give them away or throw them away. I feel the need of putting my house in order before I’m forced to. Lord, help me learn to hold loosely the things of earth, the attachments that bind me to the temporary. 

I came across some new words to the tune of the familiar children's ditty, “Three Blind Mice” that gave me a chuckle but packed a wallop.


Too much stuff, too much stuff, more than enough, more than enough,
It’s out of the closets and filling our space, it’s growing and spilling all over the place,
We’re tripping all over a terrible case…of TOO MUCH STUFF!

Too much stuff, too much stuff, more than enough, more than enough,
The piles are staring us in the face, they multiply at an alarming pace,
And soon we’ll be buried without a trace…in TOO MUCH STUFF!

Too much stuff, too much stuff, more than enough, more than enough,
It isn’t easy to run the race, with all of this stuff slowing down the pace,
I think that I need some additional grace…(to get rid of ) TOO MUCH STUFF!

My HOPE CHESTS—a future treasure

(Encore excerpt from Ch. 15 of Leona's recently published book LIVING THE TREASURES IN THE LAND OF MORE.)

When I was about five years old and growing up in the Iowa heartland, my mother announced that she had a surprise for me. As an only child, I always hoped the surprise would mean that at last there would be a baby brother or sister on the way to alleviate my loneliness. Perhaps a puppy? No such luck. She said Daddy was bringing my surprise from the furniture store where he worked. 

Then it arrived—Daddy carried in a large, reddish-brown chest with a distinct cedar fragrance. “It’s your HOPE CHEST, Leona!” My mother, grandmother, and aunts gathered around enthusiastically admiring it and planning for the beautiful linens they would sew and embroider to put into it for me. 

Duh! I would rather have had toys or books—or that puppy. 

According to our Czech tradition brought over by my ancestors from Europe, a family would buy a new chest for a very young girl and load it throughout her growing years with handmade quilts, crocheted pillow cases, tablecloths, napkins, and other needlework and crafted items to help head start her household when she became a bride. It had a lock and a key which Mother let me keep in my decorated wooden cigar box where I hid my own childish treasures—favorite rocks, dried butterflies, and other keepsakes. 

            Becoming a bride was far from my childhood mind; I was just entering kindergarten and had no marital prospects! That chest was certainly a deferred treasure.

Fast forward sixteen years. I was excited about my forthcoming wedding which was to take place immediately after my college graduation! In my mind my HOPE CHEST had magically morphed into a real TREASURE CHEST! How delighted I was to examine each precious item so thoughtfully prepared by beloved family members, some of whom had by that time departed from this life. 

My HOPE CHEST and its contents went with me when my husband and I lived abroad as missionaries in China and in different places in this country where we moved in our ministry. Despite scratches and one broken foot, the chest has survived more than eighty years since Daddy brought it home for me. It stands proudly at the foot of my bed even now and holds mementos, photos, stories, school records, and collected memories and prayers for my grandson Jeffrey.


             As a Christian, I have two more HOPE CHESTS in my faith life. Both are founded on HOPE. Both are marked with my name and are intensely personal. No one else has the key to them. Both of them are spiritual and therefore invisible.

The first HOPE CHEST contains all the potential experiences and blessings and graces and favors that God in His love foreordained for me from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-6 and 11). When I was born and baptized into His family, the Lord stocked this invisible chest with all the Treasures that He planned for me. I continually pray even into my late-season years that I may keep myself open to, welcome, and accept with thanksgiving all that God has for me in my life on Planet Earth. He continues to surprise me with new things he wants me to experience and learn as He nurtures me and gradually transforms me into the image of Christ.

The second HOPE CHEST is being filled with all the Treasures of good works and good deeds of love that I have been sending ahead into the Father’s House. The Scripture says that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). 

I have not been doing good works in order to merit eternal life—I receive salvation by God’s grace alone. Nor do I do good works in order to receive rewards; rewards are God’s idea. Jesus told us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in or steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). 

Among the contents of this second HOPE CHEST are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that flow from our genuine faith in God and desire to help others. Until I arrive in heaven, I will not know, nor do I need to know, what I have “laid up for myself” in Glory. That Treasure is under God’s lock and key. Good works and spiritual fruit are what the Lord expects of me and of all His children to the very end of our lives. I may not know while on this side of heaven which of my works are truly indestructible “gold, silver, precious stones” or which are combustible “wood, hay, straw” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).

Everything is safe in this HOPE CHEST without a worry that the contents will be stolen, eaten by moths, or corroded by rust. The chest is fireproof, unlike my childhood HOPE CHEST which was constructed entirely of cedar wood. The scent was meant to keep insects from chewing the irreplaceable linens within. Similar chests in China are made from camphor wood for the same reason. Jesus said He wants our fruit to be preserved, to abide, to remain (John 15:16).

I would like the first invisible HOPE CHEST to be empty when I leave my “earth suit” behind. I want to have lived to the fullest every opportunity God planned for my growth in virtue and holiness. I want to have received all that God meant for me to have now, and to have savored every ordained-by-God experience regardless of how negative or joyful it may have seemed to me at any given moment. 

And I would like the second invisible HOPE CHEST to be full…NO, wait a minute…In fact, I hope it will be empty too! I'm sending those Treasures ahead to God not to have them stockpiled selfishly for my private use when I get to heaven or to merit for me a higher status. I want to offer those good works to God on behalf of others who may need them for their purification and expiation. I’m asking the Lord to keep distributing to others whatever I send to Him. I hope to keep replenishing what He gives out. If there are any leftovers, I offer them to God to put in His Great Storehouse, which Saint Paul called “the riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19) to join with the merits of Jesus, His blessed Mother, the apostles, all the saints of the ages, and those who died in His friendship. 

So I won’t worry if my second HOPE CHEST will also be empty when I come into God’s presence. When I do need some graces for myself, God holds the keys to His Storehouse and can summon an angel to generously obtain some for me. God's Storehouse will never be empty!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Invisible Thread

That's the title of a recent book whose author I saw interviewed on television. It's the true story of two unlikely people whose lives seemed to be coincidentally brought together. The author referred to an ancient Chinese proverb as her launching point:

“An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.” 
I believe this is more than a wishful concept. It echoes the outworking of the promise in Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” 

It mirrors God's networking in our lives like a weaving which we see only from the underside. God plans the unique design from above and connects the threads that will make it beautiful. The threads may be invisible now, but we may look forward to seeing the whole when we finish our life journey and all things are made clear in His presence. Then we'll understand the reason for the stretches and tangles and dark threads as well as the bright colors.

God threads some people to come into our lives only briefly but always for some purpose that God may intend for both persons. I am a part of all whom I have met and they are part of me. Some people have come into my life for longer periods, even for a lifetime. Relationships come and go like a needle and thread sewing into my life cloth as God brings them in and out through every season of my life.

I begin my prayer each morning asking the Lord, 
         “Bring into my life today everyone and everything that is in Your perfect will—whether by phone call, email, thought, in person, by a reminder to pray, through a chance meeting, scheduled appointment, letter, an obligation which I must fulfill, my routine responsibilities, or any other means. And keep out of my life anything and anyone not in accord with Your purpose. I want to do Your will on earth this day as it is done in Heaven.” 

By melding my will with God's will and speaking it aloud, I remind myself, God, and Satan and his scheming minions that I am committed to obey God. I can then accept whatever and whoever the Holy Spirit will thread into my life. If things happen that I don't expect and my own plans and schedule are disrupted, I can be at peace that God's invisible thread is sewing into my life the better plan for His sovereign purposes.

This relationship with God gives me a reason to put my feet on the floor when I wake up in the morning because I anticipate a daily adventure with God. He is full of surprises. Sometimes His serendipity is visible and tangible but sometimes invisible and spiritual. I enjoy them all because they are God-woven with His golden threads.

WISDOM—my “word” for the year

Or a good word for “the rest of my way” to the Finish Line.

At the beginning of each year I give some thought to choosing a word to focus on for the next lap of my life race. This year Wisdom is that word. 

Wisdom is needed in every season of mortal life. But in childhood it can't be attained; life has not unfolded yet. We are too fresh. Youth is the experimental period; life is being tested, knowledge is being accumulated. Wisdom? Not so much. In prime years wisdom and folly are being sorted out; some good choices made, some foolish decisions take you on detours.

It's in advanced years that wisdom is expected to flower and its fragrance waft to others. At least that's the proverbial track. The mature, the elderly, the aged are supposed to finally be wise, and those who trail behind are expected to happily benefit from their collected experience. That's not always so. Sometimes, unfortunately, the aged are foolish. And the young want to make their own mistakes, reluctant to profit from anyone else's experience. So history repeats itself. The hopefully wise should dispense their wisdom only if it's requested. Otherwise, zip. That in itself is wisdom.

Not to be selfish but to be discreet, the wisdom I seek for myself in my mature years is wisdom to live in the will and purposes of God, to choose and act prudently as the path of life narrows and the remaining days can actually be numbered. In my youth, the days stretched open end and could hardly be numbered.

The aging Moses reflected on this transient life in Psalm 90: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.”

I likewise have reflected on this reality in my Prayer for Wisdom:

  • God, grant me the wisdom of mature years, to circumvent the foolishness of aging.
  • When You see me playing in the spiritual shallows, Lord, beckon me out of the wading pool into Your deep waters.
  • If I feel bogged down in meaningless routine, turn the plain water of my daily life into “the best wine saved until last.”
  • When I tend to resist change and settle in my comfort zone, grant me an open spirit and a growing, receptive mind.
  • If I’ve lost my get-up-and-go, show me how to “rise and take up my bed and walk.”
  • When my leaves are withered and dry, revive me to be “full of sap and very green.”
  • When my fruit is scanty and sour, show me how to “flourish like the palm tree”
  • If the embers of my first love for You are growing cold, fan them into flame by Your Holy Spirit.
  • When the noise of my activity drowns out Your still small voice, quiet me to wait on You in contemplative silence.
  • If the soil of my life is depleted and lies fallow, break up the clods, supply fresh nutrients, and make straight my furrows.
  • When my prayers seem unanswered and my spirit is arid, open the floodgates to let Your Rivers of Living Water flow again.
  • Where my life is out of balance and I lose my footing, help me restore eternal priorities to keep from stumbling.
  • When my vision for Your Kingdom has grown dim, touch my eyes to see again Your destiny for me.
  • If I’ve become slow of speech to declare Your message, open my lips to boldly proclaim Your Good News.
  • If I can't hear Your voice clearly, send Your Holy Spirit to be my hearing aid.
  • If my memory begin to slip, help me remember that You never leave me or forsake me.
  • When I’m weary from the length of life’s journey, draw me close to Your bosom to find comfort and rest.
  • If I’m laboring to bear scarcely 30-fold fruit, teach me to abide in You to effortlessly produce by Your wisdom 100-fold.
  • Where some good seed of Your Word still lies dormant as I advance in years, send the gentle latter rain of Your Spirit so I can bear an abundant late harvest.
  • When I am tired and lack motivation to press on, restore iron to my soul, strength to my weak knees and limp arms.
  • When I drag my feet to do Your will, energize me with the adrenalin of Your Holy Spirit.
  • When I’m short of breath from life’s fast pace, inflate my lungs with Your Breath of Life.
  • If I grip material possessions too tightly, teach me to hold loosely the things of this world.
  • If I open my mouth to speak foolish words, show me how to put a watch on my lips.
  • When I’m afraid of the darkness around me, take my hand to walk in Your Light.
  • When my emotions roller coaster out of control, teach me to set my affection on things above not on things of earth.
  • When anxiety about the future threatens to overwhelm me, remind me of Your great faithfulness in years past.
  • If my appetite becomes jaded by the world’s junk food, give me Yourself as my Daily Bread in the Eucharist.
  • When I think I’ve reached the limit of my endurance, help me persevere in Your strength to run the last mile Home.
  • When thoughts of my mortal end cause me fear, remind me that You are preparing a place for me in Your Father’s House.


Guest post by Carolyn Custis James (www.whitbyforum.com)

The LORD God said,
"It is not good for the man to be
I will make an ezer
(helper) suitable for him."
Genesis 2:18

Three A.M., and my life was about to change forever. I was wide-awake. No, I wasn’t tossing and turning in my bed. Bed was the furthest thing from my mind. Oddly enough, I was pouring over books, smuggling volumes out of my husband’s study, searching for answers. I felt like a detective and I knew I was onto something.

For years I’d been troubled by interpretations of Eve that left me (and a lot of other women) out in the cold. I could relate to what one single woman confided, as she tried to fit in, “I don’t mind being called a helpmeet. I like helping people. But helpmeet doesn’t encompass everything about me.” Little did I realize that the “helpmeet” version of Eve was about to topple and something better—for all of us—would take her place.

What is God's Blueprint?

My attention zeroed in on the word God used to describe the woman when he created her. Ezer (usually translated “helper”) has historically been defined in terms of marriage, motherhood and domesticity. According to this line of thinking, a woman fulfills her highest calling when she marries, bears children and manages the home.

Wonderful and significant as marriage and motherhood can be, this definition creates serious problems for all women.

When we are little girls, God’s purposes for us are pushed out into the distant future, to the day we don a wedding veil and head for the marriage altar. It intensifies the difficulties of singleness and the heartache of childlessness. Elderly women are troubled by the thought that God’s purpose for them has expired. Like Cinderella’s stepsisters, we end up trying to squeeze ourselves into a creation blueprint that simply doesn’t fit us all.

As I studied through the night, my curiosity was fueled by a deep longing to know if God’s blueprint included me. Is God’s blueprint for us really too small?

A Warrior For God’s Purposes

The word
ezer appears in the Old Testament twenty-one times—twice for the woman in Genesis 2:18 and 20, three times for nations Israel turned to for military assistance when they were under attack, and sixteen times for God. This information resulted in upgrading the ezer from “helper” to “strong helper” and led to a divided (and at times heated) discussion over the word strong. How strong is strong?

I decided to look up the references. To my surprise,
I discovered powerful military language in every passage. Whenever ezer appeared—for the three nations, obviously, but also for God—it was always within a military context. God is His people’s helper, defender, deliverer, sword and shield. He is better than chariots and horses. He keeps sentry watch over his people and with His strong arm overthrows their foes. Based on the Old Testament’s consistent usage of this term, it only makes sense to conclude that God created the woman to be a warrior.

Further reading uncovered additional evidence of the strength and significance of the
ezer. I discovered that the original inventory was off. Ezer shows up more than twenty-one times and in the most unexpected places. You just have to look more closely to find it.

Reading through one of those tedious genealogies (the passages we tend to skim when reading through the Bible) I spotted
ezer again—in men’s names. Ezer was one of Judah’s male descendants. Moses named his son Eli-ezer. Abi-ezer belonged to the elite band of David’s mightiest warriors. Samuel raised a monument to God’s glorious deliverance and named it Eben-ezer.

Even today, the name
Ezer still carries a lot of weight. Ezer Weizman was an Israeli military hero, a world leader who served as Israel’s seventh president. I doubt if anyone made fun of a man like that because his parents named him Ezer.

Ezer represents the strength and valor of a warrior. God created women to be warriors. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Our brothers need us, and God calls us to join forces with them in advancing His kingdom wherever we are.

The Perfect Fit

That night, while the rest of the world slept, my identity changed forever. I couldn’t think of a single moment, situation or relationship in my life where my calling as an ezer-warrior for God’s purposes didn’t apply.

My three little nieces are just starting out in life, but they are ezers too. I regularly hear from moms engaged in fierce battles for their kids. A young single is battling for the souls of women in Ghana, as another woman launches a new consulting business on the home front. A friend of mine faces huge challenges in his business and is stronger and wiser in his own battles because of his ezer-warrior wife. A ezer in her nineties ministers actively to lost souls in her extended care facility.

We are all ezers—from our first breath to our last. We follow Jesus, and He calls us to advance His kingdom no matter where He puts us. Warrior covers all of who I am.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Jesus in my boat


For eighty-some years of my life I've earnestly desired to stay in the midstream of the River of God's Will. Each morning I declare to the Lord that I'm committed to do His will “on earth as it is in heaven.” That is my life habit. Do I carry it out perfectly?

Of course not. In my humanity, with regret, at times I've steered my life “boat” toward one river bank or another, let it drift backward, or veered off course and miserably failed. Nevertheless, God, in His love and mercy, always brings me back to His midstream. He is my spiritual GPS—to the extent that I not only hear His voice but obey it. If so, I stay on course through stormy weather or treacherous white rapids. My frail bark has often stalled on some sandbar. But if Jesus is in my boat—and He is—He will rescue me again and set me back on course.

At the threshold of each new year I schedule a personal “time out” from my regular routine and engage in a kind of self-examination. I need to collect or gather together the scattered pieces of my life as it is now, in order to correct my course if necessary, to better redeem whatever earth-time is left for me. 

I have to chuckle—I learned an enhanced definition for the word “recollection” when I became a Catholic Christian. I read an announcement in the Church bulletin that an annual “Day of Recollection was scheduled for the women of our parish. I was puzzled; would we all sit around and talk about our memories? That seemed strange. I found that the purpose and agenda, however, was something like a spiritual retreat. Setting aside a day to concentrate on the presence of God without distraction, to look at Him and adore His attributes. To meditate on Scripture truths. It was to be a time to gather up our faculties, our spirits, and bring them back into spiritual balance. We were to come apart and simply gaze at the wonder of God and His love and discern how He wanted to work in our lives. 

 That's exactly what I wanted to happen in my new years “time out.”

To be honest, I need to have such a “time of recollection” every day. To present myself to God, to sit quietly, focused on Him alone without distractions. “Here I am, Lord. If you want to speak to my inner spirit, I'm listening.” There are other times I schedule Bible study and praying for others. This is not it. This is a special time to simply enjoy being together with my Lord. A time to listen to God's voice. A time to gather up the scattered puzzle pieces of my life and let Him show me how to put them together like the perfect picture on the top of the jigsaw puzzle box of my life. 

We are blessed that our parish provides a lovely Adoration Chapel for such times of silent contemplation. Parishioners voluntarily sign up to be present for designated hours so that someone is always there to worship Jesus 24/7. But in addition to taking advantage of that opportunity, I want to set a "time of recollection” for myself at home alone with the Lord.

I don't make a list of New Year's resolutions. Of course there are many things I need to change, improve, detach from, add to my life even at this late chronological season. Better late than never! But I do want to make greater efforts to schedule such a personal “time of recollection” daily this coming year. In so doing, I expect to receive from God WISDOM to help me discern His priorities according to what resources, gifts, abilities, and opportunities He is still giving me to accomplish His will. The older I become, the more urgent it is to stay close to the Lord and “keep the main thing, the main thing.”

At the same time, I have to look toward the future with realism and not presumption or arrogance. “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow” writes James in the fourth chapter of the letter in the New Testament that bears his name. That doesn't mean that I shouldn't plan, set goals, take opportunities, keep writing and publishing, and press on to fulfill my life calling from the Lord. But I defer to God's will: “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” Whether we are young or old, life is fragile and uncertain, a vapor, just a matter of a breath. We are all a mere heartbeat away from exchanging our mortal life for immortality in the Presence of God in a place or state which Jesus called “My Father's House.”

Day by day I need the grace and strength and guidance of God to stay in the midstream of the River of God's will. I want His hands on the steering wheel. I want to live the rest of my life “in assisted living,” (although I'm presently happy to still be living in my own home, which I've named “Eagle Summit.”) I mean "assisted living" in the sense of being totally dependent on the Lord in each season of my life, but even more so at this advanced age. I take at face value Jesus' words “Without Me you can do nothing.” I never bought into the philosophy of “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul,” or echoed the Sinatra song, “I did it my way.” 

I truly don't want to “do it my way.” I'm determined to let Jesus keep steering my boat in this new year to keep it on course in the midstream of the River of His will all the way to His Destination.