Saturday, December 30, 2017

Nothing Beyond?

At the beginning of each new year for the past decade or so, I've taken some quiet time to pray and consider a key word of expectation and direction for the coming year. When I look back upon each year, my chosen word has turned out to be surprisingly appropriate.

As I stumble into or tiptoe gingerly or am catapulted into 2018, I am aware that at each beginning my attitude is a determiner of what I receive. I can eagerly look forward and anticipate more of God's goodness and mercy and lovingkindness and hold out both hands to receive it, or fail to see that there is anything more to have. “I've been there, done that. Thanks, but I'm good,” in the jargon of the day. As for me, I continue to choose the former stance.

I wrote the following in my first anthology of verse Life! Stop Crowding Me! in my early years, 

 “Before Columbus sailed to America, the coat of arms of Spain carried the motto: Ne Plus Ultra which was a declarative statement: “There is nothing beyond.” But Columbus, a man of Faith, with both evangelistic and material motives, envisioned undiscovered worlds beyond. He braved the terrors of the then unknown and uncharted seas to prove the science of that day geographically incorrect and changed it forever. After his discoveries, the Ne was dropped from the coat of arms leaving Plus Ultra: There is more beyond!”

I'm taking Plus Ultra as my God-word for 2018 with both hands held out in anticipation of receiving abundantly the implications of God's promise in Jeremiah 29:11 and beyond into verse 14. I'm aware that the promise was originally for Israel, nevertheless the principle and nature of God's desires for His people reveal His character here.

Ne Plus Ultra?

Is there nothing beyond?

my soul cries to God.

No more heights to scale,

no more depths to explore?

Really? No more?

“Come higher!” He calls,
Always there's MORE!

“Don't pitch your tent

On man's pleasant plateau.

In Me is All Fullness

beyond earth's foothills below.

Leave beyond the fainthearted.

Brave the unknown.

Keep pressing upward

'though climbing alone.

“My Spirit draws onward
Always there's MORE!"

“Set your heart on things above....” Col. 3:1

“I press on toward the goal for the prize

of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 3:14

I want to keep digging deeper, stretching further, reaching higher, even climbing beyond the limits of man-made boxes, if God's Spirit leads. (Phil. 4:8) I want to keep living in the MORE while I'm still in my earth suit body on earth knowing that the ultimate fullness is in God's presence after the Finish Line. If the apostle Paul confessed that he had not yet attained, neither do I dare say that I have, even as a nonagenarian. Attainment is to be realized in our Eternal state which Jesus is preparing for us as He promised. (John 14:1-3)

I called my autobiographical faith sequel Trilogy the Land of MORE series, and titled the third book, Still MORE! (Plus Ultra!) However, the term Land of MORE refers to more than my Christian ecclesial identity. I meant it to characterize my lifetime of seeking more of what God has given us in Earth life—more to learn, more to experience, more to know of Him and His ways while I “press forward” as in the verse above.

So “Heave Ho!” I want to pull up the anchor and sail off, as Columbus did, to yet undiscovered lands and uncharted seas in 2018. For sure there's more beyond!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Leona's Christmas tradition: Each year I write a story for some of my great-grandchildren working backward from some object to develop a theme or plot. (See my blog archive CHILDREN'S STORIES in the SEARCH category.)  Then I give the objects as a gift to the family. This year it's a somewhat pretend sequel to "Cuddle Bear Cottage" posted in 2015 to reflect the present ages of two of my great-grands.

Once upon a time, two little girls went on an adventure. Makenna has just turned seven and Myla is "going on three." Their daddy and mommy are Kara and Brian. They live in a beautiful neighborhood in Maryland.

At Christmas their parents often read to the children the previous pretend stories which their Great-grandma “Bubi” Leona wrote for them. One of the pretend stories was about Four Bears whose name was “Cuddlebear.” So the story goes, they live together happily ever after in a beautiful little pretend cottage in a pretend forest.

Makenna loved that story so much that she decided she and her little sister Myla should try to find out if there really truly was a Cuddle Bear Cottage where friendly bears lived. “Let's get all dressed up and go to visit them,” said Makenna. “Let's call it a Christmas visit.” Myla liked to do whatever her older sister liked to do because it was always sure to be fun. So she went along with Makenna's plan.

Both of the girls liked to wear fancy hats and both of them liked to wear green dresses. Myla wanted to wear her dress with the pink fringes. Both had green bows tied in the back. Myla wore her boots—she liked to wear them all the time. She would have slept in them if Mommy Kara had permitted her to. And guess what? Makenna was in such a hurry to go that she forgot to put on her shoes! But since they were going to a pretend place, she didn't think it would matter. She liked to go barefooted.

Just as they were about to leave, the little neighbor dog named “Woofie” barked and begged to go along with them. “No, no, Woofie. You might scare the bear family if you came with us. Go home now!”
Makenna picked a bouquet of flowers to bring to the bear family because in the story the Cuddle Bears all liked flowers. Myla carried Mommy Kara's old purse that mommy let her play with, and insisted on bringing her doll carriage. Instead of putting her dolly in it, she put her teddy bear in it, the one with the blue ribbon around his neck. After all, they were going to visit bears. They set off for the pretend woods on their pretend adventure.

By and by they arrived at Cuddle Cottage. Yes, just like in the story, there was “Welcome” on the door step and a gold heart at the tip of the roof, and flowers blooming in the flower boxes beneath the windows. AND, sure enough, there was that tall magic flower blooming higher than the cottage. 

Myla was a little scared and hung back, but Makenna came right up to the door and knocked. “I hear voices inside,” she whispered to Myla, “the bear family must be home.”

Soon the door opened wide. “Merry Christmas!” shouted the girls together. Two young Cuddle Bears hugged each other and called, “Mommy, Daddy, two someones have come to visit us! We love visitors!” They danced around clapping their paws.

The Bear parents hurried to the door smiling in welcome. “Who are these beautiful little girls?” asked Mommy Cuddle Bear wiping her paws on her apron because she had been busy making breakfast for her family. “We must invite them in to have breakfast with us. Come in, girls!”

Makenna gave Mommy Cuddle Bear her flowers, and Myla parked her doll carriage inside the door. “Oh!” said the littlest bear, “Look! She brought a little bear to visit us too. May I play with it?” Myla was a bit shy to talk to bears, so she just smiled and nodded.

“Quickly, little bears, bring two extra chairs and set the table with two more bowls. Pick out the prettiest bowls for our girl visitors,” said Mommy Bear as she took the big pot of porridge [oatmeal] from the stove.” The bear who was about Makenna's age put a bowl in front of her. “ This one is for you. It has two snow men on it. It is nighttime. See the moon and the stars?”

“And this one is for you,” said the smaller bear putting his bowl in front of Myla. “It has one snowman and it is snowing. There are four stockings hanging on it—like there are four people in your family, and four bears in our family. The little bear in the snow on the bowl is like the one you brought in your doll carriage.”

Daddy Cuddle Bear brought the pitcher of milk and the honey to the table. Honey is a favorite food of bears. They hunt through the forest to find honey made by bees in hollow trees. Makenna and Myla politely thanked the Bear family for their invitation to breakfast with them. Before they ate, Daddy Cuddle Bear asked them all to hold hands [and paws], bow their heads and close their eyes while they prayed together: “God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for this food.” Makenna and Myla didn't quite shut their eyes—this was the first time they ever held someone's paws. It felt kind of ticklish.

After breakfast the two young bears, both of whom were about the same ages as Makenna and Myla, showed the girls through Cuddle Cottage to see their Christmas decorations. In their bedroom were two small beds side by side with matching quilts. 

Makenna thanked the Cuddle family for welcoming them. “We have to go home now. We are going to tell our Mommy and Daddy about our adventure and our new Cuddle family friends.”

Mommy Cuddle Bear said with a twinkle in her eye, “Wait! Since you told us that this is a pretend visit, perhaps Daddy Brian and Mommy Kara might think your visit was all in your imagination. Here....” She brought the two bowls from which the girls had eaten and gave them to Makenna and Myla. “These are our Christmas gifts to you to remind you of your really-truly happy visit to Cuddle Bear Cottage.”

The girls said thank you for the bowls and everybody gave everybody else a gentle bear hug. “Be sure to come again!” called Mommy Cuddle Bear. 

Before they knew it, Makenna and Myla were back in their own yard and “Woofie” the neighbor dog was wagging his tail to welcome them.

“Where have you girls been?” asked Mommy Kara. “And where did you get those beautiful bowls?” Makenna tried to explain about their pretend adventure trip to Cuddle Bear Cottage and about the bowls, but Mommy just smiled and shook her head. “Well, those bowls are not pretend. Bring them in the house. Our lunch is nearly ready and you girls can eat out of your Cuddle bowls if you wish. Then you can explain to Daddy Brian more about your Christmas adventure.”

And so they did. Makenna and Myla always ever after wanted to eat their food from their beautiful bowls because it reminded them of their happy Christmas visit to their new friends.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Of Landings and Stair Lifts

I delight in follow-up ideas especially when they come from the viewers of my blog. Here's one packed with potential that came from a fellow writer. Let's try to unpack it a bit...

“I just read your most recent blog "A View Up the Staircase." Once again you have written something that I too have had in my writer's head, but have not yet put into words on paper or on my computer. Many times I've referred to my life as a journey up a flight of stairs. At times when I think I just can't climb one more step, God provides a landing place for me to rest, recuperate, and rejuvenate. Once again I can resume the climb never knowing what's ahead or how long it will be before there will be another landing place.”

I have such a staircase in my home, the dark oak steps are wide, it has a sturdy banister (too fancy to be called a “railing”) and it has a landing half way up. Being a nonagenarian, I'm thankful for that “rest stop” on my staircase to the next level. It is like the green comfort places beckoning us to stop and stretch our legs and refresh ourselves after long drives on a freeway. It's a pause, not a full stop.

God provides landings like that at intervals in our lives or we would be overwhelmed by the length of our way Home. Some of us need to or should look for such landing places daily. In His tender loving-kindness He doesn't tell us in advance how far it is to the top or how steep it's going to be. We might chicken out and balk at taking even the first step. Landing places on our climb are a token of His mercy and love. Only He knows the plans He has for us, for good and not for evil. (Jer. 29:11) Jesus invites us to come unto Him, all who are weary and heavy laden. (Matt. 11:28) It's difficult enough to try to manage the climb unencumbered, but more often than not He has providentially given us various and sundry burdens, our own or those of others, to carry which weigh us down. We need the landings to restore our souls and our bodies and gain the big perspective. I have friends who have even placed a chair and some potted plants or an artificial tree on their stair landing to make those pauses seem like an oasis in the desert. A landing is not a place to camp permanently, just a respite, a timeout to catch our breath and renew our resolve to make it to the top.

God has compassion on those who are handicapped, calendar challenged, suffer from COPD, or struggle to make the climb in their own strength. Most of us have seen the TV ads for the “chair lifts” which attach to the staircase.
One can sit in comfort and safety strapped in and with a push of the button ascend to your destination. “And you keep calmly ascending even if there's a power outage due to a storm” some disembodied voice assures us. There are times when even the ablest among us needs a spiritual chair lift as a boost during our times of human weakness.

Instead of climbing the stairs, take an escalator if available? By taking that first step and then standing still we can be effortlessly taken up to the next level. Well, that's not exactly the way it is in the Christian life. We are responsible to exercise our wills and the energy God provides to attain the goal He sets before us.

Staircases, of course, are simply a modern version of a primitive ladder. That requires that we hold on tight to the sides of the ladder to maintain our scary balance as we climb. To go up the ladder is somewhat easier than trying to descend again. In our life climb there is no backward descent. We are committed—no turning back. It gives us some assurance if there is a trusted friend holding the bottom of the ladder securely and a friend at the top encouraging the climber, applauding his efforts, allaying his fears and welcoming him when at last he reaches the top. What a comforting analogy that God is with us at the beginning of our life climb, holding the ladder steady and also welcoming us when we reach our Summit.

There are also free standing circular staircases sometimes right in the middle of a room where you climb around and around instead of going straight up. First you seem to be going in one direction, then another, not realizing that you are making progress and eventually you emerge at the next level. Trust the architect who designed such amazing marvels! It's not a good idea to look down or look back if you tend to get dizzy. The apostle Paul put it into perspective: “I press on...forgetting what lies behind...reaching forward to what lies ahead toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14). In life, God is that Architect and we must trust Him even though we are woozy from going in circles. Life often throws us curves. We seldom have a straight, plain vanilla, uneventful, predictable upward climb.

Success in whatever way God has ordained us to climb our staircase of life is assured if we “keep our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith” who cheers us on to “run with endurance [climb with endurance] the race [the staircase] that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1, 2).

Saturday, December 9, 2017


If you keep your mental antennas up, you can find inspiration in surprising places.
My neighbors shared a Christmas letter with me from their longtime friend Mike. It made an impression on me. I can't do better than repeat part of it in his own words so it can bless you too—“you” as represented by the approximately 2-3000 views a month my blog is privileged to receive. Go, Mike...

“[In speaking with a realtor friend earlier in the year, he showed me a flyer describing a house he had been contracted to sell.] The photographer included the image of a young girl standing at the foot of the grand staircase of the house he was trying to sell. The picture touched me as worthy of some contemplation. In it I imagine her standing at the beginning of her life's journey represented by the stairs before her. Each step on the stairway of life brings a promise of many things: loving and being loved, happiness and tears, success and failure, personal growth intellectually and spiritually, understanding, the power to become who she will be, and the discovery of the love and wonder of God in her life.

“As I reflect on my life's journey, to date, I've reached the 72nd step. How many steps remain is known only to God. When I began to climb, I had no idea what the journey would bring, or of the many people I would encounter on my climb. Today, as I look back and reflect, I realize how blessed I am to have encountered so many friends on my journey. Whether our acquaintance goes back many years, or is of more recent vintage, I want you to know I have been richly blessed that you became and remain a part of the fabric of my life. For this I thank God with all my heart. As Helen Keller said, 'So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good.' Blessed by your friendship, my life's journey has been very good.” Thanks, Mike, I agree!

I, Leona, started out like the child in the picture on my own life staircase journey in the Iowa heartland in the midst of what they called "The Great Depression."
God set before me the particular staircase which He planned before I was born for me to climb. (Ephesians 1:4) And He planned for all the many friends who would enrich my life through the years on that long climb which I didn't know would be crowned with longevity.
I am rich indeed with fellow-climber friends! I have probably never met most of you who view my blog posts throughout the world, but in some mystical way we too are part of each others lives, as are the rest of my many friends whom I have met face to face and heart to heart through the 92 years I have been climbing my staircase of life. I echo Psalm 103:5 “He [God] satisfies your [years, life, mouth, necessity and desire at your personal age] with good; so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's [strong, overcoming, soaring]!" See Isaiah 40:31. Yes, blessed by your friendship, my life's journey continues to be very good.

The little child pictured in the photo contemplating the steep staircase ahead had to take it one step at a time, as I have had to do. There were times I stumbled on those stairs and though I might tumble backward. In life we are subject to progressive time and we must do the same. As we each reach the top of life's staircase, of course we aren't wearing the same shoes we started out with in infancy. I grew up in the era when parents bronzed their baby's shoes to preserve them as a keepsake. Mine were never bronzed, but I don't feel neglected or deprived. Would you believe? For whatever reason, I'm still in possession of mine. Mine are unique, however, in that I doubt anyone's baby shoes are preserved like mine with chicken droppings still stuck to the soles from running around in the barnyard as a toddler!

By the time we reach the summit of our life's staircase, some of us may no longer be wearing dress shoes with high heels but orthopedic supports in our SAS or New Balance practical footwear. And the view of life near the top of our climb shows us a vast panorama compared to the limited and unknown view from the bottom step. If we needed help in climbing life's stairs, and we all do, God was with us to hold our hand tightly as we advanced from childhood through adolescence, prime of life and advancing age. We don't know about the future, but we know Who holds our hand--Great is His faithfulness! Yes, blessed by your friendship, I too can say that my life's journey has been very good.

Thanks, my friend who is reading this blog post, thanks for being my friend as we have met somewhere in the Providence of God and for His purposes along our climb on our individual staircases of life.