An Issue of Character

IMG_1232I was born with a unique DNA and there is much that goes into that genetic makeup, helps determine my temperament, my gifting, my intellect, and my tendencies as well as the personality, which began before I was born. Those nine months influenced every aspect of my functioning. From the day of my birth, environmental factors and experiences were added to the mix of what shaped who I was. All of these did not, however, bear the burden of the development of my character. Yet, I could certainly look at all the history of the things I have mentioned and choose to blame them for my character and its shape.

I could easily blame any number of my flaws, weaknesses, and negative qualities on all these other things. I think we are all good at that. I think it comes from the DNA from the original garden where we humans began when Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve. Were the things they chose which led to so much turmoil influenced by forces outside of themselves? Of course! Even so, they made a choice to allow those influences to determine the shape of their character and absolve them of the responsibility of their choices. They forgot they were players in a great battle against forces that were not flesh and blood, but used flesh and blood to taunt, tempt, tease, and triumph over them.

Thousands of years later, we are tempted to be not much different than Adam and Eve. We blame our brother or sister when we are young children for why we chose to act in a certain way. Oddly enough, when we grow up to be adults we often do the same thing. We blame our parents for not providing us for what we needed so we could be smarter, better, and more successful. As adults, we might blame our bosses, our spouses, our professors, or the government. We can blame the neighborhood we grew up in and what happened to us there at any age or stage of life. Adam and Eve ultimately blamed the serpent, the evil challenging them there and we can do that as well. Before we are done, we might also be tempted to blame God since He was the one who got everything started in the first place.

If we continue to do these things, these are the very things that will shape our character and result in tendencies to feel victimized, bitter, angry, resentful, and more. We can insist that many of the things that are in play were not our fault and that might also be true, but the issue is what we do with those very things and what truth we allow to have the power to inform us about who we were and are as well as whose we are. The battle is not about flesh and blood, but make no mistake we are definitely caught up in a great battle. Perhaps that is why some of my favorite movies are those in the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings because they serve to remind me in powerful ways of what is happening and what my role is to be.

In a wonderful book by Ken Gire entitled The North Face of God, Ken writes a description that stirs my mind, heart, and spirit and helps shape my character and my choices. It reads as follows:


         “There is a battle that lies before us, before each of us, a battle set in motion before the dawn of time and fought in every generation until the once and future King returns. Now the fate of our Middle-earth falls on us, on you and on me and on all who bear the name of the King. The enemy has never been more relentless, never more cunning, never more ruthless. A daunting decision stands between us and that enemy.

 We can sheathe our swords in retreat. We can lay down our swords in surrender. We can fall on our swords in despair. Or we can, with the brave who have gone before us, draw our swords and ride with full fury into the enemy’s ranks.”


Today I choose to ride with the One who has won my heart and affection. He has not promised us ease, world peace, or a perfect life without challenges, wounds, and scars, but He HAS promised us He will be with us always, never stop loving us, and grant us grace when we falter.





Looking for Fingerprints

IMG_0859Our weeks are often a mixture of assorted tasks and projects sprinkled with time with family and friends and seasoned with God’s grace. In the midst of the week, we may often not sense a clear revelation of God’s plan or purpose as we go about doing those things right in front of us. Sometimes we miss it because we are not looking for it. Sometimes we miss it because it is right in front of us and our eyes skip right over it. Sometimes we miss it because the internal chatter that goes on nearly continuously has distracted us from subtle ways He is speaking or moving. Sometimes we miss it because it is not the message or response we desire.

Other times we see the Lord’s hand so clearly, it is like rays of sun piercing through the clouds and grabbing our attention and awe. We are clear on His purpose and His intervention with us is as obvious as the HOLLYWOOD sign on the California hillside.

This has been a mishmash week for me where different parts of my life and world seemed to collide and leave me feeling less steady without any particular reason. I can chalk it up to several nights of restless sleep or travel in a car for ten hours. If I want to go down rabbit trails looking for reasons, I can do that but it will still not change the sense of being less oriented. Perhaps it is just the reality of life, a life far from Eden where I was intended to live.

This week my reflections have turned to the many trips to the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Alberta, Canada. These are places I love because I seem to sense the Lord’s presence in the midst of His creation so very clearly. The magnificence of the mountain ranges, peak upon peak frosted with snow, the gurgling sound of streams racing over rocks, and the stunning teal shades of glacial lakes cannot help but humble me as I view what surrounds me. The rocky trails through cedars, aspens, fir, spruce, and narrowleaf cottonwood arouse my senses with fragrance and symmetry that I somehow miss as I walk in my neighborhood or gaze at the trees in my backyard. All of these things are giving me the BIG HD picture and surround sound experience.

These trips have also illuminated something else. As I have looked through the lens of my camera, I have discovered small splashes of color tucked into sandy arid soil and mountain crevasses. These varying hues from small flowers of assorted shades and types are not always noticed or seen when so many large things capture my attention. Yet, these are the very things that bring a smile to my face as they show the paradox of creation in the midst of the granite peaks surrounding me. They remind me to watch for small things, small surprises and delights planted throughout this world.

My children used to tease me about stopping so often to take yet another flower picture, trying to capture something of the wonder I felt as I discovered it. I seemed to be the catalyst for slowing the pace on the trail, as I would glimpse a columbine, wild strawberry, lupine or berry that I could not recognize.

These reflections this week were brought into sharper focus as I was reading Gospel Medicine by Barbara Brown Taylor as she wrote, “Sometimes the work of God’s hand is so evident that you can see it a mile away and sometimes you have to dust for fingerprints.”

Beware of Little Foxes

My day started out well enough despite some weariness from a long travel day the previous day. I had a leisurely lunch with a special friend and headed home for a list of assorted odds and ends, some of these were ones I had on my radar screen and some showed up unexpectedly.

The mix of these odds and ends gradually built into a cacophony in my head that left it throbbing and reduced my capacity to really get started with writing or to complete anything else on the list. I was soon spinning my wheels and getting more stuck in the mud in the process. Nothing seemed to be going well and I could not resolve several projects that were bearing down on my mind as a result of a deadline attached to them.

After hours of frustration with little accomplished, I shut down the computer and tried to shift my mind away from everything I had been struggling with in order to relax and get ready for sleep. If you are guessing that I was not very successful at that either of these things, you are right!

It was clear that I could not be productive, but neither could I relax and sleep did not come to relieve my aching head for hours after I got into bed. My shoulders were taut and scrunched up to my ears in tension and my mind refused to stop rehearsing the last four or five hours prior to getting into bed.

When morning arrived, I felt the hangover of too little sleep and all that was incomplete still facing me. I began to try to pick one piece of the thread to unravel the mess with only modest success. Prayer did not seem to reach the place I needed to be. My mind was still scattered and resulted in more little things like misplacing my keys at one point and my phone at another.

I needed help! I texted my dear friend who had shared lunch with me and asked her to pray for me. She is one of those people who truly will pray when asked to do so. As she came alongside me by praying, I began to feel some release and a short phrase from Song of Solomon came to mind, “little foxes spoil the vines”. It brought a smile to my face as I reflected on the state I had gotten into over “little things”. I felt as if the Lord was gently reminding me I had lost sight of what was important. It’s the sort of thing all of us periodically get snared by when we are not looking or expecting an assault.

Most of us may not routinely delve into the Song of Solomon with its apparent allegorical style. We enjoy it as we read the lavish descriptions of love written there, but the nuances of meaning in the midst of graphic descriptions are not always clear to us. As I checked several commentaries, the clarity of meaning of that phrase was not as precise as I would have liked.

One commentary suggested that little things can creep in nearly unnoticed and yet do great mischief and if not addressed lead to even greater problems. What I sensed from the Lord beyond that was a reminder that I am grafted into the vine as his daughter, but if I am too weary, tired, or bogged down with the cares of this life these little “foxes” can nibble away at the fruit in my life, destroy grace, squelch good motives and direction.

The phrase brought about a grace-filled gentle conviction that my mind needs to be alert to little things that nibble at the eternal relationship found in the vine because when this happens I become irritable, frustrated, and less able to see the forest for the trees or to reflect Christ’s character.



Construction and Detours

This summer has been an especially busy travel time for us, logging more than 5,000 miles by car so far and we are not yet into autumn. We have enjoyed so much of the beauty of much of this country and sweet fellowship with family and friends, but we have also seen more than a few orange barrels and jersey walls.

There were the long delays along I-90 around Chicago as well as a section of the road through Yellowstone National Park heading west to name only two. Then on trips heading east we saw similar signs and delays on the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes. All of these construction areas and detours also seem to bring with them more than one or two accidents as everyone tries to slow down or speed up, move over or stop. The hazards involved are many and often dangerous to navigate.

None of us enjoy detours and construction! One major reason is that they s-l-o-w us down and we tend to have very little patience for anything that interferes with our plans or timetables.

That is also true when it comes to things beyond travel. When we make a plan for our day, our week, our year, or our life and suddenly we get a curve ball that forces us to slow down, switch on our hazard lights, make a detour or halt movement, our inside world starts to scream! We had everything planned out and everything else in our life was arranged around this plan. Our first reaction might be to try to avoid the detour. After all, the road beyond the signs looks like it is in good shape and there isn’t even any traffic on it!

But why are the detours there? They exist because construction is occurring and that may very well be true as well for our plans beyond our travel. It’s true we may have a plan. We may have thought it through carefully, prayed about it, and sought prayer from others, but sometimes we don’t have all the information our Creator does about the path we have chosen nor do we see all of what He is seeking to work out and develop in and through us. Sometimes a detour is the only way He can slow us down to allow His construction to go forward.

What informs my opinion?

There are many examples that quickly come to mind. Abraham went to Canaan with a promise to become a great nation but his nephew, Lot, chose the well-watered land that left Abraham with the arid land. Then he learned Sarah was barren. God wanted to build faith, trust and character in Abraham on the way to raising up a nation through him. The child from whom a great nation would grow did not arrive until Abraham and Sarah were old.

Joseph had dreams of promise that he eagerly shared with his brothers and dad, but they came to a screeching halt when his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt where the Lord used false accusations and jail time to root out pride and build humility he would need to be a leader.

Moses was spared to be the one who would lead God’s chosen people out of Egypt to the Promised Land, but on the way to the task he killed an Egyptian and lost his confidence until God gave him Aaron as a mouthpiece. Even when Pharaoh finally kicked him out and he led Israel across the Red Sea he stumbled in his obedience and took a detour to die on the top of a mountain instead of entering the Promised Land.

There are more than a few examples throughout the Bible, but the examples don’t stop in those times. They continue into the current day. I have had more than one or two detours in my life while the Lord worked on constructing something in me that I didn’t even know was needed or missing! No, I didn’t like it very much, but now as I look back over the landscape of my life I can see He meant it for my good and His glory!

Rose Colored Glasses

PPP 051 200Who do you see when you look in the mirror?

Who do you see when you look at someone else?

The image you see will depend on the quality of the lens you are using. Unless it is a high quality lens, a very expensive lens, the view will likely be distorted in one-way or another and not give you a clear or accurate image. That distorted image will then affect your response to yourself or the other person based on faulty information.

Our lens can be flawed from multiple sources. Sometimes the marring comes from bias or prejudice we were taught or caught before we ever knew what those words meant. Sometimes the lens is scratched from wounds we received from abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Sometimes things that have been said to us or said about us that were hurtful and harmful cloud the lens. Too often, we do not see the imperfections in the lens just as many who wear glasses seem oblivious to the dust, fingerprints, and smudges on their glasses.

There is a great deal of evidence that suggests when we fail to see ourselves accurately, we cannot really see anyone else accurately because we project onto them our own distortions. That makes it hard to love, accept, trust, or enjoy anyone else because we secretly have difficulty loving, accepting, trusting, or enjoying ourselves. We simply cannot give what we do not own.

Where do we get a high quality lens?

I know of only one source that can supply what we need. It comes from looking at ourselves and others through what we read and see in the Word. That informs us of grace-filled truth and truth is what produces the clearest lens and the most accurate image. The result is that I can look at you and myself through rose-colored glasses.

Most people would say that sounds like a faulty lens where things are depicted in ways that do not fit at all with reality. Rose-colored glasses are something we are chided about using because the phrase indicates we are not looking at things the way they truly are. Is that really the answer?

The rose-colored glasses we all need are the most expensive lenses ever created and the only ones that can give us perfect images. We could not afford them. Only God could purchase them for us. These are lenses stained with the blood of the One who sees us as we truly are and yet loves and accepts us. God looks at us through the blood of the cross, the blood that cost Him more than anything else, the perfect sacrifice of love and forgiveness.

When we use these lenses, we can see others and ourselves through loving forgiveness even as He sees us. That doesn’t distort reality. It corrects what only He can accomplish.