Almost There



Some of us have roots that go deep into where we have established a home. We may live not far from where we grew up as children, but others have known many places. For those folks, “the impermanence of home tends to be one of life’s most recurring surprises”.


That has been the life of Bekah DiFelice as the wife of a former Marine. It raises questions many of us have never considered such as: Is it possible to build a permanent sense of home in a rootless life? If home is where the heart is what can we love that will quiet the restlessness within?”


In Almost Home, Bekah’s first book, she invites the reader into her very personal journey of impermanence and how she discovers resilience along with valuable lessons about love, faith, and relationship that anyone can apply to his or her life whether one that has been rooted in the same place or not.


The experience Bekah shares as a Marine Corps wife immediately resonated with me as one who lived that life and knew the challenge of a husband’s deployment. But Bekah also gave me insights into things to observe now as I live in the place not far from where I grew up.


I love her descriptions in this book related to so many things common to us all. Listen to how she describes adaptation to change:


“Adapting to change is like tucking your knees in when somebody wants to squeeze by your seat, or hitting the brakes for a car to merge ahead of you when you’re already in a hurry. Adapting to change is making room for something you didn’t expect in space that’s already crowded. For most of us, it is painful and annoying.”


Leaving home is something most of us experience at one time or another. In our late teens or early adulthood we rush eagerly to grab new experiences in new places many times and only then begin to discover fully what “home” means for us.


Bekah reminds the reader of how God uses that leaving:


“It’s as if the act of leaving is part of the equipping, as if God personally leads people out of familiar territory so he can tell them who they are.”


So when does home change for us or does it?


“Home doesn’t begin or end with a mailing address or a change in surname. I don’t think it is ever a total reboot.

 Home is a lot like a poorly categorized box containing all sorts of odds and ends: the surprising and the familiar, the old and the new, the bitter and the sweet. It is mismatched in so many ways—not a start and end but an overlap, a tangle. We move away from it and bring it with us still.”


How true that is!


Bekah lets us journey with her as a new bride who leaves behind the beauty of the Colorado mountains for the dusty desert of her husband’s first duty station in Yuma, Arizona. Through the pages we experience her loneliness, her search for new relationships, new churches, the anxiety of a husband’s deployment, becoming a mom, and the quest for that illusive sense of home as she defines it.


Just when you find yourself either identifying with her or feeling comfortable with your own settled roots that have never moved very far from your childhood home, she challenges the reader.


“But I think it’s possible to be transient and aloof without ever leaving your hometown. I think we can be settled geographically but transient in commitment, in relationship, in purpose. We can be aimless without traveling, passive by nature, reluctant to strain beyond the discomfort required to produce actual growth.”


If you pick up this book, be prepared to delight in her engaging style of writing, but don’t be shocked when out of nowhere she nails a powerful truth to the page that pierces your heart and consciousness whether you are rooted in one place or transient.


To comply with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review.




The Race We Can’t Win



I have never been an athlete. I often felt like I had two left feet while I was growing up and no gym classes ever convinced me otherwise. As I look at it now over my shoulder, I am aware that much of my awkwardness related to two primary things: 1) lack of exposure to a variety of sports activities and the opportunity to develop skills in them through practice; and 2) my negative view of myself that would rarely risk trying something.


I applauded my daughter when she decided at age 40 to begin running after helping her home school children learn to run a mile for a physical education goal. She had never done sports growing up, but rather focused on piano, singing, and theater. I watched as she pursued first a 5K and then gradually moved up her efforts until she was able to run in a half-marathon. Her determination showed me one does not need to be a born athlete to develop athletic skills.


As I was watching one of the Narnia movies recently Aslan caught my attention when he admonished Lucy in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, “You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are.”


Lucy was caught up in the snare that many of us fall prey to of comparing herself to someone. In this case it was her beautiful older sister, Susan, and how much she wantedmirror_mirror_on_the_wall_decal_sticker_family_art_graphic_home_decor_mural_793d7316 to look like her. Aslan reminded Lucy that it was she who had brought all of them to Narnia and to Aslan. He reminded her of the value and the importance of not running from who she was and what He had designed her to be and do.


Learning that truth can be a big leap for many of us even after we come to know the Lord. It can be easy to ignore or deny the evidence abundant in the Bible that a flawed or weak family background does not impede our usefulness to Him. We can also forget that stumbling after we have started following Him does not preclude His use of us either even though we have good company when we believe that. Just ask Peter!


When our thinking and belief takes us away from the truth of who we are not, but who we can be because of His grace and mercy we can be immobilized from risking being available to Him. It can be somewhat like standing in a jail cell and seeing ourselves as stuck even though the cell door is unlocked and open, waiting for us to walk out.


Hearing the Good News of the gospel often comes to us because the bad news has become crystal clear. We are not good enough and never can be good enough. Goodness does not reside in us, but only  Him. What He wants from us first is our honesty with Him that comes from what we are willing to see about ourselves when we look in the mirror of His Word. What we are and have been doesn’t surprise Him! Adam and Eve’s major mess up didn’t leave Him wringing His hands and deciding to scrap the whole creation and start all over with a new man and woman.


If we start to think that, it reveals how little we understand that God’s love has never looked anything like ours. It is, after all, pretty amazing AND everlasting!


The race we cannot win? It’s when we try to run away from ourselves. You have likely heard that old saying, “wherever I go, there I am”.


The race to run away from us fuels our first step into addictions. On some level we cannot escape what we see about us or some aspect of our life. We want comfort and disconnection. We look for it in food, alcohol, drugs, shopping (known as retail therapy), romance novels, exercise, and sex. Tragically, each of those give us an initial sense of relief without a clue that the addiction can come to own us and leave us worse than when we began. When that happens, we add self-hatred to the mix and a greater assurance that no one can love us…not a holy God either. We can get stuck in self-condemnation with the enemy loudly agreeing with our assessment.


The enemy agrees because he never has understood salvation. It makes no sense to him at all because he always believed in his own perfection. He also never really got the power of God’s everlasting love or what it could accomplish.


38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 38-39 ESV


It’s time to stop running in the race we cannot win! 







Old, But Always New




Do you ever have one of those times that you are reading a biblical passage that you have read many times and suddenly see something new? I am guessing you have! I have experienced that many times and it never fails to delight me.


The incredible thing about scripture is that it is not new and yet always new at the same time.


I am currently reading the book of Judges and as I was reading the opening of the third chapter I had one of those moments that caused me to pause and reflect.


IMG_2453In those first two verses, the writer states that the Lord had left nations after Joshua “to test Israel by them”. Even with Joshua leading, the children of Israel had often faltered in their faithfulness. Now they would be absent that leadership and a series of judges appear to guide and lead.


The verses go on to say the testing was for those in Israel who “had not experienced all the wars in Canaan”. Because they had not experienced those things they hadn’t seen the hand of the Lord over and over again at the parting of the Red Sea, the collapse of the walls of Jericho, and so much more.


The second verse adds this; “It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.”


We so often talk about peace and our desire for it. If we have read much of the Bible, we know what it says about it and where it comes from and still we wish for the idyllic peace of Eden.


When I consider what that might have been like before the fall, I wonder if we forget to a-signremember that Adam and Eve were untested prior to the serpent. Was the serpent allowed in the garden to test them to develop their character?


Over and over again I see that testing produces character and that tends to come from two primary things. First, we learn more of the truth about our own condition and ourselves at that time. Secondly, we invariably learn more about the Lord and who He is.


Each testing time in my life has never failed to do both. Each time has also taught me more about warring against those things within me that are not like Him as well as how to be more effective at warring against the enemy who still seeks to defeat and destroy each one of us who are called by His name.


In the Judges passage the Lord used physical enemies and battles and wars that allowed testing. I think that sometimes occurs today as individuals are involved on physical battlefields and countries are forced to determine what actions they will take when evil seeks to overtake them. We also see that many who are not serving as soldiers armed with physical weapons are caught up in the battle, but for many of us the battles are not as graphic. Even so Paul reminds us of the armor we are to wear in Ephesians 6.


The truth about armor is that it will never be effective if you try to put it on when IMG_2452you are under attack in the midst of the battle. It must be put on before you go into battle.


Too often we do not remember that and are trying to put it on in the midst of a battle that needs our focus. Not a very beneficial strategy at all and yet it is too often our default position. Paul reminds us in I Thessalonians 5 how true that will be at the end time when the Lord returns. It suggests clearly as do other passages that we are to be watchful, ready, and already dressed for battle.


Peter reminds us as well about our need for preparedness in 1 Peter 4:12 ESV:


“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”


I am not eager for testing, never am I eager for that. I also do not believe the Lord is sadistically planning for pop quizzes and crushing exams to trip me up. I believe He is wanting each of us to be aware that we live far from Eden in a world that is far from perfect, often evil, and even more so as His return approaches.


It is His great love and care for us that cause Him to use any and all things to prepare us so we can stand and fight as His army alongside Him. He does not want us to be unprepared. Before David ever met Goliath, he knew well how to use a sling in other dangerous experiences. He was tested and so were his weapons. Should it not also be true of us?


We may not embrace the trial or test, but may our hearts echo the words of Job 23:10:


But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”









Hazards of Success




Success is highly valued in the world today no matter what country, culture, faith, company, ministry, or person. Only the criteria for what would constitute success varies in the list noted. Even as believers we are tempted to chase that illusive benchmark. Some look at quantity as evidence while others insist that quality is the most important. In both cases, we get stuck because how much is enough and what does quality look like?


I wonder why success matters so much to us. If I were to survey a group of people, I would likely get a variety of answers. The real answer might not appear in the list, however, because success is often sought in order to confirm to ourselves that we are enough or we are valuable or we are important. If those roots are true, then success will likely be always just beyond our reach since we will never achieve enough to be certain of who we are, why we are, or what we have done.


Clearly, none of us set out to pursue failure or mediocrity, but the desire for success can be a fickle lover that tempts us to forget the source of our value and purpose if we ever knew it. It can also seduce us into believing that if we achieve anything that somehow it came from us rather than from a gracious God who blessed us and whatever efforts we used to reach some goal set before us. That is but one hazard of success.


Success can also lead us into greater temptation to compare ourselves with others. This is always full of snares. We either determine we are less than or not good enough compared to some other mortal who has as many flaws as we do or we fall prey to seeing ourselves as better than the model we chose to compare ourselves. It points to another example of a hazard.



When success is the primary goal, we make relational choices that are often based on whether or not these persons will add to or help us get to the target goal. In doing so, we may well ignore or overlook a host of warning signs that let us know the relationship may not be good for us. Without consciously acknowledging it, we use the other persons for our own benefit without much regard for him or her. We also expose the reality of our own selfish self-centeredness.


All of these hazards and more can cause us to place our trust in the wrong things and people. If we have read very much of nearly any part of the Bible, we see how common it is for us to fall prey to such hazards. In the Old Testament despite God’s favor and provision for his chosen people, time and again foreign cultures are hired to provide protection and God needs to allow His people to discover their faulty choices. In the New Testament we see the religious leaders of the day trusting in the law and phylacteries when the fulfillment of the law stands in front of them.


Too often we can be tempted to look to someone or something other than the Lord to lead us to success and save us from calamity. We are not so different than our Old Testament brothers and sisters who didn’t seek a personal relationship with God as central/primary and see Him as their leader and source and instead chose flawed earthly kings. They forgot (as we often do) that they were to be citizens of an eternal heavenly kingdom above an earthly one they were trusting.


I recently read a Bible commentator who put it this way:


“Cut off from God’s kingship, the people of God are left with only private religion and personal ambition. God is the king, however, and will not long tolerate seeing his people destroy themselves.”


When we get weighed down by the headlines around the world or our own personal lives and hope for a solution and peace, perhaps the psalmist still says it best in Psalm 20:7-8 ESV:


“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.”


And, by the way, only the Lord’s standard will determine the criteria for success in our lives!


How Will You Finish?




School buses are no longer heard on my street morning and afternoon, but instead I can hear sounds of children playing and see them riding bicycles for hours on end. These are the sure signs of summer and the evidence of the school year coming to a close.


We have come through a time of graduations and celebrations for accomplishments. Diplomas, grade cards, certificates, and awards have been passed out. They do not reflect all of who that person is, but a measure of how each person finished a course of study. Looking at the results can be a sobering time because the information shows not only how each person started the course, but also how they finished it as well.


During the time in my life that I spent as a teacher I learned very early that some of my students would start the year with lots of enthusiasm and determination to make it a good year. Others sometimes started slowly and had difficulty grasping the new concepts or recalling the foundational ones from the year before. They would stumble more than a few times early in the year.


What became clearer to me each year I was teaching was that I could not always predict how each student would look as the year would end. Some of those who started strong would remain consistent in their efforts even though the work would get harder every month. Others who started strong would demonstrate difficulty in maintaining commitment to the discipline of more study being needed to keep their grades at a good place. They lacked the perseverance and sometimes the support from parents at home to help them stay the course.


Some of those who started the year faltering and unsure and might have been expected to fail met their own expectations. That was not true for this entire group, however. Some of this lackluster group at the beginning of the year kept plodding along and faced their fear of failure and did not give up. They asked for extra help. They doubled up their study efforts and they grew in skill and also confidence. They looked for the support they needed at every turn. The source of their motivation varied from person to person, but in the end this group actually saw the measures of their performance improve and they finished well (sometimes to their own surprise)!


I recall my own years as a student in every season from elementary school to the time I entered graduate school in mid-life. Everything did not always come easily for me and I was prone to lack confidence more than once, but as each season progressed I developed more skill and commitment to the goal to finish well. I looked for support from others who could be helpful and I kept my focus on the prize.


IMG_4089As I watched with great joy the graduations of two grandchildren a few weeks ago, listened to the speeches such events always include, and saw the celebration of those seated in robes and wearing the mortarboard caps, I celebrated with them. The truth is that more chairs should have been filled, but not everyone who started the race to the goal finished.


It caused me to consider something beyond this scene or my time in the classroom. How will I finish in the most important things in my life? Will I finish well?


If I look backwards over the course of my life, I see a line that was not always straight. Sometimes it zigged and zagged a bit. There were places I faltered and got lost along ‘the yellow brick road,’ places where I chased what John Eldredge would call “less wild lovers”. When I read the book he wrote with his good friend Brent Curtis, Sacred Romance, the chapter about chasing after other things more than the wild love of God was a powerful one for me.


Each season of my life, of your life, gives you and me choices and decisions to make. We make some of those without much thought or consideration of where they will lead or the consequences, but as we move into successive seasons of life we hopefully learn from such mistakes.


By mid-life we are tempted to look at the years ahead and set goals for ourselves about what we yet hope to attain, how much we can save, or how we can grow our portfolio or ministry. Hopefully, we give more consideration to the criteria the Lord will use as we finish our life on this earth. In truth, those are the things that will often be what is most spoken about at our funeral than the size of our bank account, the number of awards we have on our walls, or the number of people we attracted to ourselves.IMG_2438


What does it mean to finish well? What does it take?


As I read in the Bible I see how many heroes of the faith had a path that was not always straight as well. Some started poorly and lashed out at Christ like Saul (later Paul), but with conviction, grace, mercy, and sanctification became a great lion of God. I see some who started strong like Peter who faltered along the way and yet regained his footing in the end to launch the church. Their stories and all the others give me hope as I look at my own life.


What I know for certain is that I do want to finish well and live my life for God’s glory! I rest in His grace and mercy and look more avidly each day for His guidance as I listen to His Holy Spirit’s conviction when I slip.


A favorite passage of mine is one written by Paul in Philippians 3:12-14:


12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.


We may stumble, but the key to how we finish will be what we choose to do next!