Have We Missed It?



The headlines are certainly not sharing good news for the most part. Natural disasters abound from one side of the world to the other and that doesn’t begin to touch the folly of man that points to other tragedies around the globe. It would seem we could all do with a healthy dose of Good News and I know of only One solid source for that that never fails. What is tragic is that too often shadows even fall over that and discourage too many from believing there is Good News or there is a place where they can find it.


In the novel, Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, that has inspired a fair number of posts of mine in recent weeks, Jayber talks of his own struggles as a result of the various church experiences he has known in the various small Kentucky villages and towns he lived in. At one point he muses:


“…as I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion, but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the towns and wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here.”


 Our reactions to his experiences can range from offense to strong agreement based on what we view as the hypocrisy of the body of Christ or organized church or the very personal wounds we have experienced within it or as a part of it. Our reactions are very img_3627much based on our own experiences, our own lens, even as Jayber’s were. The result can be that we can be duped into either dismissing the church (or ourselves from being a part of it) or we operate with a certain denial that ignores the truth of evidences it is blemished to varying degrees by the human element and the enemy’s assault. Major fractures have taken place in our churches and in other places minor cracks have been observed. They are evidences of the fragmentation within each of us. Try as we might, perfection eludes us which is why we needed a Savior to begin with and why God’s grace and love was extended because He knew He would have to do for us what we could not.


I wonder if we have expected too much of the church or perhaps too little. I wonder how often we consider our own role in the conundrum.


How fragmented we may or may not be affects the fabric of the church as well. Fragmentation is the handiwork of the enemy. It exists in varying degrees in us all and he has been using it since time began and most certainly after Jesus left His disciples to spread the Good News and usher in the body of Christ as the bride He is coming for.


John Eldredge speaks of how traumatizing the enemy’s work has been from the very beginning, pointing out his lustful desire to separate us not only from God, but also from  one another. In his latest book, All Things New, listen to some of the ways he describes this:


“Our Enemy is the Great Divider. His most poisonous work takes place at the level of fragmentation, dividing families, churches, and fomenting racial hatred. He uses pain and suffering to create deep divisions within our own beings.”


 A few lines later he adds:

Yellowstone National Park


“Our lives have become cut off from the Garden we were meant to flourish in.”


Have we been duped into looking to each other to be what only He can be? Have we forgotten the thread of humanity that resides in all of us is what can bring us together in a crisis or tragedy? Do we not value that enough?


There is not only Good News to be had, but also truly the very BEST news.


Certainly the Bible speaks about it, but He is not limited to that primary source. He speaks to us through creation at every turn, through the rustling leaves stirring in the breeze, the babbling brook, and the warmth of the sun on our skin. He reminds us He has created and set us in time to structure our days and nights and create order in the midst of the enemy’s desire to create disorder.


The growing disorder we see is also a reminder He is coming again and likely sooner than we may think.


Can we see in the midst of and beyond the headlines and see Him watching and looking for us to look up and see Him?

















Don’t Forget To Say It




My husband and I had known he was dying. We had watched this retired Marine in his mid-60’s for some time as he battled through the rigors of chemo for the cancer seeking to destroy his body. He went from running five miles a day to trying to walk up and down the driveway. He was a valiant warrior to the very end. We had met him and his wife when my husband was a young second lieutenant and he a major.


When he and my husband were each deployed overseas and I moved home to Ohio to live with my parents, his wife had not long after moved to a neighboring city and we became friends during those long months of uncertainty. When he retired as a lieutenant colonel, they moved to a city two hours away and we continued to grow in friendship over time so it was without question that we would visit often when the diagnosis of cancer came to him.


He demonstrated courage at each step and each of us made time together count, whether it was discovering a new restaurant to enjoy or being certain to say heartfelt words that we did not want to miss saying when a visit became our last time together. Despite pain and exhaustion, he also wrote several letters during that time filled with precious reflections on his experience.


Not long before what would become the last visit, we arrived back at their home after IMG_2941dinner and with great care he presented a gift to my husband and then one to me. I unwrapped the small blue box and found tucked inside a beautiful sterling silver pendant divided into four sections with a different symbol in each representing different seasons. His tender words spoke of the seasons of our friendship over time and were recorded in my heart. They were the kind of words too often we leave unsaid or say after someone has died.


They fit perfectly the words of Proverbs 25:11 (KJV):


“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”


It can be so easy in our busyness to leave unsaid the words tucked inside our hearts and thoughts. Sometimes it isn’t busyness, but the uncomfortable awkwardness of revealing something so personal and intimate. And why do we wait until someone is old or dying if we risk saying them at all?


One of the characters in Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry reflected poignantly to Jayber about a loss and unspoken words, as well as some that should never have been spoken. They remind me of the importance of not only saying what we should and knowing not everything we feel must be said. Listen to how she describes it:


“There are things I did or said that I wish I hadn’t, and things I didn’t do or say that I wish I had. When he finally got free of his sickness and awful clumsiness at the last, I was glad, and yet I was sorry I was glad, and yet I miss him.”


Here when a life has ended, the character expresses ambivalence. Grief is often like that, but when we remember that time is always moving ahead and a chance to say “I’m sorry” or “I love you” may not come around again we improve the possibility of fewer regrets in life.


Berry’s book (Jayber Crow) makes a key observation to consider:


“But the mercy of the world is time. Time does not stop for love, but it does not stop for death or grief, either.”


 We must never forget that time is the one gift that we spend that we can never get back.


 Each day we should spend it wisely, value what we can learn from it and what we can give to it.





The Antidote on the Back of the Shelf




One of the habits I have not developed well enough is that of going through my cabinets and cupboards to not only organize, but also get rid of those out-of-date items that somehow got shoved to the back of the shelf. How could I possibly forget that nothing I purchase and bring home is without an expiration date?


A few weeks ago I dug into our medicine cabinet to check on expiration dates, but I really didn’t expect to find anything that was a problem because there was not as much there as when our children were young and living at home. I was more than a little shocked to discover a bottle of extra-strength acetaminophen that was several years expired. The bottle had gotten shifted to the back of the shelf and well…you know the rest.


There are other things beyond products we buy that can get shifted to the back of the shelf as well. Some of them are antidotes to things we are struggling with. In the flurry of daily activities we can forget what was already provided for us.


Fear is one of the most prevalent viruses spreading throughout the world today and it gets plenty of reinforcement from daily news no matter what its source. Monster storms, earthquakes, uncontained wild fires, unspeakable atrocities, violence, spreading civil disorder, disabling diagnoses, and even threats from space of asteroids coming close to earth. We are bombarded on every side.


We need more than optimism. Too often optimism is based on fairytales that do not stand up to real life challenges. Optimism many times comes with a heavy dose of denial. I recently read a quote by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks from Celebrating Life:


“It takes no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to have hope.”


We so easily allow hope to be eroded and Proverbs 13:12a makes clear what that will create:


“Hope deferred makes the heart sick”


God repeatedly points to three key antidotes to the challenges of daily life: faith, love, and hope. I don’t think He intends they simply be words we toss about without meaning or understanding. Three of His reminders that are favorites of mine in my arsenal against the daily onslaught include:


“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)


Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)


“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” Hebrews 6:17-19 (ESV)


Have we paused long enough to get the powerful truth the writer of Hebrews is telling us about? Hope is an anchor of the soul!!


I love what John Eldredge says in his newest book, All Things New, as he describes the difference between faith, hope, and love:


“A life without faith has no meaning; a life without love isn’t worth living; a life without hope is a dark cavern from which you cannot escape.”


John’s words describe so well what can too often be our experience:


“When we lose hope we wander too close to the shadowlands of hell…Hope is the sunlight of the soul; without it, our inner world walks about in shadows. But like a sunrise in the heart, hope sheds light over our view of everything else, casting all things in a new light…


Faith is something that looks backward—we remember the ways God has come through for his people, and for us, and our belief is strengthened that he will come through again. Love is exercised in the present moment; we love in the “now”. Hope is unique; hope looks forward, anticipating the good that is coming. Hope reaches into the future to take hold of something we do not yet have, may not yet even see. Strong hope seizes the future that is not yet; it is the confident expectation of goodness coming to us.”


It can be easy in the midst of crisis and chaos to think or say, “That’s all well and good, but I don’t see it!”


Perhaps that’s the point. Where are we looking?


If we are looking at the world for human options, it can look shaky and bleak at best. We long for someone to stop the madness and rescue us as we slip down a descending slippery slope. There is only One who can and He has promised to be there in the midst of all this (whatever it is) with us and to come for us who put faith in Him.


It is in His Word we find the source of truth, the source of faith, the source of love, and the source of hope. And hope is the antidote for what is often ailing us. It is the anchor we need.















A Book Can Take You Home Again




The joy of reading a good book is discovering so many places the author takes you from the moment you open the first page to when you close the book. That has been true for the whole of my life.


As a child I read books that took me to cities and countries I never expected to visit. They seemed so wondrously adventuresome and exciting to consider as compared to the 60-acre farm I was growing up on. The farm was a busy place that somehow felt boring to me then. The predictable ebb and flow of seasons, sowing and harvesting, occurred more or less in usual order. In other words, they were predictable and as a child (and later teen) I longed for all the things I had not explored and had yet to discover.


I appreciated all the tastes and fragrances the farm brought me. Most of them linger in my mind so many years later. The kitchen was forever a place associated with my mother and her cooking, canning, preserving, or freezing. Though we were never rich, our table was blessed with meat and milk grown on our own farm, eggs stolen from our own chicken coop, vegetables, fruits, and berries grown in our own garden and orchard. There was the delicious smell of the smokehouse with hams and slabs of bacon. The fragrance of new hay in the barn and jumping into it somehow helped to offset some of the smells of the manure also emanating from the barn.


By the time I arrived, the farm had been in our family for quite awhile. My paternal grandfather and his brothers had left Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County and collectively bought land adjoining one another that was subsequently divided into farms. They IMG_3422worked the land together and taught their sons and daughters how to do so as well. When my grandfather died when my dad was a little boy of five, it would fall to my dad’s older brother and my uncle to seek help from his uncles to take on the responsibility. A short eight years later the task would fall to my dad when his brother was killed when he fell from the barn roof.


My dad grew up knowing how to love and tend well the land that fell to him. Through hard and lean times, it provided for the family enough to eat when others suffered from rationing and less food than they wished. As times changed, he was forced to change with it. The matched team of horses had to be sold for a tractor and then my dad had to take on a job away from the farm to support the increasing costs of living.


When he asked me as a young wife and mother if I wanted the farm, I never had considered I would take over and handle the long hard hours of keeping up the farm. He knew by then it was becoming too much for him to do and the large barn would need major maintenance if the farm were going to stay in the family. I didn’t give a great deal of thought to the decision at the time. He found a buyer he trusted and sold all but ten acres and built a ranch house that would be easier for him and my mother to manage as senior citizens.


The buyer who had purchased the other 50 acres made improvements on the big farmhouse and leased the fields to neighboring farmers to keep the land well cared for and productive. That blessed my dad. He also leased just a bit over seven of the acres he kept to be farmed as well. He planted a big garden, fruit trees, and berry bushes, grape vines, and more. He had grown up appreciating the value of land and the stewardship of it.


By then the smaller farms were disappearing to land developers or were purchased by IMG_3423farmers wanting to turn farming into big business. I had not wanted the farm years before, but I began to appreciate and miss the life I had been blessed to live when a family knew how to provide for themselves instead of relying on a grocer who trucked food in from hundreds and thousands of miles away.


And so it was that while reading Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry with Michele Morin and a few others, the author took me home again when he described the time in Kentucky when farming as I had known it was beginning to disappear. I understood his words. I could feel the meaning behind each one as he penned these words:


“Most of them kept on farming until they died….And as long as they were farmed they worried about farming and what was to become of it…no matter how hard they worked or how little they earned, farmers had always had at least the assurance that they were doing the necessary work of the world, and that before them others (most likely their own parents and grandparents) had done the same work, which still others (most likely their own children and grandchildren) would do again when they were gone. In this enduring lineage had been a kind of dignity, the dignity of at least knowing that the work you are doing must be done and that it does not begin and end with yourself.”


As I have been reading in Joshua in my daily devotions, I was reminded there also about the value and gift of land and the importance of stewarding the gift it is.


When my parents died some years ago, I discovered the truth: I did want the farm or at least a piece of it.


I sold the ranch home they had built with just over two acres and kept the rest. I called a nearby farmer who kept his fields the way my dad always did and asked him if he would farm the just over seven acres of original farm land that now belonged to me. I ask him for no rent money, but only that he farm the land and in so doing, show care for it. I can’t ever imagine selling it or using it for any other purpose.


I think Jayber would understand that.






Fire Road


Few persons living during the Vietnam War have not seen the memorable Pulitzer Prize winning photo of the little girl running to unsuccessfully escape the flames of napalm on Route 1 on June 8, 1972. Many who did not know her name referred to her as “the napalm girl”, but she did have a name. Many stories have been written about Kim Phuc Phan Thi (“the napalm girl”), but the new release, Fire Road, written by Kim is the powerful story of her journey through the horrors of war to faith in Jesus Christ, forgiveness, and peace.


Prior to that horrific day in 1972, Kim had known the daily rhythm of family life in Trang Bang, Vietnam, as the sixth of eight children enjoying a two acre plot of land that included a variety of pigs, chickens, ducks, swans, dogs, and cats. She also enjoyed coconut, durian, grapefruit, and guava trees. Kim loved to climb into the guava trees and enjoy the sweet fruit as well as a special perch where she loved to read tucked among the tree’s leafy canopy. Her mother (“ma”) was known for her delicious soup that became a prosperous business and helped support the family.


Kim knew that at night Viet Cong in black pajamas would creep about in the jungle and arrive on the doorsteps of villagers demanding food and supplies, but much of the time she was shielded from exposure to them. As the war had intensified and the Viet Cong dug tunnels under her family’s home, her family sought safety in the CaoDai temple along with other villagers.


South Vietnamese soldiers were seeking to guard the temple, but on that fateful June day a South Vietnamese pilot made a color mark within the temple grounds to mark the spot for the napalm bombing  run. The soldiers screamed to everyone that they must run as fast as they could to escape when they discovered the mark.


Everyone on the property of the temple ran toward the adjacent road, Route 1, running as fast as they could. Within seconds, Kim caught sight of the plane that was closing in on her as she ran. The bombs that were dropped floated to the ground and then the cans of napalm burst open and she saw other children and soldiers disappear. The flames chased Kim from behind as she ran. As the fire caught up with her, it consumed her clothing and the gel-like napalm clung to her neck, back, and left arm. She continued running, now naked, yelling,“Too hot! Too hot!”


Fire Road will take you on the journey to the first hospital where she was left in the morgue for three days with no expectation she would live to her parents’ discovery of her there. You will walk with her through the excruciating burn treatments, the erosion of her CaoDai faith, and beyond to her introduction to Jesus Christ. Jesus will give her the first taste of peace to sustain her through the life of a disfigured shunned outcast with no evidence of opportunities. She was used by the government as a propaganda tool, denied the opportunity of the education she longed for, and lived clinging to her new-found faith from one moment to the next.


Her story will take you from Vietnam, to Cuba, to Russia, and ultimately to Canada where she courageously defects.


Page by page you will watch Kim’s faith grow under the most difficult of circumstances along with ongoing physical and emotional pain. You will also learn of the ways the Lord begins to use her to speak of her faith, peace, and love not only to people around the world, but also to the family she leaves behind as she leads each to the Lord.


This was an especially poignant story to read, but it is one I would encourage you to add to your reading list. The testimony of God’s pursuing love and miraculous provision will buoy your faith and give you hope.


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.