The Still Place in the Storm

The world turns and spins around me

But You are steadfast and strong.

Events uproar and crash at my feet

And You remain calm and restful.

Nations rage and peoples bluster

While You peacefully continue Your intended purpose.

In a world of whirlwind

You are the still place in the center.

In a universe of noise

You are the Peace in the midst.

In a society of discord and division

You are the harmony and unity at its heart.

In a life of constant change

You are the only constant never-changing Same.

I seek You in the quiet

I find You in the center

I rest in You in the midst

Like a tiny bird in the cleft of a rock

in the midst of a storm

You hold me and comfort me.

You were

You are

You ever remain

the still place, the quiet rest,

the peaceful center of the storm,

in an ever-changing world.

 

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Charlie, Get OFF My FEET!

Dear Readers, over the years on this blog, I’ve introduced you to various members of my family. There is, of course, the long-suffering Bob, who is not only my dear husband of almost 35 years, but also my editor. He patiently puts up with the life of a husband of someone obsessed with words and getting them down and out of my head before they drive me nuts with their clamor. His thoughtfulness of others gives him the right to edit all my work, suggesting less offensive ways of saying things, as I can tend to be too blunt many times. And he does all this with a gentle and sweet spirit, loving and easy going in his ways. Besides being my husband and editor, Bob is also my business partner and the steadfast emotionally stable rock of our family. He puts up with me when I go off half-cocked on some new wild scheme, and often just watches and enjoys the ride, preparing as needed to help clean up my mess after. (I can’t say enough good about him!)

Our oldest is daughter Beth, married to (acquired-by-said-marriage-son) Tom. Yes, we view Tom as just as much one of our adult kids as the two we birthed. They are, if you will recall, parents of our 4 remarkable grandchildren, Keyna, Ariel, Tommy, and Samantha. Beth and Tom have recently started a business in collaboration with ours, and we are rejoicing in their early successes. We adore the times we get to spend with our grandchildren and know our grandchildren are our rewards as parents for allowing our kids to survive when they were such seemingly impossible beings when we were raising them!

Youngest is our son David. David is in the process of launching into the world and leaving home. He has found a roommate, a job and they are now looking for apartments together. He had some struggles to find his way for a while, trying college and flunking out only one semester before graduation, but he finally seems to have found his niche, and a job he enjoys. We are pleased to see him finally find his feet in life, and now are just hoping a nice girl will catch his eye soon, so he can start giving us a few more grandchildren to spoil . . .

There are a few family members I know I haven’t introduced you to yet. These are our fur babies, 3 cats named Simba, Boots, and Charlie. We adopted them from a local animal shelter a few months after a couple of other of our former cats had died, when the time seemed right to do so. I went in that day with the intent of only getting one, but when I saw the trio in the cage and began to interact with them and saw how well they got along, I just couldn’t stand to break up the set! Poor Bob was at the gym working out that afternoon, and had no clue what I was doing (or how much I was donating to the shelter for them!) until I got home with the 3 borrowed cat carriers in the back seat of my car! He took it all in his usual affable stride, removing the carriers from the car and helping me bring our new acquisitions into the house.

Simba came with the name of “Red” originally, but it just didn’t suit. He’s not red. He’s a caramel and peanut butter colored tabby, with virtually no white. He’s our shy guy and avoids the noisy grandchildren like the plague! He has decided he is my cat, and I am his person, and we’re both content with that arrangement. He’s very playful, and always game for a string chase. He’s young, healthy and athletic though he’s very timid of loud and sudden noises. It took Simba the longest to get used to us, hiding for weeks before we managed to coax him out. Simba likes to sleep at night on our bed, near Bob’s feet.

Boots came with the name he still has. He’s a traditional orange tabby, with a white chest, belly, and feet. Nothing flusters Boots. Grandchildren don’t phase him. He puts up with their fumbling attempts at affection until he’s had enough, and then leaves. Boots prefers comfort above all things and a full belly. He is also young, but not tremendously athletic. Honestly, he’s fat. Really fat. His nickname is “Lard Fur.” Boots likes to sleep at night at Bob’s side.

Charlie is our elder statesman. He’s a few years older than the other two. Charlie is a muted toned dark traditional tabby, with white highlights. He came with the name of “George,” but my father (of the same name) had died within a year or two of his acquisition, and we knew it would freak out both my mother and us to hear us refer to the animal with my father’s name. He got his name the first night home, when he crawled right up on our bed with Bob, purring and cuddling. Bob said he was a Good Time Charlie, and the name has stuck. He is also good with the grandchildren, and mostly very affable and easy going.

However, Charlie has one particular quirk that drives me nuts, and thus the reason for this post. Charlie likes to do what cat experts have termed “cat piling,” meaning he likes to rest against something else for warmth and comfort, preferably another cat, although any warm body will do. He will also snuggle the back of the couch, or a pillow if there are no bodies available.

Charlie’s habit of cat piling with me has led to some memorable skirmishes between he and I over the years. Due to chronic sciatica issues, I sleep with a pillow between or under my legs, depending on my position. Charlie likes my pillow. He likes it so well, it’s his favorite spot to lie down in our room, cat piling next to it as it sits under the covers. When I am not in bed, I’m fine with it. However, I have a bit of a quirk of my own, which runs completely counter to his — I cannot in any way stand to have more weight than the covers and pajamas on or adjacent to my legs or feet when I am trying to sleep. I’ve had cats park themselves on my stomach or chest (one tried my face, but that was a bit much!) while sleeping, and been fine with it. But Charlie and I go through almost nightly battles for dominance of who will be sleeping where when I lie down. These often involve me pushing him away from under the covers, with ever-increasing fervor, using my legs and feet, until he gets the hint I truly mean business yet again. Grumbling at him on my part is another important part of the ritual, whether aloud or silently.

So, why am I telling you all this? It’s not to complain about it. Nor is it to hear from you, dear readers, how horrid I am to Charlie about my own quirky likes and dislikes. It’s because last night, as we battled yet again, something occurred to me. My battles with Charlie over the dominance and position on our bed are remarkably similar to the battles we all face when dealing with faults and failings that so often beset all of us.

The Bible talks about these things, calling them “besetting sins.” Our modern language might refer to them as “nagging issues.” The meaning is the same. Hebrews 12:1 – 2 has quite a bit to say about it

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith.

We’re surrounded on a daily basis by people who witness our lives. Oh, I don’t just mean the people with whom we interact, and neither did the writer of Hebrews. The writer was talking about a crowd in a Heavenly stand, of those gone in faith before us, who now cheer us on as we run our daily race of life. Yes, the ones we interact with daily are visible, but that doesn’t make the Heavenly ones any less real.

The writer likens it to a runner who has tossed off everything unnecessary to the completion of his race. We’ve all seen Olympic competitions. The runners are seen prior to the race, wearing warm-up suits and often have a towel around their necks, and possibly some other gear to keep warm and dry. But just before the race starts, everything that isn’t his or her minimal uniform and sneakers is shed. The runner doesn’t need the weight or drag on them as he or she moves. Can you imagine trying to run an Olympic sprint wearing weights? It would be impossible! In the same way, we are called to daily toss off those besetting sins to run that day’s race with our best efforts.

There is also the issue of the goal. In an Olympic race, the goal is the finish line and the prize is a gold medal. While as a Christian my eventual eternal goal is Heaven, there is a goal here on earth, too. Evangelist and theologian Charles Finney called it the striving toward personal sanctification in this lifetime. The way the writer of the book of Hebrews puts it is to keep Jesus in our view at all times, seeking to live in His Father’s perfect will moment by moment.

The writer of Hebrews is saying just like Olympic runners shed everything unnecessary to their goals, it’s the same with us. Just as I work nightly to shove Charlie from my legs and feet so I can sleep in peace, I need to examine my life on a daily basis to see what is holding me back, to be aware of what is hindering me, to repent of the sin entangling me, so I can move forward freely in peace with myself, God and others once more.

And just like my nightly battles with Charlie, some sins will take longer to throw off than others. Some will be blind spots, for which I will need the wisdom and grace of a mentor and trusted friend to point out what I cannot see. Some will be deeply ingrained, requiring God’s Holy Spirit to completely renovate my character. And some, though unfortunately very few, might just be as simple a solution as encouraging Charlie to cat pile on Bob . . .

I pray you are able to see your goal, throw off your weights, and come run with me!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Simba (top left), Boots (bottom left) & Charlie (right) cat piling with my pillow on our bed:

Here’s a cartoon I found, just for fun!

A World Without You (For Mom) — Repost

I originally posted this on the day of my mother’s funeral, which was also the only day it’s been read aloud. I’m publishing it again today because it’s the first anniversary of Mom’s death, and I want to honor her memory and influence in my life with it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I wanted to call you today

       to tell you about something

                      but I could not.

Because I remembered that now

        I live in a world without you.

I got in my car

       to go and visit you

                   but I remembered I could not.

Because I realized now

                    that I live in a world without you.

No more seeing your name on my caller ID.

             No more hearing your ring tone on my cell.

                         No more jokes, laughter, stories, tears or memories.

Because I grieve now

             to live in a world without you.

God’s hand is strong.

       God’s plans are perfect.

                  God’s ways are just.

                           God’s heart is loving.

You walk in a world I imagine

             but cannot see.

You rejoice

             and I grieve and mourn.

You dance in the fulfillment

             of God’s promises.

I live in the light of their hope.

           As I live in a world without you.

Obituary photo of Barbara L. French, Albany, NY

Sunshine On Snow

Your glory is incomparable.

It has no equal, no rival.

Your love is unlimited.

It has no beginning, no end.

Your holiness is unparalleled.

It has no flaw, no spot.

You call us to be like You

To show Your glory

To a world that doesn’t know You;

To reflect Your love

To hungry, hurting people;

To shine Your holiness

To aching, lives sick with sin.

I want to shine Your glory

Like diamonds on a jewelers cloth.

I want to reflect Your love

Like an image in a mirror.

I want to show Your holiness

Like ice crystals sparkle in sunshine on snow.

Be Still And Know — A Not So Perfect Family Christmas

Have you ever received what seems like an impossible suggestion or request or even command? How do you deal with it?

It was late December. I’d been sick for about a month, and found out the previous Tuesday I had a sinus infection. I’d probably been sick with it most of that month, but at least now I was on antibiotics. The Friday after my diagnosis, we learned my husband, who had also been sick all month, had one, too. He was given the same antibiotics.

Being sick, however, didn’t stop the massive, out-of-control freight train that was my “To Do” list and schedule. I tried to delegate some. I asked my husband (who was home and retired while I was still working full-time) to wrap the gifts. Our son took on a majority of the cookie baking, as he had every year (whether I wanted him to or not) for the past 4 or 5 years. (I still had to do the ones for the Cookie Exchange at work, and of course I’d signed up for the most complex and painstaking monster of a project imaginable!!.) The pair of them even decorated the house and yard with lights, and put up the tree, though it stayed without ornaments for over 2 weeks. My husband helped me stuff the stockings. I asked our daughter to make our traditional Christmas dessert which her husband adores, Pumpkin Cheesecake. But I was still rushed, frazzled and quite frankly, worn out. There was just too much on that “To Do” list, too little time to do it, and I was still sick . . .

Finally, at church on the Sunday before Christmas, a friend read a Scripture that touched my heart. It spoke to my illness, my “To Do” list, my hectic schedule and my lack of joy in what is normally my favorite time of year. When I heard it, I felt like God was speaking the words to me, gently slapping me upside my head.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

“Be still and know that I am God.” The words spoke life to my rushed, troubled heart. Sweeping aside my “To Do” list, my schedule and my self-imposed Christmas insanity, the words of Psalm 46 demanded a paradigm shift of my priorities, my schedule and my life.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They called me to rest. Not just sleep, which my still sick body desperately needed. No, these words were calling me to true rest and peace in God. To know that perfect isn’t required, and okay is good enough. To know that the menu isn’t important, it’s who is eating the food, and making sure was Jesus our Guest, too.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They called me to remember the Reason for the season. They reminded me again of what I’d known since childhood: Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Savior. It’s about His life, His sacrificial offering of Himself for us so that we can have a relationship with Him and His Father. It’s not about the food, the presents, the lights and all the other trappings, no matter how good they are. Because they are the “good” of the season, while the gift of Jesus was, is and always will be God’s greatest and best.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They insisted I deal with the emotional weight I’d been avoiding, of that first Christmas without my Mom being among us after her death the previous March. I was reminded she was celebrating the holiday with Jesus, and even though it’s different without her, and always will be, that’s okay.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They reminded me I’m not in control of my life, and God is. Even when I tried to give in to the illusion and deception of being a (recovering) control freak, the words cut through my feeble efforts to direct my life and reminded me there is One who is ultimately in control. And He is in control not just of my life, but of situations and circumstances beyond my comprehension, even reaching to the far-flung galaxies of the universe. The words reminded me I can trust the One who spun it all into existence, and holds it together by His will.

That last reminder was very helpful 2 days later (and 2 days before Christmas), when I got a call at work, telling me our daughter and 6 month old granddaughter had influenza, despite having gotten flu shots! (CDC says the shots don’t cover every strain, and they got one it didn’t, of course!) Our daughter and son-in-law wanted us to take the 2 older children (who were not sick), and have them stay with us from that day, through Christmas and for several days after.

“Be still and know that I am God.” These words ran through my mind repeatedly as I spoke to my husband, working out first if we could do it. Then, when we decided we could, we discussed the logistics of my work schedule and transportation needs, all now more complicated by the presence in our house of 2 girls, ages 4 and 6, for a few unexpected days.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Stuff I’d planned and we “always” do didn’t get done. Our daughter didn’t get the cheesecake baked before she got sick. Since small granddaughters prefer Christmas cookies to cheesecake, we were okay with that. My husband and son decorated the tree with the help of 2 small girls. As long as my delicate, breakable ornaments were put high by one of the men, I didn’t care what it looked like.

“Be still and know that I am God.”  The 4 year old and I started having coughing fits on Christmas Eve. I suspected exposure to my daughter (for me, prior to her showing symptoms on Sunday) was the culprit. Instead of the “perfect” family Christmas, we had one that was a different and not so perfect kind of family Christmas. We were missing Mom, and almost 1/2 of us were ill. But in its own way, it was perfect, because those ancient words prompted me to remember Christmas is perfect when we are with people we love and we have invited God and His presence and peace to be in our midst.

“Be still and know that I am God.” I pray your holiday season will be filled with the gentle stillness of God’s loving presence and at least some of the people you love.

Merry Christmas!

When Pain Mocks The Song — Even In The Christmas Update Letter by Terri Brady

Repost – Historical Leaders — When “Well Enough” Isn’t Good Enough

The following is a repost from October 31, 2011. I have updated a few dates and timelines. Happy Reformation Day!

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In my studies on Leadership, I have discovered a few traits leaders share.  One of these traits is a refusal to abide by the status quo.  Leaders want to change things, and just can’t leave alone anything they see as being in opposition to their vision of the future.  “Well enough” isn’t good enough for leaders when better is possible.  Here is the biography of one such leader.

He was born in 1484, in what is now known as Germany. His parents were trades people, with upwardly mobile aspirations for their son. Thus, he received the best schooling his father’s money could buy.

His father’s ambitions were that he become a lawyer, but the leader in him found law unsatisfying. So he dropped it almost immediately, and tried philosophy. That, however, proved unsatisfactory, as he found it questioned his religious faith too much. He later wrote “philosophy is good for the questioning of man, but man could only learn of God through divine revelation and the Scriptures.”

Shortly into his college career, he had an experience that led him to believe he should be a monk. This was very much against his father’s wishes, who felt he was abandoning his education and family. His friends were skeptical of his suitability to it, also. Individualist that he was, he continued the course once he decided it.

He tried very hard to be a monk, and later wrote if trying had been all it took, he would have been the best. But his superiors knew he was cut of different cloth (perhaps they knew a budding rascal leader when they saw one!), and sent him off to university to study theology, Biblical studies and the priesthood. He became a priest and earned a Doctorate in Theology, becoming a professor in it at Wittenberg University in Germany, a post he held for the rest of his career.

It was here he finally flowered and attained his now famous greatness. A representative from Rome came to his beloved Wittenberg, and began to sell tokens, called indulgences. These indulgences were meant for people to have the souls of their loved ones released from Purgatory upon the purchase of them. The church’s purpose in selling them was to raise money for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The church at the time taught faith alone cannot justify people, and that acts of charity, not faith, were also necessary to be saved.

By now I am sure you have guessed the identity of our historic rascal leader, so I will use his name from now on. Martin Luther was incensed at the selling of these indulgences to the people of the church over which he was pastor. He initially wrote to the Pope by way of his Archbishop in protest, with the first draft of his 95 Thesis, saying the wealthy Pope and church should pay for the building projects of Rome, and not the humble peasants they were supposed to be serving. He claimed he wrote it as a scholarly dissertation and objection, not a direct challenge to Papal authority and power. His 95 Thesis were also printed and posted on the door of the cathedral of Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, now known widely as Reformation Day, in accordance with the Wittenberg customs of scholarly debate.  Today marks 437 years since that act.

The 95 Thesis were quickly reprinted from Latin to German and spread throughout the land, one of the first known historical controversies so spread. The word, spread thusly, went like a wildfire.

In direct contrast to the church’s teachings, Luther spent the succeeding years preaching and teaching (and writing) on justification by faith. Eventually, the catch-phrase, “By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone” became the hallmark of his growing group of followers.

However, the Catholic church did not take Luther’s perceived challenges lightly. They launched investigations, set up heresy hearings that devolved into shouting matches, attempted to arrest Luther (the German King protected him) and threatened him with excommunication. Eventually, he was officially excommunicated. But it just didn’t seem to matter. No one would silence this rascal leader, and nothing would deter his beliefs.

Finally, the secular authorities had at him at the now infamous Diet of Worms at Wartburg Castle in January to May of 1521. Emperor Charles V presided, and the Elector of Saxony (and Luther’s patron) provided safe conduct through hostile territory for him to attend.

The Emperor and an Archbishop finally demanded in exasperation he recant. Luther replied,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand and can do no other. May God help me. Amen.

The Emperor and Archbishop, of course, voted against him, declaring his life forfeit. The Elector of Saxony helped him escape to safety on the return trip. He found chaos on his return, started by disciples who had taken Reformation too far. He cleaned up the mess, preached and wrote against the excesses and generally worked to lead people back to where he envisioned the Bible was telling them to go. Much to his dismay and distress, the radicals did have their way in larger Germany, igniting what is now known as the Peasants War, against which he preached and taught.

Luther rescued a group of nuns who no longer wished to serve as such and were being held against their will after he returned from Worms. Among them was Katharina von Bora, whom he eventually married, and with whom he had 6 surviving children. He had long advocated a married priesthood within the Catholic church, and now that he was out of it, enjoyed the benefits of it as a married pastor.

Opposing the Roman church’s central system, Luther organized the church that today bears his name in a decentralized system of synods, loosely aligned in common purpose. He declined to be leader of distant synods set up in his model, and preferred to merely advise them. He successfully laid out theology and catechisms (Large for pastors and teachers and Small for everyone to memorize and learn) for the church’s doctrine and its teaching for all ages. He rewrote the Mass to be a simpler service, a celebration for all ages that allowed for freedom of ceremony within synods and churches. Pastoral care and Christian education were both addressed as well, as he had seen problems with both of these areas in his prior service.

While in Worms, one of the things Luther did to pass his time was to translate the New Testament into German. This was the first time the Scriptures of any kind had been in the language of the people of the land since the fall of Rome to the barbarians. Later, he also worked with Bible scholars to translate the Old Testament, also. His version influenced William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English, and the translators of the King James Bible, the first authorized English version.

Rascal leaders not being content with the status quo in anything, Luther also wrote hymns for his church. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is, one might argue, his most famous.

In 1529 to 1531, Luther participated in a series of debates hosted and convoked by Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, involving doctrinal unity among the emerging Protestant regions. It is out of these debates the Augsburg Confessions arose.

In a war with the Turks, Luther had to deal with the differences between Holy War and secular war. He urged the German people to defend their country on a secular basis. However, he told them it was not a Holy War, and believed the Turks could be left alone in their Islamic faith. He continued in his beliefs until he read a translated copy of the Qur’an.

No leader is perfect, and Martin Luther certainly wasn’t. His writings on the Jews introduced into German thought and culture an anti-Semitic thread that just wasn’t there prior to him. He held them in disdain, and his views on the subject were repudiated by the Lutheran church in the 1980’s.

Luther’s final acts were on behalf of his extended family’s financial interests. The count who ruled over the city of his birth had in mind to take over their means of livelihood, which was the same as their father’s, and Luther stepped in to negotiate. The successful negotiations were barely concluded when he suffered what appears in retrospect to be a series of heart attacks, followed by a major stroke and then shortly after by his death. Just before the stroke, he was asked by his assembled followers and protégées,

“Reverend father, are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine which you have taught in his name?” A distinct “Yes” was Luther’s reply.

The rascal leader Martin Luther died at the age of 62 in the town of his birth. He was buried under the altar of his beloved Wittenberg Cathedral. Later, when the soldiers of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V invaded Saxony, the Emperor strictly instructed his troops not to disturb his grave. He is celebrated in the Calendars of Saints of the Episcopal, Church of England and, of course, Lutheran churches. The final Sunday of October is Reformation Sunday in the Lutheran church, celebrating this leader’s revolutionary 95 Thesis, now from 437 years ago today.

(My thanks to my Lutheran teachings and books, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther for some of the specific details herein!)

Who Loves You, Baby?

During a recent spell of insomnia, I watched an episode of late night local television, first broadcast as a network show in the 1970’s. It was a crime drama, starring Telly Savalas as a bald Greek detective in New York City. He sucked on a lollipop and wore what were at the time highly fashionable clothes, though watching it now, 40 years later, I see how loud,  tacky and in what bad taste they were. (Shudder!)

The show, as those of my Baby Boomer generation (and classic TV fans) know, was called “Kojak.” And it was Telly Savalas’ Kojak character’s signature line with which I named this post.

I thought about it because while on break at work today, my eyes fell on a small poster in my cubicle. It came to me as an insert from our church’s bulletin, advertising some program for children and families on its other side. On the side facing me, it shows a photo of a sleeping baby, and says,

I have engraved your name on the palms of My hands.

Isaiah 49: 16

Who loves you, Baby? If we are fortunate in life, we are raised by good, loving parents, and have loving extended families. But some of us don’t get such a fortunate start. Some are loved by teachers, or coaches. For others, the process of finding love is more difficult.

Studies have shown if children are failed to be nurtured at critical times in their development, their personalities and characters may likely become warped. If children are nurtured with evil intentions, or by someone who is incapable or unfit, the potentiality of warping becomes exponentially more likely. It is from situations like these our society most often gets its sociopaths.

Many of us seek love in a life partner, and raising a family of our own. But if our society’s over 50% divorce rate is any indicator, a lot of people are not having much success in finding lasting love in long-term partnerships, let alone marriage. Marriage, as I’ve said before, takes work. Lots of work. And if the divorce rate says anything, either many people are unwilling to do the work, or they  don’t know how where to start. {See my post,On Being Married 32 Years (And Counting) for some thoughts on that.}

Which brings me back to those ancient words,

I have engraved your name on the palms of My hands.

Isaiah 49: 16

The One who spoke these words was God. In this context, He was speaking to people who believed He no longer loved them, that He’d given up on them because of the wrong things they’d done, and their people had done for many years.

Just stop for a moment and absorb those words. Think about how much love is in them. Think about how much love it would take to physically carve someone’s name in the palm of your hand, how much pain you would have to go through, how long it would take to heal. This is the language of a tattoo, a permanent mark.

Hands are some of the most sensitive parts of the organ of our bodies we call our skin. Fingertips and the heels of the hands can become callused from use, but palms are protected, and tend to not acquire them. Even when the skin of the rest of the hand is rough from exposure to chemicals or the elements, the protected palms tend to stay soft and tender longest. It is the place where we shelter small things and hold them carefully. And it is this part of Himself on which God is saying He has tattooed these names.

But do you know what the best part is? It’s not just the name of the people of that time tattooed there. It’s also ours, yours and mine. Because one of the most lovely things about God’s words is His truths never change. His love never ends. The love He showed in these words for one people is the same love He has for all people.

So, I return to my original question: Who loves you, Baby? Isaiah recorded your answer. The God of Creation, the One who holds all things in His hands, loves you. And when you realize you are loved like that, it’s easy to love others, and the love for and from anyone else becomes a reflection of the love shown you by God Himself.

Give and Take

How does it happen

when I lose myself in You

it is only then I find my true self?

How does it happen

when I abandon all I am and all I have

to all You are and all You have for me

it is only then I have everything I want and need.

It is in the giving up

            that I find.

It is in the relinquishment

            where I gain.

It is in the abandonment

            where I gather everything.

I give it away

and You give it back better.

And even when You don’t give it back,

what You give is so much better,

I don’t care about or miss what I gave at all.

I give You what is shattered and broken,

            and You give it back, whole and better than new.

I give up what I cannot hold, anyway,

            and You give what I cannot contain,

                        Because You give me Yourself.

You have a right to demand it.

You have a right to insist.

Being my Creator God gives you that right.

But You don’t demand,

You ask.

You don’t insist.

You request.

Yours are the gentle prompts of my Friend,

the Lover of my heart,

the One who knows me better

than even I know myself.

You ask for the sake of my good,

not for ulterior motives to harm me.

In the face of such love,

how can I refuse?

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Our Endless Pursuit of Perfection

English: A pair of reading glasses with LaCost...

I recently ordered a pair of glasses from my ophthalmology office. I have some specific needs in any pair of glasses I wear regularly. It makes for a tricky order.

They came in. And went back, because they weren’t right. The office said the prescription for one of the lenses didn’t quite match mine. It needed to be right before they’d release them to me.

I went through this several years ago, with another office, a national chain. It took them 6 tries for the lab to get my glasses right, over 3 months! The store manager was so frustrated after the 4th attempt, he called his boss’s boss, and informed him the company was reimbursing every bit of my costs, to make up for my delay and inconvenience. After the 5th attempt, corporate gave in.

I am not telling you this so you can feel sorry for me, with my challenges in ordering glasses. It is an effort to think about where the search for perfection might be a positive thing to have working, and where it might not.

A medicine icon.

The search for perfection in things like health care is a good thing. We want our prescriptions perfect, whether they be glasses or medicine. We want our doctors to diagnose us right, the first time, and prescribe the right course of treatment. We want to be having correct billing, and not pay more than our insurance company says we have to, assuming we have insurance.

We want things as close to perfect as possible when we deal with food,

Tasty Food Abundance in Healthy Europe

whether buying it or ordering it. We want to know it’s fresh and good for us. We want to know it’s not contaminated, or handled by someone who’s ill. If we’re eating out, we want it to taste good.

Most of us seek for perfection in our work. We want to do a good job for our employers, to give an honest effort for the wage they pay, whether we feel we deserve a larger one or not.

How many other areas can you think of where people seek perfection? I can think of dozens, right off the top of my head. Society gives us the message we should want perfection in our life partners, our bodies, our families (though I am beginning to think it is now pushing dysfunctional as “the new normal”), our extended relationships and so on.

English: Mid drive fluid motion quantum ellipt...

What is the result of all this search for perfection? Health clubs have booming memberships. Diet plans are everywhere you turn. A new career has sprung up and gained popularity, the Life Coach. (Not that I am knocking it, since Life Coaches with LIFE know what they’re talking about and have the fruit on the tree of experience to prove it!)

And everyone keeps searching for the elusive butterfly of perfection. never realizing it will ever remain just out of reach. Modern society tells us we want to be married to super models, be super models ourselves, have homes out of decorating magazines, kids who win all the awards and get all A’s, have perfect greeting card holidays, own the latest and greatest whatever, never have problems, never get sick or be stressed or tired . . . The list is as unrealistic as it is endless!

Even God never demanded perfection of us after the Garden of Eden. What He

English: The Garden of Earthly Delights [detai...

said as recorded in Leviticus 11:44 was,

I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.

The expectation God Himself has on humans is holiness, not perfection. A standard of excellence, not something He knew we’d find impossible to reach. God didn’t make it easy, but He did make it worthwhile.

Perfect poise

When I demand perfection of myself, or demand it of those around me, I childishly insist on  something God never expected me to do. When I insist life must be in perfect balance at all times for me to be happy, I set myself up for disappointment on a daily, even hourly, basis. If I were to insist everything I did were perfect, you would never read a single post from me! I’m careful in my editing, to say all I want to say (hopefully without offending anyone too badly!), but if I demanded perfection, I’d be editing every entry forever, and never get one of them posted! (Maybe one or two of you are saying, “Good, that means she’d shut up!”, but I hope not!)

So, how do we solve this problem? The Apostle Paul addressed it in Romans

Rembrandt - Apostle Paul - WGA19120

16:19b when he said,

I want you to be excellent in what is good and to avoid what is evil.

So our goal is excellence, not perfection. Like God’s own standard of holiness over perfection, excellence is attainable. It’s not easy. It’s hard, very hard. But it is something we can do. And perhaps, should do.

The world makes room for those who seek excellence. Excellence opens doors mere talent may only crack. Those who seek excellence in whatever they attempt eventually rise above their competition. The landmark book Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Calvin speaks to this. In it, he cites several case studies in which those who practiced their craft attained higher levels of achievement than those who relied on mere talent alone, without the discipline of continued practice applied over time.

Chris Brady

Chris Brady

Leadership guru, best-selling author, business leader, and award-winning blogger Chris Brady discussed excellence in his post, A High-Def Life. In it he said,

There is no substitute for hard work. Tim Tebow said, “It’s not hard to beat talent when talent won’t work hard.” The most successful people in life are not the ones with the most talent, but rather those who have the ability to push themselves to excellence. Remember: You won’t reach high if you won’t push on.

The secret to excellence, then, is in pursuing it. It’s a goal, not a destination. It’s one I’m headed toward,and I am one of many in the pursuit. If you’re not already, why not come and join us?

But I WANT It!

Recently, I noticed my friend Rachael at work, whose hair is normally fluffy and

A 19th century Scottish woman with curly hair ...

quite curly, had straight hair. When I commented on the change, she said she’d straightened it. She said she was tired of curly, fluffy hair, and wished for straight hair.

I laughed and told Rachael with my straight fine hair, I had wished for years for hair like hers! I reminded her how I used to pay for a salon permanent every few months, to make it curly, though it would never be thick and fluffy like

Portrait of girl with straight, blonde hair

hers. (I don’t any more.)

Rachael smiled and said, “No, you do not want fluffy and curly hair!” I grinned back and replied, “No, you do not want straight and unfluffy hair!” We were each born with what the other had, and wanted it. We laughed together over the perverse human nature in both of us, to be discontent with what we had, to believe what someone else has is better, and want theirs instead.

Humans have been like this from the beginning. In the book of Genesis, the story is

English: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, S...

related of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Picture Eve as a Victoria’s Secret Angel and Adam as a Calvin Klein model. They were gorgeously naked and unashamed together in a place where every desire of their hearts were met, the weather was perfect, the animals well-behaved, no harmful things grew and enjoying unending fellowship with their loving God and one another.

Everything was perfect, until Eve met the Serpent, heard there ‘might’ be more. She ate the fruit, conned Adam into open rebellion against God in eating it with her, and they screwed up the whole Paradise. All because of a maybe she thought she wanted, offered by someone Eve ought not to have trusted.

Isn’t 20/20 hindsight wonderful? I’m not, however, going to kid myself into believing I would have done any differently . . . Would you? Honestly??

Truth be told, we’ve been messing it up ever since. How many wars over the millenia were simply started as wars of acquisition? Too many, I am quite sure. If we take a step back, aren’t we really sometimes at heart like small toddlers, who throw temper tantrums and fuss because we’re not getting our own way? We just might have more “civilized” means of doing it.

As I think on these things, I am reminded of the Disney movie, Finding Nemo, in

Cover of "Finding Nemo"

which the Seagulls uniformly chant “Mine! Mine! Mine!” upon seeing anything that may be perceived as possible food. It’s funny in the movie. It’s tragic to watch adults act it out daily.

The Apostle spoke to the problem in James 4:20, when he said,

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.

We have not because we ask not. Can it be truly that simple? Of course, God isn’t a Cosmic Slot Machine, either. Unlike the Genie in another Disney movie,

Cover of "Aladdin [Region 2]"

Aladdin, God is unlimited, all-knowing, all-seeing and not bound by us or our wishes. And we don’t get 3 wishes with Him. We get the deepest desires of our hearts.

And not only do we get the desires of our hearts, we get a relationship with the One who created the Garden, who formed the universe with His thoughts, who spun the stars with a whim. We get a relationship with a Person who is so vast, our galaxy, our universe cannot hold Him, because He created it. It all comes packaged with intimacy with an immensity that is as far beyond human comprehension as the moon is to an amoeba.

And all we have to do is ask . . .