Chain of Events

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A few months ago, Steve was stopped by a Boy Scout as we headed into Kroger. The young man politely asked if Steve would buy the $10 coupon book he was selling. After Steve agreed and shelled out the $10, we continued into the store to do our shopping. We don’t generally frequent the fast food restaurants that place coupons in those sorts of books, so I never really expected to get our $10 back.

A few days later, I thumbed through the book, expecting to toss the whole thing. One page caught my eye, though. It was two “Ten Dollar Gift Cards” for the Whole Earth Provision Company. I knew where the store was—adjacent to the Trader Joe’s on Shepherd, but had never been inside. I tucked the coupons in my purse just in case we found ourselves in that part of town (a rarity at best).

Shortly thereafter, Steve and I drove into town to look at the azaleas, in full bloom despite the calendar that said, “It’s February, get your coat on.” We planned to pick up a picnic at Trader Joe’s on Shepherd. We were dissuaded by the FORTY people in the check-out line, but did go next door to check out the Whole Earth Provision Company. It’s a delightful store, and spending $10 of free money (each!) is always fun. My fun was particularly interesting, though.

I broke my little toe about ten days earlier. It still hurt a bit, and we were leaving for Washington, where we had planned miles and miles of walking, in just two more days. On the way into town I remember thinking, “What shoes am I going to wear? I don’t want to wear jeans and tennis shoes the whole time, and sometimes my tennis shoes still hurt.”

As you may have guessed by now, Whole Earth Provision Company sells everything from books and toys to socks and shoes. Clarks, a favorite brand of mine, has a new line called “Cloud Steppers.” They look like classy shoes but feel like a cross between bedroom slippers and running shoes. The “daily special” was a pair of great black ankle height CloudStepper boots, regularly $100, marked down to $40 (before my $10 off coupon.)

  • Sold.
  • Comfortable.
  • Delighted by God’s creative provision.
  • And no longer wondering what I’d be wearing around DC !

Please tell me, when has God used an unusual chain of events to bless you?

Falling in Faith

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We’ve all heard sermons about walking in faith, but what happens when we fall, when things go deeply awry as we seek to do God’s will? Let me share with you an edited email from my friend Steve Vinton and his wife Susan, founders of Village Schools International, and longtime residents of a village in Tanzania. Please look within this essay for their perspective on the troubles in life and the goodness of God.

Susan slipped in the mud, passed out, broke her arm, and dislocated her wrist. A houseful of people showed up in the early evening bringing her home. I was sick over what had happened and how much pain she was in, while at the same time I was feeling woozy myself from the pain of what I mistakenly thought were kidney stones. Our friend, Dr. Leena, told us the best thing was to make the 13 hour drive to the big hospital in Dar es Salaam. Godfrey and Emmanueli took turns driving that night, and Sarah spent the whole night massaging Susan’s fingers until we were finally all in the emergency room together.

Although Friday was a big holiday in Tanzania, the orthopedic surgeon came in that afternoon anyway and relocated Susan’s wrist. A CT scan showed that I had a blockage coming from my left kidney and putting me into three days of really terrible pain. Once we had Susan taken care of in the emergency room, Godfrey and I went to reception to get started on me. I was told that, since it was a holiday, I could see a general doctor, but then I’d need to come back next week. As he walked me toward another building, we ran into my dear wonderful friend, Dr. Jamal. He talked to the doctors in the emergency room, and the next thing I knew one of his surgeon friends was on his way to the hospital. As soon as they finished Susan’s surgery, it was my turn! (Things were a bit delayed when the electricity went off, but other than that everything was wonderful.) My body is all fixed, although I won’t be good to go home until next Friday, and Susan’s wrist is going to take months to heal.

Once again we are reminded of God’s goodness in all things!

  • A dear old grandmother carrying a huge load of firewood on her head stopped to help Susan where she had fallen.
  • Our students at the college spread messages to the four corners of the country for people to pray.
  • Dr. Jamal “just happened” to bump into me in the hallway here at the hospital.
  • Emmanueli, who never takes naps, had gone home for lunch that day and surprised his wife by saying that he was going to take a nap for “no particular reason.”  But that meant he could drive through the wee hours of the night to get us to the hospital.

Sometimes you just have to smile at ‘coincidences’ like that in order to experience the real joy there is in seeing God at work when the bad things happen.

How I wish that Susan had not fallen! But she did, and what followed was a little glimpse of God arranging really kind things for us.

  • Right now I am not only without pain, but the nurses connived to get Susan and me in a hospital room together so that we get to talk and slowly get better together.
  • When Susan was nauseated and felt she just need a sip of coke, the nurse found out we were here with no money, went out herself, and bought Susan a coke.
  • Later Susan wanted a banana, so when Godfrey & Emmanueli & Sarah came during visiting hours they went and bought us a huge big bunch of deliciously sweet bananas to share.
  • As Susan said, the way she fell she easily could have broken both wrists.
  • How easy it would have been for us to have made a poor decision to go to a closer hospital that couldn’t have helped us!
  • And what would have happened if Dr. Jamal had not been walking down that hall?

Soon we’ll be back home and back into the busy days of what we do—there are schools to visit, classes to teach, big programs to work on—but for right now we just get to be the happy couple here with nothing to do, nowhere at all to go, and we just get to smile and talk and marvel at really how blessed we are.  How nice to just enjoy a nap together—a forced vacation! Life sure is good.

Enjoy Your Day

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I went to Washington! Steve and I spent four days visiting the monuments and museums of our nation’s capital. Travel often means discovery for me. Here are two lessons I learned, or rather re-learned, during the course of this adventure.

Don’t kid yourself. You are not in charge. When I’m traveling, I am more keenly aware of my lack of control. Perhaps it’s the unfamiliar surroundings or the need to try things I simply haven’t mastered (like Uber and the Metro). At any rate, I often find myself relying on God in a different “I can’t do this on my own” sort of way as I prepare for a trip and head out the door. The uncertainties of travel sharpen my eye for the interventions and blessings that keep me on the right track. Little things—check out last month’s blog about shoes—and big things like safety and health. Now back in Houston, I’m hoping to maintain the same level of faith and reliance on our Lord, the same awareness of his blessing, as I jump back into everyday life.

Lesson Two: “Have a nice day?” The people of Washington are inordinately friendly, in my opinion. (Okay, I didn’t meet any politicians, but hopefully I could say the same for them.) Almost all of them end their greeting with “Have a nice day” or “Enjoy your day.” I used to say the first, but intend to try switching to the second. Here’s why. “Have a nice day” seems to indicate that all should be well. We know that, on far too many days, all will not, at least to our way of thinking, be well. We will forget the important, stumble into the inconvenient, experience pain and disappointment, or hear bad news. Some days simply will not be nice.

On the other hand, “Enjoy your day” says to me, “Look for the best. Keep an eye out for the blessing,” or, to quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “Remember that ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.’” (Look here  to read more of that catechism or to check out the scriptural support for its statements.) “Enjoy your day” means there is reason to rejoice even when the day isn’t nice. I’ve gone back to the real world now. I’m not on vacation anymore. The odds are high that, at some point, perhaps several points in the coming week, my day will not be nice. I hope to be able to rejoice and glorify and enjoy nonetheless. And when I greet friends, I will try to remember to say, “Enjoy your day!”

 

The Relational Ride (or iPhone Alternatives for a Great Family Vacation)

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Your family + nineteen hours in the car. A blessing or a great big bother?

Attitude is everything, so they say. My friend Karen has a terrific outlook on spending hours upon hours in the car with her kids. Since summer is coming, I asked permission to share her wisdom with my readers. So, if you’re a parent planning a summer road trip with your kids, this blog’s for you. (If you’re not in that category, perhaps you can share it with someone else who needs it.)

Pray. Pray before you even start your engine. Begin by seeing your road trip as a blessed opportunity to spend uninterrupted quality time together with your family. You have a captive audience. Take advantage of the situation! Talk. Laugh. Bond.

Break it up. Use rest areas as a chance to toss a ball, run a race, or take a hike for 15 minutes or so. Little bodies weren’t made to sit indefinitely. (Frankly, neither were adult bodies. Steve and I are much happier travelers if we move around every couple of hours.)

Pack their bags. Give each child an individual bag with a few travel treats: favorite snacks, sugarless gum, a new book, an activity book, crayons, paper, stickers, or small toys. Don’t let personal electronics eat up too much of the trip. Those little battery powered boxes will draw each person into a world of their own, putting an end to relationship building. That might be fine for a little while, but resist the temptation to let “screens” become the norm.

Prepare to be entertained. Look for activities the whole family can enjoy together: audio books, read aloud books, Mad Libs Junior, trivia games, or Twenty Questions. Again, try to keep the movies to a minimum. Remember, this is a time to be together!

Teach appreciation. In Karen’s words, “I always encourage the boys to look outside and see what’s different or beautiful about the current surroundings.  We take note of sunsets and rainbows, wildlife and mountains and lakes.”

Thanks, Karen, for your great advice. Now, how about the rest of you? How do you turn long hours on the road into something memorable and fun?

 

Tangled

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The cord of my kitchen blind is twisted and tangled. I used to think a family member was doing this to mess with me. Not so. It just happens, little by little. If I don’t keep up, untwisting it day by day, the tangle becomes a snarl, a complicated mess that’s hard to set straight. Sin is that way. Have you noticed?

  • How did that bad habit take hold? Little by little.
  • How did that relationship become so sour? Little by little.
  • How did that close walk with the Lord evaporate? Little by little.

Hebrews 12 has a lot to say about keeping sin from becoming a snarl in our lives. Look at verse 1, “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.” Perseverance is the straightening process that must be done day by day before our tangles become snarls. We may not all be hindered by the same temptations, but we all have a lot of “throwing off” to do. We can do it, though, because we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Hebrews 12 is a rich chapter, full of pointers on how to live well. Here’s an abbreviated version of the rest of the chapter:

  • Keep looking at Jesus, in order to keep from growing weary and losing heart.
  • Endure hardship as discipline. God disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in his holiness.
  • Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy.
  • See to it that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble.
  • See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless.
  • Be thankful, and worship God with reverence and awe.

And that’s plenty to chew on for this week!

May God let his Word sink deep into your soul!

 

No More Foolishness by Beth Smith

pulpit-590750_1280-pixabayReverend Henry Ward Beecher, a clergyman in the late 1800’s, is said to have entered Plymouth Church one Sunday morning, only to find that a letter addressed to him had been left on the pulpit. He opened it and read the single word “Fool.” Quietly, and with great seriousness, he told the congregation about the letter and then said, “I have known many an instance of a man writing a letter and forgetting to sign his name, but this is the only instance I have ever known of a man signing his name but forgetting to write the letter.” I wondered if the Bible had anything to say about fools and foolishness, and was amazed to find 49 references. For example:

  • Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
  • A fool’s heart blurts out folly” (Proverbs 12:23).

The greatest folly that fools blurt out is found in the first verse of Psalm 14 and again in Psalm 53, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

It seems to me that the opposite of foolishness is wisdom. Here’s just a bit of what the Bible says about wisdom.

  • Reverence for the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. The rewards of wisdom come to all who obey him” (Psalm 111:10 NLT).
  • To acquire wisdom is to love yourself; people who cherish understanding will prosper (Proverbs 19:8 NLT).

These verses make me want to be a wise person. The question is, how do we get wisdom instead of becoming fools? James 1:5 tells us that if we are lacking wisdom we should ask God to supply it, because he gives generously to all. He’s already given us his wisdom in his Word, the Bible. How foolish we are when we don’t read it!

How will we recognize Godly wisdom when we get it? James 3:17 (NLT) says, “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” Those are real goals to hold up for our lives. If we want to be wise, we must be:

  • peace loving
  • gentle
  • considerate
  • merciful
  • impartial
  • full of good deeds

Of course, we can’t be all those things on our own. We are told by 1 Corinthians 1:24 that, “to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Our only hope for Biblical wisdom lies in our relationship with God through Christ. When we’re seeking wisdom, we’re really seeking to be like Christ. To do that, we have to know him. To know him we must read his Word (his wise instructions) and do what we find there, thus living wisely.

Let’s not be foolish! Let’s get wisdom by following Christ.