Waiting in the Wilderness

I have begun taking early morning walks again. Popping out of bed, putting on my shoes and heading toward the park before the general population rises is about the only sure way for me to get in my exercise for the day. If I wait until my foggy brain clears, it would surely come up with a legitimate excuse not to go!

A beautiful park near my house has a winding trail that takes me along a shallow creek through the forest. It is a peaceful place where the early morning fog hovers above the grass like the spirit of morning rising. It is the perfect setting for a conversation with God.

This particular morning as I put one foot in front of the other along the trail I cried out to God for clarity. The past few weeks had been for me like a spiritual wandering in the wilderness. Everything was changing in my life’s ministry and nothing seemed clear. I was grieving the ending of one phase without knowing for certain what lay ahead of me. Obedience was becoming a challenge in a way that I had not expected.

So now as I was striding down the trail this summer morning I cried out to God, “What is it that You want from me?” At that moment two beautiful sun speckled deer walked across the path. They paused, gazed at me for an instant and then sprang into the trees on the other side.

Psalms 42 resonated in my spirit.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?

And then I knew what God wanted from me.

He just wanted me. All of me.

Sometimes He allows me to walk in the wilderness. Not because He has forsaken me, but because He knows that when I am free from the distraction of knowing what is to come, I develop a thirst. A thirst so strong that can only be quenched by the Living Water of the Most Holy God.

I am waiting in the wilderness for You, Lord.

Come, fill my cup.

The Kirby Salesman

Recently I went shopping for a new vacuum cleaner and it brought to mind my husband’s brief stint as a vacuum cleaner salesman. During break from college one year, Phil sold Kirby vacuum cleaners door to door. It’s hard to believe there was a time when door to door salesmen were common and people routinely opened their front doors to complete strangers. Of course, not everybody did. As a ten-year old I remember playing at a friend’s house when a salesman came to the back door. Her mother made us get under the dining room table and pretend we weren’t there. I thought it was strange that a grown woman would crawl under a table and sit in controlled silence in an effort to avoid a salesperson. My own mother would have just gone to the door and told him that she wasn’t interested.

Obviously, being a salesperson could be a tough gig and I have to tell you that Phil didn’t set the world on fire selling vacuums that summer. He did set up a lot of appointments, though. He even arranged a demonstration with my mother knowing full well she wasn’t interested just so he could practice his pitch. Anyone willing to withstand the hour long presentation got a free gift. At that time, the gift was a large mulit-purpose knife with a serrated cutting blade. Later my mother reported it was the best knife she had ever owned and I’ve heard it rumored that she may have used it to cut down one of the trees in her backyard.

Even though most of his appointments were prearranged with supposedly interested potential clients, it was a grueling business. This monstrosity of a machine was heavy and cumbersome to drag from house to house. Never-the-less it was said to be a marvel at cleaning. It had settings to clean high shag carpets or low pile rugs. Snap on an attachment and it could fluff your pillows, dust your upholstery, make an intimate candlelight dinner for two and shampoo the dog. Okay, I’m not really certain about those last couple of things, but you’re welcome to check the owner’s manual for clarification.

Unfortunately, no one seemed particularly interested in purchasing this type of  top–the-line vacuum. Funny how he still had a lot of appointments. Maybe there was  just an abundance of dead trees that summer.

Of course, we’ve never had such a fancy vacuum cleaner of our own. Just because you tried to sell them didn’t mean you actually got to own one. In fact, I am embarrassed to admit that the reason for my recent shopping trip was that my own vacuum was in such terrible disrepair. In order for it to work, a large amount of duct tape had been applied to the frame to keep the entire bottom from falling off.  The worst part of it is that it had been like that for the last six months. Which brings up an important question – just where is a Kirby salesman when you really need him?

Peanut Butter and Jelly Miracles

I believe in miracles. I just never guessed that a miracle would involve a mission of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. During the summer months I spend part of every Wednesday traveling the country roads surrounding my town delivering peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  A devoted group of volunteers gathers midweek in our church’s fellowship hall to slather slices of bread with peanut butter and jelly in an effort to feed our community’s hungry children.

The first part of the miracle begins as an assembly line forms midmorning. Purposeful hands make sandwiches, while others stuff brown paper lunch bags with granola bars, applesauce, fruit, veggies and homemade cookies. Coolers are filled with ice and bottled water is packed in tight. Baby food and formula is set aside for the families with infants.

There is no official sign-up sheet for this ministry. Eleven o’clock dawns on Wednesday morning and through the door the workers pour in. Despite summer camps, swimming lessons, crazy schedules and family vacations, they come. Although you may not see exactly the same faces each week, there is always more than enough help to get the lunches packed, the vans loaded and the lunches delivered. This is the body of Christ at its best, working in miraculous precision.

Part two of the miracle happens as we deliver the lunches to grateful families. My group drives our big, white church van filled primarily with colleagues from my school. Distributing the food offers up opportunities to continue to connect with our students and their families. We speak words of love, listen as problems are shared, offer up encouragement and pray.

It always amazes me how receptive most people are when I ask if they would like for me to pray with them. Sometimes I have just met them and have to ask their name before I begin praying. They might feel a bit awkward at first as I take their hand and pray out loud, but afterwards I see it. It is the look in their eyes that tells me that they have been acknowledged before the throne of God as a person of worth. That, my friend, is a miracle. A peanut butter and jelly mission miracle.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” Matthew 25:40

Being like Andrew

I’ve been studying the Gospel of John again. As I read the familiar text for the umpteenth time, something new jumped out at me. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist. How had I missed that information before? Andrew had been more than just your average hard-working fisherman. Being a disciple of John the Baptist meant that Andrew had been a seeker. He’d been actively looking and listening for the coming Messiah. The Baptist he followed denied any claim that he was the one that they all hoped for, but instead preached words of repentance. “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”  John 1:23  He’d been urging to the Jews to prepare their hearts and minds for the arrival of the greatest love they would ever know. The One and Only they had waited for – the very Son of God was coming to embrace His beloved.

The scripture records that John was standing with two of his disciples when Jesus walked by them. (Andrew is named as one of the disciples and the other is most likely to have been John, the author of the Gospel.) John the Baptist had baptized Jesus the day before and had witnessed the sign of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven as a dove resting on Jesus. So as Jesus passed by them on this day John pointed out to the two who were standing with him, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

After hearing this, Andrew and the other disciple pursued Jesus and ended up spending the day with him. And after investing some serious time with him Andrew knew he had found the Messiah. The scriptures record that after that revelation the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon, tell him what he had discovered, and then bring him to Jesus.

As I take a closer look at Andrew’s actions I see a perfect plan for my own Christian witness. Prior to the beginning of Jesus’s earthly ministry, Andrew was closely following the most important religious leader of the time. In the same way, I must be actively looking for and listening to reliable Spirit-filled leaders to discern what God has to say. Searching beyond my own understanding and spending time with others like my pastor and spiritual mentors will help me gain new perspectives about what God is saying through the scriptures. Church attendance and Bible study fellowships are important times spent preparing my own heart for God.

Andrew spent concentrated time with Jesus. The Word records that when he went with Jesus to the place where he was staying it was the tenth  hour – or about four o’clock in the afternoon. Since travel after dark was considered dangerous it is likely that they spent all evening together and probably stayed  the night. Spending time with those who are learned in the Scriptures is important, but spending quality time alone with Jesus is the place where relationship is built. It is the place where I can confess my heart and inquire for understanding. It is the holy time where Jesus speaks to me and me alone. Without this time my spirit grows cold and the place in my heart that should be reserved for God begins to be filled with lesser things.

Having the knowledge that Jesus is my Savior is incredible news. Why would I ever want to keep that to myself? Once Andrew had been convicted that Jesus was indeed the Christ he wasted no time in sharing the news. John 1:42-43 tells us “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him “We have found the Messiah” (that is the Christ.) And he brought him to Jesus.” Like Andrew I must seek out others and share the Gospel. Andrew began with the family member closest to him, his older brother Simon. From there his witness spread.

In my own life I have shared my love of Jesus with husband, my children and many close family members. Leading my family to Jesus and introducing them to the best friend they will ever have has been a blessing. Perhaps the hardest part has been realizing that they have the choice to accept or reject the truth.  Most have accepted the truth wholeheartedly; others I am still praying for. In the end, it is not my responsibility to save  them – Jesus is the only One who can do that. It is simply my responsibility to follow Andrew’s enthusiastic example to seek out my brothers (those I am related to and those I am not), offer the truth and bring them to Jesus. I can trust that He will do the rest.

Choosing joy

Last week when my daughter’s flight from Kansas City was delayed due to stormy weather I was afforded a little more time in the airport to “people watch”. Fortunately, I was seated where I could easily observe passengers emerging onto the concourse without looking like a stalker. Minutes after the arrival board posted each plane’s landing, throngs of people would pour out through the hallway. Some passengers had loved ones gathered close by the entrance to greet them. Squeals of joy, bear hugs and pats on the back followed. Other travelers arrived with little or no fanfare. Smartly dressed in business suits with briefcases in hand, they strode toward the next meeting. Still others emerged from the hallway with the look of uncertainty that often accompanies travelers in a new city.

Interestingly, even though every arrival had its own story, each person’s eyes seemed the same in one distinct way. They were all searching for something. Some were undoubtedly looking for a familiar face in the crowd. Others routinely scanned phone messages on the way to the escalators. A few looked anxiously for the signs that would point them to the baggage claim area. As I watched them parade by it struck me at what a perfect a parallel this was for the way I can choose to approach my life. I can either expect business as usual, fearfully contemplate what to do next or anticipate joy.

I’ve been there. Falling into the routine that is “the business as usual” way of looking at life. Losing sleep in fearful anticipation of the unknown. But the good news is that no matter where I am in any situation I can always choose joy. And in choosing joy I receive the source of my strength. Nehemiah 8:10 tells me that “The joy of the LORD is my strength.” I choose to believe Psalms 27 that “The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life.”

Therefore, I must search through life with conscious intent. By choosing the numbness of busyness or being sidelined by paralyzing fear, I am allowing the enemy to rob me of the extraordinary. Instead, I must anticipate the best that God has to offer me. And in doing so, I will choose joy.