Advent and Stones?


Advent and stones?

What might the connection be between dry, dusty stones and the restoration of a hopeless, weary world? You might thing this an oddly-timed question, especially as we’re revving up for that “most wonderful time of the year.” You know, “the hap-happiest season of all.”  Well, with all due respect to Andy Williams, as with much that God has for us, things are not always as they seem. Sharing an insightful meditation written by my daughter, Ginny, that – as you crack it open – I hope will encourage you.

Even The Stones

Merry Christmas!

Our Physiology Is A Cosmos


Our Physiology Is A Cosmos

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 1 Corinthians 12:14-26

My thoughts have nothing to do with the metaphorical populated, variously gifted, church of Christ. Probably more than a bit askew. Went to the spinal cord rehab doc today and am thinking about the passage above more literally than I should. As we are fearfully and wonderfully made, we can be fearfully and horribly broken. And even then our physiology is a cosmos in its own right,Spinal Cord dangling as it were by a thread. A fragile bundle of myelin sheathed neurons and dendrites. Now damaged, once synergistic systems are smashed and struggle to find balance again. One compensating for the absence of another. Another firing instinctively but not connecting with its downstream receiver. Others quieted seemingly forever. Still others sabotaging the survivor with inconvenient, never timely “less honorable” functions.

Even in these messy, inconvenient moments, my thorn in the flesh gives me cause to remember that in my weaknesses, Christ’s power is perfected and His grace is sufficient. When borne patiently my embarrassment is His honor, and I am sanctified a bit further.

Portions, Lots, Lines and Pleasant Places


Psalm 16:5-8 — The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;  indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Portions, lots, lines and pleasant places. You may be picturing generous arable, fertile expanses across which homes are built, families are born, callings are heard, livings are made, and histories are written. Yet not all terrain is gently sloped. Some is more extreme. Frigid. Rocky. Wind swept. Dry and dusty. Some homes are Surveyor Crewnot happy. Some of us are isolated. Some callings are cloudy. Calamitous. And history can be hurtful. Single? Family? Single again? Healthy? Sick? Wealthy? Poor? No matter.

For no matter our lot, parcel or no, short straw or long, steps wrong or right, in ease or the most difficult of circumstances, God makes His saints heirs to His promises and gives them counsel, instructs them in the night, is at their right hand, and steadies them.

Have recently seen this in Abraham’s, Isaac’s, Jacob’s stories. They were flawed and rough, but God patiently herded and prospered them. In Joseph’s abandonment and rise to great civilization saving power and influence. In Job’s hard, hard account. He was upright, yet suffered unimaginably. Great men in great swelling, steaming, surging swaths of flawed messy human history. History whose divine prime mover was no more engaged than He is today, even if more visibly apparent.

Draw near to Him and He’ll draw near to you. Trust in Him. Look to Him. Lean hard upon Him.

Blackberries, Or Bushes Afire?


We await a smaller mob than most years – we’ll have 15 around the table. I cite a link to our Thanksgiving experience in 2009 I hope you’ll enjoy:

But also happy to step out of the way of my good friend, Frank Smith III, a far more gifted writer than I am, who emailed a spot-on and fresh Thanksgiving missive that I am pleased to share:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Aurora Leigh,” Book VII)

I read Barrett’s beautiful poem again this morning, as I do every Thanksgiving since I discovered it. The poem says it all, and says it well.

So few have the eyes to see that, as the Seraphim cry out in Isaiah, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts… the whole earth is full of His glory.” Psalm 19:1 tells us, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.”

Take a few moments, and silently list just a few of the ways in which you are blessed every day. The tolling of distant church bells on a crystal clear, frosty night . . . the touch of a child’s hand, or a grandmother’s cheek . . . the warmth of a friend’s arm around your shoulder. The taste of a turkey that your beloved labored over for hours. An expanse of dark green, snow-capped forest under the rosy-pink of early dawn. A dog’s eyes, expectant and bright, when he brings the ball back for the fifteenth time.

Forgiveness. Loving-kindness. Justice. Grace under pressure. It’s hard to stop, isn’t it? This is our Father’s World. And how He reveals Himself to us, in it . . .

Yes, the world has fallen, and until Christ’s return, the creation groans: longing for things to be made right and for freedom from sin and death. There are wars, and rumors of wars, as there have been in every year since that Fall. Amidst the beauty thorns of many kinds and shapes sadly “infest the ground”.

But God’s amazing handiwork still shines through, causing awe and wonder to well up in our hearts and pour forth in thanksgiving. Praise Him.

And praise Him also, that even when sin and sinners mar His work . . . He has willed to redeem those actions for good. A far deeper good, a greater and more far-reaching good, in fact, than the enemy could ever imagine . . . and a good that will one day reflect His sovereignty and His wisdom and His love for all eternity.

Remember Joseph, whose dreadful fate turned into the salvation of his family, and his family’s people. And then, remember Jesus . . . ! And say out loud with Paul, as he marveled at God’s handiwork in Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

So. See with new eyes, the handiwork of the One through whom all things were made, and have their being. And look also, as the Spirit even now moves and heals and transforms, and love grows in human hearts where there was none before, and God’s Kingdom advances.

And watch as Our Lord — already victor over sin and death — continues to roll back the darkness and prepare our world for His Second Coming: that time in which, as John writes in Revelations, ” . . . He will dwell with (men). They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them, and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes . . . and there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying in pain, for the old order of things will have passed away” (Rev. 21: 3-4).

See, look, watch . . . and be thankful.

Beloved of God. Ruby Shod.


There was a post come from the Celestial City, with matter of great importance . . . .

A one time copy center manager, he’d been asked by a neighbor to print invitations to a special, multi-decades-marking natal celebration. “Why not?” he thought. “Just 25 color prints. A small favor, really.” Plus, it would give him the opportunity to kick the tires on his newly installed high quality Oce’ C6550 color multi-functional printer with EFI external raster image processor on high quality 24#, 92-white, letter-size stock. The celebrant was affectionately even if mischievously called “Judy” by her family and closer friends. Apparently she was a Wizard of Oz devotee’ and happened to share a birthday with its star, an iconic and somewhat more celebrated Judy.

The invitation layout was made up of four panels, each a quarter page, containing necessary date, time, location, directions, and RSVP instructions. Two quarter panels were printed on each side, along vertically opposite short edges. The printed pages were then folded in half short-wise and in half again long-wise. Voila! Invitations ready to send. The prominent panel featured a gleaming pair of ruby slippers – a movie moment frozen in time just nanoseconds before a heel click would beam their wearer, Dorothy (and Toto, too) safely back home to Kansas sod.

Well, “Judy” – so called – was a friend of his.

“Judy’s” given name was Grace. In time, she would succumb to the weakening effects of age and infirmity, as we all have, or will. In her final days, he was kept apprised of her condition by her daughter, Bonnie. You see, it was Bonnie twelve years earlier who asked if he would print the special multi-decades-marking natal celebration invitations on the high quality Oce’ C6550 color multi-functional printer with EFI external raster image processor on high quality 24#, 92-white, letter-size stock. And that favor granted sparked his friendship with “Judy.” Through the years, “Judy” would come to visit Bonnie and her family seasonally. And on those occasions he and “Judy” would catch up – usually just 10-15 minutes after church. Each would cheer the other with his and her rapier-sharp humor and wit, general updates, and tales drawn from life experiences and from places lived or visited. She had traveled extensively. He not so much. But he had spent a few years in Kansas. Each would encourage the other in his and her peculiar circumstances.

Still more years passed. He, too, began to feel and be limited by the effects of age, infirmity and the aftermath of one or two poor bicycle steering decisions. The news of “Judy’s” passing came sadly, even if not surprisingly, and was a reminder of the sure comfort they both possessed, and about which they had spoken. His comfort firmly held, had not yet been fulfilled. Hers having been fulfilled, was no less firmly held. They both knew neither was ever truly their own. You see, both belonged, body and soul, both in life and in death, to their faithful Saviour Jesus Christ who had fully paid for all their sins with His precious blood, setting them free from all the power of the devil, and preserving them in such a way that without the will of the heavenly Father not a hair could fall from their heads. Indeed, all things – whether wasting illness or the aftermath of one or two poor bicycle steering decisions – would unfailingly work together for their salvation. They both therefore, by His Holy Spirit were assured of eternal life and had been made heartily willing and able to live, and ready to die, for Him.

How fitting “Judy’s” real name had proven. Grace. A trophy of God’s grace, she gracefully and fearlessly awaited death. Death wielded in feigned absoluteness by the great adversary, the king of terrors, the accuser now defeated. Death, now vanquished and stingless. Dominator turned doorway. Earth-suit failing, her final earth-days would be marked by visits from dear ones and friends, near ones and far ones. Some visiting “Judy” those days sat near her bedside and tuned their voices for heaven, turning them heavenward, singing glorious hymns gloriously – anthems to send her on. And as their ringing voices rang more faintly, she slept and slipped from this life to the next, shedding her earth-suit’s surly shell to don luminescent robes of righteousness given her by the Redeemer, treading streets of gold amongst the great host of heaven.

It was only a few days earlier that his lovely and heroic wife reminded him of John Bunyan’s Christiana:

There was a post come from the Celestial City, with matter of great importance to one Christiana . . . . So inquiry was made for her, and the house was found out where she was. So the post presented her with a letter. The contents were, “Hail, good woman; I bring thee tidings that the Master calleth for thee, and expecteth that thou should’st stand in his presence, in clothes of immortality within these ten days.” When he had read this letter to her, he gave her therewith a sure token that he was a true messenger, and was come to bid her make haste to be gone. The token was, an arrow with a point sharpened with love, let easily into her heart, which by degrees wrought so effectually with her, that at the time appointed she must be gone.

Now the day drew on that Christiana must be gone. So the road was full of people to see her take her journey. But, behold, all the banks beyond the river were full of horses and chariots, which were come down from above to accompany her to the city gate. She came forth, and entered the river, with a beckon of farewell to those that followed her. The last words that she was heard to say were, “I come, Lord, to be with thee, and to bless thee!” So she went and called, and entered in at the gate with . . . ceremonies of joy . . . .

Those cinematic ruby slippers were an amusing but fitting symbol. Recalling her rapier-sharp humor and wit, he knew she would have thought so, too. Equipped from faith’s armory, as shoes for her feet, she had put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. As our iconic and somewhat more celebrated real Judy’s ruby shod Dorothy was spell bound and safely whisked back to Kansas sod, so Christ’s blood red atonement has covered and made sure the feet of pilgrims bound for their heavenly homes. He chuckled, knowing “Judy” would also have quickly pointed out the importance of a string of pearls and a matching purse.

He would see her again – on Kansas sod, perhaps. Yes, Judy was a friend of his.

Five Years On


A year ago, on my 4th “Accidentiversary,” and just three days after my daughter’s wedding, I wrote a quick ditty because ditty’s should be quickly written on significant annual occasions. On that day (the written-ditty day), I regretted not having done anything that involved precision event planning, caterered sterno-heated foods, lots of people, happy jocular toasting, and tears. That day, friends and loved ones made their post-wedding exits, and work encroached. That night, I resolved to mend my ways next go-round. See:

All of which brings me to today – my 5th “Accidentiversary.”

At the risk of disappointing my host of “followers,” all eight of you, who are all wondering where their invitations are, I regret to inform you there will be no event extravaganza. However, a luncheon with sweet, heroic Alice is in the works.

Feeling compelled to write something – because dittys should be written on significant annual occasions – I do so, but find my thoughts are more than just a bit jumbled. So, in scribbling, let me simply proclaim my gratefulness – perhaps a bit more potently today than at other times – for an immense company of friends who have supported and encouraged me and mine through challenging times in ways, both visible and unseen (both equally significant): Alice, Auntie Sue, Auntie Di, my eight children, one daughter in law, two sons in law, and two grandsons, the John and Betty Marvin extended clan, the Clans Smith, McFadden, and Familj Jaderberg – domestic and abroad, Uncle Sonny and Aunt Chris, the WCHS Bulldogs, Virginia Cavaliers, FCA-ers, Virginia-Beta Phi’s, Cedar Brook Academy, Joni and Friends, Bowie PCA and Wallace Presbyterian families, CRPC family, Shepherd Center and Kennedy Krieger Institute, HCGH Wound Care Center (eewwww?) – Larry and Dr. Leuthke, most notably, Facilities PLUS and Merrill colleagues, Montpelier, Elkton / Trent Road, Sandy Cove and America’s Keswick communities, and so many others.

Thanks for all you’ve prayed, endured, put up with, given, done. Impossible to catalog. Of inestimable value. Especially you, Ooli.

I thank God that He has not broken this bruised reed, He has not quenched this smoking flax. He is with me, at work to banish dismay, strengthen and uphold me with His righteous right hand, and infuse pluck and vigor through the realm. All this, despite my callous, complaining, ungrateful inclinations.

And I thank God for you all. Believe and know how grateful I truly am.

My love to you all.

Passing This Along . . . Thank You, Mr. Spurgeon


“The mercy of God.” / Meditate a little on this mercy of the Lord . . . a cordial to your drooping spirits; a golden ointment to your bleeding wounds; a heavenly bandage to your broken bones; a royal chariot for your weary feet; a bosom of love for your trembling heart. It is manifold mercy. As Bunyan says, “All the flowers in God’s garden are double.” There is no single mercy. You may think you have but one mercy, but you shall find it to be a whole cluster of mercies. It is abounding mercy. Millions have received it, yet far from its being exhausted; it is as fresh, as full, and as free as ever. It is unfailing mercy. It will never leave thee. If mercy be thy friend, mercy will be with thee in temptation to keep thee from yielding; with thee in trouble to prevent thee from sinking; with thee living to be the light and life of thy countenance; and with thee dying to be the joy of thy soul when earthly comfort is ebbing fast.

But I am like an olive tree
flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
for ever and ever.
Psalm 52:8

Morning and Evening
17 August

God in the Checkbook, or Quicken’s Silver Lining


May, 2010 — Since my accident, now nine months on, I’ve noticed quite a few times that I lose track of time. I’m not talking about clock time. I’m talking about calendar time. The month. The date. The year. The day. I suppose it could be because I spent quite a few weeks away from home in medical care facilities, and additional weeks after arriving back home in hospital. In many of these places, if I had a view out the window, it was not a remarkable view. An empty sky. A brick wall. An air handler atop a pebbled roof. That same squirrel running across that same oak limb. No longer passing time according to well-established routines.

I was, and am becoming again, a pretty (excessively?) organized person. Used to be, when the mail came, or when I noticed it had been piling up, I would sort it carefully into piles. Junk mail. Bills. Checks. Personal correspondence — mine and theirs. And bank statements.

I would quickly process most of the piles described above. Junk mail to the trash. Bills into the desktop sorter, according to due date. Checks to the desk next to the “for deposit only” stamp. Other correspondence would be sorted (thrown or stuffed, really) into each family member’s stair basket. Contents were to be removed from baskets by basket owners and carried upstairs. The expression, “Out of sight, out of mind,” and the term “black hole,” seem to fit.

Early in my adult checkbook independence, I learned the benefits of the envelope system and the ledger sheet method. Still, with lots of handwritten checks and ledger entries, home finance management was slow going. Enter Quicken! I no longer had to handwrite checks. Sweet! Having set up my paycheck allocations, and my income and expense categories, home finance management became much more streamlined.

Back to the mail. The bank statements would go into a pile that I scarcely could bear to look upon. Were I to see the pile, it was a chilling and demoralizing reminder that account reconciliation afternoons were seldom happy occasions. Missing receipts. Deposits I was sure of, but which the bank seemed to have overlooked. The check ledger’s “miscellaneous” category, with its siren call, “Use me for discretionary purposes.” Deep inside I knew it was merely the much misused ledger account I would deplete to make adjustments necessary to balance with the bank. Sigh. I can’t remember how many times six months would pass before I would tackle and reconcile a half year of bank statements. Upon slaying these multi-month statement dragons, I would sincerely proclaim I’d learned my lesson, and then announce, “I will never let this happen again.” I’ve been making that same announcement every six months for years.

This past week, I gathered all of the receipts, deposit slips, and the almost sacred composition book my lovely heroic wife used to split and track every check-writing atom. My involuntary abdication of the home finance management throne thrust my beloved wife into the role. I daresay she would rather have had weekly root canals. So, back on the throne, I began to work through the past 9 months’ income and expense history.

Quite unexpectedly, it was as though my newer version of Quicken had a AAA Trip-Tic function. Looking at every receipt, deposit slip and check number, it was as though each one was a Rick Steves travelogue stop with its own narrative. Entering each item, I matched transaction dates with transaction locations, picturing in many cases the payee / payor parties involved. I now understood where my wife and kids went each day — Target, Giant, Wal-Mart, the doctor’s office, Muvico, birthday shopping. I now could see who got new shoes, new clothes, a treat at Chick-fil-A, a prescription refill, a fill-up. Many deposit entries evidenced the staggering generosity of friends, family and strangers whose targets for kindness we were.

These bits of data — now all strung together — provided a much needed, much more useful cash flow picture. More significantly, this plodding multi-night exercise evidenced God’s close providential care, and reconnected me with the familiar reality away from which I had been so long, and with — to my eyes — a vast company of caring and supportive people.

And He who did not spare His only begotten Son, how will He not also along with Him freely give us all things?

Fearfully and Wonderfully Broken


On August 20, 2009, four years and five months ago, I enjoyed my last two-wheeled bike ride and experienced a real life-changer. Now a C7 tetraplegic, paralyzed from the mid-chest down, I have grown in my appreciation for God’s grace and mercy (after all, I could’ve been killed or much more profoundly injured). I have also tasted the richness of family relationships, other relationships established through the years, and the many shades of encouragement and support these friendships have borne. Living in a broken earth suit with limited physical abilities was at first very difficult as my identity, purposes, style, calling, and significance rested heavily on my abilities. I’m persuaded that independence can isolate, and that what amounts to diminished pride can be a good thing. My new normal has been characterized as a peculiar stewardship. My needs and dependence have deepened relationships with those who are close to me. And, they have brought me closer to those I knew well long ago but from whom I had grown apart. I appreciate, and can empathize more genuinely and experientially with, others who have met with deep difficulty. While I hope and pray for improved neurological function, this momentary light affliction is changing and refining me as I look to the Lord, endeavor to trust in Him, and live patiently in the “new normal.” Having once stood 6’4″, life now happens at 55 inches. Life, while at lower altitudes, is still very rich.