Thursday, June 27, 2013

Describing and Explaining


Fire traveling across the forest floor

I lowered the windows in my 4Runner and turned off the key. The short jaunt to our next-door neighbor took one minute. But the black ash and soot curtailed my steps for the 300 foot walk between our homes. To trek through it meant stirring up cinders while holding a tissue across my nose and mouth.

Fire crowning in the trees

 The landscape of the final 1.5 miles before turning left onto our street is forever scarred. The Black Forest inferno consumed almost every home on both sides of this road we travel almost daily. In its wake it left piles of ash, skeletons of vehicles, brick chimneys, a view we never before saw, and blackened matchsticks that only hours earlier were majestic Ponderosa Pines, a playground for squirrels and the residences of birds.

The view as I drove in from Kansas.

Two weeks ago Bill fled our home; a thick curtain of black billowing smoke heading his way enveloped the end of our short dirt road. His heart pounded in his chest; he called me on my cell. (I was driving home from a week in Kansas.) His words, “Honey, we’re going to lose our home.” Five hours later in the safety of a friend’s living room, I collapsed in his arms. Our tears mingled.

Flowers alive and bringing the gift of beauty

Thirteen days later, as I often do, I sat on the wooden deck of our home sunscreen applied and my visor in place. A brilliant blue sky silhouetted the tall green Ponderosas. The smell of smoke still permeated the air. This year’s annuals Bill planted just three days before the fire appear unscathed. They offer color, beauty, normalcy, and a place for the bees to gather nectar. The birds chirped about their experience; the squirrels scampered from one tree to another. I closed my eyes and the welcome scent of honeysuckle filled my nostrils and overcame the smoke.
How can these four pictures encompass and communicate the horror and the wonder of the past 16 days?
I can’t.
There is no human explanation of why our home stands and our yard survived. The evidence of the fire encircles our house; our property is now blackened where once a pine needle carpet sat; in one place the scorched ground comes within an inch of our foundation. The two cords of seasoned fire wood which once stood tall a short 15 feet from a wooden fence are gone; the fence remains. We live near the origin of the fire and our home was in its destructive path.
Two of our neighbors, one across the street, another one house away, lost everything. Good friends are beginning the arduous process of sifting through the remains of their homes. We will help.  
It doesn’t make sense.
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, …” Deuteronomy 29:29
We talk; we cry; we journal; we ponder; we listen; we connect; we do the next thing.
“Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” Lamentations 3:22 NIV 
Smoke creates beautiful sunsets.

Please also check Bill's words at His post is titled, Lessons from the Forest Fire, #1. Penned on June 27, 2013.
 Our good friend and neighbor, Del Tackett, shares some of his thoughts on his blog Truth Observed at on June 23, 2013 titled, Tragedies Withheld.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I’ve written much about hard things on this blog before. Many of the stories behind these words still ignite tears and prayers—the people spoken of are friends and family. Now, like the hem of a dress lovingly sewn by hand they surround my life, bring beauty, and keep me from unraveling.

Our neighbor's home right across the street.

This fire, the Black Forest fire, threatened to consume our home, our traditions, our memories, our neighbors, and much practical stuff—stuff with attached importance; some that could have never been replaced.

I returned to my own words. I needed to hear again what God had lovingly spoken to me. As I read the list I created for the Hard Things post, I remembered many of you telling me you were printing out that list and keeping it in your Bible as a prayer guide. Two items screamed loudly:
3. Take time to ponder, be still, and know.
                         Psalm 46:10

5. Listen to God through his word, through
    wise friends, through books.    
                          Isaiah 55:1-3
Both difficult this week. Thank you for standing in the gap for us.

It is almost impossible for me to pray when I am intimately involved with that which needs prayer. Those who continue to text scripture to us, you are ministering deeply. Thank you to our pastor, Mark Bates and his words from Romans 8:26. The Spirit is interceding; this verse has never been so real. Thank you to my friend Diane Otten who sent a word-picture that was easy to copy and pray, dear God, please keep a bubble of protection around our home.


Another simple, yet profound encouragement was the lovely picture of the peace lily my sister Barbara sent; then another mentioned Lamentations 3:22 in the NIV which has become my go-to scripture this week, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed.” And thank you to Sandy Marthaler who put the two together. Sandy, that is a special gift. I plan to frame it when this chapter closes.
A huge gift comes from our friends Jason and Kara Tippetts. While they vacation in the mountains, they loaned us their home—big enough for us, our son and daughter-in-law, and their two children; they are in the midst of a cross-country move. Three year old Judah loves all the new toys.
Their above-and-beyond generosity comes from their church family who are providing meals for us. It is wonderful to not think about these details. Thank you, Westside PCA.
A scripture passage that I’ve been ruminating on this week comes from Daniel 3. Although Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were tossed into a burning fiery furnace, they came out alive, having walked with Jesus (I wonder what they talked about), without even the smell of smoke on them.
We too have been surrounded by fire; we didn’t expect our home to survive—it appears it has; we want to listen to God and hear from Him in the midst of the smoke and the ashes; and we desire that others will see God as the God who rescues.
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
                                           Lamentations 3:22

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Anniversary Ministry

Diane and I have been friends since 1981. I remember the first time we met. We had recently moved to a new city and were looking for a church home. When we entered the foyer that Sunday morning I immediately noticed Diane. Her kind smile encouraged me to come over and introduce myself. It appeared that our sons might be the same age; they were. That was the beginning.
As our friendship developed I realized we had a lot more in common than our sons. We both shared a heart for ministry to women. Diane opened her home every week for a large women’s Bible study and even provided baby-sitters. What a gift! It was there that I got to know several women who are friends to this day. Thank you, Diane.
In 1988 our family moved away, with many good memories and enough commonalities to allow our friendship to prosper even from a distance.
Recently, I observed another fun fact about Diane and me--we are both prolific questioners. In many cases, Diane’s questions have helped me clarify my own beliefs. Those are good questions.
Diane’s heart for ministry took a quantum leap forward this past spring.
She and her husband Terry teach a Sunday school class full of the parents of couples with young children—about the age we were when we first met. Bill and I were attending the annual missions conference and Diane and Terry opened their class for us to teach that morning. During the announcements, Terry mentioned that next Sunday he and Diane had a surprise for the class.
If anyone had wondered about what the surprise might be, I bet they never guessed correctly.
In an above-and-beyond picture of marriage, Diane and Terry showed up the next Sunday morning (their 40th anniversary) in their wedding attire. Diane still fits into her gown! They ordered a wedding cake resplendent with raspberry filling and the cross that adorned their real wedding cake 40 years ago. They brought their pictures. Diane even prepared a brunch for the entire class (no small undertaking); the photographers and videographers recorded the entire morning.
But the best part was Diane and Terry talked through their marriage and what it looked like to commit to for better or for worse; for richer or for poorer; in sickness and in health. Their stories and vulnerability deeply encouraged all those in the class who are much closer to their 10th anniversaries. I wish we could have been there. I’m sure my eyes would have glistened as I applauded their hearts and their courage.

More than anything, Diane wanted to communicate the faithfulness of God. He has been faithful to she and Terry through the realities on two becoming one. He is also faithful to everyone who was blessed by their testimony that morning.
Our God is also a creative God. I love the way His creativity displays itself in the lives of my friends.
“Oh magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!” Psalm 34:3

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Something about Solitude

Summer is almost here. It ushers in its own unique rhythm. We will play with our GRANDS, camp with good friends, there will be a few ministry trips tucked in, and a big part of this season will be spent at "The Sanctuary" our small cabin in the Colorado mountains where we will recharge and refuel. Summer is the season of sabbath for us. In her post below, Beth Lueders shares how this discipline can start even as a teen and speak of what is truly important. Thank you Beth for letting me share your words.

Perspective is one of those words I’ve thought about having etched on my tombstone. You may not know it, but for most of junior high through college years, I mowed a cemetery on the bluff overlooking my rural Nebraska hometown. On those muggy summer days when I mowed around hundreds of tombstones with both a riding and push mower and then manicured stone markers closely with hand clippers and even by plucking, I learned a thing or two about perspective, perseverance, and perspiration—all part of being resilient. (I still have mild calluses at the base of my fingers from years from squeezing manual grass clippers. Wish I had a Weed Whacker back then!!)
IMG_0352 - Version 3There was something mind-cleansing about cruising along on my mighty mower in the open edges of that cemetery and looking out of the farmlands and my hometown a couple miles in the distance. Summer after summer I could zip along glued to the slightly padded mower seat and work on my tan, all the while refreshing my view of everyday life. Somehow alone, except for the hundreds of early settlers and townsfolk now silent in their graves, I could muddle through my problems (catching the eye of cute guys, understanding algebra, improving my volleyball serve, lining up my new fall wardrobe, helping choreograph swing choir moves . . . and on an on).
Perspective. It’s the ability to look underneath and all around at the people and circumstances of life to see the big picture. Or as one dictionary states, “a view or vista; the ability to perceive things in their actual interrelations and comparative importance.” Like my days on that vista above my hometown, I daily need to pause and refresh my view of what’s truly important and what has eternal value.
I  like what British rabbi Jonathan Sacks says happens when people pause to turn to God throughout the day. “We recover perspective. We inhale a deep breath of eternity.” Recovering our perspective each day makes us more brave and resilient for tomorrow and increases our capacity to exhale the here and now and inhale deep breaths of eternity.