Shaping the Voids

By: Marcy Barthelette

Many are the plans in a man’s (or woman’s) heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21

This verse sums up my life in a nutshell…maybe that’s why I quote it often. Case in point; I had planned topics for the entire Lenten season and thought I was being very proactive. But a few days ago I awoke from a dream completely overcome by the subliminal suggestion that I needed to write about my pen and ink artwork. Then I thought, no, it was just a dream. But it just kept nagging at me. And then, on Sunday morning, Pastor Dennis spoke passionately about our children being robbed of their Christian identity by societal distractions and I began to see how pen and ink could reveal a parallel.

So let’s embark on a little artistic tutorial. There’s a bit of preliminary work before I begin a new piece. Not the least difficult is making a choice of subject matter. Once that’s accomplished, I may need to engage my printer to reduce or enlarge a photo or other picture of the image I’ve chosen to work with. When I’ve determined what weight and texture I want for a drawing surface, I’ll use a black and white copy of the photo, with a bright light underneath, to lightly trace in pencil the outline of the major components onto my drawing paper.

Now comes the most important aspect of the work. Read this twice. Before the pen touches the paper I must sketch in the voids. This is free-handed, again in pencil. The voids are those spaces where I want no ink and clearly, if I neglect to indicate where they are needed and try to wing it with my pen, I’m going to make a mistake. Once the ink is down, there is no going back, only a do-over.

When I’ve identified all those spaces, only then, can I proceed to add the details around them in ink. Those early strokes and dots and crosshatches look hopelessly incomplete and I often wonder if the finished piece will ever resemble the image I saw in my mind’s eye before I began. Slowly, very slowly, the image takes form.

By faith—by believing God—we know that the world and the stars—in fact, all things—were made at God’s command; and that they were all made from things that can’t be seen. Hebrews 11:3

Human life is much like these drawings. A baby is born without skills or knowledge, completely dependent on others to fill its needs. The bodily organs function but the mind and the soul are yet to be developed, an open canvas or blank sheet of paper, a void so to speak. They can’t be seen as body parts on an X-ray yet they exist, ready to be molded by the environment in which the child is surrounded. He or she soon learns how to communicate wants and needs. Before we know it, our child is moving around on its own power and soon words tumble from its mouth. Now the question is, what kind of words will we hear? If the child is exposed to polite language and love, the words spilling out are likely to be similar. But if the child is surrounded by unclean words and anger, we know what will happen. “Little pitchers have big ears” may be just an old grandma idiom, but it rings true. Children repeat what they hear. What is your child’s void being filled with? 

Now then, as adults, we also tend to reflect the sights and sounds with which we surround ourselves. If we have allowed the negatives to invade our “void”, we are likely to reek with negativity but if we put on the God armor that deflects those negatives and only allows positive attitudes, we then can reflect His light wherever we go. That “void” becomes so bright with light that we can only reflect goodness.

And that drawing I began? The more positive pen strokes that I add, the more clearly the intended image is revealed. I like to take a number of photos during the progression of my work. The reflection of the work in progress helps me see where corrections need to be made, where more shading is needed, and where the project needs to be left blank. And when I’m finished, the voids become the focal points. They’re intended to project light, perhaps the sun glistening on a shiny surface or the highlights in the coat of a wild creature. The light emanates from the voids adding an aura of brightness.

So you see, there is a parallel. Just as it’s important for me to surround my pen and ink voids with the right details, so must we give thoughtful contemplation to what we absorb from the details surrounding the personal “voids” of our minds and souls. Don’t lay the ink on the paper until you’ve determined where and how the voids will collect light to shine forth and illuminate the dark places in the world with God’s goodness.

Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.

The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! II Corinthians 5:17-18


Redeemed By Blood

By: Marcy Barthelette

You, Lord, took up my case; You redeemed my life. Lamentations 3:58

If you travel this land of ours and take time to stop and visit history museums, you’ll find that the people who came before us, both native and immigrant, were quite inventive. They were in an environment mostly void of modern conveniences but still needed not only to survive but, hopefully, to thrive. They needed tools for building, implements for farming, containers for cooking and storing food and water, and materials for clothes and lodging. Native peoples crafted all these items out of materials gleaned from the land. Immigrants brought what they could from their homeland but their treasures wore out quickly and they, too, resorted to the offerings of nature.

When work was finished and people gathered, someone would invariably pull out a primitive musical instrument fashioned from anything that could produce a tone or rhythm. People everywhere loved the sound of music. It’s often described as a universal language. So, whether around a campfire or at a Sunday morning service in someone’s home, just about any time people were gathered together, music was the social icebreaker. We might not recognize those early attempts at creating useful or enjoyable possessions but they served their purpose well.

Today we typically buy the things that we need and want, but a courageous few will brave the neighborhood trash cans or dive into promising dumpsters and prowl the aisles of not-too-organized flea markets in search of anything that can be used to create something new and useful or repair something that just requires a spare part or two for it to operate correctly. In some cases, items are stripped of any useable material that can then be sold for profit. Recycling is certainly alive and well. Even if we don’t engage in all the dirty work it takes to recover usable “stuff” from trash, we’re willing to sort out our plastics, metals, and paper to leave at the curb for recycling pick-up.

I’ve learned a lot about this recycling and repurposing business from a husband who loves to scrounge. In his hobby of restoring one-hundred-year-old tools, he’s becoming a master of his trade. But he will also pick up every nut, bolt, screw, and washer that shines from the street. After all, he may need them one day. He’ll pick up small appliances or mowers or vacuums sitting at the curb with a “free” sign if he’s convinced they can be made almost new with a little TLC. Said TLC often comes with a reasonable amount of blood, sweat, and disappointment. But he’s very good at restoring old, seemingly useless inanimate objects to a whole new life.

We, humans, have lots of broken parts as well and we can’t always fix those problems, but we can always turn to the one who is able to work miracles and point others in that same direction. As we contemplate Lent and all that it implies, we must remember that we are the reason it happened all those years ago. It was our brokenness that brought Jesus to earth. And the plans were laid out from the beginning because God and His Son knew we would need to be bailed out of our own mistakes.   

The good part is, we are redeemable. Through all our brokenness, He sees a heart that was intended to beat for Him in the service of others, a soul that was meant to follow His instruction, love that may have lain dormant for many years, eyes to see the needs around us, ears to hear the cries, hands to reach out and touch. All these and more are parts of the bodies He created.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

Lest we forget whose we are, take some time during this season of introspection, and look upon a cross that stood atop a hill. See the broken and bleeding body of Jesus hanging there for all to witness His pain and the abuse His persecutors cast upon Him. Then remember 

He did it all for you and me, to heal our brokenness. God and His Son are definitely in the business of recycling and redeeming.

I have swept away your offences like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me for I have redeemed you.
Isaiah 44:22. 


Who’s Your BFF?

By: Marcy Barthelette

Help me to be the friend I want to have. Tim Tebow from Mission Possible

Just who is your BFF? If you have kids in your home, you have undoubtedly heard the acronym, probably often. In case you’re among the unenlightened, it stands for Best Friends Forever. You know, that special person who shares all your secrets and loves you anyway. And I’m sure that when they say it, they truly mean that they want this friendship to last forever. But all it takes is a cross word or an unkind act and the next thing we hear is that the BFF betrayed them and is no longer a friend. A few days later someone else now has the honor of being the new BFF.

What does forever mean to a thirteen-year-old or even a twenty-five-year-old? When we’re young and starry-eyed, infinitely wise and certainly indestructible, forever is the foreseeable future absent the inevitable challenges every human must face. And I’m sure the term BFF has reached the mouths of children almost from the moment they find their first words, even though they have no real concept of what they’re saying.

Our world has become a series of acronyms for just about everything we can think of: business logos, diseases, medications, even text talk. I recall many years ago that I mentioned stopping by KFC for something to eat and Ken looked at me like I was an alien who just flew in from Mars. I had no idea I was on the cusp of a new speech revolution, one that would evolve into a mania I couldn’t begin to understand. Of course, I was a lot younger then and perhaps I could have mastered the transition to acronyms a lot faster had it occurred at that earlier age. But I’m afraid my acronym vocabulary is limited and will likely stay that way.

One thing I do know for sure, earthly BFFs will come and go. They’re as fickle as the wind. But my BFF will never betray me. Jesus is that friend. He wants to share my darkest moments and my greatest joys. He’ll do the same for you! He is big enough to hold us all in his arms and he has plenty of love to go around.

….and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. Proverbs 27:9 ESV

Family and friends are the spice of our lives. We develop deep relationships with them and find comfort in their presence. They travel down bumpy roads with us and celebrate time-honored traditions. But a day may come when they’re no longer there, either because earthly life has ended or because of an estrangement that seems overwhelming.  

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24 ESV

Jesus, on the other hand, will always be there, as close as a prayer, His breath the wind on your cheek. He will listen. He will forgive. He will never betray you or leave you. He even chose to endure persecution and death for you.

Now, who did you say is your BFF?

He chose you out of all the people on earth as his cherished personal treasure.

Deuteronomy 14:2 (Paraphrased from The Message)


Where Are Your Roots?

By: Marcy Barthelette

Your roots will grow down into God’s love….Ephesians 3:17b

Many of you will know that I’m typically in the business of digging around plant roots but spring is still in a questionable mode so I’m in the trenches with Ken chasing down a different kind of roots, genealogical leads.

Ken’s passion for learning about his past started decades ago, but I have always remained on the sidelines. However, a couple of weeks back, I recalled a box in our garage that held several large ornately framed photos of Ken’s ancestors that we never unpacked after our move back from Florida fifteen years ago. It was time for them to once again see the light of day, if only for a little while. Preserving these treasures digitally became a priority for me.

For some time, I’ve worked sporadically at digitizing all our photos and that’s no small task. With images of those large photos tucked away on a nice little cloud and the originals repacked, I began to consider other old photos in various places that should be preserved as well. Over the next few days, I gathered and quickly reviewed every photo I could find in the house. During that search, an itch I’d had for some time grabbed hold of me again. We lost my maternal grandmother when I was not yet three years old so I have no memory of her except the photos my mom kept. There also were a couple of documents on which I noticed that her name was different. On the one hand, she was Daisy Della Kemp but the other listed her as Della Daisy. I wanted to know which was right.

As one thing led to another I could only make assumptions about my grandmother’s name, but somewhere along the way, I became interested in who I am. I’m still more into preserving the photos and documents we already have than in the painstaking search for centuries of relatives, but Ken and I can embrace this passion together now. And my grandmother’s name is far from being the only name issue we’ve encountered. Ken’s tenth great-grandfather had two daughters named Marie. This was not unusual in those days but what really threw him a curveball was that both of them were married at age twelve. Most people searching the name assumed they were one and the same, but no, they were two different daughters and it becomes clear when you pay attention to birth and death dates. And Ken descended from one of them so accuracy was critical.

And then there’s Ken’s own father who grew to adulthood knowing himself as Arthur Joseph only to learn that he was Joseph Arthur and he had already named his first son Arthur Jr. Names can be very confusing. Perhaps you’ve noticed in biblical times that people often had more than one name. Please tell me, how are we supposed to keep these characters straight? Did you know that Jesus chose two disciples with the name Judas. It was a very common name in those days and while we are all very familiar with one, Judas Iscariot, the other Judas, also known as Thaddeus, is somewhat obscure.

Of the four Biblical lists of the Apostles, two are quoted below as my resource. One refers to Thaddeus while the other shows a second Judas. The remaining two lists follow the same pattern. That doesn’t mean that one is right and the other wrong. The authors simply had different perspectives. Some knew him as Thaddeus and others called him Judas. But historical fact recognizes them as the same person. See what I mean? Records from our past can be very confusing and with all the name-changing and incorrect spellings, it can be very difficult to be certain of one’s family roots. It takes lots of checking and verifying sources. Even then there may be gray areas.

Why am I pointing out this little discussed bit of trivia? Because we all have just a little “Judas” in us. We behave one way in certain situations and very different in others. And sometimes those behaviors betray Jesus.

Just as we can easily be led astray when following trails left by family roots, so can encounters in everyday life deceive us. We often think we know someone when we really don’t. Judas the traitor fooled every one in the inner circle. He was either a very adept con man or something happened along the way to change his loyalties. But Jesus always knew who would betray him. The other Judas (Thaddeus) was innocent of any malice, and was dedicated to Jesus in every way. Jesus knew the hearts of these two men who bore the same name and He loved them both equally. But, as you can see, the Bible accounts below agree that one was destined to betray him. It might just be a good idea to take a good look at where we want to be rooted, on the side of Judas Iscariot or the other Judas.   

Roots are important and I’m certainly not going to betray my interest in garden roots in favor of the search for genealogical ones. And as much as I find it interesting to know from where I come, it’s much more important to know where I’m going. Regardless of my earthly roots, my heavenly roots grow deeper daily even when I stumble. He’s always there to pick me up, dust me off, and point me in the right direction…again!

Biblical Sources:

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he called Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas, the son of James,

 and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. Luke 6:12-16

He appointed the twelve. Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder), Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. Mark 3:16-18T



Fanning Flames

By: Marcy Barthelette

This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. II Timothy 1:6

My family has a long history with fire, most of which has been productive and enjoyable, and that’s the perspective I’m approaching here. Ken joined scouting at age eleven where camping, and thus campfires, were a quintessential component of the program. I think his childhood experience gave him a head start on building a fire, but scouting refined his skills and taught him how to use fire productively, for warming the body and cooking. You know, basic survival skills.   

The two of us, along with our kids, have spent many a night in the woods and, of course, our careers in the recreation business provided no shortage of fodder for stories. Where best to share them? Around the campfire, naturally. But first, we’ll need a fire. We gather small dried sticks and leaves. Sometimes we bring a newspaper to help start our flame. With these, we build a base, add larger sticks, and finally logs. Ken prefers the pyramid or teepee style while I like a crisscross pattern. Either way works fine. The key to our fire is that all materials are dry and that adequate air can flow through. Once your fire is laid, you can exercise your primal instincts by rubbing sticks together, striking metal on flint or just do as we do and bring along dry matches or a propane lighter.

Once the fire is blazing well, it will be necessary to tweak it periodically to redirect air and add the necessary fuel. It will be hungry. I’ve found that I can really enjoy a small but consistent fire. However, many folks thrive on giant bonfires. On our annual retreat each year when we join a friend in her timeshare cabin, we have to compromise a bit. She loves a mass of flame while I am content having red hot coals topped with minimal flaming. Whatever type of flame you prefer, a campfire or a fireplace requires work to keep it going. My husband often reminds me that a fire needs fuel, air, and a heat source to burn, but I subscribe there is a lot more work to it than that. I do, however, find the work exhilarating and the result quite relaxing.

Fire in its base form provides heat to warm us and cook our food as well as certain aesthetic advantages. But what about the fire that lives within us, the one that begins with a tiny spark when we first hear about a man called Jesus. How does that flame grow and flourish without the proper amount of fuel, in the form of study, and air, the rest that restores us, and let’s not forget the heat source, daily contact with the one who breathed life into us. Study, rest, and prayer are a necessary combination but there’s another crucial component. Sharing the light of the flame with others. There is a song with a wonderful message and I’ll just quote its chorus:

Carry your candle, run to the darkness, seek out the hopeless, deceived and poor. Hold out your candle for all to see it. Take your candle and go light the world.

This is our mission on earth, to shine the light of Jesus, wherever we are, to whomever we meet. We can’t make anyone follow, it’s a personal decision, but we can light the way.

This topic of faith flame has been on my Lenten schedule for weeks and this past Sunday Pastor Dennis spoke with fire in his belly about revival, the historic line of revivals at Asbury Seminary and the current one, just ended, which drew tens of thousands of the curious faithful and others who were just curious. And maybe they found answers they didn’t even know they were looking for. Smaller movements like this are happening all over America.

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come…..He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Luke 3:16 (portion omitted)

The world we live in is very much at a fiery crossroads, the larger portion denying God. What will we do to fan the flames of Christianity? Where will we shine our light? How will we show others what God wants for all His people? He wants us all in His camp, gathered ‘round the fire together. And, oh, the stories He can tell if we’ll only listen


Taking Risks

By: Marcy Barthlette

We’ve all taken risks sometime during the course of our lifetime. Who hasn’t driven a little (or a lot) too fast, perhaps in our early years? Did we stop to think of the consequences to ourselves or others if we lost control? Some of us have left a really good job to follow our dreams and try something new. The lottery has been really huge in recent months. Some of us probably laid down a substantial amount against exponentially negative odds that we would win. Talk about risks, what about starting a family in difficult times.

Most of us make it through those crazy years of wanting to drive fast, but not all. Maybe that new job that looked so good from one side of the fence took on a new perspective once you were on the inside and maybe that was good or maybe a disappointment. The lottery? What can I say? I told you the odds against winning were exponential. And when we risk it all to have a family, I can’t even enumerate the possible rewards and disappointments.  

And then, there are smaller risks: going to the grocery store to pick up a few items, giving your sixteen-year-old the key to your car, heading down the road on vacation, planting a garden, making a suggestion to your boss about business management, digging through your ancestry and you never know what might turn up there. The list never ends. We take risks, seemingly overwhelming ones and just everyday run-of-the-mill ones, every single day. Risk is an inevitable part of life.

If you’ve watched PBS lately, you may have seen an ad for in which a woman says, “My family took risks…..big risks.” And 

she holds up her phone to reveal a photo of her ancestor by the name of Pillsbury, who risked boarding a ship to cross an ocean, with all its inherent dangers, in search of a better life. I guess his risk paid off, at least from a financial perspective. At some point in our family history, someone made the choice to leave a homeland and travel to a new place in search of something different. Not all enjoyed the success of the Pillsbury family, but success comes in many forms. And God’s rules are different than man’s expectations.

God took a risk. He sent his own son to earth to see if we would respond. Even the Son took risks.

Would we believe, follow and learn? What happens if loving us meant death? Would that end it?

( Partially taken from a Society of Saint Andrew devotional)

How did we respond? Well, in the beginning, we pretty much ignored Him. When He became an adult, He began preaching, teaching, and performing miracles. There were those who didn’t like the direction of His teachings and they certainly didn’t appreciate miracle workers. So they set about executing a plan for His ruination. They paid one of His own followers to betray Him, they tried Him in one mock court after another. They beat Him viciously, drove Him through the streets bearing His own cross, nailed Him to the cross, gambled for His garments, and tormented Him as He hung before them. And when He breathed His last breath, they thought it was over.

They were wrong! The future was just beginning! God took a risk on us but there is no risk in choosing to follow His plan for our lives. Oh, yes, we’ll still have troubles. But we won’t be alone. He’ll be right there in our pit of agony with us, offering support and forgiveness, and love. He’ll also be there to share our mountaintop experiences. The risk is not in acceptance, it comes in saying no to Him.

“Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.

Matthew 14:29

Most of our risk-taking probably did not reach the level of the one portrayed in the verse above and we know that because of his personal lack of faith, Peter failed. He’s seen his Master walk on water and like any young child, he wanted to do the same. Of course, he wasn’t a child and lacked the innocent faith of a child. He knew that men were not supposed to be able to walk on water and understood the danger he had placed himself in. All he had to do was focus on Jesus and he would have been home free. But he didn’t! When he took his eyes away from Jesus, he began to sink into the water. Then Jesus rescued him.

Over the next few weeks, the Season of Lent, let’s find some private time with God and tune ourselves into His plan for our lives. Lent is always an introspective time and sometimes feels laden with grief. We need to keep the end result in mind. Jesus’ persecutors thought the problem was solved with His final breath on the cross, but they were wrong! Jesus continues to be a “problem” today to all who choose not to believe or are still sitting on the fence. The factions that want to belittle His journey here on earth would have us believe He was nothing more than a teacher in His time and that the principles He taught are not applicable today. I would challenge that position. I believe His teachings are more relevant in our chaotic world than ever before. We need to listen, hear His word, and feel His hand upon our shoulders and His breath upon our cheeks. He Lives! He is real! And He loves us with a love we can’t comprehend. Reach out. Touch. Listen. Feel. You’ll find Him in ways you’ve never dreamed and you’ll never want to forget “Whose” you are.



Mended By the Potter’s Hands

By: Marcy Barthelette

But the Jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. Jeremiah 18:4

Sometimes I work for hours on a drawing and it just doesn’t look right. Frustration and doubt creep in. Should I scrap it or keep trying? I hate to throw away the work I’ve already done but I don’t want to waste more time on something that will eventually land in the trash. Decision made! The trash can has a new addition.

No doubt we’ve all embarked on projects that ended in the trash. When I make an error while drawing with ink I can sometimes rethink that portion of the project and cover the mistake without detracting from the final result. Sometimes, however, the error is so very conspicuous that nothing can rescue the work. Ink is permanent and my only recourse is to trash the much-anticipated drawing. That always hurts but is a fact of my chosen medium.

Did you notice in the opening verse, the potter was unhappy with the jar he was turning so he simply crushed it, and with a little manipulation, it was a workable piece of clay again? Who knows how many times a potter crushes his or her work to start over and make something lovely or useful or if they’re very talented, both lovely and useful.

I’ve stood amazed, alongside a potter’s wheel watching as a new creation takes form. And then a subtle shift, a finger touches a weak spot in the wall of the vessel, and a would-be masterpiece slumps on its side. The patient potter collects the clay and works it in his hands until it achieves the form he wants and he begins the process again. I admire how quickly a potter recovers from a disastrous experience at the wheel. But it makes sense, they’ve only lost a little time and, hopefully, learned a lesson or two along the way. A chunk of clay is very forgiving, allowing the potter lots of second chances.

I am not the potter, not the potter’s wheel; is not the value of the shape attained as dependent upon

the intrinsic worth of the clay as upon the wheel and the Master’s skill? Stephen King, The Stand

We, humans, are not unlike that lump of clay, supple and malleable, sculpted by the hands of the Master Potter. Think of the great value God places on you, enough that He is willing to re-sculpt you over and over again to achieve just the masterpiece He wants you to be. That’s a pretty awesome concept.   

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. Psalm 139:14

There is a cherished Japanese art form called kintsugi. I won’t go into great detail about the history of the process (you can read all you want online) but essentially the Japanese word kin means golden and tsugi means to join, together they become a tool with which to beautifully mend a broken treasure. Historically, many of Japanese families’ ceramic wares are passed from generation to generation and when one is broken the family incurs a tremendous loss. Therefore they searched for centuries to find a way to repair their broken pieces of pottery and eventually produced a lacquer similar to modern clear-drying glue. Lacquer in the joints, once applied, must be thoroughly dried before a dusting of silver or gold is then added, tracing each crack and adding to the history of the piece. There is no wish to hide the imperfection but rather to celebrate the flaws as features of natural or organic beauty.

You weren’t a mistake, and you’re not overlooked. You’re known and loved by the most powerful force in the universe.   
(Bear Grylls, Soul Fuel)

You see where this is going. We are all flawed vessels. We’re a mess of cracks and broken pieces. But the Master Creator is able to mend all those flaws, making us new again. It’s a never-ending process until that day when He welcomes us to eternity, a masterpiece created by His own hands.

But now, Lord, you are our father. We are the clay, and you are our potter. All of us are the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8 CEB


Lessons From An Unexpected Source

By: Marcy Barthlette

He who dwells in the shelter of the most high will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

We recently returned from a two-week stay in a cabin at Big Cedar Lodge with a good friend. It’s an annual event that we eagerly anticipate. She provides the lodging and we provide transportation and food. It’s a good arrangement for all of us and a great break from the winter doldrums. This year was a little different than past experiences. We typically enjoy quite a few nice days, times when we can be outdoors enjoying all of creation. Sometimes it’s even been warm enough for paddle boating and often we have found ourselves competing against each other on the mini-golf course.  

But this year, old man winter had other ideas. You may recall recent storm warnings of 8-12 inches of snow. We were the bulls eye of that warning band. And, before we had time to recover from all that snow, there were new warnings of multiple rounds of mixed precipitation. I really don’t relish those because they can mean anything from ice to sleet to snow. And that’s pretty much what we got. We were blessed in that our power stayed on and we had ample wood to keep a warm fire going all the time. I felt for the many folks who couldn’t say the same.

But the loveliest blessing of all came in the form of a majestic red-shouldered hawk who chose to perch just feet away from our deck for long periods of time searching for a good meal on the ground below. His total concentration was focused on survival. He sensed a storm was coming and that his body needed solid food in order to stay warm and healthy. He wasn’t bothered by other birds or animals or even distracted by curious humans.

We were fascinated when he turned his head 180° increasing his field of vision. How many times have I wished for eyes in the back of my head? He practiced enormous patience, waiting for just the right morsel. He perched totally still through snow and sleet until that morsel made the mistake of moving beneath the tree. And then, he amazed us with his agility, his quickness to flight when something was sighted. He dived so fast, we almost missed his descent. The poor little critter below didn’t stand a chance.

In the animal world, creatures are driven by the instinct to survive. They must always be alert to their surroundings, whether searching for food or nesting material, being alert to the presence of predators, or sensing when the weather can turn treacherous. I wonder if I exercise the same level of focus and on whom or what do I direct that focus.

If I’m honest, I’ll have to admit that too often I dwell on frivolous matters. When a storm threatens, I don’t have to hunt for my food outdoors, I just go to the local grocery store and when they don’t have an item on my list, I obsess over why it isn’t there. When the checkout lane is long, I grumble. When a driver pulls in front of me, I may have a choice word or two to sling her way. In short, my focus is misplaced.

When an item is out of stock, I need to find a replacement. When the line is long, I need to turn to the man behind me carrying only two items while corralling an irate child and let him go ahead of me. And when that woman nearly runs me down in the parking lot, well, maybe it wasn’t really that close, I probably need to remember that she’s in a hurry to stock up too. My total focus should be on emulating Jesus in all I do.

That beautiful bird illustrates some of the qualities Jesus asks us to practice and I don’t mean hunting mice to eat. My hawk friend was unbelievably patient and tolerant of nasty weather. He knew the rules of his game and he persisted until he was successful. He was totally focused on his mission until it was completed. How often can I say the same? Our mission is clear. We have a rule book to follow and we have a helper who will be with us all the time. As far as I know, He probably doesn’t look like a bird, but He will shelter us under His protective wings and provide for our needs.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.  
Psalm 91:4   


A Kayaking Odyssey

By: Marcy Barthlette

It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Philippians 3:12

A few summers ago, our daughter had acquired an inflatable kayak, easy enough to transport in their camping trailer, and she set out on a little adventure in a state park setting. Our son-in-law and granddaughter dropped her off with definite plans for a pick-up downstream within the anticipated float time. As it turned out, that estimation was based on normal water levels but the stream was quite low at the time. She found herself dragging the kayak more than paddling and who knew how heavy an inflatable kayak could be?

When she had not reached her takeout point two hours after the anticipated arrival, her family became quite concerned. They went back to their campsite to see if maybe she had walked back there while they were away but there was no sign of her presence. The next step was to report her missing to the park ranger’s office, whereupon an all-out missing person search began.

Meanwhile, our daughter had floated into the takeout, a little worse for wear, and went to a truck she thought was theirs but it was not. The folks, however, did get her back to her campsite only to find the rest of the family missing. They soon reappeared and all was well though everyone was pretty tired from all the excitement. And, of course, our family had another tale to tell at every gathering. You may be seeing a pattern here.

Fast forward to this past Christmas when Ken and I were searching for an ornament to add to our granddaughter’s collection from us, and what did Ken see but a tiny blue kayak ornament. Obviously, that kayak just had to be on Jeni’s tree so we finished our shopping and proceeded to the checkout. Ken had three ornaments hanging from his fingers and several other items in his arms. Need I explain that the kayak slipped from his fingers onto the floor where the tip broke off. We searched and searched for the missing piece and couldn’t find it so Ken went back to look for a replacement. Every customer in the ornament aisle helped him try to find one. Meanwhile, when our clerk cleared all the other customers in line, she asked me what ornament we were looking for and when I told her, she said she had just straightened all the ornaments the night before and that was the only kayak left. At that moment Ken walked up with a couple of other possibilities in his hand because he couldn’t find another kayak. But they just weren’t right.

Once again, the search began for the missing piece. We thought we could glue it back together and make it look new. Everyone in line

 joined the search….not one person complained about having to wait. The Christmas spirit was alive and well in that place. And, would you believe, about fifteen feet from where he’d been standing when the ornament fell, he found it. The break was clean. We knew we could fix it. And besides, this whole story is about imperfect situations. The float trip had been imperfect, yet all ended well and we all had something to tease Jeni about. The poor little kayak ornament took a mighty tumble and yet, it was repaired to look like new (well, maybe not quite but it became a great metaphor for a misspent) float.

And you know, that tiny blue plastic kayak is a lot like us, imperfect and yet very us able. Perfection is a trait that we can’t achieve on this earth and yet, we have so much potential. How will you use yours?

…but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me.
Philippians 3:13b