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wasteland

“Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    . . . hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord . . .
    and he delivered them . . .
 Let them give thanks to the Lord  . . .
 for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:4-9).

Fear clinches her stomach. Emptiness rises like bile to burn in her chest. She staggers through weeks and months as if trudging across endless sand dunes. Daily stress rises to sear her skin like desert sun rays. As she parts her lips, the dry world of her wasteland burns into her throat. With a gasping plea, she at last musters a simple prayer. Help me, Lord.

The blaze persists. Dunes still overwhelm the view. Yet, her escape has begun.

She wriggles outstretched fingers toward the sand-walled horizon, anticipating mist from an unseen waterfall. With a dry, cracked hand, she picks up a branch for a staff. Peace floods into her spirit, soothing away the thirst of emptiness and fear. Her pace quickens. She might not sprint, but she now marches. To the streams she knows from within her. Where answered prayers have begun to lead her onward.

Ever felt lost in the wasteland? Hunger and thirst roil from physical needs, spiritual angst, or both. From health problems or financial devastation to inner storms of depression and stress, life can leave us feeling stranded in a desert-like existence. When despair overwhelms us, we recognize our inability to escape on our own strength. We can either succumb to its ravages or cry to the Lord for help.

A heartfelt prayer, no matter how simple or weak, vaults to heaven. God hears. And the escape begins.

The wasteland will not vanish in a moment, but you will gain resources to sustain you. Peace and hope nourish the soul, equipping you to march toward something beyond your view. A fresh draft of God-supplied faith empowers you to take the next steps. The cross beam becomes a staff to steady you on the way to fulfilled hope. God’s answer to your prayer for rescue has come, even as you await the answer of full deliverance.

Our miraculous answer to prayer is thriving, not only after our deliverance from the wasteland, but also during the journey of our escape.

What’s your miraculous answer to prayer today?

cactus (2)

“Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).

I once wondered if I could live without coffee. Clearing my sluggish haze each morning requires considerable effort. Anticipation or sunshine might spring some folks from their beds, but it takes more voltage to prod my toe out from the sheets. Despite my penchant for java, a brief fast proved certain substitutes offered the same boost. I could, in fact, live without my roasted bean beverage.

My cell phone consumes each free moment. Facebook posts MUST be checked for vital updates on loved ones. I dare not miss an email, lest the answer to my dreams awaits among the forty-plus daily sales pitches. While serving at retreats, participants fully engage my heart so my fingers never miss the phone.

Surely I need a full night’s rest. I HAVE to make sure the kids are okay. Personal space ranks high on my list of must-haves. And adequate food. Of course I need a hot shower to cope with life, and a clean environment, too . . .

I believed I couldn’t live without many things. Some trifles, like coffee. Some significant, like loved ones or rest. None of these can sustain me. My survival depends on one resource. He extends the brilliant energy of the Father’s glory to fill the universe. His verbal authority spoke all things into existence–past and future, sub-atomic to planetary, living and inanimate. Christ’s word continues as the empowering force which sustains everything.

While I’ve been tempted to believe I depended on other things, I now recognize the truth. The one thing I can’t live without will never run out, lose energy, or fail me. Thank you, Jesus, my infinite sustenance, power, and life.

We landed in Manhattan in search of great Christmas cheer. We strode among holiday shoppers and dined beside neighborly locals. Our eyes sparkled in the brilliance of tree lights and glamorous storefronts. Unbeknownst to us, a shadow rolled across the city. In the midst of preparing for the celebration of a Savior, darkness mounted its forces.

In the days before our arrival, hate-mongers stirred protesters to steam through those icy streets. Fists raised, a rally cry rose for murder. Blood thirst escalated and snatched up souls dangling near its edges. A fatal stabbing hit the news. Two officers fell prey to an ambush. Assassinations culminated in paranoia and division. With a stench far weightier than smog, resentment poisoned the air.

Media didn’t notify us first. The impact touched us through personal stories as we met people. The woman who sat with us on the plane told us about her son’s overtime demands. Nine to twelve hour shifts with little sleep between them. She shared her worries over her son and daughter, NYPD officers. A young man in the airport told us his friend was stabbed to death over the weekend. The report on television brought him the sad news. We visited mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Sunday morning, where the priest said he learned of the assassination from sorrow-laden officers during the previous night’s event. So many lives burned by evil.

Each word, touch, and gesture ripples out with influence on other lives around it. I’ll risk overstating the obvious with a new and much-needed declaration: We don’t need any more hatred. Our scarred and fear-riddled world needs an infusion of love. The night has raged far too long, and our shuddering souls ache for light.

Let’s invite the Light of the World to shine through and among us. Adopt rally cries of love and peace. Seek healing and unity instead of vengeance. Lower our fists and reach out to clasp hands. Pray for our neighbors until we see enemies as brothers and sisters in God’s family. Sound impossible? Only if we attempt it without God’s strength to make all things new.

The same Christ born into mad King Herod’s kingdom of paranoia and violence remains available to us today. He drew into one family the poor outcasts along with corrupt tax collectors. His teachings about love culminated in one equalizing point–the cross. He rent His body to make way for an otherwise impossible redemption, reconciling us with a holy God.

In Christ, we can reconcile with one another. No gap remains too wide for His outstretched arms to bridge. Even our modern “people walking in darkness” can see a great light. We who know the Light must step up and share it with others. Will you join me in reflecting the ultimate Star this Christmas?

“the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

I peered over the kitchen sink to check my herbs. Spider mites crawled over the remains of yesterday’s sprouts. A few hardy gnats swarmed among the carcasses of their siblings, which I’d doused with organic weaponry two days before. I emptied the last of my seeds into the not-so-jiffy pots and pried them from the tacky sill. With a sigh, I carried the remains outside. I laid them to rest on the deck between my dead squash and withering tomato plants, offering each doomed plant a parting spritz of insecticide.

So much for growing food. I should have known better. Though farming stretches back several generations in my family, the inheritance didn’t make it into my genes. Instead of nurturing life, my fingertips beget as kiss of death on all things green. I sometimes pity new plants when I bring them home, since few survive longer than a month. A quest to provide drives me to keep trying. With my counseling practice losing money and writing career mired in the doldrums, I had hoped to create something fruitful for my family.

Weeks after the herb funeral, I strode past the wilting houseplants on my dining table to gaze at the overcast day outside. A burst of green drew my attention to the abandoned jiffy pots. Was that…basil? The herbs gleamed with the sheen of a recent drizzle. Nearby, fresh growth sprouted from the tomato stalk. My plants thrived after I got out of the way.

Discouragement burdened my soul and I buckled under its weight. Fatigue dragged my body to the couch. As I closed my eyes, a silent plea rose from my soul.

 I need You, Lord. Let me rest in You.

I longed to be held with divine tenderness while supported by infinite strength. I sank against the cushions, imagining God holding me against His chest. Only His embrace could be softer than a cloud and reinforce with more power and strength than the musculature of a grizzly bear.

A ray filtered through the window sheers and caressed my cheek. I opened my eyes to breaking sunlight. The grey clouds had dissipated. From the dark, pungent confirmations of my ineptitude, a fresh thought sprouted in my mind.

I can’t grow anything, but God can make anything grow.

Only He begets life. Our participation offers relationship, but the Lord alone wields the power to bring life. And He can resurrect things we’ve left for dead.

I closed my eyes for a few more minutes, resting in the Son’s light. I’m praying for the Lord to make me grow in His ways. And, if He wills it, to grow whatever He likes through me–green or otherwise.

 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me” (John 15:5).

“Consider how the wildflowers grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! If that’s how God clothes the grass, which is in the field today and is thrown into the furnace tomorrow, how much more will He do for you—you of little faith? Don’t keep striving for what you should eat and what you should drink, and don’t be anxious. For the Gentile world eagerly seeks all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you.  Don’t be afraid,little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:27-32).

“’The kingdom of God is like this,’ He said. ‘A man scatters seed on the ground; he sleeps and rises—night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows—he doesn’t know how. The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the ripe grain on the head” (Mark 4:26-28).

 

I don’t venture up onto my roof often. In fact, I only brave that weak-kneed climb if no one else volunteers to help with an annual task. My core tightens as I wobble those initial steps. After I reach the center and grip onto an anchoring structure, my lungs relax for a full breath. I look out across the treetops as dusk honeys the heads of our neighborhood live oaks. My view extends beyond our street to the school, ballparks, and the mass of homes further outward.

A moment on the peak shifts my perspective. The sunshine’s caress penetrates my cheekbones. The breath of a fresh season revives my senses. I consider distant homes as my neighbors. At this moment, when God secures my quivering frame, the world feels both larger and more intimate. Standing on the rooftop, I recognize myself as a saint.

As twilight darkens my view, time demands my return to life on the level earth below. I resume my daily routines, walking across the dust of the past toward the tomorrow from which it will grow. The miseries and burdens of passers-by permeate the stagnant air. I see despair in their eyes and feel the pull of hopelessness from their hearts. So much pain. I reach out with an urge to help, but hesitation quivers in my fingertips. I, too, have knees prone to buckling. Who am I to offer them strength? What if I let these fragile neighbors down? My doubts and fears tire me, and I begin to sink onto the curb of purposelessness. The suffering of life on the roads and in the alleyways tempts me to forget I am a saint.

Rays warmer than sunbeams lift my drooping chin. I need not search with my eyes to know Who is there.

“You are not made to be a saint for the rooftop,” He says. “Nor are you made to pour your own strength out to sustain these others.”

I want to leap from the curb and snuggle in His arms. Every muscle of my body, to the core of my soul, longs to soak in His presence forever. “Keep me with You,” I say.

My spirit inhales a heady draft of His invigorating fragrance.

“You are a saint because I am with you. Here on the road…” He turns my shoulders to face out across the vast neighborhood, through the nearby fences and into the world beyond them. “And out there. I am the strength you offer, the healing you convey. You got your bearings on the rooftop so you can live My purpose while you’re down here.”

I crane my neck, attempting to glimpse His brilliance. Though my eyes fail to capture a view of the Son, He has not left me alone. The Word of my promise-keeping God anchors my certainty about His location–within my heart.

I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20).

The confidence that He remains with me girds my weak knees to venture out into the world and steadies my frail arms to reach out to bless those who suffer. I do not merely give myself to those in need, but I offer Someone far better. He alone can transform the unsteady roof climber into a earth-treading saint. The Son Who did so for me can change any willing soul. With such immense suffering, the world needs more saints to climb down and share His love on the roadway. Let’s reach out together, in His strength, to leave no neighbors to despair of hope.

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John17:20-23).

 “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:18-20).

I pry my tongue from the pasty mire on the roof of my mouth. Parting my chapped lips, I heave in a breath of sultry air. Perspiration streams down my legs as I trudge across the parking lot. I struggle with a dizzy urge to hustle out of the August glare. My body cannot muster speed as it fights through the soupy haze. I hope my lungs don’t melt before I reach shade. I stagger through two sets of double doors. Freon-chilled air caresses my sticky neck and shoulders. The air conditioning fails to quell the nausea in my core or settle my reeling head. Shelves of empty vessels, soda concentrates, and coffee pods stare at me from the walls. Packaged beverage machines line the aisles. None can rescue my parched body. I need water. And there’s none here.

In our arid world, it’s common to stumble into the wrong places seeking water. When crowds stream toward a shady spot, it glimmers like a refuge mirage. The environment hooks our senses and draws us in. The diversion promises relief from the harsh elements, but indulgent comforts prove shallow. Hedonistic balms spritz an oh-so-temporary soothing over the outermost layer of skin. They vanish into thin air before reaching the burning need within. Pleasing the senses cannot quench the soul.

Some of us grope for chemicals, alcohol, or sex as a respite for inner thirst. But false relief can take more innocuous forms, too. Shopping, food, or other benign endeavors become toxic when misused as hydration. Like salt, good things offer benefit when used for the proper reason and in appropriate doses. When poured into our spirit’s well in place of living water, even good things can parch us to death.

On my dusty journey, I often feel the heat sapping my strength. Discouragement threatens to force my rubbery legs to give way beneath me. I gasp for some fresh breath to revive me, to help me plod forward another mile. Sometimes I want to go shopping or head to the spa. If I indulge my flesh instead of praying through my frailty, I end up with a mouthful of sand. Nothing satisfies. Disappointment adds to my emptiness. Then I remember the obvious. Only the Fountain of Life can refresh my spirit. When I feel least able to pray, that’s what I need most. Turning to Scripture and prayerful meditation draws me near to Christ. He fills the dry, empty caverns of my soul and quenches my deepest need. My hope renews, and I thank Him for His patience with me.

After our reviving moments together, sometimes the Lord encourages me to visit the spa or the mall. But we go together, sloshing with the threat of splashing passersby. Instead of seeking fulfillment there, I remain piped into the Fountain so I don’t miss an opportunity to share His love and peace with someone else.

 

“All my fountains are in you” (Psalm 87:10).

They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
 For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:8-9).

The uplifting impact chocolate delivers to the mind and body cannot be measured against other culinary experiences. Though reputed as a craving for women, cocoa attracts both genders in like numbers. We pursue its complex flavor, energy boost, and enhanced focus. The endorphin lift simulates the joy we so desperately need.

Widespread love of chocolate comes as no surprise. Consumers clamor for any form of the confection. Cheap candies and artificial flavorings fly off store shelves. Yet, not all chocolate-like edibles offer the same benefits. Substitutes fail to provide flavonoids, antioxidants, or a positive effect on mood. 

Fine chocolate stands above counterfeits. A distinct and incomparable category. Pure and rich, the silken textures deliver an unparalleled experience. Those who taste its genuine benefits can never expect satisfaction from lesser sources. Fine chocolate nourishes the body and mind, while delivering a boost to the heart.

Like fine chocolate, our souls crave the true source of joy and nourishment. Though alternatives claim to provide for our needs, only God can satisfy and sustain body, mind, and spirit. The pure, rich love of our Savior offers abundant life beyond our imagination. With one taste of His love, our deepest cravings melt away. Nothing else can fulfill His promises of hope, life, and unconditional joy. The intense, complex encounter with a loving God remains impossible to describe in words. Once His Spirit sweetens and coats the soul, the delicious transformation speaks for itself. The flavor embeds itself on the tongue, scenting breath and flavoring all that enters or flows out. 

Perfect bliss must be shared. Though we cannot force others to grasp His exquisite quenching of our spirits’ deepest thirstings, we can offer a kiss of blessings to others. Invite the hungry to taste our divine joy. Smile often, as a glimpse into our hope. Listen to the desperate cries of those who consumed artificial gods, and offer a warm sample of caring. Breathe the truth and wrap arms around those shivering in the shadows of falsehood. 

Love of chocolate does not surprise anyone. Sharing Greater Love can shatter the imagination’s ceiling and buoy the soul.

Children’s sleighbell dreams dissolved from their slumber last night. Sugarplum visions faded before bedtime. A cacophony of wishes  from young lips and old circled the globe this season. The fortunate celebrated their satisfaction, while others clutched the pangs of unfulfillment on their way to bed. Seasonal anticipation shrivels with a turn of the calendar page. Other longings persist with little regard for date.

Wants and needs often construct dream content, the connection increasing during seasons insisting we expect happiness. Good dreams offer us the gifts and sustenance we desire or the restoration for which we thirst. Nightmares exchange hope for the peril we most fear.

The heart’s desire knits patterns for a common REM cycle, but wilder dreams exist. Not every notion grows from within. A dream beyond common notions strikes new vision into the sleeper. An unforeseen epiphany dawns upon the chosen one. Such a dream does not fade at a new calendar page. The refreshed dreamer rises with a passionate desire to obey the Lord’s call.

Before we tuck away the early chapters of Matthew and Luke with our Christmas decor, notice the divine messages offered in dreams. Scripture does not bother to mention ordinary notions entertained in slumber. Ancient folks longed for satisfaction, perhaps more than the average modern sleeper. Though we might relate to their dreams of want and need, the Bible omits the common content and cites the extraordinary dreams instead.

Beyond imagination, the Lord pressed His lips into minds and spoke through dreams. The Old Testament visions appeared centuries apart, but a heavy concentration of divine dreams occur as Jesus sets foot on the earth. God encouraged Joseph to wed Mary in a dream. The Magi received warning of Herod’s plot in a dream. The Lord spoke to Joseph again, urging him to rise from bed and flee to Egypt during the night. Unlike the visionaries of the Old Testament, the Lord inhabited the dreams of ordinary Gentiles and an impoverished tradesman. With the advent of Christ’s birth, the Lord established His plan to draw all of us near to His Word.

As Christmas Day settles behind us, the time of dreaming about a new year approaches. Common notions of resolution and wishes will fill the air until a strong wind gusts them away with the calendar pages. We can choose to dream of our own desires, as is customary, or listen for God’s voice. We can seek His purpose in waking hours, whether He visits our slumbering thoughts or not. Christ offers His presence within us at all times of day and night, every day of the year. He constructs a new way of thinking. Regardless of our material circumstances–whether fortunate or unfortunate by the world’s standards–He configures us with an identity of hope that revitalizes and exceeds life.

Will you choose to dream beyond common notions this year?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” — Romans 12:2

I’ve cleaned out my closets and set the extras on the porch for charity pick-up. One toy waits in my trunk to be joined by others. A few more canned goods will go along to the donations tent. Somehow, it seems I should offer more to the huge need in my community.

I scan my home and tap my chin. What have I missed? Have I something else to spare, another resource I’ve kept in reserve?

Need has mounted in our area, as it has elsewhere. The tearful shimmer in the eyes of gaunt children grows familiar across the face of the earth. Many adults share the Christmas wish to give while their hearts ache for lack of funds. I heard these stories this week, while I gazed into the eyes of God’s beloved children. And I prayed for them …

I now realize the most valuable resource to offer one another could not be found on a closet shelf or purchased in a store. I couldn’t transfer funds to provide for the greatest need online. Wealth cannot afford more of it, nor can poverty keep it at a distance. The best gift remains accessible to all, as it was the very first Noel.

God wrapped Love in warm fingers and toes, then laid Him in the arms of ordinary, homeless travelers. He gave more than we could fit under a tree. Into receptive hearts, His love continues pouring in such abundance that we have ample supply to share with all those around us. The more we ask, the more love He showers upon us.

Let us not forget to give the priceless gift, the single offering which honors the purpose of Christmas. In the mall, at the grocery store, in line, or on the phone, show others we care. Love the different folks around us. Ask strangers how they are, and take time to hear their stories. Regardless of our financial situation, if we avail ourselves of the abundant supply from Christ, we can all spare a little extra love this year.

I cherish my prayer walks. As I stroll, autumn sunlight glints through the oak branches overhead. The Lord holds my hand, as He often does. I snuggle against His arm and lean my heart onto His Spirit. He listens to me in a way no one else ever will. I love these intimate evenings. After I’ve open my soul, all my musings poured out onto His shoulder, sometimes I hear Him, too.

On one such dusky sojourn, an epiphany bubbled within me. Profound truths and life purpose have seeded into my spirit on prayer walks in the past. This was not an isolated incident. I believe this new philosophy has a contagious element. It will resonate with others and inspire new perspective.

Here it goes:

Every food is merely a medium for enjoying buttercream frosting and chocolate. 

See? Does that not captivate the heart?

Think about the culinary options surrounding us. Bread, cake, cookies, cheese, fruit, nuts, meat…all enhanced by frosting, chocolate, or both. I realize you might have missed the chocolate asparagus dish, but it’s worth a try. Any food that doesn’t compliment frosting or chocolate has no purpose. I’m certain smoothies and juices will benefit from a double portion of frosting.

In case you’re wondering about my favorite dish, I’ll specify. Dark chocolate AND buttercream frosting. Prepared as a lasagna, tossed as a salad, or as a roulade. Call me a purist, but I prefer the best ingredients as a centerpiece rather than an afterthought.

I can’t imagine a more spiritual philosophy. No sarcasm intended. I’m not speaking as a foodie. Eating doesn’t move my soul. The sweetest buzz endures longer than frosting and elates the spirit far beyond chocolate. I crave it several times each day. No other delight satisfies my pangs. Anything that fails to compliment my ultimate diet of Christ lacks value.

 “How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!” – Psalm 119:103

I’ll continue to enjoy them on prayer walks, as an entree unto themselves. Beyond those intimate strolls, all life’s encounters remain condiments and pie shells meant to be stirred with a an abundant filling of God’s love and grace. Christ deserves the central part of life, not the side dish, topping, or dessert course. We only add the extras if room remains. Our Main Dish nourishes us longer than a feast and offers a more uplifting satisfaction than the finest delicacy.

I challenge you to “Taste and see that the Lord is Good” (Psalm34:8). Once you’ve filled yourself with buttercream frosted chocolate, no other taste can compare. Perhaps you, too, will crave Him daily.

Mmm. Welcome to the sweet life, my friends.Image

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