Saturday, May 13, 2017

In This I Rejoice

Was it really just a week ago that we celebrated these Appalachian Bible College graduates and bade them Godspeed with servant's mantles in hand?
Some of them are sticking around for a summer of ministry or work here (thank you for sparing me from all the goodbyes in one day!), but most have scattered.
Several are headed to seminary for additional ministry training. Some are getting married (to each other, in a few cases 😊) or having babies soon. Some are already candidating/interviewing for ministry positions. Others have jumped into the workforce with the goal of paying off student loans. And a handful are enjoying precious time with family before soon embarking on gospel-advancing work in other parts of the globe.

It's a bittersweet thing to befriend, invest in, and delight in the growth of a group of young people only to watch them leave. My guess is it is not unlike parenting.

I get a little wistful this time of year. I look back and realize I could have invested in these men and women more than I did; I could have opened up my home more, initiated more conversations about substantive things, made time to pray with them more. I'm still learning how to do all of that well, after spending a decade in a very different ministry setting. Thankfully, God's grace can be trusted to use us in our weakness and fill in the gaps.

But mostly I just rejoice. Because God's heartbeat for the nations beats strong in young veins. Because his plan for Christ's bride, the church, is carried forward on young shoulders. Because his gospel is preached and taught and studied and shared by young minds who know how to reach their own generation. "Christ is proclaimed and in this I rejoice," Paul wrote, "Yes, and I will rejoice!" (Philippians 1:18).

He went on with these heartfelt words for the believers in Philippi—which are just as relevant for the Class of 2017:
"Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel..." (1:27).

Saturday, January 28, 2017

On Moving

How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you... you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences... little rags and shreds of your very life.

Katherine Mansfield's words keenly describe the heart-wrenching nature of moving. And the longer you have been in a place, the more you have invested in its people—the sharper the pain of leaving.

There is a way to keep all your bits to yourself while going about this fair and fallen world. It goes something like this: ignore the beauty, resist belonging, harbor bitterness, stay self-absorbed and narrow-minded and aloof.

But don't do it. Press in. Put down roots. Open your eyes and open your heart to each place the Good Shepherd leads you. It's worth the risk of pain.

And when it comes time to leave again, may the familiar ache remind you, dear pilgrim: there is a Forever Home just around the bend. The Shepherd himself prepares a place for you there. He will tenderly salvage every last ragged bit of yourself from Earth's fences. He will dry your tears. He will restore all things for eternity.
Another rag, another shred,
Another goodbye said...
O come, thou world; come, thou day,
When—heart made whole—I stay.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

100 Miles

On this final day of 2016, I finished out my last three miles in the New River Gorge 100 Mile Challenge.  Huzzah!

Hiking a hundred miles in a year isn't super remarkable (some hikers completed the challenge in January already!), but I encountered plenty of obstacles through the year; the "Challenge" lived up to its name.  That just makes the accomplishment all the sweeter.

In all, I hiked 29 times on 19 trails in the New River Gorge of West Virginia.  Usually I was alone but sometimes had companions join me (shout out to Janetta, the most frequent).  I was fascinated by the abandoned coal mines and structures along many of the trails, and also by the flora and fauna—not to mention the River itself, always beside me.  But mostly I just soaked up the quiet communion with God, the clean air, the rhythm of walking—heart pumping, lungs pumping, legs pumping.  Thank you, Father, for the strength to experience this great, good world of yours.

How to celebrate 100 miles hiked, as one year closes and another dawns?  Reading Psalm 100 seemed appropriate, there on windy Long Point today.  The Shepherd is faithful through all generations.  Serve him with gladness.  Happy New Year!

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations. (NIV)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

In the Shelter

These days it seems everywhere I look—or listen—I come across this notion of abide, my theme for 2016. Scripture is saturated with references to it and its related concepts. I finally started keeping some notes on the topic and they are quickly piling up. Perhaps by December I'll bring some semblance of order to my scribbles and share what I'm finding to be deeply meaningful.

Meanwhile, here is a musical meditation on Psalm 61. (I recently discovered Sherri Youngward's music and purchased her Scripture Songs, volumes 1 and 2, to accompany my road trip to Illinois last week. If you need more Bible and acoustic guitar in your life—and who doesn't?—get some for yourself.)
You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy.
I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;
I will trust in the shelter of Your wings.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Jesus Led Me All the Way

During this morning's church service, our song leader announced "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" for congregational worship, and I got a little teary. It happens to be the hymn I sang to myself repeatedly in the weeks leading up to my move east, on the heart-wrenching day I packed up and drove away, and through the months of trying to figure out a new place and ministry.
For I know whate'er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
This week marked one year since my arriving in West Virginia.  It was kind of the Lord to tenderly remind me of his presence and blessing on this anniversary week. O the fullness of his love.

Fanny Crosby, the lyricist, was an inspiring woman.  Permanently blinded due to a doctor's mistake when she was just an infant, she nevertheless lived out a sure trust in a God both sovereign and good.  Hers was a faith so real that it had to be expressed profusely.  And so she penned lyrics for 8,000 sacred songs and became the most prolific hymnist in history.

Every time I hear a Fanny Crosby song I note her references to sight.  Words like "see" and "look" pop up often.  (She wrote a lot about heaven, where she would be able to gaze with perfect eyes upon the Lord Jesus.)  "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" follows the pattern: Lo! A spring of joy I see.  Fanny Crosby saw with the eyes of faith.

Although I enjoy the Robert Lowry melody traditionally matched with Fanny Crosby's hymn, I think the simple, heartfelt lyrics lend themselves better to a more contemplative setting.  I love Chris Tomlin's version, but my favorite is Rich Mullins's.  That earnest, raw voice accompanied by Beaker's soft guitar harmonics:
All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?

I watched this video so many times in the last 15 months, often late at night when the doubts and grief seemed almost palpable.
Can I doubt His tender [faithful] mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
No, I cannot doubt my Guide—not for long.  The grief, too, is soothed by a growing contentment and gratitude that the Lord is mercifully cultivating in my heart:
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell...
Fanny Crosby died in 1915, Rich in 1997.  Their faith is now sight.  Someday I will join them:
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way.

Monday, January 25, 2016


The hours speed by and the days pile up and suddenly people are telling you it is anno Domini 2016.  And just like that, it's been six months since you blogged.

Do people even blog any more?

You realize with a start that you have very little idea what is going on beyond the borders of your own heart, which has needed careful tending for so long.  But now that you look around, the world seems hardly recognizable.

There is a bumptious megalomaniac with bizarre hair running for president and self-proclaimed conservatives are fawning at his feet.  Can this even be for real?

The pastor who has suffered in Iranian prison for three years is abruptly released and you watch a video of him, stepping off a plane in North Carolina into the arms of his weeping mother.  You weep, too, for you have prayed for this brother over and over; now God has delivered him and it is surreal.

The beloved people you left ten months ago are having weddings, having babies, having funerals, advancing the gospel, making moves of their own.  It is strange and joyous and heart-wrenching that all of this goes on without you.

But then you are granted a grace of magnificent proportion: two weeks with your family for the holidays.  Here, you are relieved to discover, is constancy.  The quiet rhythm of steaming oatmeal every morning and hands held in prayer every evening.  Yet—the hands are growing older and it is only a matter of time before this haven is fractured by change, too.

On the late flight back east, you study the tiny points of light below.  They outline the grid-like infrastructure of the plains, gradually replaced with the twisting roads of the Appalachians and her foothills.  Which do you belong to?  There come the familiar pangs of homelessness.  Sojourner.

In the darkness above the Ohio River you are given a single word: abide.


"Abide in me," Jesus told his followers (John 15:4).  "Abide in my love" (15:8).  Centuries prior, an unnamed psalmist proclaimed, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!'" (Psalm 91:1-2).

The "where" is a "who."  And he is omnipresent, everywhere at once.  Even more intimate than that: he indwells you.  So closely is your life tied to his that both are true: you abide in him and he abides in you (John 15:4-5).  "Home" is a "him."

Like the snail, you take your Home with you wherever you go.  You are snug and safe, and it hardly matters what changes around you or where your feet land.

This landing comes with a bump as the plane touches down on the mountain and quickly decelerates to avoid plummeting down the other side of it.  The door opens.  You are home.  You are home because he is here, around you and within you and you in him.

Abide: here is the word you take in your hands like an anchor at the beginning of a new year, heaving it down through troubled waters to solid bedrock.  You have walked by faith not by sight.  You have moved and now it is time to stay.  Abide.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


There's something tickling the back of my mind... something about place and home.  About transience and belonging.  About abiding in Christ no matter where I live...

If I ever get the tickle wrestled into articulation, no doubt it will appear here.  Meanwhile, the first stage of working it out looks like this.  Photographs.  Amateur ones.

These are the snapshots of a foreigner in Southern West Virginia who feels helpless to make this her home; whose anemic faith needs frequent assurances of God's providence in bringing her here; who wrote down this reluctant prayer: Give me a love for this place: a delight in its quirks, a humor concerning its faults, an eye for its beauties.

Graciously, He answers even reluctant prayers.

So these are also the pictures of one who, in certain quiet, grace-flooded moments, sees with true faith-eyes; who looks around and marks the mercies made new every morning, the skies declaring the glory, the mountains and hills breaking forth in shouts of joy, the trees clapping their hands—  And, paradoxically, the way this West Virginia beauty all foreshadows the New Creation and True Home brings peace and contentment in this place.

That probably made no sense, despite my nine—yes nine—revisions to this post in the last month.  Sigh.  All I'm really trying to say is: Here are some pictures of West Virginia.  : )
_ _ _
I have a need
For cool, verdant spaces

Beneath the trees,
Secret empty places...
(Mary Chapin Carpenter)

One of the hardest parts of moving—for an introvert, anyway—is finding new quiet spots.  I'm extremely thankful for the one above.
_ _ _

The flora of West Virginia is very different than Utah's, of course.  These new wildflowers are no substitute for whispering aspens and scarlet Indian paintbrush—but they are lovely, aren't they?  If you know their names, please teach me.
_ _ _

This color, though!  "Not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these."
_ _ _

I arrived in time to watch West Virginia's state flower burst into a riot of pinks and purples across the hills. "Rhododendron" comes from the Greek for "rose tree"; they are common in Asia and are the national flower of Nepal.  I was not surprised to discover that bit of trivia: these exotic blooms look the part.  I'm already anticipating next spring.
_ _ _

Yellow irises?  I had no idea such a delightful thing existed.  These reminded me of Wordsworth's ode to their cousin:
...A host of golden daffodils
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze...
_ _ _

The New River flows north.  I still can't get my head around that.  But I do find the coal mining history around the New River Gorge fascinating and heartbreaking.  The land was used hard and the people were used hard; may the wounds of both know God's healing.
_ _ _

Working at one's alma mater means that just about every spot on campus has years-old memories associated with it.  I walked up this hill to chapel approximately 250 times as a student.  The friends who walked beside me over a decade ago I have kept up with, for the most part.  They are spread hither and yon now.  Some have suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.  Most are laboring well, serving God and fellow man with a daily faithfulness that makes me glad to think of them as I walk around campus.
_ _ _
The pictures will keep coming.  I hope the words will, too.  Right now it's a struggle.  If you are a supporter of mine, know that I'm more grateful than ever for your faithful, giving heart despite my minimal communication in this season of transition.  I will be sending a prayer letter... soon.  Because the Creator of stunning rhododendrons and north-running rivers can be counted on to bring refreshment, peace, and creativity to an unsettled heart.