A Bend in the Road

Oh no, not another detour. Just after we moved into our new home, a bridge near us was closed. The state has been replacing all the bridges that cross over the turnpike. It was our turn. It ended up not to be a huge inconvenience for us. For most of the project, there was at least one lane open.

As I crossed the bridge over the months the new one was under construction, I was interested in how the new bridge was going to connect to the existing road. It seemed to me there would have to be a pretty sharp bend in the road for it to work. As the bridge project neared completion, it really didn’t look like the road and the new bridge were going to join up. Cars were now using the new bridge, as the crews dismantled the old one. I kept thinking they really didn’t plan this well. There will be such a sharp turn in the road to get onto the bridge. I didn’t need a new reason to complain about how our tax dollars were being used, but here it was.

The day arrived to open the bridge completely. I drove up the road, expecting to slow down for the sharp curve, but it never came. I stayed straight on the road and sailed right across the new bridge and back onto the road on the other side without the slightest turn of the steering wheel. How did they do that? Just a few days ago, it looked like this result would be impossible. I remember seeing the old bridge next to the new one and how the new one didn’t connect to the road very well. But now, with the old bridge gone, and apparently some road work done I hadn’t noticed, the new bridge was perfectly aligned with the road.

How was this possible? It was because my perspective was not the perspective of the engineers and the road crews building the bridge. They knew the plan. They had the complete design and instructions. I only saw the steps as they came. I should have trusted that they knew what they were doing. But, of course, when it comes to Pennsylvania roads, I have been let down a time or two.

One day as I drove across the bridge, looking at the road and trying to figure out how they matched it up, I thought about how this bridge project is a good picture of God’s plan for my life. I don’t always see how God’s plan is going to work. I often think I’ve got it all figured out, and then God throws in a curve I didn’t see coming. How will this new bend in my road work out? It doesn’t seem like it will. But I don’t see the whole of God’s plan. I need to trust him. He is the master designer. There is never a flaw in his engineering skills. The twists and turns, the mountains and valleys he orchestrates turn out to be just right for me. And once his project is complete in me, it will be perfect. Until that day, I’ll keep trusting that his plan is better than my own—every time I cross the turnpike on that perfectly straight bridge.

“Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:5-6 ESV)

An Old Message in New Ways (and free stuff)

My life has had some serious struggles. But God has used my experiences to help and encourage others. It’s a privilege to be able to serve others with what I’ve learned.

I spent the past week or so updating my website to better serve my audience. Those of you who have been subscribed to my blog will notice right away that it looks very different. I changed the cover photo to a sunset on Molasses Pond. I took that photo while sitting on the swing at our family cabin this spring. That spot, watching sunsets like the one pictured, is where I am most at peace in this world. That is why I wanted to feature it on my website. I hope when you visit my website, you feel the same peace taking in that view.

The other major change is a new page: Free Downloads. Click the Free Downloads tab on the home page, and you’ll find things I am offering for free to help you, your friends, your church or organization, or anyone who can use them. Right now, you’ll find three downloads, my article, “Keeping Children Safe: 5 Things Every Parent Can Do To Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse,” a brochure based on that article, and a brochure titled Hope for Survivors.

The brochures can be used in information racks or family resource areas or as handouts in parenting classes and survivor groups or as an invitation to a workshop. There is room on the back to include your church or organization’s info. You can contact me using my website’s contact form to set up a prevention workshop or to speak at your event or to facilitate creating a child safety policy or any other way I can serve you.

Thirty-three years ago, when my abuse became public knowledge and I read 2 Corinthians 1, that God comforts us in our afflictions so that we can comfort others, my initial reaction was “no way.” I never wanted anyone to know my afflictions, certainly not the abuse. But I realized that the ugly things in our lives have purpose. What was I going to do with that? I had found freedom from my past. How could I not want to share that with others in the same situation? My reluctant answer was, “OK God, use me however you want.”

Here I am, all those years later, having talked about my abuse in large groups as well as one-on-one for over thirty years, trying hard to use technology to better spread my message. I am technologically challenged, so this has been a stretch for me. But in order to best serve others, I need to learn to use technology, and I am thankful for those around me who are willing to help me when I’m ready to throw my computer out the window.

I hope you or someone you know will be blessed with what I have to offer. Keep an eye out for more downloads in the future. If you have an idea you’d like to see, let me know. And please share them with anyone who could use them. Thank you!

The Red Sea and Ocean Blue Cabinets

I was annoyed. When we moved into our new home in January, my goal was to have a kitchen in our in-law suite by mid-summer. Hope swelled when we ordered the cabinets in April with a two-week lead time for delivery. But then we learned they wouldn’t be ready until the end of June. Okay, they’ll be in by the end of summer. Summer was the goal and was still in play.

June came and went with no cabinets. A few more delays. Finally, on August 19, my beautiful ocean-blue cabinets were delivered. My annoyance grew. The water and drain lines weren’t in yet. My cabinets just sat there mocking me. They were there but unusable. Summer was waning. Pumpkin spice everything was on its way as soon as the calendar flipped to September.

So, when September 1 came around and the cabinets were not yet installed, my hopes were crashing. But before the first day of September ended, an uninvited guest arrived at our house, specifically in our in-law suite. Her name was Ida, Hurricane Ida. She didn’t just arrive—she forced her way inside. As our living space filled with water, Doug grabbed some boards from the garage and hoisted the cabinets onto them. We didn’t know when the deluge would stop, but at least it might help to get them off the floor.

For hours, we scooped, shop-vacced, and soaked up water. It never went deeper than two inches, just reaching the very bottoms of the cabinets. They were saved because they hadn’t been installed yet.

This week, I read the story in Exodus 14 of Israel crossing the Red Sea. It stuck out to me that they were passing by it when God said to Moses, “Come back and encamp there, facing the Sea.” Wait a minute. They could have been long gone, but God put them right where he wanted them so they would see how only he could save them. And he did.

Saving my cabinets was not nearly as miraculous. But all the time I spent being annoyed they hadn’t been installed seems pretty silly now—a lot like the Israelites complaints about being brought to the Red Sea to die. God was just setting the stage to show his timing is perfect in every situation, whether it’s saving his people in the midst of the sea or just a few ocean-blue cabinets in the midst of a hurricane. He is completely trustworthy.

“21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” Exodus 14: 21, 22, 31 ESV

Can’t Get Me!

My sister offered to do a photo shoot for my website at a local zinnia farm (four years ago this week). I took my granddaughter Emma along to get some pictures with her too. She loved all the bright flowers and being the center of attention. This photo is one of my favorites of us together. The farm was beautiful and a perfect location for photos.

This farm also had some animals living there. We wandered over to the barn area where we met a rather large sheep. My experiences with sheep have been benign, not like goats. Goats can be traumatic. A goat ate my hat when I was little, and I never forgot. And they always seem to delight in headbutting people. Sheep are usually more docile and easily intimidated. They are more likely to run off or even go stiff and fall over when startled. Not this sheep. Emma walked up to it, and it sized her up. The sheep took a few steps back, then charged, headbutting her in the stomach, knocking her on her butt. I thought she would be terrified, but she just laughed and walked away.

The sheep followed us around the barnyard. At first, we laughed about it. But its menacing presence became a constant threat. It tried several more times to knock Emma down, sneaking up on us from behind. Finally, we decided to move outside the fenced barnyard where the sheep couldn’t get to us. It worked. The sheep was not so scary with the fence between us. Emma even mocked it just a little, her sing-song voice squeaking, “Can’t get me.” We skipped away, hand in hand, with no fear that the sheep was coming after us.

Satan is a lot like that sheep. He tries to knock us down. He wants us to worry about where he is and what he’s doing, constantly looking over our shoulder. He can be menacing, making us run in fear. But, like that sheep, he also is penned in. He doesn’t have freedom to do whatever he wants to. He is limited to what God allows him to do. The Christian need not fear Satan or his schemes.

Sure, there times that he may get to you, causing you some fear or worry. Maybe he even knocks you down temporarily. But remember, He can do nothing outside of God’s control. They are not equals, dueling it out for control of the universe, like Darth Vader and the Jedi. We don’t need to route for God, hoping things go his way. Satan’s future has already been decided. God created him with a purpose, and that purpose has an end date. One little Word will fell him. Jesus has already defeated him. So go ahead and mock him just a little. He can’t get you.

“But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3 NIV) “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:20 NIV)

Just a Little Off

Rock climbing. It was supposed to be a day conquering the rock faces of High Rocks Park and rappelling back down, my favorite outdoor pastime. But as we rounded the last curve of the narrow, winding road that led to the entrance, we met an oncoming car, driving up the middle of the road. Doug pulled our little Plymouth Arrow truck as far to the edge of the road as he could. Just when we thought we had squeezed safely between the car and the edge, the right front tire slipped off the macadam onto the soft ground. The rest of the truck was still on the road. We were barely moving, but as hard as Doug tried to get the tire back onto the macadam, it was no use. The truck started leaning to the right. We were going over the cliff.

The truck flopped onto the passenger side with a loud bang. The next few seconds seemed to move in slow motion. There was a crunching sound as it rolled onto the roof. With three of us in the cab of the truck, I was unbelted in the middle, sitting on a folded sofa cushion stuffed in between the seats. That’s the way we did it in the early 1980s. I felt myself heading toward the windshield. Doug’s forearm struck me in the chest, slamming me back against the seats, just as the windshield cracked. Jagged lines spread across the windshield, and tiny shards of glass sprayed throughout the cab. The truck continued its downward roll with more popping and cracking. Would the truck stay in one piece at it plummeted to the bottom, ninety feet below? Would we survive?

The driver’s side hit the ground, and the truck came to a sudden stop with a jolting thud, throwing the three of us into a pile. With Doug on the bottom of the pile, he couldn’t help my sister and I push the passenger door open, which was now located above us. Then we heard voices outside the truck, “Are they dead?” The people from the Honda were pulling on the door. We pushed, they pulled, and finally the mangled door gave way. We scrambled out and sat on the side of the truck. The passenger of a passing car gawked at us and remarked, “Heck of a place to park.”

As we oriented ourselves, we realized the truck had only rolled three quarters of a turn. The undercarriage of the truck had come to rest against a tree.  We were about twenty feet below the road. We sat on the side of the truck taking inventory of the damage, to us and the truck. The truck was a total loss, but the three of us just had bumps and bruises (and a few concussions we would later learn). Someone had gone to the park office and reported the accident. We heard galloping. “The cavalry’s coming?” I wondered out loud. Not exactly. It was a medic on a horse. After checking us out and declaring us fit enough to wait for a tow truck, our hero on horseback rode off with my sister squished onto the saddle, arms tightly around his waist. What in the world?

We found where the tire had gotten off the macadam. It was just a three-inch drop. Why hadn’t it been able to get back up? Why did the truck roll over the cliff? I remembered this accident as I read about a Christian leader who has gone off track. I wondered how he had gotten so far from the truth. He had been ministering well for so long, but now, after decades of solid teaching, he was espousing things that were unbiblical. I realized it only takes a small turn off the narrow road before you can fall off a cliff. It was a good reminder that I need to constantly test what I’m hearing, reading, and teaching with the truth of God’s Word to make sure I stay on solid ground.

“You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from Him who calls you.” (Galatians 5:7-8 ESV)

Cicada Life

It’s quiet. Very quiet. Considering we live in the middle of nowhere, the quietness shouldn’t seem out of place. But for June and into July, our woods have been home to the emergence of the 17-year Cicadas. Millions of them. For a few weeks we were forced indoors. We couldn’t hear each other speak. Their incessant hum even drowned out the roar of the mower. I could deal with the noise coming from the trees, but then the buggers started leaving the trees. They were not expert flyers. It was like they just stumbled out of the trees and hoped to land on any flat surface. That flat surface was often our heads, arms, legs, whatever they could grab onto with their little spikey feet, scaring the bejeebies out of me.

But now, that has all changed. There are still a few broken-hearted stragglers humming away. But I am afraid they have missed out on love. It’s sad, really. This was their only chance, after 17 years of waiting and preparing. Their red, bulgy eyes must be filled with tears, as their calls for love go unanswered. Their carcasses are lying in the driveway, the patio, the pool, the deck. Their time on earth is very brief—at least the time they spend in sunshine. I suppose, technically, for an insect, 17 years is a long lifespan. But they only live above the ground for a few weeks, just long enough to find a mate and start the process over for the next brood, which will emerge in another 17 years.

Our lives on this earth are so much longer and fuller. I mean, we do more than just procreate, as great as that one aspect of life is. But in view of eternity, our lives here are likewise very short, no more than a speck in time. It’s what we do with this life that matters. By all means, procreate. But maybe try a different tactic than hanging out in a tree, making a lot of noise.  

Concentrating on the eternal just so happens to make our short time here even better. It’s a blessing to love our neighbors, care for one another, help those in need, rejoice always, weep with those who weep, share the Gospel, pray for others, give generously, and love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength. These are things that will last long after our mortal bodies give out and turn to dust, like the last few cicada carcasses littering my patio. Their life is over, their job done, but ours is just beginning.

You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14 NIV)

Can It Be 20 Years?

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” 2 Peter 3:8 NIV

My mom could make us laugh, snorting and all, but she didn’t always mean to. She was mostly deaf and would repeat what she thought we said. Often, what she heard and repeated back, could have landed her a spot on The Tonight Show. The best part was that she would laugh, too.

But it was one phrase that was her legacy. And it wasn’t something she misheard. Although when I repeated it back to her, she laughed like we so often had. Here’s what happened.

I grew up on a quiet street in a small town. Our house was smack dab between my mother’s cousin on one end of the block and an uncle on the other end of the block. Forget the “quiet street” part. There were always family members around. Her cousin, my Auntie Alma, was my favorite relative. She was really nice to me, and I loved everything about her. She was known for talking a lot and laughing more. She was always put together, hair perfectly coiffed, clothes impeccable.

Auntie Alma owned a boutique dress shop on Main Street. I loved it there. It was something I wished I could do, even now. As a twelve-year-old, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. She “hired” me to help her around the store, washing windows, sweeping the floor, learning the art of making customers happy. Auntie Alma knew her customers. She kept a little box with index cards for each one, marked with what style they liked, their sizes, color preferences, upcoming occasions, etc. When a customer came into the store, she would pull out the dresses she bought “just for them.” Her taste was excellent, and her salesmanship even better. As her customers pulled back the curtain on the fitting room, Auntie Alma would ooh and ahh and have them twirl, then she would accessorize them. By the time they left the store, they had bought several dresses, along with matching purses, scarves, and jewelry. Auntie Alma was the master.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have nearly enough time with her. When I was in high school, Auntie Alma was diagnosed with breast cancer. In only a few weeks, she was gone. We all missed her terribly, and like most families, life events were measured by before or after Auntie Alma died.

One day, driving my mother to the pharmacy, after she was prescribed Thyroid medication, the measuring rod of Auntie Alma’s death was pulled out.

Mom said, “You know, Auntie Alma was on this same medication.”

“No, I didn’t know that.” I answered.

“Yes, she was.” Then came the phrase that has become our family’s tag line for anyone who has died. Mom said, “She would still be on it, if she had lived her whole life.”

I looked at her, thinking she was kidding. Yes, Auntie Alma died in her 50s but…I started laughing.

“What? What did I say?” Mom asked, seriously not knowing what was so funny.

“Mom, when someone dies, they did live their whole life.” Her brain took a few seconds to process that before she burst out laughing. Tears rolled down my face from my squinted-shut eyes. I had to pull the car over until I could see again.

And that’s how it happened. Whenever someone talked about a dead relative, it was followed by “if they had lived their whole life.”

“Nana would have turned 90 this year, if she had lived her whole life.”

“Dad would have bought a party boat, if he had lived his whole life.”

“Uncle Joe would have loved this, if he had lived his whole life.”

You get the idea. I told this story at my mom’s funeral. It got a laugh from most of the mourners, lightening the occasion. But when I said that line, “Auntie Alma would still be on it, if she had lived her whole life,” one of my mother’s cousins leaned over to another cousin and said in all seriousness, “That’s true, she would.” It must be genetic.

New Season, New View

As I sit here, looking out the big, bay window beyond my dining room table, all I see in the distance is a line of trees. A few still have flowers, but most have dropped their petals and turned to the lush, bright green of mid-May. A few weeks ago, sitting in this same spot, I saw a lake in the distance, just beyond my property line. But now, the leaves of the trees have obscured it. If I look hard in just the right place, I can catch a glimpse of water. But if I didn’t know it was there, I probably wouldn’t notice it.

Two scenarios come to mind as I consider this landscape. Both had me contemplating how I handle difficulties. In the first one, I pretend the lake (difficulty) doesn’t exist. Visitors to my home wouldn’t know it is there. It’s invisible to them. They might even call me crazy if I told them there is a lake back there. In this scenario, I welcome the cover of the trees. Deep in my mind and heart, I know it’s out there somewhere, but I don’t need to look at it or even think about it. In this season, it has disappeared.

The fall may start to bring the lake into view again, with small peeks as the leaves drop their cover. By winter, all I’ll see is the lake. The trees covering it up will become bare and gray, blending into the winter sky. When I ignore difficulties or try to cover them up, pretending they aren’t there, they always seem to resurface and even dominate my life for a season.

In scenario two I know the lake is there, even though I can’t see it right now. I am ever on the watch for it. Sometimes I even go down to it and see what’s going on there – people kayaking or fishing, birds swooping up mosquitos (thank you very much), beavers adding to their lodge. The lake has purpose. I welcome the time I can spend there. There’s a quietness not found in other places. I learn new things about the lake and the wildlife that call it home. I share it with friends and grow from the camaraderie of that shared experience. And when the colder, more barren seasons come, it’s no surprise to me that there’s a lake out there.

I plan to walk down to the lake often this summer, checking out how it changes in a new season, and reminding myself that life’s difficulties have purpose. Each one is a chance to see things from a different perspective, to learn and grow in some way. I won’t cover up my problems or hide them behind a cheery smile, pretending they don’t exist. I will share them with my close friends who will help me through them with their prayers and friendship and, no doubt, some laughter.

The lake and trees are all part of a bigger picture. I hope to find joy in all of it. Maybe I’ll even try a little ice fishing when winter comes (no, I won’t).

“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3,4 ESV)

Turning Birth Order on Its Head

The Birth Order theory has been around since the late 19th century. Of course, firstborns didn’t need theories and research to tell them they were natural-born leaders, with higher intellect than their siblings. The basic theory is that a child’s personality is formed, in part, by their birth order in the family. The firstborn in a family is bossy, confident, and responsible. Middle children tend to be competitive but peacemakers, adaptable but impatient, and often feel forgotten. The baby of the family is outgoing, charming, and doesn’t take life too seriously. Sound familiar? Are you picturing your siblings—maybe how the baby got away with everything? Me too.

I was the baby: charming, quite adorable, and a natural entertainer. My mom always said, “Someday, you’ll make the stage.” But I often felt more like a middle child: always trying to make peace and please everyone. As time went by, I became a confident leader. Of course, there are negatives associated with the birth order personalities.  

As the adorable baby of the family, my brand of humor was sarcasm. Not everyone thought my sarcasm was as funny as I did. I may still struggle with that from time to time. My middle-child personality was a little overly competitive. Winning was everything. There was no second place in my world. There was winning and losing, and heaven help the teammate who didn’t play to win. I don’t struggle as much in this area anymore. And the firstborn personality’s sense of responsibility resulted in being a rule follower to the letter. For everyone. If you weren’t following the rules, I let you know. Rule following seems to have left my life at the same time as my gall bladder. Who knew they were related? Positive or negative, I didn’t fit into just one of the birth order personalities. Now what?

Lots of things mess with the birth order theory: twins, age differences, blended families. My story makes mincemeat of it. I was the baby in my adoptive family. But recently, I learned that I am the firstborn on my birth-father’s side and a middle child in my birth-mother’s family. Finally, my complicated personality makes sense.

But I have my own twist on the birth order theory. The biggest change in my personality came when I was born again at 16 years old. That’s when the firstborn traits began to appear. My confidence grew as I learned my identity was in Christ as God’s own adopted child. And my middle-child tendencies grew as peace took up residence in my heart. Even the baby in me grew, allowing me to hold loosely to this world and look forward to the future.

I was born to an earthly family and adopted into another earthly family. Then I was born again into a heavenly family and adopted by a heavenly Father. Yes, my birth order is complicated. For the first four months of my life, I had a name, and I lived in foster care. Then I was given a new name, new parents, and a new home. But that’s not where the story ends. When I was born again, I was given a new identity and position in the family of God, an heir with Jesus of the glory to come.

I have met several members of my birth families. It has been exciting to learn about them. Most of them never knew I existed. What a difference from my heavenly Father, who has not just known me but chose me and substituted his own Son to die in my place so that I can live forever with them. As the firstborn, Jesus has gone on to prepare a place for me, and I look forward to the day our Father gives me a new name and welcomes me home for the last time.

“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined usfor adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,” Ephesians 1:3-5 (ESV)

White as Snow or Poop Lasagne (whichever resonates with you)

Yup, we’re talking poop. Those of you who know me well, know that poop talk happens now and then. I mean, I live with a puppy, a newborn, and two toddlers still in diapers. “Who pooped?” is a question heard several times a day. Hang with me, it will be all right.

We have lived in our new house for four weeks. Things are coming together, but one of the things we haven’t exactly figured out is where the dogs ought to poop. During those four weeks, we have had four snowstorms. Because of all the snow, the poop area became right outside the front door. Our puppy has to “empty” while on a leash. That means that somebody, usually me, has to be holding the other end of the leash. So, I stand at the edge of the front walk while the puppy finds a good spot to empty, and that way I don’t have to walk in the snow.

Because snow comes with a lot of coldness, I don’t stay outside long or trek into the snow to pick up the poop right away. Before I knew it, there was a lot of poop. And then it would snow again, covering the darkly contrasting piles. It has become something of a poop lasagne with alternating layers of poop and snow.  Over the last few days, some melting occurred, and lots of poop was exposed. How gross. I decided to scoop up as much as possible since it was trash day and another storm was on the way. Unfortunately, most of the poop was so frozen to the snow/ice underneath, I couldn’t get much of it up. I pried. I pulled. I tried to dig underneath. It wasn’t budging. I gave up, looking at the piles of frozen poop in disgust. But the next day it would all be hidden again under a fresh layer of snow. How convenient. (See attached picture) But at some point, it will all come to the surface and have to be reckoned with.

I looked over the poop lasagne in my front yard and thought what a great picture of sin. Sometimes I get rid of it as soon as it is exposed. But too often I just let it get frozen in place and promise to deal with it later, especially the “lesser” sins like worry, ingratitude, or selfishness. But the longer I let it go, the more solidly embedded in my heart it becomes. The clean-up can be a long, difficult process. Sometimes it takes some serious prying and chipping away. But God’s Word says that He will make my sin as white as snow. It’s not that a pristine layer of snow hides it, like the poop lasagne. Jesus actually removes it as if it had never been there. I can start fresh, clean, like new fallen snow.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 ESV)