No Small Kindness – Flowers from Her Yard – a Gift from a Stranger

Blog - Irises at Liz's house on Vanderbilt 2

For a year, we rented a small house in a tidy neighborhood. It was easy to walk the neighborhood and I knew the yards well. When April came, this one yard in particular became my favorite.  The owner had the most beautiful garden of bearded, purple-blue irises. They are my favorite flower, because they remind me of my Mom. She had so many in our yard from the time I was a child. Just seeing those irises made my heart glad – from the days of closed bud, through the glory of full bloom, and even past their splendor. I loved those days of walks past that house.

Then I met the owner. Her name is Liz. She turned into her driveway one day when my daughter and I had been walking but were presently lingering in front of her house. I must have taken a hundred pictures of those irises during that growing season. Liz told me the story of how her dad was a botanist and he planted the irises years before. He and my mom would have liked each other, I’m sure.

Liz and I would only meet that one day. I told her we were preparing to move. We had bought a house (our house now) and we would be moving within a couple of weeks. I thanked her for the pure pleasure her garden of irises had brought me during that April and early May.

Then she did a quite remarkable thing. She said, “I’m planning to thin the beds alongside my house, so if you want them, they’re yours.” Of course, I wanted them! We exchanged phone numbers, and when the irises were past their season, she would call me, and I could come get them.Blog - Irises at Liz's house on Vanderbilt

She didn’t forget me.

One Sunday, after we had moved, she called me and said they were ready for me. She had them dug up, separated from each other and gathered in garbage bags. I picked them up from the curb because she would be napping, she said on the phone.

My husband planted them in our yard, in a sunny spot. It’s been many years since we’ve had a garden, and we had little experience with irises. We weren’t sure what would happen come the next April…but we hoped they would thrive in our yard as they did in Liz’s.

As Spring lengthened this year, those irises woke from their winter sleep, in this very new place. The foliage was beautiful alone yet we weren’t sure blooms would develop. A few have, actually and I was waiting for the debut of those sentimental flowers. Yesterday evening, I was visiting a friend, and my phone signaled a text message.  Dave sent me this photo: Blog - Iris in my yard 3

The first of those irises bloomed in our yard! Almost a year had passed from the day I met Liz. Still, I called her to tell her the good news. She remembered me. I thanked her again for that generous gift she shared with me. Flowers from her yard. This stranger and friend. Today she was suffering from the allergies so common here in spring with the yellow pine pollen that settles everywhere. One day, we agreed, we will meet again.

What she did for me that day about a year ago was no small kindness. This stranger shared a bit of her life with me, and now that bit flourishes in my life…in my yard, and in my heart. The kindness of a stranger – so unexpected and so captivating. It’s one of the many kindnesses of strangers I’ve known in life across continents. It’s no small thing.

“If I look back at my life, the sweet small kindnesses of strangers are pivotal and really combine to help shape my world view – and they probably have no idea.” – Debra Smith

“There is no small act of kindness. Every compassionate act makes large the world.”  – Mary Anne Radmacher

Blog - Irises in Steph's yardSome of Mom’s irises transplanted in my niece Stephanie’s yard

Worship Wednesday – I’m Not Strong Enough – with Matthew West

Blog - Strong Enough - The Story of Your LifeAnd He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13

Matthew West writes songs out of our stories. I wonder what he would write about a week like this one. We will not, for some time to come, put the deadly Nepal earthquake behind us. It will cast a long shadow before us all as the losses grow and recovery seems but a dream for now. Our own country is reeling from a mounting moral and social upheaval (with demonstrations and rioting in Baltimore, Maryland and a monumental U.S. Supreme Court hearing). I am so grateful for those who run into the danger and devastation for the sake of those most affected. I am also thankful for those willing to fight for what they believe is right. My fight these days is spent more on my knees.

In the midst of all this global and national chaos, we also recover from our own jolts and aftershocks. All of us face situations for which we haven’t the strength. Yet, Scripture tells us that “those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary.” (Isaiah 40:31) I have witnessed this in the lives of dear ones just today as they demonstrated great strength in the face of life-shaking weakness. It is a wonder to see God raise up His children when they fall in a heap. It is a wonder to be that child myself sometimes.

Matthew West’s songs of stories allow us to look into the lives of people who didn’t think they could go on…but they did. With the help of a personal, loving, all-powerful God. This was one of those weeks that we were not strong enough and, thankfully, we did not have to be, Somehow God applies His strength to our weakness, and we are able to endure. He is strong enough for us…and this week, in our weakness, we needed to lean hard on Him.  We did, and by His mercy, we did not fall.

Worship with me:

You must, You must think I’m strong
To give me what I’m going through

Well forgive me
Forgive me if I’m wrong
But this looks like more than I can do
On my own

I know I’m not strong enough to be
Everything that I’m supposed to be
I give up
I’m not strong enough
Hands of mercy won’t you cover me
Lord right now I’m asking you to be
Strong enough
Strong enough
For the both of us

Well, maybe, maybe that’s the point
To reach the point of giving up
Cause when I’m finally
Finally at rock bottom
Well, that’s when I start looking up
And reaching out


Cause I’m broken
Down to nothing
But I’m still holding on to the one thing
You are God
and You are strong
When I am weak

I can do all things
Through Christ who gives me strength
And I don’t have to be
Strong enough
Strong enough

I can do all things
Through Christ who gives me strength
And I don’t have to be
Strong enough
Strong enough


*Lyrics to Strong Enough by Matthew West

YouTube Video – Strong Enough – Matthew West

 1) Story Behind the Song Strong Enough and 2) Story Behind the Song Strong Enough

Matthew West Website

Strong Enough on Matthew West album – The Story of Your Life

Photo Credit: &

Nepal Earthquake – Disaster Response, Faith-based Organizations, & Love in Action

Blog - Nepal

Jesus teaching: “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;  naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” – Matthew 25:34-36

The news this weekend of Nepal’s devastating earthquake was heartbreaking. Thousands dead; tens of thousands losing family and friends, many injured, without shelter. Nearly a million children affected. Just hearing the news and seeing the images, in the aftermath, we are compelled to pray for the Nepali people and to give toward care of the survivors. Many will even travel internationally to add hands to the on-the-ground efforts.Blog - Nepal 3

In the face of tremendous need, I am thankful for the resilience of the Nepali people as they respond to the needs of their neighbors so woefully impacted by this natural disaster. It is also gratifying to see all the governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) cooperating together for the sake of these people reeling from their losses.  They are the ones that matter right now. These survivors.

This is why I was dumbfounded by the venomous attacks on faith-based organizations that started shortly after the earthquake. Twitter and other social media were peppered with angry charges against relief agencies whose motives were questioned by these individuals. I won’t mention the hash-tagged slur not wanting to fuel this fire any further. After such a catastrophic event, any who really care for the Nepali people would want help coming from any source possible.

We were living in Morocco  when a 6.4 magnitude earthquake shook the northern coast on February 24, 2004. It was my first close-up experience of such a disaster.  We didn’t live close but we had friends with families in that area. There were over 600 killed, over 1000 injured, 2500+ families were displaced when their homes were destroyed, and over 10,000 more homes in the area were damaged. Although not as severe in terms of the losses Nepal has experienced thus far, for a rural area of Morocco, this was overwhelming.

We watched the rapid responses of international agencies coupled with local government and charities. The school our children attended became very involved, as families and faculty traveled to the area to help in whatever way we could (assessing damage, delivering goods, translation). We were encouraged to see how others showed their care for these Moroccans, so unknown to the world at large until hit by this earthquake. When you are trying to get tents, blankets, food and water to families left with nothing, you don’t deem one helping agency more preferable than other. The need is too great for such concerns.

When I wade through the hash-tagged outcries against faith-based organizations helping the Nepali survivors, I marvel at such insensitivity. On many levels. First, we must, all of us who believe in a God who loves humanity, respond to such agonizing human need. We must respond. Second, to imagine a government or people accepting aid from one group over another in such a crisis is incomprehensible. Wisdom is to cooperate and mobilize resources as much as possible early on, because the recovery period will be a long one. Third, to encourage rejecting aid from faith-based organizations for fear of conversions is such a disservice to those hurting – 1) it takes away their voice in accepting what help they need for their own families, and 2) it presumes they would trade their beliefs for aid. Such madness – to think this way about people.

We do support both faith-based organizations and other humanitarian aid organizations. Our preferred disaster relief agency is Baptist Global Response  (because of their judicious use of funds, their cooperation with local agencies, and their faith foundation of wise compassion-driven aid and education) . BGR is not just there when disaster strikes. In fact, a BGR training for local agencies was held just weeks ago in Kathmandu, Nepal for just such a time as this. Hopefully the fruit of that training will mean a more collaborative response acutely and, in the long-term, a more stable recovery for the Nepali people.

Blog - Nepal 2I pray we can take the boxing gloves off and put the work gloves on – serving together to alleviate the suffering of these people whom God loves.  It is a mandate from Jesus Himself for those of us who are His followers.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. ” – John 13:34

By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. – 1 John 3:16-18

Donate: Nepal Earthquake & Baptist Global Response

50 Amazing Facts About Nepal

Amid the Destruction of the Nepal Earthquake, Grace and Hope are Found

2004 Al Hoceima Earthquake in the Rif Mountains, Morocco

In Pictures – Morocco Quake Aftermath

Losses in the 2004 Earthquake, Al Hoceima, Morocco

Jesus Sayings About the Poor

Photo Credits: Baptist Global Response and IMB Resources

Worship Wednesday – Live Like That – with Sidewalk Prophets

Blog - Live Like That - Sidewalk Prophets

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

We choose whether our brief lives are misspent or spent well. A few days ago, a dear neighbor, Mrs. Frances died unexpectedly at the young age of 92. I loved her stories of teaching English and serving people God placed in her life. She and her sister walked the neighborhood in the early morning. Just seeing her on those walks encouraged my heart. She had so much joy and was generous with it, lavishing it on all she met. By her own testimony of faith, and evidenced by a life of loving God and others, she is in Heaven. I can see her house from my kitchen window, and her life will continue to affect me for good. I want to live like that.Blog - Live Like That - Frances & JohnnieMrs. Frances (on left) & Mrs. Johnnie – Neighbors & Friends

“Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.”
C.T Studd (read whole beautiful poem here)

God has given me so many opportunities in life, for which I’m deeply grateful. Parents who loved God and loved us. A good education. Great friends through the years and across distances. Incredible work situations: teaching nursing at Emory University and then Yale University, working on cancer units in inner city settings and small towns, teaching English overseas, and now writing. I am a wife (blessed with an amazing “in-law” family), a mom to 3 great young adult children (two of whom have added sweet spouses to our family), and a grandmother-to-be. So much joy in all that.

Life has its deep losses as well. My closest life-long friend died this past year. We have lost other friends, family members, and dear colleagues over the years – some dying very young. My Mom, who was always my role model for godliness, died at 75, which today seems so young. My brother, Robert, and his son, Chad, are gone now as well, and even writing this, my heart is pierced again with the pain of missing them.Mom pictures for website 010My Mom, Mildred McAdams

IMG_0017My sweet nephew, Chad Stephens

2007 SepOct 046My older brother, Robert Stephens

So what of all of this? Did those people, through all these years and across all these miles, these whose lives brushed with mine, experience Jesus’ love through me? Today, is it the case?

There are moments of revelation – wake-up calls – that we are meant to hear for our own lives. Life is full of cross-roads, and we choose which way we go. No matter how successful, beautiful, influential, or (fill-in-the-blank), we are, each of us has only this one brief candle-flame of a life. How we live it matters. Will we be remembered more than a generation or two beyond our short stint on earth? Probably not. That doesn’t really matter as much as what we do with our lives – for God and for others. That’s what matters.

Do we live our lives for ourselves? Squeezing all the goodness out of our fortunes to indulge our own desires? Do we hold onto time as if it belongs to us? Do we waste a lifetime on our screens, instead of invested in real people? Uncomfortable questions, especially for me. I so struggle in this. As I write, even if this encourages some, I am aware of a world beyond the door I can see from my desk…where people are, in real skin, and real need. It brings all the more urgency to finish this writing…to get on out there.

“Oh God, I fail regularly. You are not bothered, I’m pretty sure, by our need for downtime sometimes. For recreation. You’ve created us to both work and rest, and You give us leisure to refresh us for the next round of life. Forgive us, when we use that leisure to spend on ourselves and only then want more – more time for ourselves, more toys, more self-directed adventures. Oh God, help us remember how You saved us from ourselves, through faith in Jesus. Help us to see the world with Your eyes. Help me, God, to get up out of this chair…and go out there… ‘recklessly abandoned, never holding back’ – like Jesus lived and shows us how. I want to live like that.”

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2

Worship with me, with this great call to faith and action by Sidewalk Prophets:

Sometimes I think
What will people say of me
When I’m only just a memory
When I’m home where my soul belongs

Was I love
When no one else would show up
Was I Jesus to the least of us
Was my worship more than just a song?

I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do
Points to You
If love is who I am
Then this is where I stand
Recklessly abandoned
Never holding back
I want to live like that
I want to live like that

Am I proof
That You are who you say You are
That grace can really change a heart
Do I live like Your love is true?

People pass
And even if they don’t know my name
Is there evidence that I’ve been changed
When they see me, do they see You?


I want to live like that
I want to live like that

I want to show the world the love You gave for me
(I want to live like that)
I’m longing for the world to know the glory of the King


I want to live like that
I want to live like that*

*Lyrics to Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets

YouTube Video – Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets

YouTube Video – Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets [images from films and news reports you might find familiar – brought tears to my eyes. One distracting typo: In the lyrics, corrected it’s “Was I love when no one else would show up?”

Live Like That – Sidewalk Prophets – Devotional Series

YouTube Video – Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets (just another lyric video – another set of powerful images accompanying life-changing words)

Story Behind the Song Live Like That

Sidewalk Prophets Website

Photo Credit – Sidewalk Prophets Live Like That album cover Others are my own.

2015 April phone pics, American Idol, Spring flowers, Dad visit 205My Dad, living well, so far, with Alzheimer’s, and me

Worship Wednesday – Jesus Loves Me…and You – with Chris Tomlin

Blog - Jesus Loves Me - Chris Tomlin

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. – Psalm 139:1, 4-12

I wasn’t born Christian. Living for many years in the Arab World, people were identified as born Christian or born Muslim. It was a new experience for me to think of belonging to a community, religion, or tribe based on the family in which you were born.

We didn’t have a formal religious experience of any sort until I was entering school. When neighbors invited us to church, we joined them expectantly. Even as children, we were curious about what it was all about. That’s when I first heard the little song “Jesus Loves Me” (not the Chris Tomlin version, but the original children’s praise song.

Jesus loves me; this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak, but he is strong.

As a child still reeling from our parents’ divorce and missing a mom who had to work all the time, this was incredibly good news. I soaked up the teachings of Jesus. Church became a place of hope for me. My mom and all four of us children were transformed by the God we grew to know there. His love filled our empty spaces and healed our broken places.

Chris Tomlin’s Jesus Loves Me has taken the truth of that children’s song and delivered it powerfully to the next generations. This Jesus loves us grownups, too. So thankful for His love. Can’t help but sing about it.Blog - Jesus Loves Me - Chris Tomlin 2

 Worship with me:

I was lost
I was in chains
The world had a hold of me

My heart was a stone
I was covered in shame
When He came for me

I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His presence
I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His arms

Jesus, He loves me, He loves me, He is for me
Jesus, how can it be, He loves me, He is for me

And it was a fire
Deep in my soul
I’ll never be the same

I stepped out of the dark
And into the light
When He called my name

I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His presence
I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His arms

He holds the stars and He holds my heart
With healing hands that bear the scars
The rugged cross where He died for me
My only hope, my everything

YouTube Video (official lyric/chords video)  – Jesus Loves Me by Chris Tomlin from Love Ran Red Album

Lyrics to Jesus Loves Me – Writer(s): Chris Tomlin, Reuben Morgan, and Ben Glover

YouTube Video – Story Behind the Song Jesus Loves Me by Chris Tomlin

Chris Tomlin website

Becoming a Follower of Jesus

Photo Credits: Air1 Radio and

Love Ran Red Album

Blog - Chris Tomlin - Love Ran Red

You Will Change the World – Wisdom from Jon Bloom


“Have you ever wished you could do something that would change the world? Your wish has been granted. Are you tempted to think that your obscure, little life will leave no mark on the world? You have no idea how wrong you are.” – Jon Bloom, Desiring God

I subscribe to way too many blogs. Most of the time, it’s impossible for me to read all of them, but fortuitously, providentially, just the right ones, it seems, get my attention.

Jon Bloom, president of Desiring God, wrote a piece, out this morning, entitled You Will Change the World – There is No Unimportant Life. This resonated so much with me this morning. The day I graduated from university, my favorite professor and mentor said to me, “Debbie, you want to change the world, and maybe you will. I caution you that there will be lots of barriers for you to grapple with in your zeal to make a difference. Fortunately, because of how idealistic you are now, you may manage to have some left in the end.” The idealism of those early days has matured into faith in these latter days. With God, in me (us), all things are possible.

While I was out to change the world, God brought this quiet, gentle man into my life. A research chemist who then was content with cooking chemicals, making a difference that way. He was in on the early research for improving the plastic used in water bottles and food containers. (Image: grad school lab years ago, Yale University)Blog - No Life Wasted 4

God took this young man out of the lab and launched him into a very different life (and I got to come along). We spent most of fifteen years overseas, and now he (we) are back in the US…in a very different life again. Different life; same God.Blog - Dave & Not wasting a life 2Blog - No Life Wasted 6Blog - No Life Wasted 9Blog - No Life Wasted 13

Jon Bloom’s piece really encouraged me this morning, and I know it will you. Read the whole piece, if you can, but take joy in these quotes:

“As creatures made in God’s image, God has conferred upon us the incredible dignity of being sub-creators who are given real power to change the course of history through what we create. What we make with words and wood and wire and water wells and scalpels and glass and chalkboards and stone and combine harvesters and paper and glue and musical notes and motion pictures and animals and meals and photos and spreadsheets and fabrics and computer code and time with our toddler or teen and IV needles and oil paints and nails and vacuums and PVC pipe and shingles and sermons and prosthetic limbs and financial investments and welding torches and the gentle care of wounded souls is of inestimable importance and value.”

“There is no such thing as an unimportant, meaningless life. Life would only be meaningless if atheism were true. Then all of reality would be meaningless. Every life God creates is good and has a purpose, and therefore possesses a certain sacredness (Genesis 1:31). As stewards of the earth, we humans should approach all life with appropriate reverence (Genesis 1:26), especially other human lives (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 19:19; Matthew 5:44).”

“The truth is, we rarely know who the real great ones are — those whose lives prove truly great in God’s assessment and bear the longest-lasting fruit generations from now. But we do know that Jesus said, “many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:30).”

“The life you have been given is an assignment from the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:17). You don’t need to be someone else and you don’t need to be somewhere else. You need to be who and where God wants you to be. Because your assigned life is not just about you. It’s also about hundreds of others around you and hundreds of thousands of others who will come after you.”

“You will change the world, more than you know. And because of that, because your life will impact so many others, Jesus wants you to live prayerfully (Ephesians 6:18), walk carefully (Ephesians 5:15), and seek his kingdom first (Matthew 6:33). If you do, if you faithfully invest the “little” he has entrusted to you, no labor of yours in this life will be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58) and he will entrust you with more in the life to come (Matthew 25:21).”

I got goose-bumps reading Jon Bloom’s writing this morning. So encouraging. Thank you, Jon Bloom. Thank you, John Piper for how you encourage us (this article reminded me of Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life). Thank you, Dave, for your willingness to follow God where He leads you…and all the amazing people, memories, and God-lessons we have in our lives because of that willingness. Thank You, God, for every stamp in my passport, and for being there every step of the way…including this very day. Help me to take hold of it…I can change the world, because of You.

You Will Change the World by Jon Bloom

The Essence of the Unwasted Life – (video message) by John Piper

The Glorious, Radical, Ordinary Christian Life by Jonathon Woodyard

Blog - No Life wasted 11



Resting Your Eyes and Lifting Your Soul – the Glorious Banner of Love that is Spring

Blog - Spring Trees - Flame Tree -

“He has brought me to his banquet hall, And his banner over me is love.” – Song of Solomon 2:4


Living in Egypt for many years gave us a deep appreciation for the change of seasons. Although it seemed in Cairo that there were only two seasons – one being hot and the other hotter – the trees knew when to bloom. We loved the deep red flame trees (above), the towering purple jacarandas (above), and the crimson-flowered poinsettia trees. The deep colors of these trees were striking on the canvas of this colossal sand-colored city, built atop the Sahara Desert.

Then in our years in Tunisia and Morocco, the seasons changed more like the four we were used to in the U.S. The rainy seasons there (October to March) ushered in spring vegetation. The flowering almond, apple, and cherry trees brought the promise of the first fruits of summer.Flowering Almond TreeApple Tree

Now settled back in the States, we are re-discovering this amazing season of Spring. At first, early signs of winter’s earth coming out of its hard freeze are very subtle. The yellow crocuses push through the gray soil almost overnight. Then wild violets peak purple through fallen leaves. As more and more flowers bud and bloom, our eyes are drawn up from the ground to see spring wonder all around us. Then the trees awake –  with the warming sun, the lengthening days, and whatever else signals the time of flowering. This is my favorite time of Spring. When the flowers open on the trees, and the leaves follow. We tune our eyes upward to the incredible glory. These magnificent trees are a grand display of exquisite beauty – a praise offering to Creator God. What a gift He gives us in these trees. They are truly like a banner of His love over us.

In our neighborhood, there are so many different kinds of flowering trees – some of which we remember fondly from other places and some which we’re just learning. Even the maple trees, for so long bare, have seed clusters adorning them as if they were flowers.Blog - Spring Trees 3Blog - Spring Trees #10Blog - Spring TreesBlog - Spring Trees #13Blog - Spring Trees #7Blog - Spring Trees #11

Just like with food, fragrance, and music, these flowering trees trigger memories of places, people, and graces of God. Flowering pear trees, for instance, remind me of my nephew, Chad, who died at 23 in a car accident. Our shock and devastation at losing him so suddenly was cushioned, in surprising ways, by the grace of God. One of those being the funeral procession in Georgia, during the month of March. As we slowly made our way to the cemetery, this long line of cars full of people who loved Chad, we traveled roads lined with dazzlingly white pear trees. It was as if they stood at attention, against the blue sky, like a military color guard, there to honor this darling young man.

Redbuds in bloom always remind us of Spring in East Tennessee where we lived when the children were small. The deep pink-purple flowering clusters were our signal that winter was finally over. Even though they are blooming now, here in Virginia, I am always reminded of Tennessee.Blog - Spring Trees #15Blog - Spring Trees #2

Dogwoods and crepe myrtle trees remind me of my mom’s yard. No matter where I see them, my mind goes back to our home growing up. The same goes for tulip magnolias and Dave’s mom. They bloomed so bright and full on the trees beside his parents’ white clapboard house on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. When I see them, it’s that place that comes to mind…even though they have long-since moved to another house, one without tulip magnolias.

Blog - Spring Trees #8Tulip magnolia

The flowering trees are my favorite part of Spring’s majesty. There are shrubs and bushes that rival the trees in beauty. Each with their own grand entrances. First the forsythia, then the azaleas. Then as Spring moves toward Summer, the wisteria, rhododendron, hydrangeas, and others.

Again memories are attached – the year our daughter was born in March and a surprise late snowfall hung on our forsythia bushes. Brilliant white on bright yellow.Blog - Spring Trees #9

Lastly, looking back to those years, again, in Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco….with hedges of bougainvillea, rows of hibiscus trees, and arbors wound with jasmine. Those glimpses of glory rested our eyes and lifted our souls. We were always reminded that nature gives witness to a good and gracious God who reveals Himself in so many ways. These breathtaking flowering trees of Spring are as a banner of His love unfurled over our heads. All we have to do is look up.

“I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert together with the box tree and the cypress, that they may see and recognize, and consider and gain insight as well, that the hand of the LORD has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it. – Isaiah 41:19-20

Blog - Spring Flowers Flowering TreesPhoto above by my friend Katrina Otto, Kansas City, Missouri

200 Tree Pictures – Best Free Tree Photos with Tree Names

YouTube Video – Amazing Tree Tunnels from Around the World

Photo Credit: Images of flowering almond tree, jacaranda tree, and apple tree; flame tree; all others are mine.

Worship Wednesday – Coming Clean, Starting Over, Making It Right – Lord, I’m Ready Now – Plumb

Blog - Worship Wednesday - Plumb - Burial Chamber Pyramids 2

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. – James 5:16

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.Matthew 5:23-24

Have you ever found yourself in a deep pit? With seemingly no way out? While living in Cairo, we visited the Pyramids of Giza many times. Just once did we climb down the steep stairs into the burial chamber of one of them. It was so dark, and I found it even hard to breathe in that small room. “Dead space” is how it felt down there. It was a place never made to sustain life. Although it was all mental, and breathing was really not a problem, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Sin and selfishness can put us in such a pit. Whether we talk about it or not in today’s culture, both exist and both create havoc in our lives – creating isolation between us and others, and especially us and God.

I am so thankful that I grew up in an era when even people who did not have a personal experience of God still wrestled with “right and wrong”. Today, our actions and their impact on relationships seem so relative. We can so easily justify our choices, no matter the fallout.

One night when I was in my 20’s, something must have really been bothering me. I don’t remember the reason now, but I remember the night well. I tried to pray and it was like being in that burial chamber. There was so much going on where I had chosen my own way. My relationship with God had become such a casual thing…even a cast-off thing. I was living in deceit. Still in church, still professing belief in Jesus (when it was convenient and cost me nothing). Yet I was all about my own pleasure and popularity – pleasing others and pursuing personal success….until that night.

Again, I don’t even know what I needed from God that night, but I needed Him. Trying to pray, but still so full of self, was like speaking words into a vacuum. The deadness of those moments was terrifying. God is within hearing always, but if I didn’t confront my own sin first, how could I expect a tender response from a holy God? It was terrifying to feel my prayers fall all around me “unreceived” by the God of the universe. That night was the beginning of the end of a life of total self-indulgence…and the new beginning of a life reaching toward true life. The life He has for all of us – loving Him, loving others, with grace sufficient for all that comes our way, and a peace that passes all understanding.

Singer/songwriter Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (aka Plumb) penned a song titled Lord, I’m Ready Now. She could have been looking right into my heart. Her lyrics came out of a painful but also redeeming place. Her marriage was a wreck from her pursuit of fame, and she had a similar wake-up call to reality. She repented of her self-serving choices (her sin essentially) and chose God again and His way for her life. Healing came – both in her relationship with God and with her husband.

If you find yourself in a pit, there is a way out…not into more deceit, but to real freedom and real life. Turn around and climb out of that situation. There is light for the climb. Reach your hand to God, and you will find Him there… Breathe…………

Blog - Worship Wednesday - Plumb - Burial Chamber of Pyramids

Worship with me:

I just let go
And I feel exposed
But its so beautiful
Cuz this is who I am
I’ve been such a mess
But now I can’t care less
I could bleed to death

Oh Lord I’m ready now
All the walls are down
Time is running out
And I wanna make this count
I ran away from you
And did what I wanted to
But I don’t wanna let you down
Oh Lord I’m ready now
Lord I’m ready now

[You called my name
I turned away
But now I
Am listening]
I was so caught up
In who I’m not
Can you please forgive me?

I’ve nothing left to hide
No reason’s left to lie
Give me another chance.*

YouTube Video – Lord, I’m Ready Now (Official Lyric Video) by Plumb

Story Behind the Song – Interview with Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (Plumb) by Kevin Davis, News Release Tuesday

*Lyrics to Lord, I’m Ready Now –

YouTube Lyric Video – Need You Now – Plumb

YouTube Video – Who Am I? by Casting Crowns

YouTube Video – Drops in the Ocean by Hawk Nelson

How Do I Come Back to God?

Photo Credits: and

Give Church Another Try – 7 Things to Consider in a Community Where You Can Thrive

Blog - ChurchBlog - Church People

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

When I was a child, we learned this little fingerplay about church. “Here’s the church; here’s the steeple; open the doors, and see all the people.” As an adult, church has become less about a place, or steeple, and more about people. So the fingerplay I teach children now about church says only “Here’s the church” – with the two hands, palms up, with intertwined fingers. That’s church. There are three things I see in that visual that are good to remember: 1) Palms up – we need God. Church is about God. 2) Fingers – we are all people (stay with me). 3) Intertwined – we get close, which means we know each other very well, too well sometimes (unless grace is always applied). With people, church can get messy. We are all those people.

There are people I love who have walked away from church, citing, “They’re all a bunch of hypocrites.” Seriously? Aren’t they right where they need to be? An old saying goes, “Church is a hospital for sinners.” Maybe it’s also a rehab program for hypocrites… Either way, if I’ve given up on church, then at some level, I’m giving up on God. He loves His church, and we, as followers of Christ, are a part of that church He loves. To leave it, because of the hypocrites, the legalists, the gossips, the other sinners…just. like. us…is not the answer.

We left a church ourselves. The details won’t help this narrative. Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t wish the down side of that experience on my worst enemy. It wasn’t just our down side, or that of others who left…it was the pain and confusion of those whom we left as well.  We would have had that go very differently, if we had had the freedom to do so… That sort of leaving doesn’t heal easily, and the wounds break open as easily as a social media post reminding us that we are not in each other’s lives anymore.

That’s just so wrong. Jesus let nothing or no one keep him from his Father’s House. The Temple, in those days. My desire is to always follow His lead in life. We’ve learned a lot, some of it painfully, about church in recent years. There are writers on this subject far more wise and eloquent than I (just a few of whom wrote the pieces linked below). However, I would be so grateful if God allowed me to help someone be restored to His church. Also, for anyone who has never really been in a church community, maybe it would help to know what to consider.

Here’s my Quick List of 7 Things to Consider in Searching Out a Church Community. As you peruse a church website, or listen to a pastor/teaching elder’s podcast, or visit a worship service or community group, think about this:

1) Love for God – His Word is taught in ways you are meant to apply both inside and outside church. Worship is really about Him, not just a stage show. Humility, not arrogance, is apparent in handling God’s Word and His church. Prayer, not just for stuff, but to purely enjoy His presence is a sign of a God-centered church.

2) Love for people – The church operates out of a clear desire to creatively express God’s love to people in the church and community, neighbors to nations. It’s not just about that church’s presence or preeminence (superiority) in a town or city, but the goal is to be about Kingdom work – God’s Kingdom, not that church’s. Look to see if the church cooperates with other believers, other churches, other organizations to serve its city and the world. Partnerships tell you a lot about a church. Prayer opportunities, too.

3) Decision-making in the church – Who gives input for strategy or direction? Is the polity (or church governing) the pastor or elder rule? Or is there a clear flow between church leaders and the congregation? Is servant leadership development of all a part of the vision of the church? Can you get a sense of “the priesthood of the believers” (1 Peter 2:9) – where there is “safety in a multitude of counselors” (Proverbs 11:14)? Elder ruled vs. elder led churches both have Biblical support. A lot has to do with accountability and the leaders themselves.

4) Discipleship Throughout Ages and Stages – What happens on Sundays is vital, but it is just a part of church life as a whole. What opportunities does the church promote for growing in the Lord and serving Him both locally and globally? Pre-discipleship can start with young children, and discipleship continues through all life stages (we are grateful to know people in their 80s still serving actively in church). Young moms desperately need discipleship, too. Churches that make that happen must really please God.

5) Finances and Stewardship – What happens with the money that is given through the church? Who decides how it’s used? These answers may not be easily discovered. Is the budget presented by or published to the congregation? Or are the financial decisions made wholly by the elders? Is missions giving encouraged? Is sacrificial giving a pattern in the church? Not just for paying salaries or managing the operation of the church, but for critical needs beyond the church.

5) Church Membership – What are the steps to becoming a member of the church? Maybe you’re thinking you aren’t interested in church membership. Still this is something to consider. What are requirements of the members? Do they have to sign anything (a church covenant, a giving pledge, etc.)? [Signing your agreement/commitment can be a good thing, but realize things can change in the church such that what you signed can mean something different as part of that change. So just be aware…] What are the privileges of membership (teaching, children’s ministry, etc.)? What are the responsibilities of membership? These speak to the priorities of the church. They also speak to leadership/authority. Are members held with open hands, recognizing we belong to God first and then the Body?

6) Church Discipline – You may think that churches don’t all have a church discipline protocol. That may be true. I am thinking that church discipline is part of most churches, whether spoken/written or not. How does one even look for how the church does discipline? The sermons can give some sense of what is “tolerated” or not. That’s a sad thing to have to say, but we all know the expression “bully pulpit” which can happen in churches as well as in politics. Shunning is prescribed rarely in Scripture (Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5:11, Titus 3:9-11). Honestly, if a church uses shunning as a discipline, I would run. It would require the church to have such humility and such wisdom. Who is able, over months or years, to do it with a pure heart? Jesus taught on discipline in the church in Matthew 18:15-20. It’s so like Him to place that teaching between the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the unforgiving servant. Think about it.

7) Style and Substance – Be careful you don’t make a decision about a church based on some element of style rather than substance. Just say, you don’t care for the style of worship. Or the preaching goes a little long. Or…fill in the blank. No church is going to be “perfect” because the church is made up of people, like you and me. Just don’t miss the church God has for you over something that matters so little. What does matter is that you get yourself in a situation where you can grow in knowing God, where you can serve Him and those around you as part of the church, and where you can heal…from whatever got you out of church. Don’t let that experience define your life. Please.

Just, please, give church another try. Do you know the story (Acts 15:36-40) about the Apostle Paul and his ministry partner, Barnabas and how they had a huge disagreement about another young partner, John Mark? Sometimes, disagreements happen – so strong, in fact, that maybe they can’t do ministry together for a season. Does that mean either of them are “the bad guys”? Paul even came to a place, near the time of his death, that he asked for John Mark to come to him (2 Timothy 4:11).  The Scripture doesn’t tell us whether either Paul or Barnabas was right or wrong. Yet, we are left with a huge door of reconciliation open to us in their story.

May it always be so with us – to the glory of God and for the sake of His Kingdom.

Jesus, you were once broken apart. You know how it feels to be so shattered by the good-byes of life. Help me to believe that I will one day experience wholeness again, that I will not have this terrible feeling of being torn into many pieces. Keep reminding me often that the Father raised you to new life, to a powerful wholeness that you had not known before. Encourage me to believe that, in time, I will no longer have this deep pain and hurt in my heart. I want to believe. Help my unbelief! Amen. – Joyce Rupp, Prayer for Wholeness in Praying Our Goodbyes

Healthy Church vs. Toxic Church – Bart’s Barometer (Bart Breen)

9 Marks of an Abusive Church – The Wartburg Watch

9 Traits of Mean Churches – Thom Rainer

9 Traits of Church Bullies – Thom Rainer

9 Ways to Deal with Church Bullies – Thom Rainer

14 Symptoms of Toxic Church Leaders – Thom Rainer

10 Traits of Pastors Who Have Healthy Long-Term Tenure

9 Reasons It’s Hard to Attend a Church Once You’ve Been Involved in Leading One – Carey Nieuwhof [Applies to all of us really, not just church leaders]

Jesus and Holy Week – Day 8 – He is Risen! Resurrection Sunday

Blog - Easter - Empty Tomb

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. – John 20:1 

Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”.John 20:18

On this Sunday, this most glorious day in all of history, death gave way to life. The grave could not hold Jesus. Those who loved Jesus most came to the tomb, guarded and sealed, and found it empty. Then ones, twos, small groups, and a crowd of 500 saw him alive. Jesus himself, bearing the wounds of the cross, walking with them, eating with them, teaching them again…as he promised.

He is alive! This man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.

With the breath of creation, He speaks of peace, faith, and mission.

With lungs full of air, He breathes on His disciples and grants His Spirit. My Jesus – alive!

The eyes that saw the darkness of death now drink in the sunlight of Easter. My Jesus – alive!*

[Read the rest of Trevin Wax’s poem here.]

Oh the joy…the indescribable joy of that reality. He died and yet he lives. We were dead in our sins, and because of him, we have life.

Take the time to read this amazing story yourself. The Gospel writers all have given detailed accounts of the risen Christ ( Matthew 28:1-13, Mark 16:1-14, Luke 24:1-49, and John 20:1-29). The Apostle Paul also wrote about Jesus’ resurrection in his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 15).

Sadly, there are those who treat the resurrection of Jesus as a myth, or a fairy tale. Even his life is treated casually. Yet, for sure, anyone who does a careful examination of the life and teachings of Jesus would be radically changed.  This certainly was my experience. I know too well how wicked my heart can be…my thoughts and actions. God draws us to Himself, and in the drawing we recognize our desperate need for a savior, a strong arm to pull us out of the muck and mire of our own making. Jesus did that for me.

I know Jesus is alive from the historical accounts and the writing of eye witnesses, and because of his own word. I also know he is alive because of how he has transformed lives through the ages. He has changed my life, and he continues to do so.

For the past almost 20 years, during Lent, I have read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking. I would like to close with a portion out of his Easter reading.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”John 20:19

“On that dark Sunday morning, Mary could never have guessed the cosmic significance of the empty tomb. When Jesus rose from the dead the ancient engines of order were fired once more and, in his body on earth, chaos was defeated. And what a wonderful moment for Jesus and his disciples. Neither locks nor fears could withstand the peace and security that the risen Saviour brought, and still brings to his people. It is the peace of knowing that, however rough the road may need to be (and it often is), we shall indeed, in the most real sense, live happily ever after.” – Adrian Plass**

Christ is risen! — He is risen indeed!

Holy Week – Day 8: Resurrection Sunday! – Thank you, Mary Fairfield for writing so well, so thoughtfully, and so thoroughly for

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ by Sean Davis

*My Jesus – Alive! by Trevin Wax

**The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People (1994) by Adrian Plass

YouTube Video – Doxology – David Crowder

YouTube Video – Because He Lives – Matt Maher

YouTube video with lyrics – I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe

YouTube video with lyrics – Before the Throne of God Above – sung by Selah

Story Behind the Song Before the Throne of God Above

YouTube Video – Easter Song (Live) – Keith Green – (song starts 2 minutes in)

The Bridge Gospel Presentation

Photo Credit: