Thoughts From the Ranch.

There’s a place on the ranch I’ve photographed more times than I can ever count. This is it.

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I lived here for six years and watched the seasons change that field like the Lord expects us to change – from glory to glory in ever increasing measure. But even now, every time I try to capture it, to own it by putting it in words or photographs, it slips through my hands and breaks my heart with yearning.

When it comes to me and the ranch, the only thing I can have is the moment we inhabit together and that, I think, is exactly how it is with God.

There is only now.

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But as ever, Ike is down the road on his backhoe and the neighbors are sipping cocktails. The bald eagles fish from the snag, and the sun outside Dodo’s warms the pines just like it has for the last hundred summers.

When the sun hits their ruddy, old bark, their fragrance is so subtle and fine, it’s almost hard to take, but if I stop to breathe it in, to capture it, it fades. The only way I get to smell it again is to walk slowly and appreciatively through the pine groves breathing normally and saying thank you.

The Psalmist says, in his presence is the fullness of joy. He didn’t say I could capture it like fireflies in a jar to save for later.

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The word of God and the mountains have helped me understand something I never did before:

You and I are just as much part of this creation as the peaks, the meadow grass and the rainbow trout with their dusky pink sides, but we’re the deeply beloved part that He made in his image. We forget that all the time, and maybe that’s why we snap so many pictures, and write so many words. It’s like we’re trying to remember something the daisies and the dragonflies never forgot.

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We are His, and each time the sunset drops a pink coverlet over the mountains, he is calling us back into the fullness of joy. His joy, right now, where he wanted all of us, all along.

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When Mother’s Day Hurts

I kind of dread Mother’s Day. In fact, a few years ago, I was at Cowboy Church for Mother’s Day Sunday feeling pretty normal, until they asked the moms to stand so they could hand them a flower. I started crying so hard I made my own nose bleed and was in the bathroom for an hour.

See, right now Sam and I should have a seven year-old and we don’t.

It’s a long, horrible story that legions of women share, but don’t often talk about. We just cry about it on the way home from church. I’m 41 now, and I decided a while ago to either get ok with not having babies or go insane, so I got ok with it – 364 days a year. On this day though, I kind of have to gut it out.

It helps that I have a wonderful mom of my own to celebrate and two step kids. Even though Tyler, Emily and I converged when they were 17 and 19 and I was 32, Emily sends me a Mother’s Day card every year. She knows the story. She stands in the gap. She’s kind of amazing.

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Emily Left. Tyler Right. Best. Wedding. Ever.

So my loves, all you non-moms or trying-to-be-moms, it’s ok to be a little tender on Mother’s Day, but here’s something to remember whether or not your life ever includes the things you think you can’t live without:

For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome. Jeremiah 29:11

That scripture finally dropped from my head to my heart at Mercy Ships last fall. So this morning when the Pastor asked the moms to stand up, I stood, not just because of Emily’s card but because of Africa Mercy crew members KJ and Mary too.

KJ running a tight ship.

KJ running a tight ship.

Mary doing the same.

Mary doing the same.

Last fall, the three of us were sitting on the grass outside our classroom. We’d been asked to pray for each other and wait to hear from the Lord on each others’ behalf. If you have a hard time swallowing that, you’re not alone. Right away, Mary said the idea of expecting God to speak was hard for her, but she opened up her heart anyway and we prayed.

Then KJ, whom I didn’t know very well at the time, said this to me: “I don’t know what this means, but I feel the Lord saying, ‘You are a mother to many.'”

KJ had no idea what a direct hit that was, but guess who did? Mary. She and I had talked about mothers and babies and loss earlier that day.

See how cool God is? On the face of it, he was just speaking to me, when in fact, he was speaking to Mary too about something completely different, but just as important – Faith. It’s startling and delightful when He does it like that, and this is the God we serve.

So this morning I stood in church and counted all the “children” God has put in my life, people who are groping their way toward the light just like I am. Sometimes when I speak at churches or events, people will approach me afterward and tell me their story or just thank me for telling mine. Most often, they are women young enough to be my daughters. So I count them as such and think, my God, who am I that you let me do this?

But I’ve already decided, I want to spend the rest of my life seeing people for who they are becoming, not who they currently are; encouraging them with the truth that they are beloved and precious in the eyes of God.

And that to me feels pretty motherly.

On Heaven and Earth In Congo.

Oubangui RiverDuring dry season in Impfondo, Congo, the Oubangui River narrows and slows. Miles of wide sand beaches surface like beige river monsters, shimmery and hot, until the river interrupts them.

If the barge docks don’t lie, the river will rise thirty feet when the rains come, but for now it’s quiet with women schussing barefoot along the river carrying cassava on their heads and babies on their backs.

If you’re a doctor at Pioneer Christian Hospital, and not busy dispensing ARVs or convincing beautiful black women who’ve destroyed their skin with lightening creams not to split for the witch doctor, you can grab your family and trot down the cliffs to the miles of open sand. There, new and old friends are waiting.image

Tonight it’s a little cold to swim, so we camp out on an old tarp left behind by the UN. We eat avocado and pineapple sandwiches and salty peanuts and real American brownies somebody made with the last of their propane. Blond haired missionary kids, who were born in country and speak Lingala like the natives they are, do backflips in the river with their friends.

Soon, stars belonging to both North and South begin dancing over the equator, as if one hemisphere’s stars are not enough. And because moon is late, the Milky Way emerges like pixie dust.

It’s here your cup might overflow and drown you.

Jesus himself said “I came so you might have and enjoy your life and have it in abundance until it overflows.” John 10:10.

This gathering, this river, this space, these stars feel so abundant it is hard to contain it – something Jesus also promised – Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. Luke 6:38.

That kind of abundance exists for those willing to submit all of it to Jesus and let him decide where the abundance is found. But who would have thought? Here Lord? The Republic of Congo? In my wildest imagination, I never saw this coming.

Walking home across the river dunes, Orion’s Belt up ahead and the Southern Cross at our backs, we wind up back at the mission, – the beating heart of Pioneer Christian Hospital. And because this is Africa, the Land Cruiser keys are missing or it won’t start or somebody needs a ride but they disappeared, so we wait.

Photo Credit: Nat Geo

Photo Credit: Nat Geo

And that’s lucky because standing deep in the shadows as the bats squeal in the mango trees, the fireflies appear, lighting up the wet grass with fleeting little sparkles.

And it doesn’t matter where you look, over your head or under your feet, the world just shines, and it’s tempting to drop to your knees and weep. For this one small moment, it is as He prayed…

On earth as it is in heaven.