The Lord Is Not My Shepherd

Journal 2005

David thought in word pictures based on his experiences, so Psalm 23 made sense to him. But it’s hard to put myself in his sandals, for I’m not a sheep-tender. I love the imagery, and I know it’s scriptural, but the concept of “The Lord is my shepherd” doesn’t touch my soul.

I am a tree-lover. Inside the fence of our African compound, my missionary dad planted a variety of tropical fruit trees for food and a thousand neem trees for firewood. Just outside our property, a stately kuka (baobab) tree called my name, and further into the bush grew other exotic fruit for tasting and flowering trees for climbing. As a child, I made it my mission to try them all.

And so, I write my own poem.
The Lord is my Living Baobab Tree.

He wraps His massive branches around my slender frame.

I hide myself in the crook of His arm.

He is my place of peace and solitude and a gathering place for social encounters.

I view the world differently from Your height.

I soar in Your high branches and rock comfortably on your lower ones.

I might itch when I touch your pods, but the inside fruit tingles sweet-sour on my tongue.

You reveal Your secrets as I spend time in You.

You spread Your cool leaves above me and shelter me from sun and rain.

You invite me to climb, but I can never attain the topmost branches.

You are too lofty for me.

I want to dwell in Your branches forever.

I run to you when I feel pain or pleasure.

I run barefoot to Your roots and climb into Your lap, content.

You restore my soul.

Is God more than a shepherd or a tree? Of course. But the symbolism focuses on the senses. Can I taste God?  (“Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.”) Can I hear His rustling branches in the Spirit’s wind? Can I smell Him in the dampness of the roots of the earth? Or the odor of rain as it cleanses the dusty leaves? Can I touch Him? When I touch the unlovely, the poor, the prisoner, the orphan child, I touch the face of God. I can’t see Him with physical eyes, but I can see His handiwork, and I get to know the heart of the artist. I see His creativity, His passion, His bigness, His attention to detail, His order, His comfortableness with chaos. I sense His emotion in the fury of the hurricane as well as the gentle caress of whispered breeze on my cheek.

A 2022 Update. One day, while trying to still my heart on a hiking trail bench, the Lord said to me, “Be a tree.” I want to be an oak tree—stable and strong, where many can come and rest in my branches. Some of my leaves become diseased when outside forces ruin their beauty, but it’s okay for the bad parts to fall off so new growth can replace them. I want to feed the squirrels and provide shade for the tired and weary. And I want my branches to whisper, “Jesus loves you. God is here. Come and find peace.” He’s the invisible sap, the life inside me, flowing from root to healthy branch.

The Lord was David’s shepherd, but He’s my tree, and I want to be like Him.

“One that would have the fruit must climb the tree.”
1980. Revisiting what was left of my old, beloved baobab.

Thunderstorms Over Your Head

Journal 2005

Being in the presence of people in a bad mood is like standing under their rain cloud. It’s their choice to stay there getting drenched, and it’s their choice to grumble and complain because they’re cold and miserable. But what is that to me? I prefer not to get wet (or worse, struck by lightning), and the easiest solution is to just walk away.

But what if I want to help that person? Or what if I’m in a love relationship and choose not to retreat? Am I willing to get wet? Take the chance of getting zapped?

Jesus says: “I am in the eye of the storm. Rest there with Me.” And the swirling wind about me will move people’s rain away so that I can be near them. I don’t have to be affected by their weather patterns.

Lord, keep me in the center of You.

On the Edge of a Cliff

Journal 2005

Going for an Oral Interpretation major in college, I once performed a reading with a powerful visual about standing atop a cliff, desperately trying to stop people from going over the edge (presumably to hell). The point was to urge believers to evangelize. I even know one missionary who went overseas because of this visual. But all I ever felt was guilt, helplessness, and powerlessness.

As I sit with my emotions, I notice there are danger signs at the edge of the cliff. In fact, there are warning signs before the danger signs. I’m praying desperately for people to open their eyes and take notice, and if I take my eyes off the scene, I’ll miss someone. Still I feel helpless. I have to DO something. If I sit down to rest, I’ll get stampeded! Where do responsibility and trust intersect?

Jesus says, “Back away from the edge of the cliff, find a bench, sit there and wait. Offer cold drinks and sandwiches to the weary travelers. Invite; don’t panic. Invite them to rest with me and talk. Tell them about the cliff and encourage them to share the news with the other travelers on their path. And if while I’m talking to one, and another passes by, I can just wave and smile. And if I need to sleep for a while, I can ask Jesus (or an angel) to tap me on the shoulder when I need to wake up and pay attention. Whew! That feels better.

Negative Energy

Journal 2005. I am an introvert who knows I need people, but some people emit negative energy like a giant, pulsating sore thumb, throbbing like a plucked low bass guitar string.

I remember a former classmate whose aura left little barbs, fingers of electric shock that kept poking and jabbing me.

When I asked for God’s help, He gave me an enveloping coat of Teflon—not to keep the person out, but so I could get close to the person without getting zapped. The droning noise got mingled with a heavenly symphony of praise, and together we looked and listened for other sounds around us. I guess I needed another focus other than myself.

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Profanity

Journal 2005

Recently a friend on Facebook used a four-letter word in her post, and I’m disappointed in the direction this young person has taken in life. I know she knows God, but her activities don’t match my understanding of biblical mandates. It grieves my heart for the woman she’s become when I knew her once as an innocent child. What seed of disappointment, pride, rebellion, hurt, or emptiness got planted in her heart and when? I’m not responsible for her choices, but her choice today impacted my eyes, and the impurity infiltrated my mind.

I was raised with strict rules about dancing, smoking, movie-going, and card-playing. Never once did my parents curse, drink alcohol, or travel on Sunday. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve had to decide which rules I want to shed and which I want to keep. I can happily play games with cards, go to movies, or golf with my husband on a Sunday afternoon, but I still seem to be quite sensitive to profanity.

And so I struggle to get that four-letter word out of my head. It’s like trying not to see a pink elephant by saying, “Don’t think of pink elephants”! I need a God-miracle to break the bond with it. I’ve tried every trick, tip, and tool I know, and nothing works. I’ve tried bond-breaking in memories and images, prayers against curses, repentance, forgiveness, praise, and prayer for purity for self and for others.

Forgiveness—this word jumps out at me. Why am I reluctant to pursue this? Why do I need to forgive her? Has she done me wrong? She doesn’t even know she’s impacted my heart and mind, and I’m sure if she knew, she wouldn’t care. I am not her judge . . . and that thought helps. I can forgive her. Apparently, I was standing in the judge’s seat, and that position is not mine, but God’s. And with that, I can let the stuck word melt away in my brain.

A 2022 Update. I would dance if I could, and I enjoy an occasional sip of wine, but I still choose not to add profanity to my vocabulary. I thank my parents for the example they set.

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Dropping Stones

Journal 2005

My heart hurts when my children are not at peace, and my soul longs for growth and godliness for each of us. I’m weighed down by a stone that is too heavy to carry, and I drop this boulder on someone’s foot. The thought that I might have hurt someone, even inadvertently, is heinous to me. I feel helpless to make it right because, even if I apologize, and even if they forgive me, the damage is done, and it’s my fault. I feel regret and sorrow.

When I sin deliberately and someone gets hurt, I am accountable for the damage. If I sin inadvertently or unintentionally, God knows my heart. He can turn the stone into flower petals. And if I seek reconciliation and I repent and confess my part in the hurt, He can restore and bless and soften the blow.

O, Lord, bring rose petals to my family today. Open our eyes to see truth and give us courage to act upon it. Amen.

Anger, Bitterness, and Resentment

Journal 2005

One day three guardians named Anger, Resentment, and Bitterness stepped into my heart, and one day I decided they needed a come-to-Jesus moment.

“I’m tired, says Bitterness. “I don’t want to carry this anymore. I’m willing for You to take what’s in my heart. I just don’t know how to give it to You.”

“I’ve been waiting for you,” says Jesus. And He stretches out a full-length cloak to place around the guardian’s shoulders, but Bitterness resists.

“I’m too dirty and ragged. I don’t want a cloak to cover me.”

Jesus smiles. “I was just measuring to see if it fits.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“That’s okay,” He says. “Now, let’s see . . . what shall we do with you?” He has a teasing twinkle in His eye.

“I just want to be clean!” Bitterness cries.

Jesus smiles and nods toward a nearby pool of Living Water. Bitterness leaps in, splashing and laughing as the cool water soaks into his scabs and melts away the dirty garments. He’s fascinated the water doesn’t turn murky as a result.

Little Emotion, now free at last, says, “I’ve been trapped here for so long, but Bitterness was too strong for me.”

Bitterness asks forgiveness of Little Emotion. “I was just trying to protect you,” he says.

“I forgive you,” she replies. “And thank you.” I watch as they hug.

Then Little Emotion eagerly runs to Jesus. “Can I have a cloak too?” she asks.

“In a minute,” He replies. “You have some wounded places that need healing first.” And He touches some spots on her shoulders, her back, and down her torso. In fact, the more spots He touches, the more appear. But when He touches them, they begin to glow, like they’re radioactive or something. I don’t understand what’s happening.

“This is just revealing where all the hidden spots are,” He explains.

“So many!” she cries.

“Not too many,” He says. He turns her around and examines each one. “There, I think we have them all,” He declares.

“Now what? What are You waiting for?” she demands.

His eyes are kind. “You’ll see.”

There’s an eruption in the earth at our feet, like an explosion, and a cylindrical structure rises from the depths. What in the world?? At first, I think it’s from the netherworld, the work of the underground, but Jesus says He wouldn’t allow that on my castle grounds.

It’s a Guard Tower, a turret, located on the back, right corner of the property, near the little pool. The three Guardians are curious. “For us?” they ask in wonder?

Jesus laughs and hands each one a cloak, just their size. Resentment, Anger, and Bitterness rush up the stairs, exploring their new digs. “So cool! Look how far we can see! Jesus, can we have some weapons too?! And please, can we change our names? We don’t like the old ones.”

And Little Emotion steps forward, tugs on His robe, and weeps. “Please, Sir, can I have one too?”

He kneels and embraces her. “Let it all out, Honey,” He says. And all the glowing spots begin to fall off like they’re made of plastic discs, clink, clink, clink on the ground. And still she weeps until the tears run dry.

“Little Flower,” He calls her, and slips a strange cloak around her shoulders made of multi-colored fabric petals. She doesn’t particularly care for it. “I’d rather have a rainbow one,” she declares, and it immediately turns into many colors. “Or a tiger-striped one” and it changes instantly.

“What kind of a cloak is this?” she wonders. “It’s not what I expected.”

“What did you expect?”

“Something soft and shimmery and golden or something.”

“Ahhh,” He says. “This is a special cloak. It is not fake, like you thought. (How did He know she was thinking that?) It changes with your mood. People can see what you’re feeling according to what color and shape it is. Bitterness hid the real you. You are now free to feel what you feel and enjoy the shifting and changing inside. It’s the beginning of Joy.”

“I’m related to Joy?” she exclaims.

“Yes, Little Flower. You may run along now to the castle, if you wish, and see her.”

The three Guardians are giggling and racing around and poking their heads through the openings in the turret. Jesus laughs with them. “Ready for your new names?” He calls.

They stampede down the stairs, nearly tripping over their new garments. These might take some getting used to, they think.

They line up in a row in front of Jesus, panting.

“You,” He declares, pointing to Resentment, “are Forgiveness.”

“And you, Anger, are Guardian.”

“And you, Bitterness, shall be called Sweetness.”

“Sweet! Can I have some candy? Preferably bittersweet chocolate?”

Jesus laughs. “Go on with you. There’s some in your drawer in your quarters upstairs.”

Forgiveness kneels before Jesus. “Jesus, I’m sorry for staying away from You so long. I’m sorry I held Little Emotion captive.”

“Ah, dear child, you are already forgiven. I took that for you two thousand years ago. Welcome home! And thank you for trying to help. I appreciate that.”

“I like Your way better, though, Jesus. Thank You.”

“Guardian!” He commands. “Step forward please.”

Anger Guardian bows his head, ashamed of his role in this little drama.

Jesus kneels, lifts his chin, and looks him in the eyes. “You did your job the best you knew how. There is no shame in that. Thank you for doing your part to protect Emotion. Are you willing to try My way now?”

“Of course, Jesus! It would be foolish to go back to my former life.”

Jesus nods sadly, “Yes it would. But I have a feeling you might change your mind under different circumstances. When you’re in the thick of the battle, you might resort to your old cloak again. But I promise to be there with you. As soon as you realize you’re doing that, I’ll be right there to exchange cloaks again for you if you wish. All you have to do is ask.”

“I’ll try to remember. I like Your way better than mine.”

Guardian bows to his Lord. “I’m still feeling bad.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know . . . I don’t like me very much when I use the old cloak. It’s not who You made me to be.”

“You’re not? Did you know I get angry sometimes?”

Guardian’s head pops up. “Really? You!? But I thought we weren’t supposed to use that cloak.”

“Oh no, my child. I don’t use that one. I use the one I gave you. I created you for a reason. You are a protector, a guardian. Your new Anger Cloak is for defending others who need it. When you defend yourself with the old cloak, you hide yourself from Me. When you defend yourself or others with your new cloak, you become strong and effective in battle.”

Guardian scratches his head. “I have to think about that,” he says. “How will I know which cloak I’m wearing?”

“They look quite different, don’t you think? But if you’re confused, just check with Little Flower. She’ll help you decide, for she can tell the difference. The old cloak will start squeezing her, and she’ll begin to feel restricted again. I suspect she’ll let you know when that happens,” He says with a wink.

“I love you, Jesus. And thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I love you too.”

The Evangelism Thing

Journal 2005

Since birth, I ate, drank, slept, and absorbed evangelism in all my pores. I watched my parents and other missionaries plant churches in Africa. I read missionary biographies including the exploits of the Apostle Paul, and I tried to obey the Great Commission and share my faith with every stranger on my path. Though my heart was in the right place, however, my actions were paste jewelry.

Along with the injunction to share the Good News, I collected some lies. All these years, I’ve carried around a deflated, stretched-out balloon. The Lord offers me a colorful hot air balloon instead, but when I climb in, I can’t seem to let go of that useless piece of latex. I need to go back to where it first inflated.

I dedicated my life to missionary service in Grade 6, so when someone asked, “What if God called you to stay in the States,” I emphatically replied, “He wouldn’t!” It’s a little ironic how many times people have declared, “I’ll go anywhere, Lord, except . . .,” and usually they fill in the blank with “Africa.” Yet I could not face my own “What if” and fill in “America.”

And so, Lord, I hand you my pride and arrogance. That little balloon, held at arm’s length in my sixth-grade hand, stood for the call to evangelism, to missionary service. I should have placed that balloon in my heart and sought HIM instead, where He could fill it with His Spirit.

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I drop that melted balloon in the trash and soar with God, wherever His Spirit takes me. There’s no climbing out of this craft. I’m here now, and here’s where I plan to stay, and unless we land somewhere else, it’s safest in the center of the basket.

A 2022 Update. God is not limited by the choices we make, our deflated dreams, or even our emotion-laden vows. From my more mature perspective today high in the air, I can see the route He took to bring me to the fulfillment of His dreams for me, and I am at peace.

The Death

Something died inside

The day he said, “Do not.”

The end of a dream,

The end of her world,

Joy and light slipped into oblivion,

Trampled under the heavy-footed boot of disdain.

She did not cry,

No tears were shed,

Only a sorrow too deep for words.

A loss,

A mourning.

Her precious gem,

Her jewel,

So carefully crafted, loved and cherished,

Crushed beneath his careless words.

Dead, gone, to be no more . . .

A vow? Perhaps.

She’d never do that again—

Not cast her pearl before the swine—

Just keep it to herself,

Not to be shared with him.

What next?

Pile high the dreams on funeral byre

And let them float on down the stream.

Released.

Good-bye.

Empty-handed, return.

Now what?

Wait.

Hold your apron, Maiden,

And let the Master

Fill your skirts with gold,

Solid, precious, overflowing stones of worth.

No man can crush My words.

They’re not gone, forgotten, disappeared—

They’re there within your heart!

Journal April 2, 2005. A memory healed.

Atlas and Ant Bites

Journal 2005.

I had a God-orchestrated event today. A lady in upstate New York somehow found my name on the Internet and called me about her suicidal daughter who had just moved to our town. The young lady had set the date to take her life and was putting her affairs in order. I gave the mom our local suicide hotline number, the name of a counseling center in town, and permission to pass along my phone number. Four hours later, the daughter called me. We talked and prayed for almost two hours. At the end or our session, with hope in her voice, she said about her suicide date: “Jesus says it’s about life, not death.” Wahoo!

Now here’s the subtle irony. God orchestrated the entire event. All I did was pray and God showed up. He even gave me the gifts and training to know what to do, but Satan’s little lies whispered in my ear, “See what you did? You just saved a life! Aren’t you good?”

Immediately I recognize the voice of pride. I’m Atlas, brawny enough to hold up the world, while others are puny little ants crawling on its surface. [How sick is that!?] Soon those biting ants swarm over my arms and legs, and when I set the “world” down so I can scratch, I discover I’m not balancing it after all. There’s a power source, an air current beneath, making it twirl and dance. I had actually been blocking the airflow when I stepped under the sphere. Sheepishly, I realize the orb is not the world after all, but a toddler-sized, lightweight beach ball.

Now what to do with the ant bites? I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins . . .”

Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? (Isa. 40:13 NIV)

It’s laughable to think we can counsel each other—apart from God’s wisdom. And even more preposterous to think we could counsel God.

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