Saturday, December 15, 2012


In this season of watching for the Light of the world to come, I've been reading some beautiful imagery of how the Light may appear. As I've studied the coming of the peace of our Lord, I've encountered again these passages that speak to us, now, specifically.
I will leave this post short, not so you may finish reading it quickly, but so you may read it repeatedly.

Isaiah 52:7
How beautiful on the mountains

    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”

Isaiah 54:10
Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

Monday, October 29, 2012

first gift

When I was a child, had this feeling that inanimate objects were often conscious, with feelings and such. I realized most adults would scoff at the idea, but I figured it was still best to act accordingly. This fact explains the bright green and orange canvas shoes I told my parents to buy, since I figured they were so ugly no one else would want them. It also explains a habit I had when coloring. I recall, on more than one occasion, coloring things in a certain order. I "brought to life" all the background of coloring book pictures before finally coloring the main subject's body. Last of all, I colored his eyes, so he could be presented with the glorious sight all at once. I had colored his world! I was presenting him with the most amazing gift he had ever seen.

Our family has worked all summer to try to make something beautiful out of the chaotic property we inherited when we purchased the lot adjacent to our house. We've worked to turn a gravel drive used to work on cars (complete with various odd parts left from previous owners) into a beautiful garden with a hill (which takes serious effort when you live in a midwestern town) and a stream flowing through it. We want to be able to have a place to rest and enjoy. We want our young children to be able to roam through it, eat the food from it, play in it, work in it, and enjoy it with us. It's like our own messy microcosm of The Garden.

This fact is what immediately came to mind on a recent study of the creation story in Genesis. God took all this time and effort to make a beautiful place for us out of the chaos. He made skies, lands, desserts, mountains, plains, and all the plants and animals that occupy them. He planted a beautiful garden with rivers flowing through it. He got everything just right and then placed us there. He wanted us to be able roam through it, eat the food from it, play in it, work in it, and enjoy it with Him. It was a place to rest from His work and enjoy creation with us.

As humans do, we thought we could figure out the best use of the gift on our own. We broke the garden. (This fact is not lost on my daughter, who is human and likes to dismantle our stream bed in her effort to make the rocks lining it "clean." Even more parallel, she likes to pick all the apples we specifically tell her not to pick...yet.) Would that we would have instead consulted Him! But God had given us all this beauty to do with as we pleased, whether it pleased Him or not. He enjoyed all He had done, happy to have presented His children with this wonderful gift.


Though small and cute in comparison, these are the ways I have of relating to how God might have felt at creation. As a child and now as an adult, there are things I've made to present to someone else that are deeply meaningful to me. Maybe you have those sorts of things, too. We spend a our time and resources making something that tells of who we are and we give it to or enjoy it with someone else. We anticipate their response because we know we're presenting them with a good gift. But God's first gift is not very much like those things, firstly due to issues of scale. The world is vast; things we make generally are not. God's first gift to us is also different in kind. The things we make are not original; they are rearrangements or combinations of other things we have or found. But God made living things along with everything needed for their sustenance and ours.

I recently took a break from making my own small
curving stream to enjoy one a little more majestic. 

Because of these great differences in kind and scale of the masterpiece presented, reverent reflection is required. The stakes involved in this gift receiving are much higher. We may rightfully be in awe if VanGogh had presented us with one of his paintings, but a much more serious, joyful, and awe-filled response is required with the presentation of an entire working planet (or even just our corner of it) along with its other inhabitants. What is an appropriate response from us, God's children, upon being presented with this gift and its requisite responsibility?

There is, perhaps, an array of potential responses to such an extravagant gift. Like my three-year-old, we can respond by dismantling in an effort to help it conform to our idea of "good." As the crowning work on our page of the coloring book, we could remain speechless about the matter. Or we could mutter a quick "Thanks," before tearing through our page in a rush to get to what lies beneath. We could spend time talking about it with God. We could accept the invitation to enjoy and extend the invitation to others. We could spend some time in awe. We could stand forever in fear and trembling. Someone just colored our eyes. How, then, shall we live?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

a future and a hope


     It can seem that it's all we have these days. Sometimes, we feel kind of ashamed to admit to having it. Isn't it naive in the face of the numbers? Do we not know that unemployment in Appalachia is up, that health is worse than the national average, that diplomas are more scarce, that people continue to move away? But something in us refuses to give up hope. We have to hope that the world will be better for our children. We have to hope that we will figure out solutions to these problems. We have to hope that the numbers don't tell the whole story.

     Hope. It is one of the things that "remains." Like faith and love, it cannot be forcibly taken away from us, no matter what the circumstances. It's as though a desire for Hope was put into the very fabric of our being. We put out our antennas, straining to pick up even a faint signal of it. We're desperate for Hope. We like to think hope is good, no matter what. But if we are concerned for souls, we have to ask, "Where have our friends, our families, and our neighbors placed their hope?" And if we are serious believers ourselves, we have also to ask, "Where am I putting my hope?"

      It is worth noting that we often put our hope in the past. We see our past as our main reason to hope. We in the mountains do have a proud heritage, rich in family, beauty, diversity, wealth, and local pride. But hope in the past is not proper hope. It is simply not fitting to hope for what was past. We may, of course, hope for some of the good things of the past to happen again. But if we linger too long hoping only to re-live what was, we will find that we are not striving at all, only remembering.

      We see that some of us put our hope in other people. Very few of us these days claim to hope in something like "the good of humanity," because we know (from the Bible and from our own experience) that the human race is not good. We people make a lot of bad choices. However, for some reason, when enough not-good people get together, we often find reason to hope in them and what they're doing.
      The groups of people in which one decides to hope is often polarizing. Right now in our nation, so much talk is of two different groups: those who put their trust in the group of broken people called Government and those who put their trust in the group of broken people called Business. That these groups (the Government and Business) are so often intermingled doesn't matter to the debate most of the time. People love to argue over which group can solve our most pressing problems. This is true on both a national and a local scale. In my home, for instance, there is heated debate about whether Tourism (presumably led by the Government, followed by Business) or Coal (presumably led by Business and backed by Government) is the lead-runner for the future of the area.

      However, we know that, deep down, our hope is not really in CEOs and legislators. If asked, I wager that most of us would say we wouldn't trust them to reliably do the good and the right with anything! And by "anything," we really mean...our money. Money is the common thread in the local debate over a Tourism- or Coal-led future. Both assume our only hope is in money, and in getting more of it. If we only had more money, our towns and our people could get more or this or better of that. And we have to ask ourselves, "Is that really the Hope of my future?"

      As Christians, then, we shrink back and repent. We ask God to change our minds and our thinking because we know that our only Hope is in God, who made the mountains and all who have ever lived and worked in them. We know we are not to set our hearts on Money. God knows what we need and He is able to supply it as we follow Him. We just need to put Him first. But how do we put God first when we think about the well-being of mountain communities? How do we put God first when talking with other people about coal, politics, money, creation, and the future of mountain communities?

      First, let us not shrink back from the current need for correct, living Hope in the face of the challenges before us. There are temptations everywhere, signs trying to make us think that this or that is really our hope and our future. But we must look to God, who has promised to give us both a Hope and a Future. We can put God first by asking for His thoughts on the matter. We can put God first by listening. We ought to ask Him about the story that is unfolding in the life of our communities. What has He brought us from and what is He taking us to?
      The answer is not merely "from earth to heaven," for scripture teaches that the God who is the God of forever is also the God of Today. Our hope is not merely in heaven, but in God, who is the God of both heaven and earth, the past, the future, and the present. He does not have us here to merely wait until He calls us home; He has us, His Body, here for such a time as this. Therefore, we need to ask Him for specific wisdom. How has His plan been unfolding until now? What is He wanting to do with our communities now? What is His vision of the future of the people and place of the mountains?

      So we turn to the One who is our only Hope to ask Him about the future and the hope He has planned for us, our friends and neighbors, our communities, and our land. What good things has God planned to do here? What good tools and abilities has He given us to use? What does God have to say about our current statistics, the declining business, population, and health in the place we call home? Is there any collective sin of which we need to repent?  Does He want to heal the people and the land? Is there any part of His work that He would give us the pleasure of sharing? How has He blessed us to be a blessing to others?

      I would challenge us to sit down with our family and friends, our brothers and sisters in Jesus's famly, and ask some of these questions together. Let's see what God will do.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wild God

I like to hear God in nature. Today, I came outside to have some quiet time in my own back yard. After 6 years of work, it's starting to become somewhere that looks kind of nice. Birds sing in the shade tree as cars without mufflers drive outside the fence. The grass in the yard more or less stops at its borders now. The rock ledge I built holds back the dirt I shoveled, the compost I made, and the peat moss I trucked in. It makes a nice bed for the raspberries, which are pushing their borders. The herbs look nice and have already been supplying some freshness in my kitchen. The chives are in bloom right beside the well-placed peonies. There's an empty space waiting for more fruit bushes. It looks like I'll need to do some weeding there, first. I hope to put a prayer garden in the back corner in the next couple of years. Maybe I'll even get a dogwood to grow back there. So far, I just haven't been able to get it to happen.

And then I get disgusted with myself. I came out here to hear from God, but here I am, looking at all the cool stuff I've done and thinking about all the work ahead that justifies my existence. I, mine, me. (Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!) My yard is creation thoroughly subdued. Even the animals are (somewhat) under my control. I need to get out of here sometimes.

God is not tame. He doesn't conform to my idea of order. God is wild. And violent. And beautiful. In the wild mountains, I impose no quaint rock wall, suggesting that plants may grow up to it but no farther. They are God's work and He didn't ask my opinion when He made them. The wind blows the trees and it causes a ruckus. The animals there are not tame. They eat each other! God allows for much more violence than I'm comfortable with; this is true in the mountains and everywhere. But there is a difference in the mountains: I can see how it is all part of something overarching and particularly beautiful. I cannot always see that in my own back yard. It's too small to make sense. In the mountains, I see a complete work of Someone else, whose plan I cannot fathom. They provide a more accurate scale of my size in the universe, even if it's only slightly more accurate. They could swallow me whole. If the rocks cry out, I'm in trouble. If I meet a bear, well, let's hope I don't. God didn't put railings on the cliffs. It's beautiful and dangerous out there.

At the same time, God feels so near there. He doesn't need me, but He invites me in, anyway. He shows me His vast inner room, filled with some of His most prized works of art. I like to sing that old hymn sometimes about walking with God in the garden, but it's not really talking together about my small accomplishments that I long for. I long to see His face -- to see His image, His workmanship, His splendor. I long to be reminded that I need not talk so much, but only to listen and watch and break out in song or stunned silence. I didn't even know to ask for such beauty as I behold there. I couldn't have planned it. But God has heard me before I've opened my mouth. Even the pyramids in all their splendor aren't so well-adorned.

The wild mountains give me perspective. They remind me that the world is not up to me. They tell me it's not all about the work of my hands, but a wild God who loves me, who works everything out for His glory, and who wants to invite me in. Praise be to God!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Eagles Soar on the Winds of Change

I asked if the mountains had made their way into anyone's testimony and received this writing from Melissa Gilbert, who grew up in the mountains of Kentucky. Thank you for sharing, Melissa!

Perched on a mountaintop, nature’s song whispering through the leaves is where I truly found God. As a child, I had been baptized like a good little girl, I went to Wednesday night youth group meetings, and my bottom was firmly planted in the church pew on Sunday mornings, but I did not truly know God until that warm summer day sitting on a mountaintop in quiet reflection.

My teenage years were typical. I excelled in school, but I was not accepted by the “high society” of the teen social structure until my junior year of high school. That year was an amazing adventure. I had left behind the abusive relationship and bad choices that marred my sophomore year. I knew my family was struggling with worry since my dad’s company had been laying off employees every month. Regardless, at the end of my junior year, I eagerly awaited the start of my senior year anticipating a whirlwind of social activity, preparation for college, and boys!

My whole world was turned upside down when my parents told me that Arch was closing and my dad had to find another job. My dad had worked in the mines since he was a teen himself. He planned to retire with the company, but they were closing their doors shutting out dozens of hard working employees. I asked myself how God could let that happen to my family. We were good Christians. We were good people. We did not deserve for God to take away our home, our lives, and my senior year experience! I was angry. I was hurt. I was scared.

I cried when my parents told me that my dad had found a job and that we were moving to the “big city” of Charlotte, NC. I would be leaving behind everything I had ever known. Little did I know that while I called the mountains home, there was a big world waiting out there that God wanted me to experience. In a few short weeks, I would be packing my things, saying goodbye to my friends, and driving through the night to our new home. As a typical teen, I certainly showed my displeasure and stormed out the front door.

This particular day I decided I needed to get away from it all and headed for the winding road that stretched a few short feet from the Kentucky-Virginia border. I parked my car and settled onto a large rock overlooking the valley below. The view was breathtaking. I sat there for a very long time, the warm summer air moving against my skin, wildlife rustling in the trees. Occasionally a car drove past with the windows down and the radio on, but for the most part, I sat in silence.

I don’t know what I had hoped to find sitting there, but what I found was something amazing, priceless, and precious. I found God. I felt a sense of peace envelope me, a warmth on my skin to melt the chill around my heart. I had spent years looking for God in a pulpit, amidst the pews of the church, or hidden within a pastor’s sermon. But, at that moment I finally realized that God was more than a church or a preacher-man. God was the mountain I sat upon, the birds I heard singing in the skies, and the very air that filled my lungs. I thought for a fleeting moment that leaving the mountains would mean leaving God, but I felt his reassurance that whether I was in the mountains or on the shore of the sea that I was looking to the same sky and the same God would be there to comfort me.

It has been a while since that moment of understanding, but I still recall the scent of the air, the whisper of God’s voice on the wind, and the sense of peace I felt as I drove back down the mountain to tell my mom and dad, “I’m ready.”


You can share your story here, too. Just leave a comment and I'll be happy to get in touch with you!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

what the Architect had in mind

“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” – Acts 17:26-27

I grew up in a small coal town called Benham, Kentucky. My hometown itself is evidence that when God said people should inhabit the whole earth, he meant all the way into the nooks and crannies. Benham is tucked away in the valley at the foot of Black Mountain.

I spent the first part of my childhood attending one of the churches in the area. It was full of warm smiles and pats on the back and men who gave you candy if you smiled at them. The building was enormous, at least to me. The sanctuary was vast and tall enough to hold all the animals of Noah’s ark, I would bet. My idea was reinforced by the particular slope of the wooden roof that resembled the hull of an ark. I would often think about that Sunday school lesson during sermons. I would lay my head on my mom’s lap, replacing all but eight of us humans with animals large and small. On rainy Sundays, I could imagine how it would have sounded in the ark as the rain beat on the roof. Being inside that ark of a building let you know that, no matter what was going on or being swept away out there, you had been counted among those being saved inside.

I wonder if that’s what the architect had in mind.

Safe from whatever was going on outside that ark, I understood we had certain duties inside. I particularly remember hearing talk about how if people don’t praise God, the rocks will cry out. Maybe it was a line in a song. I don’t remember that idea because it was brought up frequently, but rather because the imagery left such an impression on me.

Just down the road between my house and the church, there was a great big rock face where the mountain had been cut deep to make a road. Both ends of the road around that bend were marked: “FALLEN ROCK ZONE.” Those were the rocks I figured on disturbing if we left off singing some Sunday. I was at once curious and terrified at the thought of what those rocks would sound like. I was also sad because I figured I’d never know either way, since I’d be in church and the rocks were a couple miles away.

Not all of us read the Bible onto our immediate landscape as literally as I did as a child. However, our landscapes are all mixed in with the way we think about God. Is that what the Architect had in mind?

We don’t have to wonder; the Bible says it’s so. He has set a time and a place so that this group of us could identify as His Mountain People. He “set these exact places where we should live” so that we could “reach out for Him and find Him.” And so many of us have.

What is it about life in these nooks and crannies that causes us to want to reach and find God? What do you think the Architect had in mind when He designed Appalachia? Did the way God made the place you live make its way into your testimony? If you have a story about it, let me know.


I will be happy to edit and post your stories here. Please comment if you are interested in sharing how God's creative work has affected your relationship with Him.