The Lesson of Second Place

Second place.

In high school, I finished second in my graduating class. And while that may seem like an accomplishment, and I was indeed proud of it– still, it was second place. Not first.

In college, I auditioned to be an emcee for a special show. I encouraged my roommate to also audition, who felt insecure. Guess what? She got the part! I was happy for her- she did a fantastic job.

But I felt also that I had failed.

God used those circumstances, and similar ones afterward, to draw me closer to him.

What was he teaching me? That failures more often define our character than success. That coming second (or third, or fourth, or last) has just as much value as being first. That new hope and new life come through the difficult tunnel of hardship and failure.

After all, God reminded me that he chose a man with a stutter to be his spokesperson (Moses.). He chose a childless couple to be the father of a new nation (Abraham and Sarah), and blessed them with a child in their old age. God chose a barren woman (Hannah) to have a child (Samuel), who became a prophet, and anointed David as King. He chose Rahab, a prostitute, through which the lineage of Christ would come. Rahab’s son was Boaz, Boaz married Ruth, (a Moabite woman), and their son Jesse would be the father of David (who was crowned King). Wow. What a story!

Consistently, the Lord used the least of these. And consistently, it is through trials and hardship that I see and experience attributes of God I might not otherwise have known.

Would I know His comfort if I had never any need of it?
Would I know His grace if I had never any need of it?
Would I know His mercy if I had never any need of it?

And that which gives me need are the harder experiences of life.

In fact, the Lord used the humblest of means to bring his message of hope and grace to the world– through an infant born in a humble manger. Jesus’ life was simple, not fancy and full of worldly success. From the beginning, the message is that there is more to life than succeeding, winning, being first, or being the best.

So that is where the pursuit leads– to the message that truth and fulfillment cannot be found in the temporal circumstances in our world, but in the arms of Grace.

Jesus was not first. He chose to be the last.
Being last, in fact, resembles his likeness more than being first, the best, or winsome, or handsome or beautiful. What characterized his life was this: forgetting himself and putting himself last to pursue the higher calling of the One who called him.

Being second, or third, or last… it has significance and meaning. It means I am in the same place as Jesus, as his co-heir, as an adopted son… a beautiful place to be.


Sharing with The High Calling’s community linkup on finding new life.
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Midnight Prayer

Midnight Prayer

It is not simply
For evening breeze,

Dark pond, lustrous inky
Sky, hum of crickets,

Cool grass, evensong
Of creatures, that she

Emerges. It is the lure
Of soul awakening,

Nudging, prodding,
Drawing her into depths

Visible only at night. She
Roams moon-soaked fields,

Slips in the swirling river,
As if caught in a ghost

Story of a tragic lost love.
Awakened from death

She finds herself
Where she started–

On bloody knees, halfway
Between dusk and dawn.

{the power of prayer}
{soul awakening from death}

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Nothing on Earth


If it were not for the promise he gave to make all things new, she would see no hope. In all the wanderings of her heart, she kept this promise near.

When her mistakes brought her to her knees, and she hung her head in shame, he made her heart new, taking the pain upon himself, so he could grant her a second chance. Or a third.

When others had left and forsaken her, when she found herself alone, she remembered: he was there. With each calling of her soul, he was listening. And he put a new song in her heart, a new song of hope.

When the days seemed to cycle like a never-ending train, he’d give her something new to look forward to: a new sunset, a new flower, a new smile from a stranger.

His love never grew old. It was like a fresh sunrise. His pursuit of her was relentless, abiding, ceaseless. He never grew tired or weary. Nothing new shocked or surprised him or made him run away.  She could count on him; he possessed a trustworthiness, a dependability that was as steady as the seasons he himself had ordained. Nothing on earth could compare.

Love never grew old for him… and it was always new for her.


Posting this for Five Minute Friday ; this week the writing prompt is “New”. Click the link to read more or to add your own.

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Lessons from the Tree Maker

I love trees and I love autumn.


The autumn tree is a glorious vision, with its rich colors and striking beauty. Indeed, don’t we travel for miles to enjoy the spectacular view of an autumn landscape?

After a season of rich green, the autumn tree bursts forth in glorious color, and shows a different face of beauty. As temperatures cool, the leaves transform into striking hues which glow in the sun. But we have to catch the show at the right time. The window is short. A week too late, and the leaves could be gone, fallen to the ground in a dusty heap.

Trees in summer remind me of youth– lush, lively, perky. Trees of autumn remind me of  older ones who show off their wisdom and knowledge through their changing colors, like crowning acts of their lives. If autumn is the show, summer is the dress rehearsal. But then the glory of the autumn tree dies all too soon, and its colors fade and its leaves drop dead to the ground.

Yet the tree has not died.

In the wake of approaching bitter winter winds, ice, and blanketing snow, the tree shows off its glory, relinquishes its glimmering coat… and then the snows fall.

I wonder… why do the leaves keep such glorious color for only a short time? Why do the trees lose their magnificent crown, drop their jewels, just before the onslaught of bitter and brutal cold? Why then, just before winter? Isn’t this when they need their beautiful wrap of red, gold or yellow the most?  And isn’t winter when I long to see color the most, too- during the long dark months when I only see white, gray or brown?

After some seasons spent under the branches, I hear the answer of the Tree Maker, whispering to my soul:

 “The trees willingly give up their beauty, their protective coats, and accept the storm that is coming. They stand ready to face the cold and lonely winter. Did you notice that their glory shines brightest before succumbing to death?

They shine, and then give up themselves to me, surrender their leaves– and only a skeleton remains for the long winter season. Do you notice how their branches lift up to me, like hands in praise? The snows fall, but then in spring, they are born again with new life!”

As I ponder this further, the Tree Maker teaches me the following:

Lesson One: When I give back to God something I’m holding onto, there is a beauty to that letting go. When I die to myself, there is a beauty in that death. God’s glory will shine during that season. The autumn leaves that glow, and then die, exemplify the beauty of letting go.

Lesson Two: There are cycles and seasons in life. The tree reminds me that spring will come after winter, as trite as that sounds. The trees do not die in the winter; they let go of their coat, and God protects them during that long harsh season. After some years, the trees grow into magnificent living beauties. Surviving the winter is part of the process, and a part of the environment they must live with where they are planted.  During one season they bear fruit, in another season, the seeds fall and lie dormant in the ground, but the seeds do not die in the winter, either. If I am facing a winter, He is planting and planning new growth in my life; cultivating the growth of my spirit. Winter is but a season, not a lifelong forecast.

Lesson Three: In the whirlwind of life, the tree is firmly planted. It may sway in the wind, but it will not come out of the ground. Its roots are firmly established. The peace, the place of rest, amidst seasons, the bitter winter, and the whirlwind of life, is found in God: “Return to your rest, O my soul, For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Psalm 116:7. As time goes on, and I live through more cycles of winter and thaw, cold and heat, calm and wind, I can remind myself that abiding with Him makes for deeper roots.

Quite a lesson from the Tree Maker.

And thankful for what He teaches me, through His beautiful creation of trees, and through my favorite season.


 Are you sensing that you need to surrender something in your life? How can “holding on” deter spiritual growth? What other lessons of the season might the Tree Maker be teaching you?

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The God Who Sees


photo credit: my daughter

photo credit: my daughter


He is El Roi, the God who sees. He sees you, He sees me, and that is something I need to know. I need to know that. I need to know that God is writing my story… and He is writing yours.

Sometimes, actually often, I can’t see the end or even know where all of this is going. Sometimes, it feels depressing to be caught in a rut. Sometimes, it is tempting to quit. Sometimes, life is too much. Sometimes, the right thing seems like the wrong thing.

But the thing is, He is here.

And we get to decide. I get to decide. The way out of the rut is to take the focus off myself and do something for something else. Keep pressing on.

In every life, there is Someone who cares. Each moment, each detail, is Seen. Each gap, each chasm, is Crossed. Each longing is Fulfilled. Each pain is Healed. God is the Master of the Opposites. Where would be the Hope, without God? That, in itself, is Enough.

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The Weapon I Carry

I have carried a machete.

Maybe you have, too.

We all possess one, a weapon of mass destruction.

Or of immeasurable hope.

It’s called the tongue.

We have seen, in recent memory, unimaginable horrors in our world.  Stalin and his regime. Nazi death camps. The genocide in Rwanda. The atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. Today, no one needs to be reminded of ISIS. And this is not a comprehensive list.

I am in no way seeking to diminish the despicable and evil of the atrocities listed above, which are shocking and horrifying. The day these acts cease to shock us would be unimaginable itself. May that never be.

As followers of the Word, we recognize the power of the Word. To be a person who follows after the Living Word, who longs to walk along this path, means that the words I utter must also align with his character… my words must be of words resurrected—not words of flesh, but words born of the spirit, words inspired by Holy Writ and Holy Spirit, having been funneled through the sieve of His word. How am I doing? Are my words passing the test? How are you doing?

Words kill, words give life;  they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. Proverbs 18:21 The Message

The tongue has the power of life and death; and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21 NIV

This verse pierces the place where the choice is made to offer life or death through the words of the tongue. This weapon I was born with, my tongue, can be used to destroy or to build. What comes out in the form of words has this kind of giving power… and it will either be the one or the other.

Moreover, I’ll have to eat whatever I say. “How is the food tasting?” I think to myself. Is it sweet? Refreshing? Healthy? Bitter? Rotten? Am I choking? Gulping? Can I swallow it?

This is some kind of power I’m wielding, when I choose to use my voice… a power so loud I can almost hear the thunder rolling behind it. My desire is to remember to ask myself, “Is it power harnessed, disciplined, carefully wielded, tamed, appropriate for the situation? Or subject to the passion, fury, or sorrow of the moment?”

How many words of love and life have brought healing and hope to those in need of them? Therein lies the power of life, with words that restore, heal, offer hope, help, encouragement, words brimming with purpose and love. Since He is the source of Love, sharing words of love is the sharing of Him… any life-giving word, offering seed of hope, any substance of something solid, is the spoken manifestation of Him, a promise of fruit to be harvested, and a reflection of His glory. He won’t let that word come back void.

How many relationships have been destroyed, how many hearts broken, spirits crushed, because of words? Therein lies the power of death and destruction— in the carnage of dying relationships, broken hearts, crushed hopes, shattered dreams, burned reputations, and time lost. And we who inhabit this earth walk around stung, maimed, and amputated. The world is hurting full of word-cut amputees.

I know I’ve contributed to the mess. I stand on both sides, as one who has been amputated and one who has also wielded the knife.

But doesn’t this describe us all? Have you hurt others with your words, truncating their hope? crushing their spirit? hurting and wounding like a scythe? Haven’t you also been wounded, cut deeply by the words tossed at you?

There is hope to move beyond the carnage. While I regret past words and am ashamed of them, I don’t dwell there, I repent as honestly as my deceitful heart can, turn away, seek forgiveness and draw closer to Love. The drawing closer to Love transforms me from the inside-out, so that what flows from the inward is more of the form of Love-giving speech, sounding more like the master than myself. Oh no, I’ve not arrived, but I’m on the road and Love is what gives me any kind of power to choose the better word, in any circumstance. Gradually new limbs are replaced, and hope comes alive in me, like a season of spring, which is something only possible in the realm of the healing words of God, but not by dwelling in the words of the flesh. The Word of God is not subject to the physical laws at work in this world, so new growth, hope, new life, is possible, out of death.

This is the hope and life we have to offer in a world filled of those wounded and bleeding, including ourselves. We, the walking creatures of the Way, we the people of the resurrection, we have hope, and we have life, the Living Word, living inside of us. Life-giving, pulsing, flowing, rich, full of the breath of God, are the words we can offer to a world of word-cut amputees, words of hope for new limbs, new hopes, new dreams, new life.

Violence begins in the heart, in each one of us. Let us choose not to contribute to the mess.

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Caroline (a poem)



She threw her pearls like water, a chain of droplets
Stuck in a moment of time
Caught by the next passerby, the next wave of sunshine
Don’t pause for a second because then the parade
will have passed. This she knew, all too well.
She swung her dress, circle after circle—
When the carousel stopped, she found them,
scattered about the ground, like fine cheese;
like herself.
“It’s what happens,” they said, and she decided
to talk about it.
She now wears a chain of mirrored beads, gems glistening
in the sun’s rays, reflecting images of others circling by.



This piece was inspired by a photo found here at Tweetspeak poetry and submitted for their Photoplay Prompt.


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