Unhealthy relationships aren’t a new thing.

A twelve-year-old boy is laying under a tree, dying of thirst. Not figuratively, not like a kid who has been playing baseball with his friends.

He’s dying.

On the runHis mother is 30 yards away, waiting for him to die, sure that she will die next. If they were at the hospital, they would be hooked to IVs in an instant, fluids flowing into their bodies, saving their lives.

But they aren’t here and they aren’t now. Hagar and Ishmael are in the desert in the old days. The way old days. Four thousand years ago.

They were in the desert without water because Abraham sort of trusted God, but lacked wisdom.

He had sent his son and his son’s mother into the wilderness with a canteen and a backpack of food. Not enough to get anywhere, really. Only enough to get them away from the tents.


The story before this is a reminder that great people, all people, do foolish things.

Abraham and Sarah had heard God promise them that they would have a son. But they were old. Sarah had passed menopause decades before. But Sarah had heard about surrogate pregnancy. It made perfect sense.  “Have sex with Hagar,” she said. “Because Hagar’s my servant, if she has a baby it will count as mine.” So Abraham did and Hagar was with child.

Sarah was horrible to Hagar. And Abraham wasn’t any help. But God made promises to Hagar. And Hagar and Abraham had a son, Ishmael.

He wasn’t the son of the promise. He was the son of the scheme. The son of not quite enough faith. The son of “let’s not wait to see how God works this out, let’s make our own plan and call it God’s.”

Then Sarah got pregnant. And Isaac was born.

I don’t know enough about their culture to know how teasing worked. Ishmael may have been normal, teasing his younger half-brother. But that’s not how Sarah saw it. She saw it as competition. She was the mother of the promise, and she again was wanting action. She told Abraham to get rid of “that slave woman.”

Abraham seems to be genuinely torn. He had been part of raising Ishmael. He’s been spending time with him, teaching him about the family business. For all Abraham had known, this was the son God had provided. And now Sarah wants him gone.

But God says, “I will care for him, you can let him go.” And Abraham did.

But as we saw at the beginning of our story, Abraham didn’t provide much food or water or direction. Hagar and Ishmael were dying.

And then God.

God spoke to Hagar. He encouraged her. He told her that the promise of blessing did extend to Ishmael. He told her that Ishmael would become a nation, too. And he opened her eyes to see a well that was near.

They survived. Ishmael grew up. Hagar raised him as a single mother. We know this because she’s the one who found him a wife, not Abraham. Back from her homeland, from Egypt. He became an archer, not a shepherd like his father, or his brother.

From Genesis 16 and 21.


The hospital occupancy rate was down. Just 79% at 5 am.

I’m not sure what to make of that.

It’s great news, if it means that everyone is healthy and not in need of medical treatment. But one of the conversations that day was with someone who said, “I’m still upset with myself that I didn’t make my spouse come in sooner. The doc said 24 hours more and it would have been too late.” So it’s possible that the census is low because people are resisting the concern from others that could save a life.

And it’s irrelevant news because each of the 79% is still a person who may need a conversation, who may need some affirmation.

I’m thinking a lot about how misleading percentages and statistics are for those of us who offer care one person at a time. Which includes every parent, every spouse, every child, every friend.

It’s possible, I suppose to create a preoccupancy rate which measures the amount of our mind that’s devoted to conversations with our kids. In that case, 79% would mean that we were focusing on the conversation just over 20% of the time.

But mostly, our devotion to the well-being of those we care about is less about numbers and more about attending to them.

IMG_0033In the text for Sunday, Jesus talked about the way that God pays attention to sparrows. You don’t have to know all about the temple economy of his day to know that sparrows are plentiful, with muted colors and an almost boring resilience. Which doesn’t reduce their value in God’s eyes.

Having those characteristics doesn’t reduce our value to him either.

We’re 100% important 100% of the time, all together and each by each.


My friend Jason is a tree guy. He says that trees pursue growth.

The crabapple tree in our front yard found the sewer line a few years ago. Apparently, we have good sewage, at least from the perspective of crabapple trees. The roots pursued growth. So much so that  in the last four years, we spent more on having the line cleaned out that we spent on vacation.

That may say something about our limited vacationing. On the other hand, when half of the money is going to the cleanout company, a solution seems necessary.

On Saturday, we cut down our tree.


It has been part of our family for the two decades we have lived in the house. It has been the backdrop for family photos at moments we want to remember. And, honestly, probably in some we want to forget. It has been the screen between our front window and the street, allowing us to hide a little from what is going on out there.

But in the tension between sentiment and sediment, the tree lost.

It would be easy to say, “If the original owners had thought about where the sewer line was, the tree would have been six feet north and would still be growing.” But trees pursue growth. So it was a matter of time.

It does make think about the first song in the book of Psalms. The writer compares the one who reflects on God’s words to a tree which is planted by a stream. That kind of tree has good fruit and health branches. It does what trees do. And if my heart is leaning toward the streams of wisdom in scripture, perhaps I will grow as well.

We may plant a new tree, further north. In the meantime, we’ll make new memories and consider not hiding. But I’m also meditating about the nature of the streams my heart is pursuing this week.


(First published February 2017. Republished because I just finished a project and reminded myself that “finished” counts for three items on todo list..)

I like starting projects. I like suggesting pilots. I like listening to questions and brainstorming. I have fifteen new projects a week while standing in the shower.

And then the water is turned off and it is time to write the idea. And then I get to the hard part of the story and the study takes too much time. And then I get to the polishing part.

I don’t like finishing.

That’s why I need a really long sentence from the book of Hebrews:

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

FullSizeRender.jpgThe writer puts one person in front of me. Jesus.

My focus. My role model. My cheerleader. My coach. My equipper. My trainer. My interceder. The starter and completer. The beginning and the end.

The other day, I heard a speaker give as one of her principles: “God has a plan for your life. So does everyone else. Be careful which one you listen to.”

At the end of a long week, at the beginning of a weekend, I’m aware that I need to be looking to Jesus to help me start and to help me finish.

Maybe you and me both.



Sometimes, just after a death, I ask the Holy Spirit to live out his name with a family in grief.


ComforterI get the word from John 14, part of Jesus’ last long teaching to his disciples before his execution. Jesus says that he’s leaving them. He says he will ask the Father to send someone to be with them forever. Some translations use comforter, or advocate or helper, but then Jesus follows up by talking about the Spirit of Truth.

This spirit, helper, comforter, has a number of roles. But as I am with a family, asking for the role of comforter, I’ve got a clear need in mind.

This family is aware that in this life, they will never see or hear or touch this person again. And that is a deep grief.

It’s not a hopeless grief in the Christian worldview. There are promises about future interaction. But this moment is not then.

When Jesus talked about sending the Spirit, he was talking to people who were going to have that same experience. In a day, he would die. In three days, he would live. And in about 6 weeks, he would disappear. Even though he promised that he would be with them always, the disciples were 6 weeks from not being able to see or hear or touch this person they had been living with and learning from for three years. Jesus knew, and they didn’t yet understand, that what they had come to assume was a daily reality was about to change. Because of his death, it would be better in the long run. Because of his ascension, it could be experientially harder in the short run.

And so he sends his Spirit.

It’s not the same. The disciples could not smell the spirit the same way they could smell Jesus. But now they didn’t have to depend on Jesus to do the cool stuff. They were involved, through the power of the Spirit.

And sometimes the cool stuff ends up being comfort in moments of deepest distress.