Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I lamented to a friend recently that I had been suffering from severe and unpredictable mood swings - sudden, intense bouts of irrational weepiness and irritation. I expressed my concern that perhaps these short-lived, erratic waves of moodiness were indications of the onset of menopause.

"Absolutely! Menopause can definitely cause mood swings. Have you considered hormone therapy?" Interpreting my blank look as a "No," she promised to bring me a magazine article that would shed a little light on the topic.

The article examined a variety of menopause-related symptoms, one at a time, and discussed the effectiveness of hormone therapy in treating each particular symptom. I eagerly read the first page: Is hormone therapy prescribed to alleviate mood swings? Does it provide effective relief? Does hormone therapy produce any undesirable or negative side effects which should be considered? I turned the page. What about pain and stiffness in joints? Oh!, I thought, is joint pain a byproduct of menopause too? I thought the aching in my hips and knees was just a sign of middle age! What about disruptions in sleep patterns? That's related to menopause, too? What about forgetfulness/memory loss? What about decreased energy levels and a tendency to become easily fatigued? The article went on for several pages, discussing a myriad of menopause-related symptoms that I had simply dismissed as natural consequences of growing older. Although my current financial situation eliminates the possibility of my seeking relief from any of these symptoms through prescription hormone therapy, I was encouraged by the thought that perhaps in a few years, most of my present discomforts and physical complaints might abate somewhat on their own. Post-menopause is starting to look really good! In the meantime, I'll just have to grit my teeth and face this next lovely phase of the female life cycle sans "anesthesia."

I was surprised to learn that so many of the seemingly unrelated things I am experiencing are in fact related to a common cause - the change in my body's natural hormone production. Because I'm entering menopause, my body's temperature control is completely out of whack - I go from the fiery furnace to the deep freeze in a matter of minutes, and torment my family by dominating the thermostat. Because I'm entering menopause, I fall asleep face-down at the table at one o'clock in the afternoon, but find myself wakeful and restless in the wee hours of the morning. Because I'm entering menopause, I take the front steps more slowly, unsure when that right knee will scream in protest. I fumble for words, and grow frustrated trying to recall familiar names.

But even the yucky aspects of menopause serve as a reminder of the life I'm called to as a child of God. Chemicals in my body affect my eyes, my bones, my moods, my thoughts. Likewise, the grace of God which is mine through Christ should impact my life in a thousand seemingly unrelated ways. Because God has been merciful to me, I can back off in traffic and not be offended by a rude or aggressive driver. Because I am His, I can delight in the beauty of a hawk keening and wheeling in the thermal drafts high overhead. Because I am His, I don't have to defend myself when confronted by a loving friend about sin in my life (thank you, Shannon!). Because I am His, I am free to laugh out loud at the exploits of Winnie-the-Pooh, or to weep when Peter and Susan say good-bye to Narnia for the last time. Because I am His, I don't need to fear for the future, or live with crippling regret about the past. Because I am His, I can make the journey through menopause, considering it an adventure filled with opportunities to see more of my need for Christ, more of His sufficiency to meet all my needs.

This is a glorious life, orchestrated by an awesome and magnificent God. I pray that each day, each trial and each joy, will bring with it a fresh revelation of His grace . . . even through menopause, without anesthesia.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


When I was only two years old, my parents moved our family into a beautiful one-hundred-year-old farmhouse that they had purchased from the estate of a great uncle and then modernized. That house - and the farm surrounding it - would be my home until I married and moved away, nearly eighteen years later. My siblings and I learned every nook and cranny of that piece of property over the years, and it became, in the truest sense of the word, home. My cousins lived on the adjacent farm, just a ten-minute walk over a wooded ridge. A twenty-minute hike through cow pastures and hay fields got me to my grandparents' house. I started first grade and graduated from high school in the same school system, with pretty much the same classmates for the entire twelve years. I learned to read, got my driver's license, and married my husband, all within an eight mile radius.

Steve began active duty in the US Marine Corps two months after we married, and so began my relationship with moving companies and U-Haul trucks. We bounced from coast to coast to coast, setting up a temporary base of operations in each new location. Each move meant starting life all over again - new church, new friends, new house, new streets, new stores, - and it seemed like about the time we would start to feel like we were finally settling in, a new assignment gave orders to pack everything up and do it all over again.

Now, after twenty-plus years of marriage and over a dozen moves, Steve and I are back in Obion County, just a few miles from the very house I lived in as a child. My parents and siblings and cousins and grandparents no longer live here, but the fields and woodlands still seem very much like home. The roads just "feel right" out here when I have to drive somewhere - even when I take a wrong turn, I never feel really lost, but instead have a comfortable sense of being "almost there." The faces I see when I go grocery shopping look familiar and friendly, and it's not unusual for me to run into someone who has a story to tell about my granddad or who wants to know how my parents are doing.

Yes, I am finally back home. But I find that "home" has changed. Although my feet are now planted on familiar soil, it seems I have left bits and pieces of my heart scattered all across the country. "Home" is Katherine's kitchen, two hours away, and sharing a breakfast of steaming oatmeal and strong, black coffee. "Home" is a ballpark in another county, watching a church-league softball game while I catch up on the news with Jenny and my friend Nancy. "Home" is Carol's recipe for chocolate lava cake and the four o'clocks, planted from her seeds, growing around my porch. "Home" is so many people, so many memories, so many places.

And some of these friends have done the most outrageous thing - they have taken slivers of my heart clean out of this world. Hebrews 12:1 says that we are surounded by "a great cloud of witnesses." Years ago, when I read that passage, I would picture in my mind a great throng of vague, faceless saints - a Paul, a Peter, maybe Job or David, whatever they looked like. But now, when I read that passage, I distinctly see Mary Ann and Alice, my precious friend Carol, my neighbor Bill, and so many other very real people who have laid a small or large claim on my heart by showing me something of the loveliness of Christ while they walked on this earth. Matthew 6:21 says that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. Each year that passes seems to find more of my treasure, and more of my heart, not in this world but in the next. It's as if God is taking little pieces of my heart and moving them to the other shore, slowly prying my affections from this world and shifting them into the next.

I currently live in a beautiful place - my childhood home - surrounded by rolling hills, lush green fields, and woodlands thick with ancient trees. It is a good place, and I can be content to finish out my days in this place, if God so wills. But, I find this is no longer home, in the truest sense of the word. More and more, my heart longs for my eternal home, to live beyond the constraints of time in the presence of my heavenly Father, my beloved brother Jesus, and my sisters and brothers in Christ.

The Sunday after Carol's funeral, a friend asked me how I was doing. "Okay," I squeaked, my chest tightening under a fresh wave of grief. I blinked back tears, forced a smile, and nodded silently that I was fine, if emotionally weary. After a short pause, my friend looked me in the eyes and gently queried, "You are jealous, aren't you?" All pretense of composure vanished as the dam broke and I scrambled to find a tissue. Jealous? Maybe a little. Jealous? No, not really jealous . . . homesick.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


"Mom, there's going to be a Balenciaga exhibit in Dallas, Texas, starting in February - do you think there's any way possible we could go see it? This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I would so love to see his work." Emily made her impassioned plea while home from college on winter break. The oldest of seven children, Emily is a girl who constantly does things for others and who very rarely asks anything for herself. I knew this must be something really important.

"There's going to be a what? Who in the world is Balenciaga?"

"Cristobal Balenciaga, Mom, THE Cristobal Balenciaga!" The earnestness in my daughter's voice tugged at my heart, but still, I had no clue what she was talking about.

Okay, folks, I live in a very rural community, a patchwork of wheat fields and hay fields and pastures dotted with fishing ponds and cows. "Dressing up" means pulling on a clean pair of jeans and trading the dust-caked garden flip-flops for the new pair with the shiny gold thongs. The biggest fashion sensations here for several years running have been MossyOak camouflage and Carhartt coveralls. So maybe it's understandable that I didn't recognize the name of the most famous haute couture designer of the 1900's. Emily gave me a crash course in high fashion, during which I learned that Cristobal Balenciaga had created beautiful clothing for the likes of Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren, Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, and a host of royalty and social elites during his career as a designer with shops in Paris, Madrid, and Barcelona.

Two months later, Emily and I loaded into her purple mini-van and hightailed it to Dallas for a whirlwind trip to the Meadows Museum, located on the campus of Southern Methodist University. When the museum doors opened early that Saturday morning, this fashion illiterate stepped from the common world of traffic and noise and fast food joints (wearing my nice jeans and flip-flops, mind you!), into a fantasy land of exquisite beauty and elegance. I stood wide-eyed and speechless, absolutely stunned by the magnificent artwork displayed on mannequin after mannequin. A quote by Balenciaga - "My clients do not have to be beautiful. My clothes will make them beautiful." - would have seemed arrogant, if not for the irrefutable evidence of its truthfulness, documented in picture after picture, gown after gown. I think any woman on the planet would have felt like and looked like a goddess, dressed in one of his creations.

A year later, back at the business of tending tomatoes and weeding the herb box, I still enjoy occasionally pulling the over-sized museum book off the shelf and looking through the pictures of all the lovely garments Emily and I saw that day. (Thank you so much for sharing this experience with me, Emily!) And, as with everything in life, I must ask, "What did this exhibit, this man Cristobal Balenciaga, teach me about God? Myself? My need for a savior? Christ?" The answer: very much indeed.

The prophet Isaiah writes, "I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God." WHY, Isaiah? "For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness..." (Isaiah 61:10) David writes, "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered." Whose sins are covered by WHAT, David? "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Galatians 3:26-27) Do you know what this means for us as believers? We are each clothed not in a fabulous Balenciaga original, but in a garment of infinitely greater beauty and worth - a Christ original! God, in His unfathomable mercy, dresses a frumpy, rough-handed, totally unsophisticated farm girl in a robe made of the pure and holy righteousness of Christ. A dirty and sinful pauper is transformed into a dazzling princess!

Maybe because God's wonderful provision seems like something out of a fairy tale, something too good to be true, I often find myself wanting to add to it, to tack on my own little "decorations" to make it seem more tangible, more real. I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ - but maybe I'll be even more beautiful to God if I agree to teach a Bible study at church. I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ - but maybe I'll be even more beautiful if I keep my house spotless and demand perfect obedience from my children. I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ - but maybe I'll be even more beautiful if.... You get the picture. Obedience to God's word, service to my family and my church, giving my time and resources to those in need - these are all good things, but I am believing a lie if I think these things will make me more beautiful to my Father. I am called to do these good things, not because they will make me beautiful, but because I have already been made beautiful by Christ. Trying to embellish the righteousness of Christ with my own good works would be like wearing my shiny gold Wal-mart flip-flops with the ermine-trimmed, black silk ball gown designed by Cristobal Balenciaga for the elegant Claudia de Osborne. Or like topping off the fuchsia pink silk brocade cocktail dress he designed for Bert de Winter, with a MossyOak ball cap. Aaaaack!!!

So, what are you wearing to the ball? Let us celebrate God's good provision and revel in the fantastic beauty with which He has clothed us - the beauty of Christ. Come, Princesses, your garments are glorious: let us join in the dance!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Why. . . ?

My fourth-grader paused in her schoolwork, wrinkled her brow, and asked, "But why do I have to study grammar? I already know how to read and write." Several answers came quickly to my mind - she needed to study grammar simply because it was part of her language curriculum, or to improve her language skills, or to increase the likelihood of a good score on her achievement tests. But none of these answers seemed adequate. Hmmmm, I thought, why DO we need to study grammar, or anything else, for that matter? God graciously allowed me to give my beautiful, brown-eyed daughter an answer that spoke to the heart of the matter. "God speaks to us through His written word, and the more we understand about language - and how it works - the more we'll be able to glean from the words He has given us. Grammar, math, science, . . . these all have something to tell us about God."

The above incident came to mind as I've been preparing for an upcoming women's Bible study. The Introductory Lesson lays God's covenant purposes and faithfulness as the foundation for the rest of the study. All of scripture - not just the New Testament, or a particular favorite verse, or a passage dripping with practical guidance - tells us something about God, about our fallenness as humans, about God's amazing provision for us through Christ. God's covenant promises and faithfulness extend from before "In the beginning...," on into eternity future. If I fail to consider this huge, over-arching theme as I approach any passage of scripture, I will miss so much of the depth and richness it offers. I may come away from my study with a tasty crumb, but I will have missed the glory of the whole pie!

Saturday afternoon, I baked a chocolate chess pie. Grammy's recipe, of course - easy, delicious, fail-proof. As the pie was baking in the oven, I noticed the two eggs intended for the filling, sitting on the kitchen counter. Oh, no! I groaned. Maybe the pie will turn out okay anyway...isn't this how fabulous new recipes are discovered? Some time later, Steve and I ventured to taste-test the dark, dense result. It was chocolatey, very chocolatey. It was rich. It was creamy smooth and sweet. It was a disasater! Without the eggs to unify and bind everything together, all the other ingredients - chocolatey chocolate, sugary sugar, buttery butter - lacked cohesion and failed to meld into a satisfying whole. I've posted Grammy's recipe - try it, with the eggs, and you're in for a decadent treat. Study God's word this week - remember His covenant promises as you consider each verse, and you'll be amazed at the glorious beauty of this story of our sovereign, gracious God. Study your grammar - or fold the laundry, work the night shift, finish that report, whatever you do - and keep your eyes open for what this life has to teach you about God, about yourself, and about Christ's work on behalf on His children.