Tuesday, September 30, 2008


It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. - Galatians 5:1

I recently had a mini-epiphany of sorts related to the doctrine of Christian liberty which I desire earnestly to communicate, but which I am fairly certain I shall muddle so badly as to sound like a most blasphemous libertine. A little personal background will be necessary to understand why this fresh revelation of grace struck my mind as so revolutionary, so outrageous.

I have been aware since childhood of the very sad state into which we humans are born: the natural depravity which touches and stains all our motives and actions, our rebellious and idolatrous hearts, our utter inability (apart from the intervening work of Christ) to do anything meriting the approval or favor of a righteous and holy God. All that said, I was also, from an early age, a very good child. I worked diligently at my schoolwork and excelled academically. I kept my room immaculately clean, and performed household chores with inordinate attention to detail. I was a hard worker and a passionate rule-keeper. Although I indulged in my share of sinful behavior - selfish desires, disrespectful attitudes, childish tantrums, outbursts of anger, etc. - I did earnestly desire to be a good Christian person, to behave in such a way as to bring honor to my parents and to God. I was sincerely grieved, even as a child, at the sin which seemed to spring up in my heart around every corner.

I also understood that - in spite of my very good behavior -anything "that does not come from faith is sin." (Romans 14:23) And, that faith itself was a gift of God. I remember an old King James translation of Proverbs 21:4b - ...even the plowing of the wicked is sin. I understood that, apart from faith, every seemingly trivial thing I did could be counted as sin and wickedness. But, praise God, I grew to understand that through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, I could at last indeed do good! I was free! Before salvation, I could only choose what opposed God, because I did not live by faith. After salvation, I could finally choose to do what truly pleased God.

That revelation should have been cause for tremendous rejoicing, but an odd thing happened. Before salvation, I worked very hard to maintain a righteousness that would hopefully satisfy God and my parents. After salvation, it seemed all the more important for me to maintain an even greater righteousness than I had endeavored to maintain before. Now, I had more power - the Holy Spirit himself! Now, I had more freedom - a will made truly free by regeneration. Now, I had more incentive - pleasing a God who had already demonstrated His immense love for me. So began anew the pursuit of being the perfect daughter, the perfect student, then the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect teacher...

In recent months, I have faced situations where I have felt absolutely paralyzed to act on insanely trivial issues. God, I want to do what is right. I want to please you. I would struggle to know what was the right thing to do, but once over that hurdle, doubted that I could even trust myself. God, I'm unsure of my motives in this situation. I found myself overanalyzing every decision, making spiritual mountains out of dirt molehills.

Then the epiphany: I realized that while I had the freedom to do good and right, I did NOT have the freedom to do the wrong thing, to make mistakes, to make bad decisions, to be less than perfect. Sure, I was free to not sin, but I was not free to not not sin. To put it plainly, I was not free at all. I had turned my freedom in Christ into a suffocating prison cell, a crippling bondage.

I John 3:1 says - How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! Those are not the words of someone whose approval is based on performance, on being "good." Those are the words of an eternally secure son, a son confident of his Father's love . . . a son who is free to do what is good and right, and who is also free to err, to make bad decisions, and to fail. A slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. - John 8:36

Sisters, do you know what this means? I AM FREE! I AM FREE! Now, if that thought doesn't shake you in your boots, I don't think you truly realize the implications of freedom! But we will have to save that conversation for another time.

- In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith (NOT WORKS) from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous shall live by faith." - Romans 1:17 (emphasis added)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I am the sun, and everything revolves around me.
- Teresa, Queen of the Solar Sisters

Have you ever met a goddess? I have. Actually, I used to be one. Sometimes even now, in a moment of nostalgia, I climb back onto my marble pedestal and imagine the glowing adoration of throngs of worshippers. Maybe you've worshipped at my temple. Or, maybe you are a goddess, too, and have a temple of your own! But wait: let me tell you how I discovered my own divinity. Maybe my story will help you discover yours.

Sitting at the kitchen table, skillfully crafting a pair of pants for my husband, I regarded my situation with contentment and a certain degree of smug self-satisfaction. After sending Steve off to the university with a shower of affectionate kisses and a lovingly-prepared lunch, I had spent the early morning hours setting my temple in order. I mean, cleaning our apartment. The bathroom was fresh and sparkling, the carpets vacuumed, and all of the laundry washed, folded, and put away. I even had to admire the order and cleanliness of my kitchen cabinets as I fixed lunch for myself and my two darling toddlers.

After lunch, these intelligent and talented temple servants . . . uh, children . . . entertained me with their songs and games, and I condescended to bless them with a story or two. Early in the afternoon, they retired cheerfully and quietly to their monastic cell to rest and contemplate the beauty of the life I had provided them. I had at least an hour now to devote to constructing priestly garments for my husband. So there I sat, sewing and smugly contemplating the kingdom around me, a kingdom which I ruled and directed like a queen among the gods.

Then came the incident of the welt pocket. What is a welt pocket? Look at the back of a pair of men's pants - say, a pair of khaki Dockers. A welt pocket is not a patch pocket, like on the seat of a pair of jeans, but a sort of hidden pocket which opens to the inside at a narrow slit in the fabric.

I was in the process of constructing just such a pocket in the back of the pants I was making - not an easy task, but I was being very patient and careful and attentive to my sewing instructions. All of my concentration and effort finally produced - TA DA! - a huge, ragged, gaping hole. A wolverine could've produced a neater opening. The pants were completely ruined, and I was suddenly transformed from a sublime goddess to a raving demon. I had tried so hard! I had followed the directions so precisely!

As I wrestled with which course to take next - crying or cursing - I suddenly became aware of hysterical laughter coming frm the room overhead. Not the playful laughter of innocent children, but the insane hysteria of a sinner, or two, who has defied a diety. Muttering angrily to myself - Only a god or a magician could make welt pockets! - I wadded up the unfinished slacks, threw them across the table, and bolted for the stairs.

With one child in diapers and another in frequently damp training pants, I bought Desitin diaper rash ointment in the 14-ounce economy tube. If you don't know, Desitin is made from some kind of fish oil extract, and reeks of . . . well, of oily fish. It is also very thick and greasy, like the stuff used on tractor axles. I think the only two things that can cut through Desitin are pee and gasoline. Reaching the top of the stairs, I opened the bedroom door to find NOT two quietly resting cherubs, but two squealing banshees. Emily and Reuben had completely coated themselves with Desitin. Every inch of exposed skin was painted with the opaque white goo - a whole 14-ounce tube of it. The front of their dresser had also been painted. And the back of the door. And an area of the carpet. My pristine temple had been defiled!!!

Nearly choking in rage and frustration, I dragged the shreiking offenders to the bathroom, stripped them bare, and plopped them into the tub. Several severe scrubbings later, they were finally free of the goo, but not the odor of fish oil. Then I tackled the challenge of cleaning their room. After a tremendous amount of effort and sweat, I at last headed downstairs with an armload of stinky, sticky laundry, my penitent darlings trailing behind.

Our washer and dryer were in a closet opening off the kitchen. Brushing past my sewing fiasco, I pulled open the bi-fold doors and stuffed the offending laundry into the washing machine. Well, at least I'd gotten the worst of that mess cleaned up before Steve came home. Maybe I could salvage the rest of the afternoon.

Or maybe not. As I turned to leave the churning washer, I bumped a gallon jug of liquid bleach that was sitting on top of the dryer. Do you know what happens when you drop a full gallon of Clorox from a height of three feet onto a concrete slab floor? Something more amazing than you could possibly imagine. That jug exploded like a bomb. Clorox flew everywhere . . . all over the laundry closet, all over the kitchen, all over my two stunned onlookers, all over me. As the fumes began to burn my nose and eyes, I took the only reasonable course of action left at this point. I sat down on the bleach-splattered floor and sobbed. My wide-eyed children timidly came closer, wrapped themselves around me, and began sobbing, too.

Life did eventually return to some relative degree of sanity at our house, but I was left with a very difficult question: Why had the events of the day so devestated me? Instead of calmly handling each crisis as it arose, as a goddess would no doubt have done, I had quickly plummeted from frustration to anger to despair. What was up with that?

A good bit of honest, painful self-examination eventually revealed the horrible truth: I was guilty of idolatry, and my idol was me. I was a wonderful wife and the mother of two beautiful, obedient children. Selah. I was industrious and clever and thrifty and made fine garments for my husband. Selah. I kept a spotless, well-run house. Amen, and amen! My delight and my joy, my rest and my satisfaction, my adoration were all based on and reserved for the great god Me.

As on so many occasions before and since, I found myself prostrate before the cross. Oh, God, I have turned from worshipping you and have followed after other gods. The worst of it is, I have worshipped myself and the work of my own hands. Have mercy . . . have mercy!

God is a jealous God, but He is also good. He is faithful to expose and root out even the sins to which our own eyes are sometimes blinded. And, He is gracous to forgive and quick to restore His faltering children. Jehovah is the all-powerful, ever-sufficient God of the sewing machine, God of babies and baby creams, God of hearth and home. I cannot stand - nor can any other would-be deity - I cannot stand above Him. And, I don't sew welt pockets.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. - 2 Chronicles 7:14

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Little John popped into our world in the wee hours of the morning one Thursday last June. From the moment he wobbled up onto his gangly little legs, he was Martha's Baby. Not long after sunrise that spring day, he lay flaked out flat on his side in the barn lot, snoozing soundly with his head resting in Martha's lap while his mother Tulip grazed nearby. From that very first day, Martha's world was all about loving and enjoying Little John - Little John's world was all about loving and enjoying Martha. Whenever Martha would feed and brush Tulip, Little John would follow at his adopted mother's heels, sticking close as a shadow. If he saw Martha out in the yard, he would whinny for her to join him in the pasture. Then, he would stand forlornly at the gate and neigh with displeasure whenever she left the barn lot to head back to the house. It was not unusual on a warm summer afternoon to find those two - Martha and Little John - soaking up the sunshine, lying side-by-side in the soft green grass of the pasture.

Little John grew over the summer . . . a LOT. If he spotted Martha from far across a field, he would raise his head and bugle like a trumpet, then come charging full blast to join her. He transformed from a dainty foal, tripping across the pasture on spindly legs, to a two-hundred pound cannon ball that flew like a rocket, then to a four-hundred pound locomotive with thundering hooves. "God, I hope the brakes work!" Always, Little John would pull up short right next to Martha, blowing with excitement as he pranced around her. Everything about him seemed to bubble, "Oh, Martha, I am SO GLAD to see you!! Aren't you SO GLAD to see me, too?!!"

Fortunately, weight and age have calmed his enthusiasm a little . . . or maybe the big boy is just becoming more mature with the onset of adolescence. He still charges across the field when Martha calls him up for dinner and a good brushing, but now he has the good manners to slow to a trot well before any danger of trampling the tiny queen of his heart. However, I still don't think Little John has realized that he and Martha are not actually blood kin . . . that he has four legs while she only has two, that although they seem to communicate splendidly, their speech sounds very different. One sultry day a few weeks ago, Martha had Little John in the barn and was brushing his copper coat to a shine while he munched sweet feed. Apparently, the heat and a good meal made Little John feel in need of a rest, so he flopped down in the dust at Martha's feet. She simply continued brushing. Little John, delighted with the attention, rolled over for a nice, scratchy tummy rub. After Martha finished brushing his belly and cleaned out his conveniently-extended hooves, Little John rolled back to a sitting position, heaved himself up onto his feet, and shook, snorting with contentment. Little John has no consciousness of the important lessons and hard work that await him in the months and years ahead, as he makes the transformation from an adored child to a well-disciplined riding horse. But, he does know that he loves Martha, and that she loves him. I'm confident that knowledge will make his lessons less onerous to him.

What about me? Well beyond the carefree days of youth, I find life full of difficult lessons - lessons in patience, in trust, in sacrifice, in contentment, in repentance. Sometimes these lessons are frustrating, sometimes exhausting, sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes very painful. Often I don't understand the purpose of these lessons, as I'm sure Little John won't understand the reason for hard metal in his mouth when he first tastes a bit. But, like Little John, I do have one unshakable assurance: I know that the One who orchestrates the events of my life loves me. I am created for His pleasure, an object of His delight. Revelation 4:13 proclaims, "Thou art worthy, O lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." Philippians 2:13 tells me, "...it is God who works in (me), both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Again, in Psalm 147:11, "...the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love." I need desperately to remember this truth, especially when faced with difficult, confusing, or painful circumstances.

C.S. Lewis writes in his book The Problem of Pain: "Man is not the center (of things). God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. 'Thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.' (Rev. 4:11) We were made not primarily that we may love God - though we were made for that too - but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest 'well pleased.' . . . What we would here and now call our 'happiness' is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy."

One day soon, Martha and Little John will race across fields together as one beautiful, fluid unit - Martha, leaning forward with delight in the saddle, Little John stretching his powerful legs as his golden tail streams out behind him. One day, I will stand before my Father in Glory, fully conformed to the image of my brother Christ - no residue of sin in my will or my being to impede the delight and enjoyment my King and I have in each other.

* * * * *
I sat in the backyard shelling peas, enjoying the shade of an enormous oak tree. "Li-i-ittle John! Li-i-ittle John!" Martha's voice rang out from her perch atop the fence next to the barn. Immediately, a drumroll of hoofbeats echoed from the far end of the valley, accompanied by an excited whinny. Looking up, I saw Little John racing the wind to his beloved. His muscles rippled under a coat that shone like glass, and his blond mane and tail fluttered like banners as he ran. I smiled. If I understood horse-talk like Martha does, I'm certain I'd have heard these words: "Martha! Martha! I'm coming as fast as I can! Aren't you SO HAPPY to see me?!! I am SO VERY HAPPY to see you!!"

Friday, September 5, 2008


A friendly old-timer attempted to strike up a conversation with my son as we waited at the Co-Op loading dock for our two bags of chicken feed. "So, where do you go to school, son?"

"Oh, I don't go to school anywhere. I just stay at home with my brothers and sisters all day."

I winced and made a mental note to add one more item to the list of Things Not to Say.

Or how about this line - I overheard one of my teenagers joking to a new acquaintance, "Know what? My Mom had to go through the third grade eight times!" (Just to set the record straight, I passed third grade on the first go-'round, thirty-something years ago, then 'went through' again seven more times just to make sure I had my math facts down pat.)

Wal-mart had their big back-to-school sale a couple of weeks ago, so I headed to town early on a Saturday morning and loaded up a cart full of 5-cent notebooks and 50-cent packs of looseleaf paper. As I stood in the check-out lane, another mother and her young son pulled up behind me with their own buggy full of school supplies. I turned to the lad hanging on the front of the cart. "Are you ready for school to start back?"

The boy screwed up his face and groaned. "NO WAY!"

"Me neither," I commiserated. Don't get me wrong - I'm a homeschool mom, and I value the privilege of teaching my kids at home. I love that we all sit around the table together doing our schoolwork each day. I am thrilled when I see my older children patiently explaining new or difficult concepts to their younger siblings, or the younger kids excitedly describing what they are learning to their older sisters and brothers. I am grateful for the opportunity to see growth and development in my kids, and for the opportunity to see and know and address their character flaws, sin, and weaknesses. But I sure do love summer holiday - with the textbooks shut away for a few months, we are all free to GET OUTSIDE to our hearts' content! Piddling in the garden, fishing, wading the creek, enjoying a cool drink while swaying leisurely on the porch swing . . . . no lesson plans, no deadlines, no homework to check, just sweet, sweet freedom.

Still perched on the front of his buggy, the little fellow at Wal-mart turned to his mom. "Hey, why can't I do homeschool, Mom? Wouldn't that be great?!" (Now, this youngster had no idea I was a homeschool mom, but his question definitely perked my ears!)

"NO WAY!" his mother protested. "I couldn't stand to have you at home for one day longer - you'd drive me absolutely crazy!" She rolled her eyes and looked my way (I guess she thought I'd be sympathetic to her situation.) "I can't wait for school to start!" she laughed.

As I drove back home, I mulled over this woman's comment. Maybe she was just joking, making small-talk with a stranger in the check-out lane at Wal-mart. But, it saddened me to think that maybe she really was eager to have her child away at school, where he wouldn't "drive her crazy." And, even if she was joking, it grieved me to think what her son must be understanding from her words, about his relationship to her and her relationship to him. Then, too, I was convicted about my own mouth - when had my loose lips unknowingly uttered demeaning or hurtful things, even in jest, in the hearing of my own dear children?

* * * * * * * * * *

Thomas, my fourteen-year-old, was out picking blackberries with me one hot, muggy afternoon this summer. "I wish I had a job," he pined.

"Oh! That's great!" I perked up, excited to know I had an eager worker on my hands.

Thomas picked up on my excitement immediately. "No, Mom, not that kind of job . . . not another job to do here, for the family. I mean a real job, one that pays money."

"Oh." Although I felt a little disappointed, I understood his desire for some kind of tangible reward for his labors. We continued picking for several minutes without speaking, noisy cicadas chirring in the trees across the pasture as we dropped dark, ripe berries into our buckets. "You know what, Thomas, nothing I do earns me money. I don't get paid for anything I do here, for my family, but my work has tremendous value." I am so grateful to be right here, right now, with this precious son of mine, I thought to myself. "I wouldn't trade my job for any other job in the world." Thomas looked over at me, and the smile on his face was rich payment indeed for my labors.

Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man (or the mom!) whose quiver is full of them. - Psalm 127:3-5a

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Okay, so I haven't posted in a month - I've been living in the surf zone these past several weeks. What's the surf zone? When Steve was stationed at Camp Pendleton, CA, I often joined him for picnic lunches on DelMar Beach. Although not a strong or serious swimmer, this native Tennessean enjoyed bobbing and jumping in the surf zone where huge waves crashed ashore at the end of their journey across the Pacific Ocean. I quickly learned that if I didn't jump into the thundering waves at exactly the right time, I would be knocked head-over-heels and drug through churning sand and saltwater - with zero visibility and no sense of orientation - until the surging wave coughed my pummeled, numb, exhausted body onto the beach. (Maybe some day I'll tell you about the time I surfaced from one such episode without my swim suit!)

So how have I been living in the "surf zone," here atop a hill in the middle of a West Tennessee hay field? Let's see . . . in the past four weeks, our family has hosted four groups of out-of-town guests (lots of sweet fellowship!). We have made two trips to see the dentist, one visit to the doctor's office, and had two vehicles into the shop for repairs. We worked two weekends at the county fair, attended the Troy Pecan Festival (woo hoo!), celebrated two birthdays, and crashed one youth swim party. (Do you hear the whoosh of waves breaking on the shore yet?) We moved two kids to college for the beginning of fall semester, and have officially started school with the five younger guys here at home. I've taken one son to get his driver's license and to apply for a job, and ferried two girls to piano lessons. And, BIGGEST NEWS OF ALL - Emily and Dennis are now officially engaged!! Oh, yes - I've also been doing the mountains of laundry and mega-cooking that are part of our normal routine. Whew! I need a minute to catch my breath!

Some people make sense of the events of their lives by talking through them - conversations with friends or family, sort of a verbal method of processing and understanding everything that's going on. Not me - I'm the quiet, melancholy type. I ruminate. And then, I write. I don't keep a journal, but I frequently jot down thoughts and scribble notes to myself. It's my way of "thinking things through" on paper. So, as each week passed without any time for writing, I found myself growing more and more agitated. Finally, I decided that God just didn't want me to write ever again . . never ever! A totally irrational thought, of course, but it still took me the better part of a recent afternoon to talk myself out of my gloomy mood and finally sit down at the computer.

The computer mouse malfunctioned. Okay, girl, don't let a little techinical difficulty get you down! Come on, you can do this! I gritted my teeth and pressed on. Then, I couldn't find the legal pad containing my notes and musings. (I know you computer savvy people are wondering why I have to have paper and pen to write - I'm from the paleolithic age, okay?!) I left the computer to scour the house. No notebook. Fifty yellow legal pads in this house and I can't find the ONE pad with MY notes! By the time I gave up searching, one of the kids had commandeered the computer and it was time to start supper. I threw up my hands in defeat and headed to the kitchen in an Eeyore funk.

But you, dear Reader, know "the rest of the story," because you are reading the blog that I finally found time to write! And so, metaphorically speaking, I will plant my feet firmly on the sand, straighten my bathing suit, wipe the sand out of my ears and eyes and nose, and listen to the faint sucking sound of that last spent wave dragging itself back out to sea behind me. It feels wonderful to breathe the air again!