Friday, January 29, 2010


When Steve and I lived in Nashville, we attended a small church plant in the Old Hickory area. Although I had been a Christian for many years, it was here, under the pastoral care of Larry Ferris and his wife Lisa, that the gospel was first given "flesh". Eighteen years later, I still think of Lisa asking me, on several occasions, "What are the practical implications of the gospel in this situation?" These two, whom I affectionately think of as my Mother and Father in the faith, were active, aggressive, and deliberate about translating what they believed into what they did, in every area of life.

Larry had a gift for coming up with great sermon illustrations. He could make seemingly far-off, abstract concepts suddenly clear and relevant. This particular illustration still comes to my mind often, and always brings with it a thrill of excitement....

You remember how when you were a kid, and the evening weather forecast predicted snow? You hoped against all hope that it would snow and snow and snow all night, maybe even a foot, and that school would be cancelled the next day. You went to bed anxious with anticipation, finding it nearly impossible to sleep. Your ears strained for the faintest sound that would indicate the coveted snow had finally arrived. You snuck out of bed, peeped out the window - nothing. Finally, exhausted and fearing morning would bring only disappointment, you dozed fitfully off to sleep. And slept, and slept, and slept. Until...

The next morning, Mom came into your room, same as she always did, to wake you up so that you could begin getting ready for school. Only this morning, as she shook you gently from your sleep, she didn't say, "Wake up - time to get ready for school." She simply whispered, "Go look out the window!"

Instantly, you were wide awake, your heart pounding! Throwing off your blankets, you planted your feet on the cold floor and bolted for the window, a jubilant smile plastered across your face. "Go look out the window!" Those words elicited a spasm of pure joy! You danced! You squealed! It was absolutely impossible to conceal the excitement you felt.

Dear Reader - after a long and dreadful night, God, in Christ, has whispered to us, "Go look out the window!"


Snow is cause of celebration where I live - we don't get the white stuff very often! During the cold winter months, my kids drink lots of hot chocolate. We keep a canister of instant hot chocolate mix in the pantry, and usually have a kettle of water simmering on the stove. But when it SNOWS? That's a whole nother ball of wax. Then we make the REAL stuff, the GOOD stuff. Because here in northwest Tennessee, snow is a reason to celebrate!

I found this recipe on a box of Hershey's cocoa several years ago, and it's our traditional snow day libation. Delicious!

1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. cocoa
dash salt
1/3 c. hot water
4 c. milk
3/4 tsp. vanilla

Mix sugar, cocoa, and salt in a saucepan; stir in water. Cook and stir over medium heat unitl mixture boils. Boil and stir 2 minutes. Stir in milk and heat. DO NOT BOIL. Remove from heat; add vanilla.

We serve this topped with whipped cream. If you're feeling fancy, you can add a sprinkle of cinnamon!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


In my first baby shower post, I mentioned having been encouraged to write on the topic by a friend. This "Josiah sister" has consistently challenged me over the years to look for opportunities to apply the truths of Scripture and the power of the Gospel to the business of daily life. When our little church plant began to include among its numbers several pregnant women, I nervously followed Jenny's example and offered to present a devotion as part of any upcoming shower festivities. It seemed that the near arrival of a baby was such a ripe moment for considering the implications of our faith!

God - in His wisdom and goodness - didn't want me to have any occasion to speak in my own strength. Already nervous and feeling incompetent about leading any kind of a study, I was slapped with a totally unforeseen circumstance - our very first baby shower was for a beautiful young highschool girl, pregnant out of wedlock. God, couldn't you have made this a little easier on me? I wondered. What do You want me to say?

Well, God provided the message for that morning's devotion - amazing how Scripture speaks to EVERY situation in life! And in due time, God provided safe delivery of a sweet baby girl, a precious addition to our fellowship of faith. Here are my notes from that very first baby shower (with names changed) - perhaps they can be used in some way to encourage a young woman you know.

WHY are we having this devotional?
* Became king of Judah when he was 8 years old
* Came after a long line of evil kings who had abandoned God and served idols
* Began repair of the Temple, which had been neglected and was in terrible disrepair
* Hilkiah, the high priest, FOUND the book of the Law and delivered it to Josiah (2 Kings 22:8)
* Upon reading God's word, Josiah tore his clothes and wept: "Great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book." (2 Kings 22:13)
* Began reforms in Judah; destroyed idols, prophets, and temples to false gods
* Josiah "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord" (2 Kings 22:2)
Note: The people were held accountable for their disobedience, even though the generations before them hadn't told them about the Law of God. God's demands on us (and on all of mankind) in Scripture are in force, whether we accept them or believe in Him or not. Our generation, like Josiah's, urgently needs to re-discover the Word of God, and to then respond to the truths presented in Scripture in repentance, submission, obedience, and gratitude.
TITUS 2 MANDATE - Older women are to be sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness; to teach what is good; and to train the young love their children. Like Josiah, I'm beginning without having been mentored by an older generation. Still, I'm accountable for responding obediently to what Scripture teaches. Therefore, I feel a great deal of trepidation, and need MUCH GRACE, as I seek to be an obedient "older woman". I've been blessed by the example and encouragement of fellow (not older!) sisters: Example of Linda - Zechariah 8:21 - "The inhabitants of one city shall go to another and say, 'Let's go at once and entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going!'" I need Christ - and you need Christ - Come, let us go to Him together.


Lara, I don't know the details and circumstances surrounding Hannah's conception, beyond that her father is a man who is not your husband. I do know that you are an active member of the visible body of Christ, professing faith in His substitutionary work on your behalf, and that Hannah, as your child, is a covenant member of this family of believers.

I think I can safely speculate that you have already been advised - perhaps by classmates or others - that you would have been better off to have killed this baby instead of keeping her, and I think the fact that you have chosen to keep her is a testimony to the working of God's grace in your life. You have already demonstrated courage in the face of adversity. The reactions of friends, classmates, and relatives to your pregnancy has no doubt been mixed and sometimes surprising. Being pregnant is a confusing, physically draining, emotional time, even under the best of circumstances. Given that, I hope to communicate this morning some of the truths of Scripture concerning baby Hannah, to counter the lies the world will be telling you.

LIE - This baby was an "accident".
Movie - My Sister's Keeper (book by Jodi Picoult) Note: This movie was playing locally.

Anna: "I'm telling you, if aliens landed on earth today and took a good hard look at why babies get born, they'd conclude that most people have children by accident, or because they drink too much on a certain night, or because birth control isn't one hundred percent, or for a thousand other reasons that aren't very flattering....On the other hand, I was born for a very specific purpose. I wasn't the result of a cheap bottle of wine or a full moon or the heat of the moment. I was born because a scientist managed to hook up my mother's eggs and my father's sperm to create a specific combination of precious genetic material....See, unlike the rest of the free world, I didn't get here by accident."
(Note: Sara, Anna's mother, concludes at the end of the book, "I realized then that we never have children, we receive them." Sadly, the movie gives viewers no such hope, no "gospel".)

TRUTH - Every child - even those conceived because of our sinful behavior - every child is created by the will and purpose of God, although we may not understand His purpose or timing.

*Jeremiah 1:5 - Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you... (Note: Jeremiah lived during Josiah's reign.)

* Psalm 139:13-14, 16 - For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well....Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book are written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Lara, God knew this baby - and YOU - before He even began creating the earth. He has a plan and a purpose for Hannah, and for you. From a human, wordly perspective, this baby may seem like an "accident" - but she is NOT an accident according to God's creative plan and purpose.

LIE - Babies are a burden and a liability, something you don't want to have. They are nothing but work, work, work, and trouble. They rob you of sleep, drain your finances, and put a complete end to your freedom.

TRUTH - Babies are a blessing! Yes, caring for a baby/child seems to take all your energy and resources and will sometimes leave you hanging "at the end of your rope," but a child is a valuable gift, a treasure of infinite worth, an image-bearer of God Himself.

* Genesis 1: 26,27 - Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness..." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.

* Psalm 127:3-5 - Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man (or woman!) who fills his quiver with them!

When the stress and demands of being a mother drive you to look at this baby as a burden or a curse, remember the Word of God and affirm this truth - this baby is a blessing!

LIE - This baby will ruin your life. Having a baby out of wedlock, and when you're so young, will ruin all your plans. Your life will never be what you want it to be after this.

TRUTH - You have plans for your life; God has plans for your life. Sometimes, those plans coincide. But when they don't, and God takes you in a direction you haven't planned, you can be assured that God's plans will always be better for you than the plans you came up with yourself. Everything that God brings into your life - everything - is for your good and His glory. God is using even this pregnancy and this baby to conform you to Christ. Plus, the Holy Spirit and Christ Himself are interceding on your behalf as you mother this child!

* Romans 8:26-28 - The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

LIE - There's no way you could be a Christian. You are obviously a sinner, and God's love and promises are not for you.

TRUTH - Christians are sinners, but we are reconciled to God, once for all, by the blood of Christ. God's love for us - and faithfulness to us - is not based on our righteousness (or lack of righteousness), but on the perfect righteousness of Jesus.

* 1 John 3:1 - See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!

* 1 John 2:1b - If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins....

* Romans 8:31-39 - What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword, (or unplanned pregnancies?)....NO! I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

* John Owen -"There is a traitor residing in our hearts, waiting to betray us."
* Justin Westmoreland - "Satan wants to destroy our relationship with God by mercilessly loading guilt on our backs."

When you are inclined to believe the world's lies, Lara, when you are accused or devalued by Satan, or by your conscience, or by your peers....counter the lies with the truth of God. Nothing can separate you from the love of God (Rom. 8:31). It is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). Wear your Bible out - drive the Gospel of Grace H-A-R-D!

You have been given charge of parenting an eternal being, created in the image of God. This is a HUGE calling. You will need to turn to God daily for strength and wisdom.

G.K. Chesterton - "Anyone who makes himself responsible for one small baby as a whole, will soon find that he is wrestling with gigantic angels and demons."

Charge to motherhood:
* Seek to live by these truths, and to teach them to Hannah.
* This is not a call to perfection, but to live honestly and by faith.
* In your failures and weakness, run to Christ - teach Hannah by example that your strength and hope and security, and hers, lie in Christ. "I need Jesus - You need Jesus. Come, let's go to Him together."
* You are not alone in this labor. Call your older sisters in Christ into account regarding the Titus 2 mandate. Do not hesitate to bless us with the opportunity to serve you.



Soup recipe #4. This is Thomas's favorite soup!


2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
5 1/2 c. chicken stock
1 t. dried basil (more if fresh)
1 bay leaf
1/2 c. canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 t. salt
8 oz. fresh or frozen tortellini (cheese or meat filled)
2-3 T. chopped fresh parsley
pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a soup pot; add onion, zucchini, and carrot. Saute over medium heat, 8-10 minutes, until onion is translucent. Add the stock, basil, bay leaf, tomatoes, and salt. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Add tortellini and bring soup back to a low boil. Cook 2 minutes, then reduce heat and let simmer for 5-6 minutes longer. Gently stir in parsley and pepper during last few minutes of cooking. Serves 4-5.

I like this recipe because it doubles (or triples!) easily and can be prepared quickly - doesn't need a long simmer time to be delicious. It is a fairly "light" soup, so we enjoy this even during the summer months.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Before we moved to the hinterlands, I used to love attending the monthly dinners where area homeschool moms gathered for an evening of food and fellowship. (Hi, Fray-Mill Ladies!) We would enjoy a scrumptious pot-luck dinner, then have a brief meeting led by our intrepid leader, Liz. One month we might discuss favorite school resources, another month - gardening techniques, potty training, or favorite children's literature. Usually around 10:00, the "early crew" would begin packing up dishes and hitting the road for home. But the "late crew" - the really tenacious hanger-on-ers - would be just getting started. After a break to start a fresh pot of coffee and run to the bathroom, we would pull out the chocolate and settle in for a late night of serious sisterhood. Often, I didn't make it home after a Moms' dinner until one or two o'clock in the morning.

Steve asked me once what made these get-togethers so special. He knew that although I'd be bleary-eyed from lack of sleep the day after, I'd also be emotionally rejuvenated and refreshed in my calling as a wife and mother. So, just what went on during those late-night sofa sessions? In a nutshell, simply being around other women who loved their husbands and their children encouraged and challenged me to do likewise.

None of us had perfect lives. We all had very real, sometimes painful issues - financial issues, relationship issues, health issues, homeschool issues. Some of us were dealing with defiant children, some with chronic pain or debilitating medical disorders, some with disengaged husbands. But we all held in common a sincere and practical love for our husbands and our children, regardless of the struggles and frustrations that were part of these relationships. To sit among so many women who faced the messiness of life with grace, who in the midst of sometimes heart-breaking circumstances consistently verbalized their affection for and commitment to their spouses and families, provided such a refreshing contrast to the litany of complaints and offenses given by so many women who find life less than happily-ever-after.

Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." These ladies could've spent the evening in a contest of misery - whose husband was the least attentive? whose kids were the least compliant? whose in-laws were the least supportive of their decision to homeschool? whose last doctor's visit yielded the grimmest prognosis? Instead, we had more a contest of encouragement - How could we better celebrate our husbands? better enjoy our children? deal more graciously with the critical in-laws? minister to one another in the midst of physical suffering?

I always left those meetings with a renewed awareness that this calling of wife and mother, although huge and hard and sometimes overwhelming, is indeed very good and has eternal value. And I learned from these women a little of the practical discipline of thinking about - and speaking - what is true, honorable, and excellent pertaining to marriage and motherhood. Yes, I do have gray occasions when I brood over all that is less-than-perfect in life, when my thoughts and my words recite discontent like a song stuck on "re-play". Sometimes, instead of confronting the sin in my own heart, I fall into the lazy habit of confessing the sins of others.

What a waste, when there is so much good to enjoy and celebrate! I pray that, like these dear sisters, I strive to speak the beautiful language of practical grace with ever-increasing fluency. And I challenge you, Dear Reader, to think on what is lovely in your spouse, what is commendable in your children...and then verbalize those thoughts, both to your family and to your larger circle of friends and acquaintances. Perhaps by doing so, you will encourage another sister or brother to go and do likewise!

Friday, January 22, 2010


Speaking of raising boys, you may have teenage boys living in your house if:

1. ...much of your laundry has to be prewashed - outside with the garden hose -before it can go into the washing machine.

2. ...your grocery bill is the largest item in your monthly budget - and -

3. are thinking it might be more efficient to have a Kroger (or Wal-mart or Sysco) semi just deliver groceries straight to your door.

4. have multiple stacks of jeans in your bedroom, waiting for a new home - the jeans that fit last month but are now too small; the ones that fit three months ago, but are now too small; and the ones that, six months ago, you didn't think the boy would ever grow into.

5. ...when you try to start the grill, you frequently find your can of lighter fluid empty because it's been used up as propellant for a home-made cannon.

6. sounds like a herd of rowdy buffaloes live upstairs, due to frequent spontaneous wrestling matches.

7.'re seriously considering getting a cow because of the amount of milk your family consumes each week.

8. have to instruct someone to fill in the foxholes they dug out in the garden before time for spring planting.

9. ...when you start your car, the radio is ON, is LOUD, and (at least out here in the sticks), is COUNTRY.

10. are startled by the voices of strange men in your house, only to realize those are the voices of your children.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The Women's Bible Study from church met at my house recently for our monthly brunch. My kids had instructions to "be invisible" for the morning, which the four boys accomplished by taking advantage of the nice weather outside. As I found a seat at the table with my cup of coffee and a helping of breakfast casserole, something outside caught my eye. Fire!

The day before, the boys had burned a big pile of brush out behind the house. Now, they had revived the fire and worked up a pretty good blaze. I could tell from the various tools and home-made pots gathered about that they were cooking up something exciting. Excusing myself from the table, I stepped to the back door. "Boys, please don't be blowing anything up while we have company!" I feared an explosion might unnerve some of my guests.

"No problem, Mom. We're just making fireballs." (In case you're wondering, blowing things up involves propelling something outward/upward with force. A fireball, on the other hand, is just an exciting ball or tower of flame - no propulsion. At least that's how my boys explain it.)

As I rejoined my friends around the breakfast table, it occurred to me that this little dialogue with my four male teenagers might have sounded a bit odd. Unless these ladies had boys themselves.

When my boys were still very young, our family went camping at Fall Creek Falls with several friends - who also had boys. One morning, the group hiked to the base of the falls. As I stepped carefully down the steep narrow path cut into the rock face, a voice piped out from a nearby evergreen. "Hi, Mrs. Camille!" When I finally located the voice, I discovered a boy among the greenery.

Now, although this fellow was eye-level to me, the base of the towering tree in which he perched was at the bottom of the cliff face. This young man had shimmied about 30 feet up the tree trunk, and now sat cheerfully greeting those of us still inching down the rocky trail. I froze, fighting off a full-blown panic attack. Oh, my goodness! How on earth can we get this child down without his getting injured!

His mother - a few steps behind me on the path - chirped, "Wow! Look how high you've climbed! That's awesome!" I looked from mother to son and back again. Couldn't she see what danger he was in?! Her smile and uninterrupted pace gave no indication of distress.

Later, I asked my friend, "Did that not scare you to death, seeing N--- so high up in that tree?"

"Not as much as it once would have. You get used to it. It's hard sometimes as a mother to resist the urge to say, 'Don't climb too high!' But boys need to climb...they need to climb high. And when they do, they need their mother's admiration."

I understand now the wisdom of my friend - what wise counsel! I wonder sometimes if all the mess we have today with gender and role confusion (especially among our sons) or with violent behavior in young males is caused at least in part by moms who insist, "Don't climb too high!" - or - "NO toy guns!" - or - "Don't go out in the deep water!" Or by school systems who force our sons to sit quietly at desks for hours each day. Our sons are not allowed to take risks, to face real danger, to suffer real and sometimes painful consequences, to conquer their surroundings. In short, they are not allowed to develop into men.

It is very hard as mothers to rein in a tendency to over-nurture, over-protect our boys. We want them to be fearless - but not foolish. We want them to be daring - but not irrational. Those distinctions aren't always easy to determine, for us or for our boys. It takes tremendous effort for a mother to let her sons "test the water" and learn to see those distinctions for themselves. This Mom job is hard work! But, I can testify that "letting boys be boys" does get easier with practice - and learning to greet their accomplishments and their feats of strength and courage with sincere admiration, instead of unmasked panic, also gets easier.

Last summer, when my sons used old Pringles potato chip cans to construct a home-made "cannon" that would launch a tennis ball all the way across our yard, I was genuinely impressed. "Cool, guys! Think it would shoot a ball all the way over the house?" Yep - cleared two stories with room to spare!

When they headed out the door last February to take a swim in the creek, I cringed. They are going to freeze to death! I thought. But I said, "Be back in time for lunch." And you know what? They did not freeze to death. Instead they had a grand adventure, lived boldly...and came home exclaiming that they would never do that again, at least not until next spring's thaw!

Being a mother to boys is not an easy calling, but it is a grand adventure. And maybe, as we free our sons to dare, to climb higher, we will have boys who grow not into momma's boys or thugs or hoodlums, but into men.

Monday, January 18, 2010


You've all heard it on the radio: "This is a test. This is only a test. For the next 60 seconds, this station will be conducting a test of the Emergency Broadcast System...." BEEEEEP! That beep could signal flash-flooding, a tornado, or maybe an alien invasion. But you know that it's only a test, so you stay cool, calm, and collected. No freaking out. No screaming. No elevated heart rate. You just continue with your business.

Life seems to throw us lots of tests, but it doesn't often warn us ahead of time! I was watching a church-league softball game one summer afternoon when one of the young men on the field began to grow visibly irritated with the progress of the game. His keen-eyed coach called a time-out, and the team trotted to the dugout. The coach's wife, sitting next to me on the sidelines, blew out a long breath and commented, "Good. Kyle's on top of things."

"On top of what?" Had I missed something?

"Jake's loosing his temper. He's super competitive and gets really hot when the team makes a lot of stupid mistakes. Kyle called everybody off the field to pray for Jake."

What looked like a softball field might as well have been a Roman colosseum as far as Jake was concerned. While other players were doodling around having fun, he was slaying lions. For Jake, Saturday afternoon softball was a test, an opportunity to confront personal sin, to grow in grace, to engage in some edgy sanctification.

A dear friend once told me that I was passive-aggressive. When she explained the meaning of the term, I had to agree. I hate conflict, whether it's with others, with my circumstances, or with myself. I tend to respond to conflict by running, or by denying the conflict altogether, or by turning into Dragon Lady and trying to destroy whatever I feel is causing discomfort. Cool and collected on the outside, seething on the inside...blech.

Over the past 45 years, life has certainly provided lots of tests to see how I handle conflict. Sadly, I usually don't recognize the test until after I've created a messy disaster or nearly eaten someone alive. Then it's, "Oh, that was a test. I see it now! Man, I really handled that badly..." Grimace.

A few nights ago, I think for the first time ever, I faced a difficult and uncomfortable conflict with the crystal-clear awareness that "This is a test." AMAZING how much difference it made having that mindset on the front end of the conflict, before I'd had an opportunity to create a battlefield strewn with carnage!

Here's a brief synopsis of the situation: I am part of a group of about ten writers who work together on a weekly newspaper column, and the job of switchboard operator/central contact for the group has somehow fallen to me. Now, out of this group of writers, there is only one person who makes my job a burden. This is someone I genuinely love and respect. He has a very strong personality, which my "passive" side sometimes has difficulty relating with constructively. He isn't uncomfortable insisting on his own agenda or admitting his unwillingness to compromise, and his critical comments about some of the other writers have truly grieved me. Well, this writer called again one evening this week to restate his disapproval with the group's direction for the series of articles and to pressure me to just over-ride everyone else's input, insisting we conform to his preferences. (As if I had so much power!)

It had been a long, exhausting day for me, and he had called just as I was walking in the door from a late night at church. I was too tired - physically and emotionally - to deal with this nagging source of conflict. When I heard the voice on the other end of the line, I stiffened and hoped, "Maybe, maybe, this won't be another problem call." Then the complaining and pressuring and NOT LISTENING began. About five minutes into this unpleasant "conversation", I seriously considered just hanging up the phone.

But then something truly amazing happened - it was as if a lightbulb suddenly came on inside my head. "This is a test," I thought. "This is only a test!" Suddenly, the conflict was no longer about Mr. X's immovable opinions or strong personality. It was about me not running from conflict and not throwing daggers - it was about me engaging calmly, rationally, persistently, for a full 30 minutes, until Mr. X wearied of his heated discourse and we reached some kind of an understanding.

For many of you - those of you accustomed to handling conflict rationally - the above scenario may seem insignificant. But for me, it was HUGE. When I finally hung up the phone, shaking but oddly elated, I felt as if I'd just finished my first marathon. "You handled that very well," Steve commented from across the room. (And he should know - he has personally experienced my typical ungodly handling of conflict, numerous times.)

"That was weird," I replied. "I was strangely confident, the whole time on the phone, that this was some kind of a I was in training, exercising for something yet to come." What does God have in store for me down the road? I wondered. What is He getting me ready for?

James 1:2-4 says, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." In this journey of life, God is constantly stretching us, growing us, training us - conforming us more and more to Christ, in whom we are made perfect and complete, lacking nothing. He often does that through trials, but, amazingly, in the midst of trials, He gifts us with joy. I went to bed that night exhausted, nerves frazzled, but feeling indescribable joy. It was as if I had faced lions in the colosseum - and, by the grace of God, walked out victorious.

How about you, Dear Readers? Are you fighting any lions?

Friday, January 15, 2010


Only two weeks into this 8-week competition, I already feel the benefits of recent changes in diet and activity. My pants are not loose, but they are noticeably less tight (woohoo!). My back pain seems less nagging and my posture improved. I'm definitely not a size 12 yet, but I am on my way DOWN! Steve is doing this with me, and was excited to find he'd lost 3 pounds after the first week and a half.

Someone asked if we were using a particular diet program. Nope, but we have adopted some basic guidelines for what we eat. We have pretty much eliminated sweets, except for an occasional bite of chocolate or a glass of cheap wine before bed. We have cut way back on starches - potatoes, noodles, rice, etc. When fixing carb-bombs for the kids for dinner, I prepare a few servings of carrots or cauliflower or squash for Steve and me. Either that, or we just eat an extra portion of whatever green vegetable is on the menu instead. Also, we try to eat snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon - fresh veggies, cheese, a few slices of deer sausage - something to keep our metabolism working.

I mentioned in my first Biggest Loser post that mine is a rather sedentary lifestyle once school starts. The days just aren't long enough to do schoolwork with four highschoolers and a fourth-grader, fix meals, run a house, write, AND enjoy a lengthy workout at a gym. Unable to take full advantage of the exercise equipment at HealthQuest, I am doing what you could call the American History Fitness Program. The teenagers and I watch a 30-minute video each day as part of our American History course - I have to watch the video with my kids because I am abysmally ignorant of the subject myself. (Have I mentioned before that homeschooling your children is a fantastic way to get an incredible education for yourself?!) While Dr. Guelzo talks to us about history, I run through a series of stretching and toning exercises and then jog in place on my yoga mat until it's time to resume classwork at the kitchen table. Jillian What's-her-name would laugh out loud at my "strenuous" workout - but so far, my kids have very graciously NOT laughed out loud, and so I press on!

Having Steve work at this with me has been a tremendous blessing. We attended a post-Christmas holiday party last week, and managed to make it through the scrumptialicious buffet without blowing our diet. Then, a waitress came around taking orders for dessert. Our options? Pecan pie or chocolate marble cheesecake - two of my favorites. Now, I was all ready to say, "Steve, we've done so well this week...let's celebrate by splurging and splitting one dessert between us." Without hestitation, Steve declined ANY dessert before I had time to whine and plead! I pouted for about two seconds, then passed on the dessert also. (The lady next to me, however, ordered BOTH desserts, and then proceeded to EAT both of them in front of me. I was so grateful for my husband's moral support!) Thanks to Steve's commitment to this diet, I was able to face the next day with no regrets from the evening before. Two are better than one....though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9a, 12

Also, the comments, prayers, and encouragement from you, Dear Readers, have been tremendously motivating. I feel like I have my own cheering squad! And now.....drumroll, please....the results from my first weigh in: 4.5 pounds, lost!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I commented once to my sister-in-law that I had learned just enough fashion protocol growing up to be miserably uncomfortable in almost any social setting. In other words, I know enough to understand that there was a right way and a wrong way of doing things...and that whatever I am currently doing is probably the wrong thing.

Here are a few time-distorted fragments of what I picked up as a child:
*A lady always wears a slip underneath a dress or skirt. Lack of a slip is irrefutable evidence of lack of moral character.
*Shoes should be the same color as or darker than the hem. And white shoes are almost always a no-no.
*Accessories should match, or at least be deliberately co-ordinated. Wearing black shoes? Then wear a black belt and carry a black purse.
*White is never worn after Labor Day or before Memorial Day.
*A lady is practically undressed if she is not wearing lipstick.
(I have faint memories of other rules about hair, open-toed shoes, eye makeup, eye contact, and a host of other things, but have apparently repressed these so deeply that I cannot clearly recall them.)

The topic came up in conversation because I was having difficulty finding a slip - there were NONE in any of the stores in Obion County - and I hoped maybe my sister-in-law knew where I could purchase such an essential item. She looked at me and laughed - she laughed. "Good grief! You have got to be kidding! Nobody wears slips anymore." I sat in shocked silence. Had the world around me really degenerated into such...such looseness? But my sister-in-law wore skirts and dresses, and I knew she wasn't a "loose woman" - did she really go out in public (gasp!) slip-less?

A funny thing happened to me in college because of my peculiar understanding of fashion. A very nice young man invited me to attend his fraternity's winter social. I immediately asked, "What are we supposed to wear?" He replied, "It's dress up."

Well, he came to pick me up for the dinner/dance wearing a tux and carrying a corsage. Me? I was "dressed up" as a shepherd (Seemed appropriate for a Christmas party...shepherds watched their flocks by night, right?) Fred gawked for a minute, then managed to ask, "Why are you wearing that?" Clueless, I answered, "You said it was 'dress up' - isn't it obvious that I'm a shepherd? Why in the world are you wearing that?"

It didn't take us long to figure out that what Fred meant by "dress up" was what I had always heard called "formal" - in my vocabulary, "formal" meant tuxedos and evening gowns, whereas "dress up" meant costumes. We both got a big laugh out of the misunderstanding, and, since I did not have an evening dress available in my dorm room, we set out for the evening as a nattily-dressed young man escorting a rather humble shepherdess wearing a corsage. (I wonder what Fred's parents thought when they saw the pictures from Winter Social!)

* * * * *

Several years ago, right after my family had moved to Millington, I attended a community Thanksgiving service hosted by several area churches. An exciting young preacher had recently accepted a pulpit in town, so, as a way of welcoming him into the community, he was asked to preach that evening's sermon. His topic was The Wedding Feast of the Lamb, based on Revelation 19. Among other things, this dynamic speaker expounded how in heaven, we will all be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. But, he continued, that is just our undergarment. All the good things we do in this life are like the ornaments, the jewels, that will embellish our outfit for the great Wedding Feast. And, he asked, wouldn't it be embarrassing to go to the wedding supper of the Lamb wearing nothing but our underwear, while everyone else gathered for the feast was wearing gold and diamonds and rubies?
I was appalled - that was probably the closest I've ever come to standing up, crying out, and thoroughly disrupting a worship service. This man considered himself a minister of the gospel? He pastored a respectable congregation, in a main-line Protestant denomination?
Folks, my fashion savvy is just about non-existent, and this fact has on occasion caused me considerable discomfort and embarrassment. But I do know EXACTLY the attire for the great wedding feast, and I will not blush or apologize on that day because of my dress - it will be nothing less than the radiant, glorious righteousness of Christ. Nothing less, and nothing more - because nothing else would be appropriate.

See related post: What are you wearing to the ball?

Monday, January 11, 2010


We were gathered with extended family at Grammy's house for the monthly Kendall Sunday dinner. My oldest daughter and my nephew chatted over lunch about the courses they had registered to take the next semester at the local university.

"Who will you have for chemistry?" my nephew asked.

"Dr. Davis," Emily answered.

"Oh, no! NOT Dr. Davis!" Ashton grimaced. "My highschool chemistry teacher said to take freshman chemistry with anyone but Dr. Davis. He's a terrible teacher!"

"Ashton, hush your mouth!" (That's southern for "Shut Up Right This Instant!") I pounced on his comment like a cat on a mouse. "What was your highschool teacher thinking, making such stupid comments? Dr. Davis is one of the best teachers on campus."

More than 25 years ago, my room-mate and I registered to take freshman chemistry together. We sat at our front-row desks the first day of class, waiting for our instructor, Dr. Wakim. Suddenly, the door swung open and in charged a small, thin man sporting a crew cut and a lean, sharp face. He walked as if he had wire springs in his legs - everything about him seemed focused, intense, and alert. "Good morning, students. I am Dr. Phil Davis, your instructor for Chemistry 120."

Aaaaaaugh! My room-mate and I looked at each other with wide eyes, both of us visibly wilting under this news. Not Dr. Davis! Unknownst to us, Dr. Wakim had accepted a fellowship to study abroad, and Dr. Davis had been assigned his 8:00 class. Even 25+ years ago, Dr. Davis had a reputation on campus as the professor not to take!

I am so thankful Dr. Wakim had work to do elsewhere, or I never would have known the pleasure of studying under Dr. Davis. He was a demanding teacher who expected much from his students - but he also gave much to his students through his enthusiasm for his subject and his dedication to teaching. In retrospect, I think many students didn't want to take Dr. Davis's class because they knew they'd really have to work - he wasn't an "easy A" kind of teacher. But I probably gained more from that one chemistry class than from any other class that year - better study habits, sharper observation skills, a real confidence in my understanding of the material. Dr. Davis still stands, in my opinion, in a league of his own.

Well, Emily did take freshman chemistry with Dr. Davis. And loved it. Three years later, my oldest son took chemistry with Dr. Davis. And loved it. Reuben became infected with the sheer joy Dr. Davis evidenced in his work. He related how after meeting in the classroom to preview the day's lab assignment, Dr. Davis dismissed everyone to head upstairs to the lab. The professor was collecting his notes and papers as the students headed for the door. "Don't start any fires or blow anything up before I get there - I don't want to miss anything exciting!" In the chemistry lab, Dr. Davis was like a kid in a candy shop, a boy with a new toy train. How could any student not enjoy studying under such a teacher?!

I suppose all of this is to say - what makes a really good teacher? Someone who requires minimum effort, giving minimum effort in return? The teacher who gives "easy A's" and accepts mediocre work as "good enough" to make the grade? The teacher who tells you easy answers to easy questions - or the one who does the more difficult task of enabling students to actually ask meaningful questions themselves?

And, what makes a really good student? The fellow who wants to do just what it takes to maintain his GPA? The student who would truly rather be anywhere else in the world than in a classroom? Who is just checking things off a paper list of requirements for graduation, instead of working to glean as much as possible from his professors?

I have challenged my kids to look at their college education this way: Each course you take costs $______. For that amount of money, do you want to get as little return as possible, or as much as possible? You can take a hundred-dollar bill and burn it, or use it to buy soap bubbles, or spend it on something of lasting value, or invest it so that it continues paying benefits your whole life. Are you going to spend your college years burning time or blowing soap bubbles? Or, are you going to spend this time gathering as much treasure as possible from your teachers?

This Mom is so glad Dr. Davis is still teaching chemistry at UT Martin. I asked him a few years ago if he had any intention of retiring soon. "Not any time in the immediate future," he replied. Good! I still have five more students to send his way!

Friday, January 8, 2010


The excited voice on the phone informed me that I had been selected for something truly amazing - the caller's company was giving me the opportunity to have their satellite TV service installed absolutely free, PLUS I could take advantage of their reduced subscription rates for my first three months of service. Wow!

"Thank you, but I'm not interested...."

"This really is an incredible offer," he enthused, despite my attempt to terminate the conversation. "What kind of service are you currently using with your television - cable or satellite?"

"Ummm, neither. We don't watch TV." My thumb felt for the "end" button on the handset.

"Yes, but when you do watch TV, are you using cable or satellite?" The fellow apparently didn't understand my last statement.

"We don't watch TV," I repeated. Then, in an attempt to defend my family's peculiarity, I blurted, "We read books."

A long pause - I wondered if the energetic salesman had dismissed me as some kind of crank and hung up. "Oh." Nope, he was still on the line. Another long silence. "Well, when you watch TV, are you more interested in news programs or in entertainment? Do you enjoy programs specific to a special interest, such as gardening or history or home decorating?"

This time I was the one slow to respond. This guy's clueless persistance baffled me. Fascinated, I finally answered, "Ummm, I'm reading a book about Sarah Edwards right now - you know, the wife of Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan preacher?" Silence. "One of my kids is reading a really fat fantasy book by Susanna Clark named Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which he says is awesome. I think my husband is reading a book required for the leadership-training class at church, but I don't know the name of it." Silence. Something perverse in my nature prodded me on. "What book are you currently reading?"

After another substantial pause, the man found his voice. "Ummm, okay, well then.....thank you! Have a nice day!" Click.

What a bizarre conversation! We spoke words back and forth over the phone line, but never effectively communicated anything at all. Makes me wonder - How often do I "hear" people around me without truly hearing them at all? Or, how often have I communicated something to a listening friend without actually connecting the least little bit? And, how can I be engaged and deliberate in conversations with others, preventing ridiculous dialogues like the one with the telemarketer? How often have I tuned out when one of my kids was talking, because I had ear fatigue? And how many times have I mentally moved on to working out my clever response or thinking through my to-do list when "listening" to a friend. At least this recent experience reminds me that listening must be as active an endeavor as speaking.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


The tiny nursery at our little church - amazingly calm and peaceful all morning - erupted into chaos just as the worship service ended. An untimely "potty disaster" required a change of clothes and some major clean-up for one child. Simultaneously, parents with older preschoolers in tow converged on the cramped room to pick up their toddlers and babies. In the midst of this burst of activity, two of my large sons stepped through the doorway, asking for the keys to the car.

"Boys, not right now. Leave the room - you can get the keys later." I addressed them with a firm voice, wanting to limit the traffic and activity as much as possible in the cramped and chaotic room.

"I can just find the keys myself," one son offered. "Where's your purse?"

Before I had time to reiterate my first statement, one of the young fathers in the room, there to pick up his children, responded. Joe turned toward the door, made eye contact with my sons, and said, "Boys, obey your mother." A simple command, spoken in a calm and pleasant tone, with no opportunity offered for response.

The reaction from my teenagers? "Yes, sir!" And they disappeared down the hall.

The reaction from me? "Thank you!" My respect for and appreciation of this young father increased exponentially. His timely reinforcement and encouragement in this parenting endeavor were such a blessing. I didn't find out until we were driving home from church that the Sunday morning message had been about the commandment to "honor your father and your mother" - and that Joe, knowing the sermon was fresh on my sons' minds, was taking advantage of an opportunity to translate the sermon from words into practical application!

Parenting is a monumental task. It's a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week job. Although parenting is incredibly delightful at times and is an honorable and rewarding calling, the truth is that it is also frequently exhausting, often frustrating, sometimes overwhelming. To complicate things, our culture - music, movies, schools, peers, technology, even extended family and sometimes our churches - often work to undermine our labor as parents. It is a rare and precious thing when a calm, strong voice speaks into our children's lives with the intent and effect of affirming our role and responsibilities as parents.

Within the church, I feel we are called to some degree to be about the business of co-parenting, of strenghtening each other for the challenge of raising a new generation and engaging that "next generation" as they move from infancy to childhood to adulthood. (Is my covenantal theology showing?) Obviously, we need much grace for such a collaboration! Grace and courage to speak into the lives of others with children, grace and humility as parents to receive godly wisdom and practical assistance from our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am praying for both: for grace to engage other parents and their children, to be a "Joe" to my neighbor; and, for grace to receive their involvement in my life and the life of my family.

What about you, Dear Reader? Do you have a story of a "Joe" in your life, someone who was willing to enter this messy parenting endeavor alongside you? Or, maybe you have been a "Joe" to someone else - how were you able to do so graciously and in a spirit of love? I'd love to see your comments!

Monday, January 4, 2010


"I think I've finally hit my 'fat' limit." I know I've said that to someone at least half-a-dozen times over the past year. Obviously, I didn't really mean it - because I just kept packing more and more into my "shrinking" jeans!

But this time, I really mean it. At least, I think I really mean it - I suppose only time will tell. I have a tiny little wardrobe (tiny in quantity, not size): two pairs of jeans, five long-sleeved T-shirts, one nice sweater, a pair of black slacks, and a dress and a couple of blouses from another life which I can't wear but can't yet bear to part with. Several of these items are getting pretty frayed and will need to be replaced soon. That means I'll probably be purchasing at some point in the near future: a pair (or two) of jeans, a few nice T-shirts, and maybe a pair of slacks. And by golly, I do NOT want to spend money on so much as one more pair of SIZE 14+ jeans!

I know - I'm 45 years old and am not a young chickie anymore. And I've given birth to seven children. And my diet consists of lots of pasta, potatoes, and rice - yum! And long schooldays mean I have a pretty sedentary lifestyle. But I still harbor deep down inside the hope that eventually, somehow, I'll shed some of my ample padding and insulation and discover a new, trimmer, more energetic me. And maybe, just maybe, she'll be a Size 12....please?!

HealthQuest, a fitness center just up the highway in Union City, has a contest every January/February called "The Biggest Loser". Membership at their center is expensive - definitely out of my price range. But, for this annual contest, HealthQuest allows participants unlimited use of their facilities, fitness classes, trainers, and nutrition experts. The cost? A small registration fee, the inconvenience of weekly weigh-ins, and the willingness to be humiliated for publicity purposes as one of the plump chickens reforming at the gym. At the final weigh-in on February 27, the Biggest Loser in the women's category will win a grand prize of $250 cash, a Swedish massage, a manicure, and a pedicure.

Okay, here's what I'm thinking. Although I would like to fit into smaller jeans, I have very little "body" pride. (Remember, I've given birth to seven babies - hospital OB wards make a woman almost shameless.) If I compete in this year's Biggest Loser contest, one of two things will happen. Either I will get all fired up over the game, lose a lot of weight, and win the fabulous prize package, in which case I will have the money to replace my wardrobe, in a smaller size! OR, I will get a little fired up over the game, lose a little weight, and still be ecstatic because my size is finally decreasing instead of increasing. Sounds like a Win-Win situation to me!

Soooo.....I picked up a registration package last week. Lots of icky paperwork, lots of I'd-rather-not-tell questions. Initial weigh-in was Saturday, January 2nd - oooooooh, do I really weigh THAT much?! Maybe I'll avoid February FAIL Syndrome and make it all the way to the finish line. You, Dear Reader, can be my biggest asset, my secret weapon in this endeavor. How? Please pray for me and, when you have a minute, drop a line of encouragement in a post comment. Maybe with some hard work and perseverence, and with your prayers and encouragement, I'll finally be able to say "I hit my 'fat' limit - and now I'm on my way down!"

Friday, January 1, 2010


Folks, I have just finished reading through the entire Bible - and I am so excited! The pastor at our young church plant challenged us last December to try to read through the Bible in a year. Well, I had begun reading through Scripture already, but Brother Billy's encouragement motivated me to continue and see if I could finish reading the entire text by December 2009. As of yesterday, December 31, 2009, I have finished the entire book, cover to cover. I am feeling a little euphoric!

Today begins a new year - and a new cycle of reading. If, like me, you are trying to read consistently through all of Scripture, here are a few tips I've learned over the past year:

First: Just keep reading. Sounds pretty simple, but this can be harder than you think. When I initially attempted to read through the Bible in a year, I sometimes found myself having to miss a day, and then "cramming" to try to catch up with my schedule. As a result, daily reading often felt like a toilsome labor weighted with guilt. Don't do that! It takes much of the joy out of reading, and, in your press to "check off" a chapter, you'll probably miss precious content. This most recent read-through took me almost two years instead of one. I eventually threw away my little schedule of daily readings and committed instead to reading two chapters each day from the Old Testament and one or two from the New. If I missed a day (or more), I simply picked up where I'd left off and continued with the next two chapters. It was incredibly freeing to lose the calendar, kind of like stepping out from under the weight of the Law, into the light of Grace!

Second: Find a reading buddy. My teenagers are going to try to read through the Bible this year, too, and it's a delight to be engaged in this endeavor together. Actually, most of them have already started, and are already at different places in the text. Like thier mom, they'll probably be "two year" types. It's encouraging to see how excited they are about their progress. How can a Mom not smile when her seventeen year-old-son comes to breakfast announcing joyfully, "I just finished reading Ezra!"

Third: When you do finish reading all the way through the Bible, then....just keep reading! I like this tip from Brother Billy: When you finish reading through the Bible, start over and do it again, perhaps with a different translation. Steve gave me an English Standard Version of the Reformation Study Bible for my birthday last July. Although I've used my new Bible for study and church, I've waited six months to begin reading in Genesis with the intent of continuing through to Revelation. Yesterday, I finished reading my tattered NIV. Today, a new journey begins with the ESV!

Fourth: Expect to be amazed. This Book contains some pretty incredible, sometimes weird stuff. I can confidently say that, No, NOWHERE in the Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, is there any mention, whatsoever, of satellite TV dishes and how Satan is going to use those for our destruction during the "end times". (If you have any more questions about this topic, you need to talk to Brother Billy!) But it DOES talk about tattoos, and speaking animals, and dancing women, and a God who loves His people enough to die for them...or to destroy them. A God who is sovereign over all the affairs of men, ALL of them, and who works every single thing for His own purposes and glory. Be prepared to be amazed....and to fall in love.

One modern theologian has stated that the greatest crisis facing the Christian church today is our astounding ignorance of the Word of God. We know lyrics to upbeat praise songs, cliches from T-shirts and bumper stickers, lines from "Christian" movies and books, but we don't know the Bible. We know what others tell us about God and Jesus, but not what God and Jesus tell us about themselves. Why don't you join me today on this journey to meet and know the God who created you? It's a wild ride, and one you will not regret!

(Note: For a plan for reading through the entire Bible in a year, go here.)