Wednesday, August 31, 2011

SOLOMON'S NURSERY

Psalm 126 encouraged me greatly Monday morning. Also that morning, I read Psalm 127. Short. Only five verses. Maybe because I was/am so tired, I got kind of tickled reading through this Psalm. (Did I mention that my brain gets oober-squirrely when I'm tired?)

"What's so funny about Psalm 126?" you ask.

First, remember that it was written by a man who had close to a thousand wives and concubines. And I think it's safe to assume that from that great harem of women came a plethora of children. Lots and lots of babies.

Remember the baby days, moms? The middle-of-the-night feedings? The all-night flu bugs? (How many sets of sheets can a child go through in one night?) Trying to catch up on reading, chores, etc., after the baby is finally in bed for the night, only to find yourself moving in a zombified daze? Waking up in the gray morning light with a drooling toddler standing right next to your head, staring into your face?

And Solomon wrote these two verses in succession: It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold children are a heritage of the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward...

Anyway, that particular juxtaposition hit my funny bone Monday morning. Had me chuckling to myself all day.

So, moms, do you think Solomon spent much time in the nursery?!

Monday, August 29, 2011

WEEPING

I seem to have a chronic case of Tired these days...can't remember the last time I didn't feel like I needed some rest, both physically and emotionally.

When some folks get tired, they get sappy - everything seems very silly, a cause for laughter. Some get crabby. Some slip into Zombie mode. Me, I tend to progress from befuddled, to quiet, to weeping. When I'm really tired, just about anything will make me cry.

So I've been crying a lot lately. Which can be very frustrating. A friend says, "Hello!" I cry. Their cheerful expression changes to a look of great concern. "What's the matter?" No, no one in my family died this week. No, I have not been diagnosed with some terrible illness. Really, I'm just tired.

My church family at Grace can testify to this perverse tendency. Sunday morning is the low point/high point of my week. I drag into Sunday morning service with an empty tank...except for the tears. But I walk out with a heart that is full, strengthened, encouraged, not so overwhelmed by thoughts of the week ahead.

I missed worship at Grace yesterday, and am already wondering how on earth I'll shoulder the responsibilities of a new week. No matter how I needed or desired the blessing of corporate worship, I just didn't want to spend another Sunday morning falling apart all over my sisters and brothers. (Yes, Teresa, I'm still battling that pride monster....grrrr!) I wanted to be all alone with my Father instead.

After the kids left for church, I spent a good hour and a half on the front porch swing. A cup of coffee, a cool breeze, and God's Word. It was like taking a long "bubble bath" in the Bible...much better medicine for a weary soul than anything Calgon can offer!

Then, a long walk back on the farm...hadn't gotten out for a walk all week. The trees looked so fresh; the fields smelled so delicious! This wasn't my typical 40 minutes/4 hills workout. No, this was a slow, I'm-in-no-rush-to-get-home kind of hike. Back to the Robin Hood Tree, the Cowboy Hideout, the Great Hall, up the creek, around to visit the Three Sisters, down through Narnia, up to the old fallen-down barn...

I prayed, and listened, and thought. Let my mind run down insane rabbit trails, so that it could put a burden down at the end of each one before coming back around to more prayer.

It was a very good Sunday morning. A private mini-retreat. A Sabbath rest.

I'd like to say the day ended in such glorious sunshine, but, no, it ended in shadow and more tears. Had to claim again the promise that, in God's economy, not a single tear is wasted. He has good purposes in all the circumstances of my life.

Still reading through the Bible. This morning, found myself in Psalm 126. Coincidence? I think not. Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him! (v. 5-6)

Nope, not a single tear is wasted. God has a good purpose for each one. A purpose that, ultimately, leads to joy. A good word, a sweet Providence on Monday morning for a weary woman prone to weeping.

Friday, August 26, 2011

HERE COMES FALL

The clock glowed a blue "6:35."

Why did I oversleep so long?! I bolted out of bed and raced to the shower, praying the baby wouldn't arrive before I had dressed.

It stays darker later in the mornings now. Used to, the sun was already washing the sky by 5:30. Now, the sky stays sleepily gray until after six. And the sun is setting earlier, too...seems the parking lot at Wal-Mart grows black much too quickly.

Fall is coming.

Our high temperatures for this week are predicted to be only in the upper 80's. No 90's. No 100's. And folks have stopped talking about the heat index. Nighttime? We're looking for the mid-60's. Feels delightful outside in the morning and early evening!

School. The rush to buy notebooks and backpacks is over, and all the local kids are settled back into their school routines. My older boys are back on campus for fall semester. Those of us at home are clicking through math and grammar and World History.

Two of my boys have been busy recently working on deer stands and practicing with their bows. How many days until deer season opens?! Dove season begins next week - I sold a case of shotgun shells to a fellow last night who was stocking up for opening day.

Reuben planted turnip greens in the garden last week, and harvested the last of the summer honey.

It's not too hot outside to split wood.

The hens are going to bed earlier, sleeping in later. (Wish I were a chicken!)

The sky is a washed-out blue, like it's been faded by the summer sun. The air is cooler and softer and less dry.

I don't really think about how white my legs are anymore.

Martha mentioned hot chocolate yesterday, and a bowl of soup or chili sounds great for dinner.

Everything furry is suddenly frisky - the cat, calves, the horses, even the squirrels in the trees behind the house.

The sassafras trees are beginning to turn. One red leaf here, another there, among a thousand dark green ones.

The corn is drying into yellow-brown stalks. Soon, combines will be running around the clock.

A new lineup of Bible studies and classes at church!

The county fair has come and gone, and the high school football season is officially under way.

Mums, pumpkins, apples, cider.

This year is positively racing by!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

BRIGHT STAR

Long, long ago in a land far, far away, there lived a young couple who desperately longed to have a child...

Married just over three years, Steve and I decided it was finally time to expand our family. What an exciting, fearful, joyous, earth-shaking decision, to take that leap from "not yet" to "Now!"

What we didn't know - like many young couples - was that getting pregnant wasn't as simple as we'd thought. It would take more than just desire and a romantic evening. Month after month, the red flag of disappointment. Sigh! Would we ever have children?

Graciously, God gave us wise friends, friends who had faced and who were facing similar disappointment. "What do we do?" I asked Pam. "Well, I can tell you this - your doctor won't even talk to you about infertility problems until you've been unable to conceive for at least a year. You just have to keep trying." Then, she shared some practical tips from her doctor.

I went shopping for boxer shorts for Steve, instead of briefs. We drank copious amounts of orange juice. We learned about basal thermometers and calendars and "scheduling." Month after month, no baby.

We were living at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi at the time. I still remember base housing, the stark white walls and glass-bright linoleum floors. And I distinctly remember the time I contracted a flu bug that made me incredibly sleepy. Three days straight, I got out of bed in the morning to see Steve off, then immediately crashed on the living room couch where I slept until he returned from work. Then, after struggling through dinner, I moved like a slug through the evening before shuffling off early to bed. I simply could not wake up.

"I think you need to see a doctor," Steve commented on the evening of day three. "Something seems to be really wrong."

The morning of day four, I felt a little better. We decided to get out for some fresh air while I felt capable of walking. Steve waited for me at the front door. "You sure you feel okay?"

"I feel fine," I assured him. Then, without any warning, I threw up all over the entry hall.

I threw up almost every single day after that for nine long months.

Back in those days, an ultrasound showed little more than a red blinking light on a dark screen - the baby's heartbeat. Month after month, that blinking light produced in me an indescribable euphoria. At last, a baby!

Aside from my being green and nauseous for nine months and having to forcefully gag down food that wanted all-too-much to come right back up (ever had to eat tuna or peanut butter, on doctor's orders?), my pregnancy went well. And the delivery? Well, after walking through a couple hours of contractions in the wee hours of the morning, Steve and I headed to Hardee's for breakfast - me, I had a plain biscuit and Sprite. Wanted something "safe," in case this was the real thing.

My OB's office opened at 9:00. We drove over to have him confirm that this truly was labor. He smiled, sent us to Onslow Memorial Hospital, and shortly after noon, baby Emily made her debut in the world.

You know that passage in Psalms that talks about being knit together in a mother's womb? When they handed me that baby - the baby we thought we would never have - it was as if my hand, for a moment, for a split-second, brushed the hand of God. God Himself was handing me that red, squalling infant.

I had never seen anything so beautiful.

Twenty-three years later, with six additional kids (isn't God funny sometimes?!), I still get a lump in my throat when I consider what a beautiful, amazing, priceless gift God gave me in Emily.

We've been through some really hard times lately, Emily and me. Hard battles, difficult conversations. Sometimes, I think we lose sight of the fact that the enemy we are fighting is Satan and sin, and not each other. But when Emily is sitting at the counter quietly working a crossword puzzle, I look at her and am struck anew with the beauty of this young woman.

She moves like a fairy. She draws cartoons that crack me up and writes poetry that breaks my heart. She loves her sisters and brothers and her husband in a thousand sparkling ways. She makes gargoyle faces when you compliment her, sings silly songs and dances with the baby, draws Sharpie tattoos down her arms and her legs, falls asleep in Sunday school.

What about the one that is missing, Dennis?

That one is a bright star that is sometimes almost too radiant, too glorious, too weighty to hold. The first of God's most precious gifts. A reminder every day that God heard the prayer, long ago and far away, of a young woman's heart, and answered that prayer in a way more beautiful than she could have ever imagined.

That one is precious because she is Emily.

Monday, August 22, 2011

SUNNY DAY

Working three jobs - Mom/teacher/home-maker (wait, that's three right there), babysitter, and cashier - I find lately that I am usually very tired and more than a little strung out. Feels like I have fuzz for brains. Okay, quick side note: if you think most cashiers at Wal-Mart are dim-witted ninnies who can't process even the simplest tasks, RETHINK. Perhaps they are simply exhausted. You try operating day after day, week after week, on six hours or less of sleep. I appreciate these weary people so much more today than I did six months ago!

Okay, back to our original programming...

Anyway, I find that I am learning to appreciate even more the small bits of sunshine that manage to break through the fog of this current way of living. (I'm also finding that I have less and less patience with and tolerance for the unnecessary and self-produced clouds of smoke and darkness that occasionally pop up, in myself and in others. Got some real issues? Let's talk. Just in a bad mood and want to spout negativity? I'm not the girl you want to unload on.)

So this Saturday...WHAT A SUNNY DAY!

After several nights of getting into bed after midnight, I didn't know if I'd have it in me to get up and drag myself to our ladies' study Saturday morning. Managed to auto-pilot it over to Gaye's with Martha and Helen along, their bright conversation pulling me out of my sleepy stupor. What a blessing to study God's word with sisters in Christ! Ever felt, at a group study or during a Sunday morning sermon, that God was talking directly to you? Like He gathered all those people together just so that you, in the midst of the crowd, could hear a particular, precise word from Him? That was our study in 1 John Saturday morning. Yes, I was still tired when we pulled away from Gaye's, but I was also greatly strengthened and encouraged. God is so very good!

Then, arrived back at the house to discover that my four young men had taken it upon themselves that morning to pick up the house, sweep and mop the floors, clean the bathrooms, start the laundry, and mow the yard. "We knew you were tired and that you had to work tonight, so we decided to knock all this stuff out while you were gone," one son explained. That's some serious Sunshine! Yes, this Momma felt loved!

Here are a few other bursts of light from Saturday -

Martha and Helen finding they had some free time on their hands. "Let's do something fun." "Yeah." "I know, let's go sit on the swing and talk!" So they fixed drinks and snacks and headed for the front porch. Their laughter and conversation bubbled inside, where I was working in the kitchen. I love the way these girls love each other!

I headed out for a walk on the farm (that is sunshine in and of itself). On the porch, I found Reuben and Benjamin sitting cross-legged among an assortment of tools, nails, and wooden slats. Ben was helping Reuben construct a new super for his bee hive. I love the way these boys help one another!

Back from my walk, I discovered Tom and Nate fighting to clear a western town of outlaws. "Hey, cover my back! These guys are tearing me up!" Okay, I admit - I do not like the PlayStation at all. Not one bit. But, I love hearing my children laugh together!

And that was just Saturday. Sunday - feast day! - was still to come.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

THE JOY OF BATTLE

I think I am just beginning to understand, perhaps the tiniest bit, the joy of battle. JOY. "They sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them..." - is this not the call of the Christian?

From our ladies' study this morning:

Many Christians look for some secret to make their lives free from struggle, but no such secret exists. The Christian life is always a battle. If people don't realize this and fruitlessly wait for the fighting to abate, they will either think that God is not faithful (since He is not providing an end to the struggle), or that they are doing something wrong. Either way, such persons will be continually frustrated....Only people who look reality right in the face and realize that they are engaged in a lifelong war against their sin, the world, and the Devil will live the Christian life with zest. It is in this reality that we apply the gospel, resting and rejoicing in Christ's sacrifice.....Struggle changes us, preparing us to live in God's presence.....the battle belongs to the Lord. - Tim Keller, study notes on 1 John

Reminded me of this post from back in December 2010:

RIDING HARD TO GLORY
December 10, 2010

I am halfway through the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings - I am going to hate for this story to end.

Last night, I read of the fall of Theoden on the fields of Pelennor and of the fall of Denethor in the tomb of his father. Could the deaths of two men be any different?

Against the evil forces of Mordor, each was faced with certain annihilation. As the day of battle dawned before the gates of Gondor, both Theoden and Denethor understood that they would not see another sunrise. But consider how each faced death....

Theoden, king of the Rohirrim, rode into battle - rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before: "Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden! Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter! spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!"

Hours later, as Theoden lay dying on the gore-strewn field, his last words were: "My body is broken. I go to my fathers. And even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed....A grim morn, and a glad day, and a golden sunset!"

Eomer, to whom Theoden had given the charge to rule the Rohirrim, honored his fallen king thus: "Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing. To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking: Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!" Tolkien writes of Eomer, And then wonder took him, and a great joy; and he cast his sword up in the sunlight and sang as he caught it..." Having paused to consider his fallen king - his example in life and in death - Eomer passionately led yet another charge against the terrible army opposing them.

But consider Lord Denethor, Steward of Gondor. Faced with imminent death, Denethor despairs and sinks into madness. Fleeing the conflict, he takes his wounded son Faramir to the tomb of his fathers and there builds a pyre on which he plans to destroy both himself and his son. He has no hope for himself or his son or his country - if Sauron and evil are eventually going to triumph anyway, why not at least choose the time and mode of their own deaths? Racing to save Faramir, Gandalf confronts Denethor: "The houses of the dead are no places for the living..." But Denethor replies, "...soon all shall be burned. The West has failed. It shall all go up in a great fire,and all shall be ended. Ash! Ash and smoke blown away on the wind!" Although Gandalf is able to save the wounded Faramir, Denethor leaps to the top of the bier and lights the wood at his feet, thus destroying himself.

Theoden lives fully, right up to the moment of his death - and his last words to those around him are a reminder that this life is not all they have. This life is worth fighting for, and dying for, precisely because of the glorious life that comes after. He passes from pain and broken-ness, through a "glorious sunset," into the sunrise of life eternal with his fathers. The Rohirrim are not afraid to fight, to live gloriously, because they are not afraid to die.

Lord Denethor, on the other hand, had only Here and Now - this present life was all the glory to be had, and it had all come to ruin. He was terrified of death and shadow and of fading into nothingness. Unlike Theoden, Denethor saw no "glorious sunset" - he saw only ash and smoke, blown away on the wind. Denethor wanted desperately to live a glorious life...yet was impotent to do so because of his overwhelming fear of death.

Thankfully, life for most of us isn't as horrific at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. But still, in small struggles or great, I yearn to face this life's difficulties and trials with a heart like Theoden's. A heart riding hard to Glory.

...the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in (Theoden's) veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled,and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City. - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Friday, August 19, 2011

ENCOURAGEMENT IN STRANGE PLACES

Run home from afternoon piano lessons to cook dinner. Slam that down, jump in the shower, run off to Wal-Mart. An emotional engagement with child #1 that had me walking into work fighting hard just to not cry. I was exhausted after a long day of babysitting, school, running errands, and household chores.

Clock in. I'm on Register 2. My hand scanner doesn't work. That means I have to lift every suitcase of Coke, every single ginormous bag of dog food and kitty litter up and over my register. I discover that I have no change - completely out of quarters and pennies. Why do some cashiers leave their drawers in such awful shape? I have no bags, no paper towels. No register tape and no way of getting more. I'm raiding every register around me for supplies. Imagine - this much fun for minimum wage!

Neither of the two regular night cashiers are in tonight. It's Connie's night off, and Sherry is on vacation. My line is snaking down toward the freezers and no one is around for backup. A customer needs help at the door - they want to make a return, never mind that the Customer Service/Return desk closes at 10:00. Another customer comes in and thinks she has left her cell phone somewhere in the store - could I find someone to help her look for it? Another customer wants to know if we have any fresh strawberries in the back - never mind that it's almost midnight and the produce crew has already gone home for the night. Never mind that I have a growing line of frustrated shoppers queuing up.

I am So. Very. Tired.

A lady and her teenage son step up to pay for their handful of school supplies. She plops her keys on the tiny shelf beneath the card reader as she digs in her purse for a wallet. As I scan a binder and three packs of looseleaf paper, one key on her key chain catches my eye. "Jesus's key."

"What is that?" I ask. "What is 'Jesus's key'?"

"Oh," the lady looked down at her keys. "Well, I was at this shop in Memphis and they had these really cool key caps. I couldn't find one with my name on it. Then, I saw this one. I just got it because I figured, hey, Jesus is the closest thing to me."

"Oh."

She laughs and smiles, like she feels kinda silly.

I smile back. "Your total is $8.27."

"It'll be debit."

"Here are your groceries. Thank you for shopping Wal-Mart."

"Thanks. You have a blessed night, you hear?"

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

DIFFERENT

"He's....different." (Said while twirling hands over head in motion that indicates the kid doesn't think or function like others.)

This is a line from one of my family's favorite movies, Fantastic Mr. Fox. It is spoken in reference to Mr. Fox's young son, Ash. It's also a frequent quote used around our house, adopted like so many other movie one-liners into our Kendall-ese vocabulary.

On Sunday mornings at Grace, we have just begun working through a study by J.I. Packer - Rediscovering Holiness. Nope, we're not talking about the holiness of God here. We're talking about your holiness and my holiness - our personal holiness as followers of Christ. Packer makes the point early in this book that while the church once valued and stressed the importance of personal holiness, it has in more modern times gradually given up its emphasis on holiness, focusing instead on emotional experience and a consuming interest in end-times prophecy.

We have become just another group of fans in an enormous stadium, instead of the players sweating it out on the field. We look just like the world around us, to our detriment and to theirs.

Why?

In working through this past week's lesson, a couple of thoughts came to mind. For starters, I think we have become so enamored with the idea that "God is love" that we have almost completely forgotten the truth that "God is holy." We live under grace, right, and it doesn't matter how we live, as long as we aren't grossly immoral - Christ covers all that, right? I heard a hit song on a contemporary Christian radio station that expressed it thus: "God loves you just the way you are." WRONG. God loves you in spite of the way you are, and He loves you enough to begin the difficult, often painful work of transforming you (and me) into something truly lovely, the likeness of our elder brother Christ.

Then for some of us, there is often a kind of "letting go" in this journey of sanctification. We know that we possess no holiness in and of ourselves, that only God can transform us and infuse us with the holiness He requires. If that is true, then what part do we play? We adopt the attitude, "I can't do anything to make myself holy, so I'll just 'let go and let God.' It's all up to Him anyway." That, my friend, is one of those perverse distortions of truth that takes something very right and transforms it into something very wrong.

Sanctification, by God's grace, is a synergistic process. Yes, He initiates and works out this transformation by His Spirit. But He doesn't leave us like corpses floating on the scummy sea of life, pushed about by His tide or another. No, He breathes life into us, gives us a direction, and then teaches us - commands us - to swim.

But maybe, like me, you protest, "I know I can't be holy in this life, no matter how hard I try. Everything I do will be tainted with sin. I will only be truly holy when I am glorified in heaven. So, why should I even try?"

My Sunday School teacher, Tim Williams, must have been reading my thoughts. "We can't be perfect in this life...that won't happen. But we do have to be different."

Tim's comment got me to thinking about all the times Scripture refers to the people of God as holy, meaning set apart/different. The Old Testament sacrifices were not perfect -they were set apart. The people of Israel were not perfect - they were set apart, called to be different. The Apostles were not perfect - they were called out. Different.

What made them different? The presence of God, the presence of Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives...God working out in them the holiness He commanded.

Suddenly, this terrifying call to holiness seemed a tiny bit less scary.

Christ is with me, today, really and practically. Speaking to me through Scripture, interceding for me in heaven, nudging and correcting and strengthening me through His Holy Spirit.

No, today I will not be perfect. But today, I can be different. One choice, one attitude, one action...first steps toward holiness.

Yes, I can come down out of the bleachers and onto the field.

Today, let it be true of me: "She's...different."

Friday, August 12, 2011

GOOD, GOOD GIFTS

Ask me how I'm doing as I'm walking into the church building on Sunday morning and I may start crying all over you. Ask me how I'm doing as I'm walking out after worship and you'll get a totally different answer. Study and fellowship with other believers, then an hour of feasting, singing, and reveling in the beauty of my Savior...Sunday truly is a good, good gift from my Creator!

I think of my dearest friends in terms of perhaps odd metaphors. One I think of as a Red Hot Chili Pepper. Her vivacity, intensity, directness, and honesty stand in sharp contrast to the banality of so many relationships. Even her physical appearance and presence charge the air around her with a somewhat spicy electrical buzz.

Another dear friend is like dark chocolate, strong black coffee, or dry, dark wine. Complex. Intense. It takes time and long talks to truly savor the richness, the powerful emotions, the depth of love and thought and passion of this woman. Like deep water. Splash in the shallows and you won't know this woman at all. Dare to dive deeper and she will absolutely change your world.

Another friend is Sunshine. Even if you have never met this woman, stand in her presence five minutes and your spirit will feel noticeably lighter, brighter. Not that her life has been one of airy ease and innocence. Rather, like Gandalf, she has fought dragons in dark places...and has emerged glowing with the radiance of heaven.

And then, there is the Garden, all that is fair and lovely and green and growing. Bright blossoms bobbing in a gentle breeze. Deep roots, strong branches, cool shade. The gurgle of water and the buzz of bees. A fullness of life and of living, stretching up-up-upward, tendrils reaching out to embrace the world around her with grace and gentle welcome.

Spice. Wine. Sunshine. An oasis in an arid, often brutal landscape.

Today, I am reveling in this truth: God gives very good gifts indeed.

Monday, August 8, 2011

THE MAN WITHOUT A NOSE

There is a man in my neighborhood without a nose. I see him sometimes when I'm out running errands, at Dollar General, at the grocery store, at the gas station.

Did he have to have to have his nose removed because of some cancerous growth? Was it torn off in a fight? Was he born without a nose? I don't know what happened to his nose. I just know that when I see him, I smile and say "Hi" and he nods in answer. It is very, very hard to look someone in the eye and smile when there is a hole in the middle of his face.

I passed the man without a nose as I was driving down the highway last week, and seeing him again got me to thinking. Does he have a family? Grandkids? Does he like to eat fish at the lake, or to drink coffee with the old guys at Autry's? What makes him laugh? What makes him smile? Where does he work? Does he prefer Wranglers or Levis?

In my tiny little mind he is simply The Man Without a Nose. But unknown to me, that man has a wealth of life experiences, of stories, of personal likes and dislikes. He has a history - he is somebody's son, somebody's brother. He is so much more than a man without a nose.

Years and years ago, Steve and I attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings with young Marines as part of his job as the Substance Abuse Control Officer. "Hello, my name's Bob, and I'm an addict." "Hi, I'm John, and I'm an alcoholic." Although I understand there was some purpose in uniting attendees this way, something about that ritual disturbed me. I understand better now what it was. It narrowed each person into the one big, nasty thing wrong in their lives. It reduced them to an addiction, a broken past, a history of failure.

Sort of like my neighbor. When you first see him, you notice one big, nasty thing wrong with him. I wonder how many people get past that one thing to find out anything else about him. And I wonder how he sees himself.

In this fallen world, we all have big, nasty problems. Addictions. Deformities. Sexual perversions. Spitefulness. Critical attitudes. Pride. Gossiping tongues. Discontent hearts. It's a long list of disgusting sins, and we are all on that list somewhere, every single one of us.

But for the Christian, we are not defined by our sin...we are defined by who we are in Christ. By Christ's work on our behalf. By God's unfathomable love for us. By the Spirit's ongoing work of sanctification in each of us.

I am not what I once was. Scripture tells me that in Christ, I am a new creation. That even now, God is making all things new, including me. Although huge chunks of it still cling to me, although daily I must struggle against it, my old sin nature no longer defines who I am. It would be wrong for me now to try to shrink my understanding of myself down to the Big Ugly Sin that plagues me. Nor can my brothers or sisters rightfully pigeonhole me this way either. Bigger things are going on here now...huge, eternal, cosmic things that are swallowing up my sin in the enormity of God's love and grace.

As messed up as I am, I am Christ's beloved, a daughter of the High King of Heaven, an image bearer of God.

I wonder if the man without a nose knows about the amazing love of God?

Friday, August 5, 2011

BACK TO THE THREE SISTERS

I've missed my walks back on the farm this summer, but working days at Wal-mart kind of wiped out my energy and enthusiasm for tromping through the weeds and the creek bed.

However, with school starting back up this week, it looks like maybe my crazy schedule will allow some time to get outdoors again. School in the morning and early afternoon, evenings at Wally World. In between, I've been managing to squeak in my 40-minutes-and-four-hills. So good to get reacquainted with the Three Sisters!

Monday, I spied a flock of turkeys in the valley below the green barn. They spied me, too, and nervously trotted toward the cover of nearby woods. The bull was taking an afternoon dip in the big pond, lolling about in the shade of maple and beech trees that grow down to the water's edge. Grasshoppers, grasshoppers, grasshoppers everywhere, bzzzzting and flitting in brown clouds with each step I took in the tall grass.

It is too hot to wear jeans when I walk, but shorts aren't really a great option, either. Bare legs in nettles....ouch! And then I'm always a tiny bit wary of inadvertently stepping on some nasty snake hiding in the grass. Yes, jeans and boots would feel a tad safer. Cooler weather will be here soon.

Some folks, when they walk or jog or bike, like to listen to music or to recorded sermons or books. Me, I just like the quiet. My mind never seems to "Shut up!" Always whirring, churning, processing. How exhausting! But for some reason, I find I'm able to gear down the engine when walking back on the farm.

I listen. For the rackety-tap-TAP! of a woodpecker. For squirrels, who crash through the underbrush like tiny buffalo. Who'd have thought such a small animal could make so much noise? For an owl hooting from the far hill. For deer stepping fairy soft through mouldering leaves. For whatever tiny quiet thing might make the next faint sound.

And I look. For paw prints along the creek bank. For shadowy shapes moving suddenly under the dark shade of the trees. For a pair of bright eyes peering from behind a rotting stump, a flash of brilliant orange.

And I smell. Hay, toasting in the sun, like fresh home-made bread baking in the oven. The dank punkiness of the creek bed where isolated pools of slimy green water simmer in the heat. The tang of sneeze weed. A herd of black cows, nodding Hello as they loll in the shade, with that distinctive rich, wholesome aroma that testifies, "You're in the country now."

And I feel. The crunch of dry grass underfoot. The scratch of horse nettles and pigweed on bare legs. The cool shade of maples here, the sizzle of a ripe August sun on the next hill. The burn in my legs as I climb the massive shoulders of one, two, three great sleeping giants.

I don't hear the phone or the buzzer on the washing machine. I don't see the computer or the unfinished school project spread out all over the kitchen counter. I don't smell the gas-soaked jeans of the son who's working on his truck, or dinner cooking in the oven. I don't feel the coolness of the AC or the sluggishness induced by too much time indoors.

And I don't think about work, or school, or finances, or so-and-so's health issues, or the size of my waist, or what I'm going to write for next week's article.

Forty minutes. Four hills.

It's good to be walking again.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

WHAT TO DO?

My oldest is in Des Moines with her sweet husband. The two little girls, they're in Maine with Grammy. Reu is meeting with Mrs. Doris to go over illustrations he is painting for her next book. Nate, Tom, and Ben are hauling hay. (Yes, they knew how hot it would be before they left. Actually, they hauled hay yesterday, too, in 100+ degree weather, with a heat index of 116. They consider the temperature and humidity a challenge - some kind of a Man thing.) Baby M should've been here at 6:30 this morning, but was running a fever. Grandma is keeping her today instead.

Anyway, what that means for me at the present is that I am sitting in my house, all alone. Ever heard of a blue moon? Guess we should be expecting one tonight! Well, here's a question I haven't had to answer in a long, l-o-n-g time: What do I do with a morning home alone?

Hmmmm......

First, I started the laundry. The hay-hauling clothes from yesterday were already funking out the laundry room, so they went into the washer first thing after my lonely little breakfast. Then, I started a pot of sauce for lasagna - am getting a head start on tomorrow's dinner and fixing a pan for the freezer. A nice long phone call from the adventurers up north - sounds like Martha and Helen are having a grand time exploring coastal Maine! A bit of book-keeping and paperwork. Some physics and math homework to check over.

It is Way Too Quiet in this house.

My hay-haulers should be home by lunchtime. Reuben and Dad have just pulled up in the driveway. This afternoon, we'll be back at schoolwork and regular household chores, and I'll have a household of rowdy young men crashing about, laughing, wrestling, debating, pontificating. And in a few days, I'll have my girls back, too, chattering non-stop about their East Coast adventures. My favorite kind of music.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

OPEN UP

I tend to be a very private person.

Okay, maybe that sounds weird coming from someone who writes in a public forum, processing life and thoughts on a blog that just about any Joe or Sally can read.

What I mean, at least partly, is that when I am struggling with some great difficulty or painful issue, or when life gets too big and hairy, I tend to hunker down, pull in, and close the blinds. I need to process things internally before I can deal with them externally. Only after a period of quiet reflection and several long, deep breaths am I able to open my eyes to the help that is mine in the friends that God has given me.

That's changing, though. I'm not nearly as private as I used to be.

I enjoyed lunch with a friend from church recently...not one of those bosom friends, but still a gracious, godly sister in Christ that I have known and loved for several years. During our meal, she asked rather cautiously about a particular issue that my family has been confronting and struggling with for a long time. "Well, I hesitated to ask you about this...I didn't know if this was something too private and sensitive to bring up."

"Sherry," I replied, "if there is anything that I am learning in the midst of this, it is that I can't afford to be private. Everything has to be out on the table. Secrets kill. We need the prayer and encouragement of every available soldier."

Not to say that we all need to go indiscriminately publicizing the nitty-gritty nasty details of the struggles we face. I'm not saying that at all. But we do need to be open, honest, transparent, and vulnerable with someone...with family, with trusted friends, with our church family. And we certainly do not need to labor at maintaining some facade that hides our hurt, that proclaims to the world a lie that everything is fine.

Of course, there's no guarantee that those we confide in will respond appropriately. They may be judgmental or critical. They may offer unbiblical counsel. They may exacerbate the problem. They may even gossip or make light of our trials. No way around it, life in this fallen world is just messy!

But I need to learn to be honest about my struggles, and my sister needs to learn to relate to me in this with grace and integrity. And vice versa. Sanctification isn't a Lone Ranger process for any of us - we truly are all in this together, learning from each other's trials, mistakes, wisdom, and experience. And we can't even begin the business of pointing each other to Christ and to the much-needed balm of Scripture if we simply hunker down, pull in, and close the blinds.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

GOD'S WORD, A LIFE TRANSFORMER

Our pastor challenged the congregation to read through the entire Bible: “Read the whole book. And when you finish, read it again.” Frustrated by the daunting pace of trying to read the entire Bible in one year, I received encouragement from a wise older brother: “Don’t try to race through. The main thing is, read some Scripture every day, and just keep on reading.” Reading through the Bible took me a little over two years.

I can’t express the euphoria I felt when I finished the last verse of Revelation. Yes! I had read every word that God had written to me! Did I remember it all? No. Did I fully understand everything I had read? No. Did I glean from Scripture all God had to teach me? Absolutely not. Which is why I immediately started over again, back at Genesis 1:1. You know what I discovered on my second read through the Bible? And the third? This Book just gets better and better.

In Knowing God, J.I. Packer gives two reasons we should be reading the Word of God. First, we should be reading and believing and obeying God’s Word because He told us to. We are His creation, subjects in His kingdom, and it is our duty to obey His command to know Him by knowing His Word.

Second, we should be reading and believing and obeying God’s Word because it is true. Psalm 119:160 says: “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” (English Standard Version) Jesus prays for His disciples, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17) Scripture tells us the truth about God and the truth about ourselves. As Packer puts it, Scripture is “the index of reality.”

God’s law “gives us a working definition of true humanity. It shows us what man was made to be, and teaches us how to be truly human, and warns us against moral self-destruction,” writes Packer. Just as our physical bodies need nourishment, so our souls are created to be fed and strengthened through worship, truthfulness, self-control, and the like. By refusing the good spiritual food served in Scripture, we not only become de-humanized: we become miserable. Packer writes, “We are only living truly human lives just so far as we are laboring to keep God’s commandments; no further.”

God’s law is true. His promises are true, also. Herein lies the great strength and solace of the Christian. Throughout Scripture, God speaks promises that still stand today. Knowing God’s promises and meditating on them empowers Christians to live by God’s promises.

Packer concludes: “What is a Christian? …he is a man who acknowledges and lives under the word of God.” A Christian is one who knows the God of Scripture as Father, and Jesus Christ as Savior. He lives a life of obedience to God’s commands, strengthened by God’s promises. God’s Word – because it reveals God Himself – is the Christian’s very life. Does that describe you, Christian Reader?

God’s Word is the life of the individual believer, but what is it to the corporate body, the church? Look at Acts 6:7: “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” The church was being persecuted and its members dispersed, yet it continued to grow. Why? Because “the word of God continued to increase.”

In Acts 13, we find Paul and Barnabas preaching to the church in Antioch. The culture was against them. The established religion was against them. What happened? “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” (Act 13:48-49, emphasis added)

Today, many are saddened by decreasing church attendance and by the moral decline rampant in society and in the church. Satan seems to have a stranglehold not only on our culture, but on the church itself. While numerous programs have been developed to reach the unsaved and to encourage professing Christians to live godly lives, I think we often miss the obvious. We want a three-step program for salvation, and another for sanctification. God gives His children and His church something infinitely better – His Word. Read it. Believe it. Live it. Learn to love the God who wrote it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

GOD KNOWS ALL ABOUT YOU...WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT HIM?

(Today's post is taken from a series of articles written for my local paper last month. Part 2 tomorrow!)

We have been using J.I. Packer's Knowing God (available at Intervarsity Press - click here) as a springboard to examine and contemplate various aspects of the person and character of God. Recently, we have considered God's wisdom and majesty. Future articles will look at God's love, His grace, and His wrath. But how do we even know anything about God in the first place? And how do we make the cosmic leap from knowing about God to knowing Him personally?

Certainly, the world around us speaks about God. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge." (Psalm 19:1-2, English Standard Version) The intricate detail and incredible precision of the tiniest cell astounds us. Massive planets hurtling through great chasms of space in a delicately choreographed ballet...this, too, challenges our comprehension! Creation is covered with God's fingerprints, so to speak, giving us glimpses of the great God who designed, created, and sustains our world.

Paul writes, "...(God's) invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they (those who reject God) are without excuse." (Romans 1:20) In fact, Paul tells us that denying the existence of and the holy character of God requires deliberate, intense effort on our part - we "press down" the knowledge of God, much like we might compress a coiled spring, holding it down only under great tension.

God reveals Himself to us through His creation, but we also learn of Him through the changed lives and the testimonies of others who have encountered Him. In chapter 9 of the book of John, we read of a man who had been born blind. When Jesus healed this man by restoring his sight, his family and neighbors were astounded. "Who healed you? How did he do this amazing thing?" Many responded by placing their faith in Christ. The religious leaders, on the other hand, questioned the man repeatedly, refusing to accept the miracle and to acknowledge Christ. Finally, the healed man answers them in exasperation, "I have told you already, and you would not listen." (John 9:27)

Likewise, many of us know people whose lives have been radically transformed by Christ, people who have moved from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom, from self-absorption to God-focused living. If we bump up against these people often, we must respond either by acknowledging God's work in their lives, thereby glorifying Him, or by persisting in resolute unbelief. Like a willful child plugging his ears, like the religious leaders mentioned in John chapter 9, we refuse to listen.

But maybe you say, "God did not reveal Himself to me in creation. No, my science teacher told me this world is a product of materialistic, naturalistic, evolutionary processes. I don't see God here at all."

Maybe you say, "I did not hear about God's justice, love, and mercy from my transformed neighbor. I have never heard of Christ's atonement or of forgiveness."

Yes, God speaks to us through creation and through the lives of others, but He speaks to us most clearly and most directly through His written Word.

J.I. Packer writes, "God...knows all about us before we say anything (Psalm 139:1-4); but we can know nothing about Him unless He tells us." Packer continues, "God sends His word to us...to woo us as well as to instruct us; it not merely puts us in the picture of what God has done and is doing but also calls us into personal communion with the loving Lord Himself."

God knows all about you, Reader. What do you really know about Him? Maybe you feel like God is angry. Maybe you think God is disengaged. Maybe you assume that God cares more about your personal happiness than your personal holiness. But what do you know?

God wants you to know Him and to love Him...and He's written an entire book for precisely that purpose. Today would be a perfect day to start reading God's Word to you. What could be of greater value than a life lived in personal communion with the Creator and Lord of the universe?!