Friday, October 20, 2017

NOW THAT FALL HAS OFFICIALLY ARRIVED...




Pumpkins. Pumpkins to eat, pumpkins to paint, pumpkins to carve...so many pumpkins!

Autumn in West Tennessee:  the weather alternates between summer-winter-summer-winter-summer-..., until it finally decides to let go of summer altogether and stay chilly for more than three days in succession. I am enjoying the cooler weather.

Other signs of fall in our neck of the woods include:

Hot spiced tea. My daughter says it smells like autumn in a cup.

Soup! Soups, chili, and stews are on the menu at least once a week, if not more. This week: "Hot Pot," made with smoked sausage, cabbage, onions, potatoes, and chicken stock. Mmmmm!

Pumpkin bread. My mom's recipe, made into sandwiches filled with pineapple-cream cheese spread.

Chex mix. I'm not sure why, but here at Kendallville, we only make this in the fall.

Our baking project for this weekend.

Real hot chocolate. Whole milk, cocoa, and sugar, simmered on the stove until steamy, then ladeled into mugs and topped with whipped cream. Yum!

Marshmallows. Toasted over a fire outside or inside in the fireplace. I don't stock marshmallows any other time of the year. Fall and on into winter, we sometimes go through a bag or more a week.

(Hmmmm, why do so many of our autumn traditions involve FOOD?)

Mums. My daughter just called to say she picked up several on clearance. We're having a planting party when she gets home from work this afternoon.

FIRE! Helen is planning our first conflagration of the season, hoping a special someone will be back home in Tennessee in time to enjoy a chilly October evening sitting around the fire with family and friends.

Fall weather means: time for a bonfire!

How does YOUR family celebrate the arrival of fall?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

AFTER JAPAN: HOSPITALITY

Life presents relationships, challenges, and experiences that are best described as before-&-after events.

They create clear lines of demarcation in how we think, feel, relate, and engage - who we were before, who we are after.

Before Christ. After Christ.
Before children. After children.
Before cancer. After cancer.
Before Japan. After Japan.

Two completely different worlds.

So, how am I different, after Japan?

I am still processing, so my answer to that question is not yet fully formed. I do know, however, that I am not the same person I was a month ago. I do not want to be the same person.

While in Japan, my thinking was challenged significantly in two important areas: 1.) hospitality, and 2.) the visible church.

I was born and raised in the South. Hospitality is as much a part of my heritage as grits and cornbread. Everyone's heard of "Southern hospitality," right? We Southerners speak Hospitality fluently - it's our native tongue.

That's what I thought before Japan.

After Japan, I'm not so sure. I'm afraid many of us Southerners have traded true hospitality for a weak impostor: good manners.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for good manners and polite discourse. We should endeavor to always treat others with courtesy, respect, and kindness.

But good manners - does not equal - hospitality. Let me try to explain with an illustration...

Good manners is greeting the visitor at church on Sunday with a smile and a handshake: "Good morning! Welcome! We are so glad you are here. I hope you enjoyed the service, and that you'll come back again soon."

Hospitality is...

The young woman invited us to her house for the weekend. "Please! Come and stay! I want you to be my guests!" After the six of us arrived at her tiny abode, the woman confided to my daughter, "I am so glad you are here! But I wonder...where will everyone sleep?"

The houses I visited in Japan were small: a compact kitchen/living area, a bathroom/washroom, a sleeping room. Many single college students in America live in apartments that in Japan would accommodate a family of four.

A well-mannered Southern hostess would know better than to invite overnight guests to her house if she did not have space to accommodate them. Better to just smile, shake hands, say "So nice to meet you!" - and leave it at that. Be polite...but don't get all crazy!

But for my young Japanese friend, love for others trumped everything else. Her great concern was not - Do I have enough beds/bowls/cups for everyone? Rather, her great desire was fellowship, conversation around a common table, shared stories and laughter. She raced past "So nice to meet you" and pressed right on into "Please, come into my world, such as it is. I want to share my life with you!"

I visited many beautiful places while I was in Japan: ancient temples, fabulous gardens, parks and restaurants. Nothing was as beautiful as my young friend's home and the hospitality she and her family extended to us there.

After our visit, my daughter commented that true hospitality requires courage, because it demands that we be vulnerable. True hospitality means inviting others into our world, to commune with us not as visitors, but as family.

Politeness, good manners - those, while good, generally require neither courage nor vulnerability. They also don't require much heart. I can be polite even if I don't feel like it, even if I don't like you.

True hospitality requires a generous heart, and, yes, Martha, it requires courage.

I want to be that big and that brave, after Japan.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

LIFE OUTSIDE OF TIME

My internal clock is all out of whack.

I am not sure what day of the week it is, nor am I confident of today's date. I do know we are in the month of October now - yay, me!

My daily rhythms are off. My weekly rhythms are off. I feel like I am living life outside of time.

This time confusion is not without its advantages, though.

Life here in Japan is lived fourteen hours ahead of life in West Tennessee. It is six o'clock in the evening here. Martha is cooking dinner.

It is four o'clock in the morning in West Tennessee - four o'clock this morning, the one already past here in Japan - and it is four o'clock in Mississippi...and four o'clock in the morning is a wonderful time to pray for the day ahead for those I love back home.

My prayer sisters pray throughout the day back in Tennessee. And then, as their day ends, my day begins, and the baton is passed. It is pretty cool to know that we are praying for one another around the clock.

Before I adjust to day and night on the far side of the world, it will be time to head home, time to throw another wrench into the gears of my already malfunctioning internal clock.

I anticipate another season of time confusion. I wonder what blessings it will bring?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

WEDNESDAY IN JAPAN

I can't think of anything that makes a person feel more like a near-goddess than bathing outdoors in the middle of a forest in a pool fed by a steaming hot river...

Sainokawara Open Air Bath
...except maybe bathing with your daughter and granddaughter after hiking up a mountain in brisk fall air.

Observations from a day of adventuring in Gunma Prefecture, Japan:

I always heard the Garden of Eden was located somewhere over in the Fertile Crescent, on the Sinai Peninsula. Perhaps whoever made that claim had never visited Japan.

On the train, on the bus, in a restaurant, on the street, in the shops...the Japanese people have overwhelmed me with their friendliness, helpfulness, and hospitality. The people here are beautiful.

I have an awesome son-in-law. Thank you, Justin, for this opportunity to not only enjoy time with your family, but to also explore your new home. It is lovely!

Monday, October 2, 2017

THIS BIG, BEAUTIFUL BRIDE

When you attend a very small church in a rural community that has little interaction with the world beyond the county line, it is easy to develop a small, narrow understanding of how Jesus's people look and talk and how they worship together.

It is good, sometimes, to step outside the bounds of one's normal routines of interaction, to see Christ's church with fresh eyes, to listen with fresh ears.

Sunday, I was blessed to attend the International Church in Takasaki with my daughter and her family. Among the small group of worshipers were representatives from five continents. The sermon was presented in two different languages. Believers from Italy, Zimbabwe, and Japan raised their voices together in songs of praise to our Redeemer.

It was a long service. Translating a sermon into multiple languages takes time. Singing a hymn in first one language, then in another, takes time. It was a long service; but reluctant to part after the closing prayer, those gathered lingered late into the evening for conversation and fellowship.

I was a visitor, an outsider...and yet I was made to feel very much at home. I, too, was loathe to part company with these precious believers.

I wonder: would these sweet brothers and sisters have been welcomed as warmly and made to feel as much at home if they attended my little church in the hills of Tennessee? Or would they have been too different?

* * *
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." - Revelation 7:9-10

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

SHARED SORROW, DOUBLE JOY

Speaking of the study in the book of Romans (see previous post HERE)...

When Paul was prevented from doing the thing he wanted earnestly to do - to visit believers in Rome - how did he respond? He applied himself diligently to the task before him - ministering to the church in Corinth - while he continued praying for and looking for opportunities to go to Rome.

I am so thankful God did not answer Paul's prayers with an immediate "Yes." Otherwise, we wouldn't have this amazing letter to the Romans!

It occurred to me this week that this great book gives us so many powerhouse verses of encouragement. It was in this season of deferred longing that Paul wrote:

"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).

- AND -

"And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

- AND -

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

These verses were penned while Paul's desires were being denied by God.

Oh, for such faith, a faith that rests in and readily testifies to the unwavering faithfulness and goodness of God, even in the face of disappointment and unanswered prayers!

Ephesians 2 tells us that this kind of confident, rock-solid, unflinching, joyful faith is the gift of God. We can not conjure it up within ourselves. So, like the father of the child possessed by an unclean spirit, I cry: "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

This has been a season of "not yet" answers to prayer at my house. It would be easy to grow discouraged, frustrated, melancholy. But God, in his great mercy, has surrounded me with a community of believers who are committed to praying alongside me. When my own faith flags, these sisters and brothers remind me - again and again - of the goodness and faithfulness of God.

One fruit of this "not yet" season: we have learned that when we share our disappointments and sorrows, they diminish. Even more astounding, we have seen our grief transformed into worship and praise. One dear sister wrote, "God is causing us to rejoice - not in a certain outcome - but in God himself."

A Swedish proverb states: "Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow."

It is one thing to begin with joy, share that joy, and then see it multiplied into greater joy; or to begin with grief, and see that grief, when shared, made smaller.

But God is so much bigger than that. Our sovereign, all-powerful Creator transforms shared sorrows into joyful praise.

* * *
I will turn their mourning into joy;
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
Jeremiah 31:13b

Friday, September 22, 2017

HINDERED

I am participating in an AMAZING study of Romans this fall with a diverse group of women who love the Lord and who want to dig deeply into his Word.

Yesterday, we walked together step-by-step through Romans 1:1-17. Among other things, we learned that Paul had long wanted to visit believers in Rome to impart to them some spiritual gift, that he and they might be mutually encouraged. However, at the time the letter was written, Paul still had not made it to Rome. Paul writes: "...I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented)..." (v. 13).

Paul kept trying to go to Rome, but God kept thwarting Paul's plans. (I am so thankful Paul did not make it to Rome when he first desired to go there - so thankful for this letter Paul wrote while God had him serving somewhere else!)

Although Paul was prevented from going to Rome, he did not sit idly twiddling his thumbs: he continued to pray for the believers in Rome; he continued to pray that God would allow him the opportunity to visit them; he continued to look for such an opportunity; AND, he served faithfully right where he was at the moment.

As we discussed this passage yesterday, we considered implications of Paul's example for our own lives.

Have you ever earnestly wanted to do something - kingdom work, no less - but been prevented? Have you made plans to serve, only to be repeatedly hindered in carrying out those plans? Have you prayed faithfully about a particular opportunity, only to have that opportunity denied over and over again?

Me, too.

Looking at Paul's response to hindered desires, I am encouraged to keep praying, keep asking, keep trying...and then to faithfully labor in the work God gives me to do right here, right now.

The bottom line is: I can trust God with the details of my life. I can trust God even when my prayers have not yet been answered and when my plans do not work out.

So, this morning - Friday morning, September 22 - I began the day with a pretty lengthy list of things I needed to accomplish. Today was going to be a full day, start to finish, but I felt like if I stayed focused and pressed into the harness, I could handle the work load.

I began the day in Romans, reviewing the passage and the things my group discussed yesterday. As I closed my Bible and prepared to jump into the day, before I even got to Item #1 on my ToDo list, my phone exploded. Five frantic text messages from my daughter who had encountered a problem at school. Another, not-so-frantic text from my son, who needed help with his car. A phone call, another text...

My plans for the day had been thwarted. God had other plans for me! I shifted mental gears, grabbed my purse, and headed out the door to address Crisis #1. After my first stop, I hopped back in the car and checked my phone - 11 missed calls!

"Jesus, what on earth is going on!" I exclaimed.

I think God must have been laughing:  "Remember what we talked about yesterday, in the book of Romans? About Paul's experience, and how that can encourage you?"

"Yes! Yes! Of course I remember." I shifted into Drive. I can trust God with the details of my life, even when my plans are hindered. By now, things had gotten so far off-plan, so ridiculous, that I was laughing, too.

Today, I did not do the many things I intended to do. That's okay. God had other things for me to do instead. Yesterday's reminder of God's sovereignty and good purposes in the life of Paul - and in my own life - could not have been more timely.

You want to know something really cool? Checking in here at the blog was not on my ToDo list for today. Today was going to be a run-hard-all-day kind of day - no time for writing.

But God, in his sweet providence, shredded my ToDo list before the day was half-started. God had different plans for me today. I am thankful that He put writing on his list!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

I WILL; BE CLEAN

Sunday mornings at Grace, we are working through the book of Matthew. This past Sunday, we read:

When he [Jesus] came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them." - Matthew 8:1-4

I love this passage, and I have written about it before here on the blog. But this week, new things jumped out at me from these verses...

Everyone of us - either while we walk this earth, or afterward, when we stand on the brink of Glory - every single one of us WILL experience a one-on-one, face-to-face encounter with Jesus. And, as we encounter Jesus, everyone of us fits into one of two categories of people:

The competent man. This man is knowledgeable, righteous, justified in all his actions. He is whole and complete; he has no need to be healed. The religious leaders of Matthew's day were competent men.

The broken man. This man is diseased, despised, desperate. Not only is he incompetent, but he has no hope of making himself better. God himself has labeled this man - the leper - unclean; and because of his uncleanness, he is forced to live life separated from God and from God's people.

The first man - the competent man - needs no healing. And guess what: when the competent man encounters Jesus, Jesus does not heal him. Whole, healthy, righteous people don't NEED to be healed, right? When the Pharisees encountered Jesus, they sought no healing, and they received none.

The second man - the "leper" - is desperately aware of his need for healing. And guess what: when the broken man encounters Jesus, Jesus heals him.

The truth is, ALL of us sons and daughters of Adam are broken. We are all lepers. We are all unclean. The question I face today is: will I deny my brokenness, thus denying myself the healing that only Jesus can provide - or - will I acknowledge my brokenness, and, like the leper, ask Jesus to make me clean?

The broken man - the leper in this passage - knows his desperate need. Although commanded by the law to stand apart from others because of his uncleanness, the leper pushed his way through the crowd until he stood before Jesus. This was an act of desperation.

The broken man approaches Jesus humbly, reverently - the leper knelt before Jesus.

The broken man recognizes that Jesus has the power to heal him - "Lord...you can make me clean" - and yet, the broken man asks with humility - "Lord, if you will..."

The broken man is not demanding. He does not pray: Heal me, Lord! Now!

He is not presumptuous. He does not assert: If I ask with faith, then God must grant what I ask.

He is submissive. The broken man submits himself, in speech, manner, and deed, to God's will rather than his own: Lord, if you will...

In response to the broken man's desperate, humble, reverent, submissive prayer, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the man - Jesus TOUCHES him! - and says, "I will; be clean."

[Do you understand the magnitude of what Jesus has just done?! I am weeping as I write this, people. Excuse me for a minute...I need to step away from the computer and sing The Doxology.]

Jesus touches the man - the broken man, the leper - and heals him. But that's not the end of this story. Jesus then says, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them."

Jesus would not make a very good book agent. He does not say, "Now, friend, you need to schedule interviews with all the major TV networks and then secure a movie deal for your story."

Instead, Jesus commands this man, a man who has long lived outside the community of believers, to join in public worship, at the temple, with God's people.

And how is the healed leper to worship?

"...offer the gift that Moses commanded..." - If you look back in Leviticus, chapter 14, you discover that the process a priest went through to determine if a leper could be declared "clean" was complicated. It was messy. And, it was public.

In other words, although the leper had been healed, declared clean by Jesus himself, although this man was now a member of the community of faith, Jesus basically instructed him: "Testify to your brokenness."

Why, Lord? Why must I share my diseased and broken past with others? Why not forget the past, let bygones be bygones? Why can I not now just let others see that I am healed, whole, righteous, complete... 

Wait a minute. That sounds awfully like the competent man, doesn't it, so desperately wanting to convince others that he's okay.

Oh.

Why is the healed leper called to such outrageous, humbling, visible, joyful worship?

"...for a proof to them."

* * *

I am living proof that Jesus can and will touch a leper and make her clean.

But you won't appreciate that truth - you won't be amazed at how the story ends, and be moved to worship God yourself - if I don't start back at the beginning of the story...

And so, I must own my brokenness again, and again, and again. Not because my brokenness defines who I am, but because it testifies to the power of the Savior who redefines who I am, by bringing me into union with Himself. Not because I glory in my uncleanness, but because I glory in the Lord, who said to me, "I will; be clean."

* * *

And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying "I will; be clean."

Friday, September 15, 2017

SIGNS OF AUTUMN

While shopping for groceries this week, I found store shelves stocked with pumpkin-spice Cheerios, pumpkin-spice oatmeal, pumpkin-spice granola bars, pumpkin-spice coffee, pumpkin-spice coffee creamer, pumpkin-spice cinnamon rolls, pumpkin-spice candles, pumpkin-spice hand soap...

Seriously, people, is there nothing to which we will not add "pumpkin-spice" when the weather turns cool? I am surprised I didn't find any pumpkin-spice dog food, laundry soap, or toothpaste!

The inundation of all things pumpkin-spice is not the only sign that fall approaches:

Ironweed, golden rod, and ragweed are in full bloom. Achoo!



Soups, stews, and chili are back on the menu. Hot spiced tea is the beverage-of-choice on a cool evening. Who's in the mood for a fried apple pie?

Stores are stocking Halloween candy. Writing spiders, grown huge over summer, weave web decorations.


The road in front of the house is busy with the traffic of heavy equipment used to harvest grain - combines, headers, tractors pulling grain buggies.

Leaves on the sassafras trees are beginning to turn, and the dogwood is fruiting.


Fleece sweaters have been pulled out of storage. Plans are being made for the first bonfire of the season. S'mores and apple cider - yum!

The sky is dark when I rise in the morning, and the sun sets long before bedtime now. The cicadas sound sleepy, like they are dreaming already about next spring.

Autumn will be here soon. What signs of autumn do YOU see?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

DOWNSIZING

This is a season of change.

After decades of living in a house bursting at the seams with people, noise, and activity, I find myself adjusting to life in a household of two. I miss my children!

On the UP side:

The bathrooms are much easier to clean now. A bathroom used by one girl - as opposed to a bathroom used by a couple of girls, plus four boys - really doesn't get very grungy over the course of a week.

Laundry takes a fraction of the time to do that it once did. Used to, I ran at least one load of darks, a load of lights, and a load of towels or sheets every single day. Now, on some days, I don't do any laundry at all. Weird.

Leftovers last...forever. This is a good thing if I don't want to cook, a bad thing if Helen and I really don't want to eat potato-ham casserole three nights in a row! The soup bucket in the freezer - where I dump all the leftover bits and pieces from dinner - fills up much more quickly now. Good thing we like soup!

I have time to read. It's been ages since I've had time at the end of the day to curl up on the couch with a good book and read simply for pleasure. Nowadays, I can finish a book in a couple of weeks. I don't usually fall asleep while I'm reading, either. Nice.

I can begin a project - say, cleaning out my closet - and keep working on said project until I'm finished. Without interruption. (Unless I throw out my back in the middle of said project.) How cool is that?!

If I put an item somewhere - say, I put the stapler in the closet under the stairs - it stays there, and is waiting for me exactly where I left it, the next time I need it.

On the DOWN side:

The quiet in the house is distracting. I am used to working with a hum of activity and conversation in the background. When all the kids were home, QUIET meant trouble. Now, all this quiet gives me the uneasy feeling that I am overlooking something that needs my attention before it escalates into an emergency. Too much noise makes it difficult to concentrate - so does too much quiet.

I have to handle technology problems all by myself. Blrrrrgh. I am a techno-dinosaur. Now that the young 'uns are no longer available to solve my technological problems, I am having to work my way forward from the Paleolithic age. (Can I brag? I installed a camera on my laptop for video-conferencing, all by myself, and IT ACTUALLY WORKS!)

When I begin a project - say, cleaning out my closet - I miss the help of young arms and strong backs. And how on earth am I supposed to get things out of the attic now?

When I lose something - say, the stapler, that I thought I put in the closet under the stairs - I have no one to blame for its not being where it's supposed to be, and no one to help me find it, either.

Sure, the bathrooms are easier to clean...but when I use the toilet in the downstairs bathroom and discover there's no toilet paper, there's no one to send upstairs for another roll. :(

I miss family read-a-louds. I miss the kitchen weave of six people dancing around one another, all wanting to have a hand in whatever cooking project is happening at the moment. I miss the coloring parties around the kitchen table. (Can somebody please make me a monkey poster?!)

This new season of life - this downsizing - is going to take some getting used to.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

ASK IN FAITH

This morning, in my current read-through-the-Bible journey, I found myself once again in the book of James.

I LOVE THIS BOOK.

"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.

"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.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith...

"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial..." (James, Ch. 1, vv. 1-6a, 12a)

Few of you reading this blog know intimate details of my life. Suffice to say, physical and emotional and relational "trials" have been all over my radar screen lately. It amazes me how God puts me right back here in the book of James, at the very moment when I need to consider anew the truth and encouragement it contains.

God loves with such sweet precision!

But today is not the first time I have been blessed by this little book...

DOUBLE-MINDED MAN
- originally posted October 13, 2010

In our Sunday evening study of James, Deon tackled verses 5-8 of chapter one this week: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God,who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."

As if James anticipates the struggles we will have "joyfully" facing the trials mentioned in verse 2, he moves right to the topic of prayer. What do we typically pray for when we find ourselves in the midst of a trial? Usually, we pray something like "Lord, get me out of this situation!" - or - "Lord, make this trial go away!" - or - "Lord, FIX THIS!" James, on the other hand, counsels us to pray for wisdom.

For wisdom? First, James says to "count it all joy." Pretty radical. NOT my natural response to suffering or difficulty. Then, when I am screaming out "Lord, send me some relief!" - James says, "No, ask for wisdom."

Deon explained it this way: We read about God in Scripture. We study to know God better. But, we need wisdom to know how to apply the truths of Scripture to the messiness and heartbreak of life in this fallen world. That kind of wisdom is not natural to man - it is going to have to come from God. This is the kind of wisdom that changes our cry from a frantic "Get me out of this!" - to - "Help me to grow from this, Lord, and to know you better."

James encourages us further: he immediately assures us that when we pray for wisdom in trials, we are petitioning a God who gives generously, who does not belittle or scorn us for our ignorance and weakness, who is eager to answer our prayers. But....

Then James exhorts us to "ask in faith." Verse 6 has always troubled me. I believe God can do anything He pleases. My problem is, I'm often uncertain if I am praying His will. I want my friend Amy to be healed from cancer. What if God has other plans for her? I ask God to supply my daily needs, and I have some pretty specific things in mind...but maybe what I perceive as needs are really only wants? I have long struggled with the fear that I am, as James puts it, "a double-minded man," and that it is presumptuous of me to expect anything from the Lord.

"Faith is not believing God can. Faith is believing God will." Deon thus described the view he once had about this faith mentioned in James. That's my problem! I thought, I know God can, but I'm not sure He will! That uncertainty has long haunted my prayer life, but Sunday, God met my doubt head-on.

"That's what I used to believe," Deon continued. "But then I learned, if what I'm praying is not God's will...He won't. Faith is not knowing that God can, or knowing that God will. Faith is knowing God." Deon went on to explain that the kind of faith that stands through trials is faith based on knowing God, on believing what He says is true about Himself in Scripture. Folks, by the end of Deon's sermon, I felt like a tremendous weight of doubt and guilt and uncertainty had been lifted off my shoulders.

I don't know if God will heal my friend Amy. I don't know if He will give me a reliable vehicle to drive. But I do know....God is sovereign. God is good. God loves His children perfectly and gives us exactly what we need to grow in righteousness. I can pray with confidence, not because I am assured of the outcome I desire, but because I am certain, through the teaching of Scripture, that God is all-powerful and all-wise and He will give me nothing less than what is best.

My prayer is that the all-wise God will give this feeble, ignorant child the wisdom to see His purposes, to desire His will over my own, to approach trials saying, "Lord, teach me." I have no doubt - NO doubt - that, in time, He will do exactly that...because He told me He would, right there in the first chapter of James.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

BOXCARS, RIVERS, AND DRYER LINT

I have heard it said that a man's brain operates like a train - an engine pulling a string of boxcars. Each project or event or issue is tucked into its own little car, with no stacking the cargo from one boxcar with that of another. Everything has its own separate compartment.

I have heard it said that a woman's brain operates like a river - a mixed-up torrent of thoughts, emotions, events, memories, ToDo lists, dreams, etc., all swirling downstream together in a turbulent cascade. Every single thing...touches every other single thing. Everything is connected.

My husband informed me last week that since I need something to do with all the free time I have on my hands now that our youngest has started college, I should go to work as a teacher. Makes sense, right? Since I'm not teaching any students of my own (which means lots of free time, right?), why not get paid to school other people's kids?!

Maybe last week wasn't the best time for him to make that suggestion. I was laid out on my back due to a pulled muscle, wondering how on earth I was going to clean the house, shop for groceries, attend an awards dinner, prepare a reception for a recital, and cook for a houseful of weekend guests.

Forget the laundry. Forget writing assignments. Forget exercise class. Yes, all of those things were swirling in the background of my thoughts, but for several days, my mind was primarily focused on the tremendous challenge of standing upright and putting one foot in front of the other.

Today, the doctor gave me a good report: no complications with my wimpy kidneys! Yay! So today, I am back on pain meds and a muscle relaxant that loops me out. I feel like I have dryer lint for brains. I find it difficult to focus, but at least I am able to tackle the laundry and to catch up on email. (I apologize in advance if any of you receive an incoherent email from me!)

But back to the suggestion about teaching school - as soon as I hit the Free Time Jackpot, and when this fuzz clears out of my brain, I will give the idea some thought.

Friday, September 1, 2017

THE INCREDIBLE SWEETNESS OF GOD'S LOVE

(originally posted July 19, 2013)

A repost, because I find it harder than I expected to write while I am lying down...

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7

To the right of this post, there is a place on the sidebar where you can "Search This Blog." Enter anxiety, or fear, or prayer, or a snippet of the verse above, and hit "Search":  you'll see by the number of related posts that come up just how much I struggle with trusting God's good providence in my life.

I've also mentioned in earlier posts how one characteristic of this new season of my life is mid-morning sleeplessness . . . which is not a bad thing, because being awake at 3:00 in the morning provides such a wonderful opportunity to pray without the distractions of a busy daytime house. However, these wee-morning-hour prayer sessions can also be times of earnest spiritual wrestling. I am learning, however, that God is not only awake and ready to talk at 3:00 in the morning, but that He deals so very sweetly with His children in the still darkness of the night.

I lay awake in bed last night (this morning) with some very particular worries on my mind, but also with a very real sense of the nearness and attentiveness of God. "God, thank You so much that You are here and You are listening! Thank You so much that I never, ever have to be alone with the fears that plague my heart!"

Then, the above verse came to mind. "...do not be anxious about anything..."

"But I am anxious, Lord. I am anxious about my tiny daughter who will be flying back home from Japan soon. And I am anxious about my son at boot camp. And I am anxious about my husband's health and his work. And I am anxious about..."

It was a long, long list.

But talking through that list with God last night, I did not feel at all as if He were listening with a frown on His face: "You stupid, sinful, wicked child! Have I not just told you 'Do not be anxious'? And yet that is the very thing you insist on doing!" No, it was as if He was embracing me in loving arms:  "Yes, I know you are anxious about Martha, and about Tom. What else are you afraid of right now?" No condemnation (Thank You, Jesus!), just mercy and grace.

Praying through my worries, it felt like I was taking each weight inside my heart and handing it to God. He never flinched. "Yes," my Father assured me, "I care about these things, too. Can you trust me with them, Camille?"

Yes. Yes, I can, because I know how much you love me, Lord. Because You are awake and listening at 3:00 in the morning. Thank You.

And so, with an unburdened heart I drifted off to sleep.

But that's not the end of this story.

This morning after breakfast, I sat down to finish working through the study for our women's brunch tomorrow morning. I like to write out the verses at the end of each chapter of our study - I process things better when I write them than when I read them. I flipped open the study book, looked up the passage written on the page, and began writing on a sheet of loose-leaf paper. . .

"Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air:  they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? . . . the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father know that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow..." Matthew 6:25-34

And then I looked up and wrote the next Scripture reference on the list, Luke 10:38-42, the passage about Martha and Mary, where Martha was frustrated because her sister was sitting at Jesus's feet instead of helping her serve their guests. The passage includes this verse: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." Camille, Camille! You are anxious and troubled about many things! Be still, my child, and rest at the feet of Jesus.

Now, the funny thing is, this month's women's study is not about worry or about being anxious. It is about setting priorities, about using our time to do what God has given us to do instead of becoming distracted and stressed out by the to-do lists we or others create for us. But as I wrote out those verses this morning, I was overwhelmed with the sweetness of God - that He loves me so much that He wanted to continue our conversation from last night!

I finished the homework for tomorrow's women's study, then put on a kettle of water to make tea. A quick trip to "the library," where I read this excerpt from the June 2013 Tabletalk. Scott Devor, writing on the Christian's adoption into God's family: It is in Christ that we see [the] compassion of the Father most fully expressed. "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?" (Rom. 8:32)

Devor continues: As our Father, He gives us all things that we need, and knows them before we ask (Matt. 6:8). This is similar to what Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount - that if earthly (and sinful) fathers know how to give good gifts and care for their children, how much more will our heavenly (perfect) Father give good gifts and care for us (Matt. 7:9-11)?

I've been brought to tears this morning - not because of fear, but because my Father is so very, very good. Almighty God - who has destroyed nations, slain entire armies, who crushed His own Son for my sake - the sovereign, terrible, omnipotent creator and sustainer of the universe, has stooped to love His frightened daughter with such incredible sweetness and tenderness.



I am undone. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

PRIVATE

PRIVATE: KEEP OUT!

I am a private person.

Raised by a lawyer and a preacher's daughter, I understood early in life the importance of not sharing every piece of information to which I was privy. I am by nature an introvert, so I am not inclined to tell others everything I personally feel or think, either.

Being a private sort of person is not a bad thing. Scroll through your Facebook feed, and I bet you'll encounter at least one post or picture to which you will respond, "Too much information! Keep that to yourself, Sister!" Some people seem to have no appreciation for privacy (their own nor others') at all!

Being a private person is not a bad thing. But there is such a thing as being too private.

I have been reading in 2 Corinthians this week. I feel like God wrote these words especially for me, preserved them across the ages, and then delivered them to me at exactly the moment I most needed to read them. (I LOVE how God's Word does that! Outdated? Obsolete? Irrelevant? Not on your life!)

In Chapter 1, Paul tells the Corinthian believers that if he is afflicted, it is for their comfort and salvation. If he is comforted, that, too, is for their comfort.

Paul's struggles and joys were not designed to be experienced alone, in private. Paul and the Corinthians shared in one another's sufferings and in one another's comforts.

"Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort" (v. 7).

If Paul had been an overly private person, if he had insisted on keeping his afflictions and his comforts to himself, his commitment to personal privacy would have been a hindrance to his own spiritual growth and to the growth of other believers.

What does this mean for me?

My suffering is not all about me. My struggles, my trials, the hardships I face - these things are for the sanctification of believers around me, too.

My comfort is not all about me. When God strengthens me, delivers me, gives my joy in the midst of trials, answers my prayers - that is for the edification of my brothers and sisters in Christ, too.

As much as I would like to keep these things "private" - to keep them to myself - I must not. Instead, I must go public, open the door of my heart.

* * *

In 2 Corinthians 1:11, Paul writes: "You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many."

Insofar as we share one another's burdens, we multiply exponentially God's blessing on the church and the thanksgiving such blessing elicits.

I may be a private person, but I cannot - I must not - keep such abundant goodness to myself.

Friday, August 18, 2017

MY FAVORITE PLACE TO BE

My favorite places to be...

With good friends:














With my awesome siblings:
















With my children:












With the grandkids:




















Walking back on the farm:













But my VERY favorite place to be...

* * *

This week has been an emotional roller-coaster for me. My youngest son left for graduate school on Monday: HUGE happiness and excitement for him and for the opportunities that lie before him, and a heavy sorrow in my heart because I am going to miss him. Such big, contrary emotions crammed together inside my little heart - the walls of my heart ached with the strain.

Then, I received news from a dear friend that she will be moving away at the end of this month. HUGE happiness and excitement for her and for the opportunities that lie before her, and a heavy sorrow in my heart because I am going to miss her. Such big, contrary emotions, on top of big emotions, crammed together into my little heart - the walls of my heart ached with the strain.

New opportunities in my own life (I hope to write more about those in future posts!), bringing with them a tumultuous blend of happiness, excitement, and something akin to terror. Such big, contrary emotions, on top of big emotions, on top of big emotions, crammed together into my little heart.

I have thought this week that, surely, my heart must burst.

* * *

I poured a cup of coffee and headed out to the porch swing this morning in the gray shadow of predawn. A heavy fog covered the fields around the house.

Fog acts like a living thing. It breathes and sighs, lifts and rolls, caresses the hills like a mother's gentle hand on a beloved baby.

I watched the fog, mesmerized. And then, the magic of first light creeping over the horizon...the fog swirled and roiled, gathered itself together into a cloud, and whispered upward into the blue sky of a bright, clear day.

I love to sit on the porch swing in the morning and watch the world wake up. I sit on the swing with my coffee and my Bible and I wait to meet the God whose mercies are new every morning. It's my favorite time of day.

As I watched the fog this morning, with my Bible open in my lap, I thought, "God, you are here every morning, day after day, waiting to meet with me. I open this book, and I know that I will find you here again." The thought that the Creator of the universe condescends to meet with me every single time I open his Word - that He is there and waiting, and that He listens to and speaks into my heart - that thought brought me to tears.

I watched the fog - so beautiful! - and the rising light, and I wept because I felt so extravagantly loved. Not only does God meet me in the cool gray of morning, but, like a most attentive and devoted lover, He brings me such exquisite gifts.

Finally, I turned my attention to the pages open in my lap, to the next passage in my read-through-the-Bible plan, and I began to read.

(Did I tell you this has been an emotional week for me? Did I mention that my little heart has been stretched beyond what I thought it could possibly bear?)

After I watched the fog dance in the predawn and then melt away in the early light of morning, I read in chapter 60 of the book of Isaiah:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.

And I read:

Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult...

The word exult had a footnote indicated. I read the footnote (not something I often do during my morning devotion - reading footnotes), and the footnote said:

...your heart shall tremble and grow wide.

I looked up across the brightening hay field. "God," I thought, "it's as if you had Isaiah write these words, what?, almost 3000 years ago?, so that you could tuck them between the pages of this book like a long-hidden love letter, there for me to find and read today. Especially for me. Especially for today, when my heart is sore from so much stretching, when it feels like you are making my insides bigger than my outsides."

...your heart shall tremble and grow wide.

Yes, my Beloved!

* * *

I pray each morning that God will give me an awareness of his presence throughout the day. I KNOW God is always with me - He is everywhere. But I don't always FEEL like He is with me. Sometimes, I forget He is there. Sometimes, I think He is not with me at all, like He has abandoned me or hidden himself away on the dark side of the moon.

I am not always conscious of God's immediate presence in my life.

But when I am - when my heart trembles with the awareness that "God is here!" - THAT is my favorite place of all to be.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

THE JOY OF BATTLE

I am reading through The Lords of the Rings. The fellowship has just left Rivendell, "the last homely house east of the sea," to begin their tragic quest. My heart breaks for them. (Oh, how I long to visit Rivendell!)

I think this is perhaps my favorite fiction book ever. I am amazed - again - at how precisely and how beautifully Tolkien speaks to the life of the Christian.

This life IS a battle. Are you fighting with joy?

THE JOY OF BATTLE
- originally published August 20, 2011

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

THIS SIDE OF THE CHRYSALIS




A beautiful end-of-summer morning. If I were six years  old, I'd still be in my pajamas, eating Lucky Charms and drinking chocolate milk while watching cartoons at my grandmother's house. Instead, I'm enjoying the weather out on the porch swing as I work, wearing stretchy pants and drinking iced tea, chilling with the cat.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other, as the saying goes.

* * *

"Eeeeew!" This was my teenage daughter's response when she learned that our 80-something-year-old neighbor was dating again. When we drove past J's house, he and his lady friend were riding a four-wheeler together in the field next to the highway. "Old people should not be dating!"

I laughed and tried to explain that, inside our heads, we "old people" feel as young as we ever were. Our bodies may be wrinkled and saggy, but our eyes and our hearts are as bright as ever.

My young daughter remained skeptical. Apparently, she thinks there should be an age limit to new romances. "People in their 80s should not be dating," she protested. "That's just weird!"

I decided it would be pointless to bring up my friend who made the newspaper for being, at the age of 98, the oldest person to apply for a marriage license in Obion County. What about Abraham and Sarah, in the Bible? Well, that wasn't a new romance, so maybe their story didn't weird her out so much.

* * *

There are some songs that, when they come on the radio, you just have to dance to them, no matter how old you are.

"Is that your daughter?" The middle-aged man on the other side of the gas pump nodded toward the van I was fueling.

"Yes."

"Well, tell her I didn't mean to be rude. I was staring at her rather hard when I pulled in next to y'all. She was acting kind of strange," he explained, "and I wondered if something was the matter. She looks about the same age as my daughter. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay."

"Yeah, everything's fine," I smiled. I bit my lip to keep from laughing. Thank you, Jesus, that he didn't notice her mom, car dancing alongside her in the front passenger seat. He'd have thought we were both completely whacko!

Maybe my daughter and I should act more mature when we are out running errands in town and our favorite songs come on the radio. Maybe, but why?

* * *

When Sally directed us into the chair pose at yoga practice this morning, knees around the room crackled like Pop-Rocks in Dr. Pepper, my knees included.

When I practice yoga, I feel like I am about twenty-three years old. I feel strong and alive and positive, like life has many good things and lovely adventures in store.

My knees remind me that I am fifty-three, actually, not twenty-three. Such disparity between the physical me and the me inside my head!

* * *

When the kids were little, we did one of those butterfly garden kits for a science lesson. Eggs hatched into caterpillars. The caterpillars wiggled and squirmed and fed on rich brown goo until they grew large and swollen and stiff.

Like creaky grandfathers, they slowed to complete inactivity, wrapped themselves in small woolen blankets, and slept the sleep of old age.

But in their hearts, they were not old at all. They were young. Young and very much alive.

In fact, these ancient larvae were so young that they had not even truly been born yet, not born as what they were ultimately meant to be.

Then one day, immobility and brown wrinkles gave way to ravishing color and lighter-than-air new life.

Such magic took my breath away.

* * *

Inside our heads, sweet daughter, we are all very young. Does that seem strange? It shouldn't. Not when you think about it, really.

Here, whether we are eighteen or eighty-eight, we are all still this side of the chrysalis, and that is very young indeed.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

GO DOWN SWINGING

A repost today, because it is still a struggle to not be anxious...

GO DOWN SWINGING
(originally posted June 19, 2013)

I am a fearful person. I fear what people think of me and how they'll respond to me. I fear for the safety and welfare of my children. I fear that I'll say or do (or write) something that will hinder someone else in their faith. The list goes on and on.

But Scripture tells me there is only one thing I should fear, and that is God. A reverent fear. In a strange way, a deeply comforting fear.

Scripture, on the other hand, tells me NOT to fear men, or what they may do to me. Not to fear for tomorrow, what I will eat or wear. Not to fear for my safety - my life is God's anyway, right?

"The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." - Philippians 4:5b-6

Do not be anxious about anything.

But still, I am afraid.

One of the lovely side-effects of being 50-ish is that I rarely sleep through the night. I usually wake up around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, still tired but unable to sleep. I have found this to be an awesome time to pray - the house is quiet, and I'm not distracted by the chores that need attending. Basically, I just lie in the bed and pray, pray, pray, until, eventually, sleep returns.

Last night I woke up with such a heavy weight of anxiety on my heart! My kids are scattered to the four corners of the world. Yes, I fear for their safety. I am concerned for the choices they make. Mostly, I am anxious because I want so desperately to be certain that their hearts belong to God. And so, I prayed about these things.

But still, I was haunted with a nagging uneasiness.

I know that God is sovereign. That He is good. That He loves me, very, very much. I KNOW these things. Where then does this disquiet come from?

I think Satan sometimes haunts us, shadows us with an Eeyore cloud of gloom, so that we are unable to rest in and enjoy the peace and assurance that are ours in Christ. Satan cannot make Christ's work or God's sure promises ineffective; instead, he clouds our vision so that we don't feel like God's promises are true, we don't feel like God's Spirit is close at hand to comfort and guide us. What do we do then, when we are troubled by lying feelings?

I read once a piece of advice a father gave to his son. This man told his son never to start a fight. . . but to always finish every fight he was in. Don't start fights. But, if someone else starts one, and you find yourself in the middle of it, make sure that the fellow who starts it walks away limping, that he has reason to think twice about picking another fight. He told his son, it's okay to lose a fight - just make sure the other guy never wins.

This has become my strategy for dealing with these anxieties that sometimes pile in on me in the middle of the night. Yes, I may be discomfited, but Satan is not going to walk away with a win.

So, I pray...for the health and safety of my children. For my husband's job. For the ministry I am a part of at Grace. For the friend living in bondage to sin. For whatever troubles my mind. And if, after praying, I still don't have peace...

I sing. Not out loud (at least not at 2:00 in the morning!), but silently. Words of classic, soul-edifying hymns. Whate'er my God ordains is right: his holy will abideth; I will be still whate'er he doth, and follow where he guideth. Words of praise choruses. Oh, Lord, you're beautiful! Your face is all I seek! The Doxology. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Praise Him all creatures here below.

Amazing how this exercise quiets and calms my anxious soul.

If sin and the devil want to "pick a fight," if they want to play on my fears, then I will hang in and finish the fight. I may not win - my fears may be back to haunt me another day - but I will go down swinging. I intend to leave my adversary with a bloody nose and a blacked eye.

Am I a fearful woman? Yes. What will I do when Satan punches my fear buttons? I'm not even going to give him the time of day. No, I'm going to praise the God who made and keeps me.

Praise God.
Praise God.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

OUT OF A JOB - NOW WHAT?

I have worked myself out of a job.

My youngest child graduated from high school in May. She begins classes as a full-time college student later this month, at a nearby university.

For the first time in 25 years, I have no homeschool students gathered around the kitchen table.

No more lesson plans.

No more text books.

No more school uniforms.

(Just kidding! We never had school uniforms...except for maybe that one stint when the boys were little and they all insisted on wearing overalls.)

What is a no-longer-homeschooling mom supposed to do?

Hmmm...

I could clean my kitchen cabinets.

Or, I could de-junk the attic.

Or, I could learn jujitsu. At least, that's what Ben and Tom tell me: "Mom, you should come learn jujitsu with us!"

Jujitsu? Sounds more appealing than cleaning cabinets or sweating in a cluttered attic!

Now that I am out of a teaching job, I also want to read more, to write more, and to take more long walks back on the farm.

I want to breathe more deeply, love more intentionally, and live more bravely.

I want to hold my grandkids more.

I want to learn more about what God is doing in and through his church around the globe.

I want to pray more with friends, to write more letters of encouragement, and to sit more in silence and listen for the still, small voice of God.

And, yes, I think I'd like to try jujitsu. For real.

Hey, Ben, when's the next class?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

THE BROKEN ROAD TO GLORY

At the end of the book bearing his name, Joshua gives this charge to the people of Israel (see Joshua 24):

"Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness...choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."

The people answer: "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods...we will also serve the LORD, for he is our God."

Joshua's reply to their enthusiastic profession of faith? "You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is holy."

Then follows a short back-and-forth between Joshua and the people of Israel:

People: "No, but we will serve the LORD."
Joshua: "You are witnesses against yourself..."
People: "We are witnesses."
Joshua: "Put away the foreign gods that are among you..."

A couple of things jumped out at me from this passage recently. First, the people seem sincere in their profession: they truly desire to follow and serve God. When Joshua instructs them to put away their idols, they do...at least for a while.

Second, the people believe they are capable. When Joshua, in response to their commitment to serve God, tells them that, no, actually, they are not even able to serve the LORD, they come right back with Oh, but we WILL serve the LORD. God's people do not yet understand the depth of their depravity and brokenness, the vastness of the chasm that lies between their good intentions and the holiness of the God they desire to serve. These people who are so zealous to serve God will soon sink into grossest religious and moral degeneration. And yet...

They are God's people.

They are God's people, not because they are capable of loving and serving their Creator as they ought, but because God himself redeems and keeps them.

The thing that astounds me is this: God chooses to glorify himself not through the ability of those who profess to love Him, but through his own faithfulness in preserving and sanctifying his people even as they demonstrate their complete inability to fulfill their vows and good intentions.

Once again, I am brought back to brokenness. In brokenness, God's people can have no confidence in themselves, but are forced to rely completely upon God. In brokenness, we can claim no glory for ourselves, but can glory only in our Savior.

As long as I think I bring something to the table - my good intentions, my sincere desire to please God, my gifts and talents, my confidence in myself that I actually can serve this holy God as I ought - to that extent, I stand, like the children of Israel stood before Joshua, as a witness against myself.

And yet...

I am God's child. Not because I am capable - because I am not - but because Jesus is capable, and He stands in my place. God himself redeems and keeps me. And, as in the case of Israel, God does this peculiar thing of showing me my utter brokenness (Oh! I did so want to be good enough! To be competent!) and then He uses that brokenness to bring glory to himself.

To the extent that I hide or draw back from the brokenness that God exposes in me, to that extent, I still entertain the self-delusion, the lie, that I can - I CAN! - serve this holy God as I ought. And to that same extent, I seek to glorify myself, not my Savior.

This is Upside-Down World, people! I give God my brokenness and abject poverty, and He gives me his glorious self in return? What kind of transaction is that?!

I so want to do great things for God with my life. God wants to BE the ONE GREAT THING in my life.

In a bulletin from a couple of week's ago, I scribbled this (it had nothing to do with Sunday's sermon, but, obviously, with my own heart):

naive/ignorant → willfully blind → false gospel/self-reliance → true brokenness → JESUS

I begin naively ignorant of my own sinfulness, my own inability to love and serve God as I ought. (Like Israel before Joshua, I say "I will!" - fully believing that I am able.)

As a shadow of conviction begins to spread, I remain willfully blind. (My sin is not that bad/no big deal. My motives/intentions were good. My circumstances are to blame. Well, you know, there are always two sides to every story. At least I'm not as bad as ----.)

Then, I embrace a false gospel. I profess repentance with my lips, but resolve to power through in my own strength. (That was a one-time slip-up - I'll do better. Maybe my sin is an offense to God, but my sincere resolve to serve and honor Him from here on out more than atones for any sin I've committed against Him. I will pray more/fast more often/go to church more - that will make me able.)

The only problem with self-reliance is - it never, ever, ever works. All my personal adequacy and competence and resolve and zeal are ground to dust against the immovable mountain of God's absolute holiness.

Finally - FINALLY - I reach the place of true brokenness. Finally, I understand that when God's prophet says, "You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is holy" - that means me. I am not able. I am completely destitute, empty, incapable.

I - have - nothing.

Like the psalmist, I lie prostrate at the feet of God, crying, "Save me! I am yours!"

And it is here, on my face, that I hear the voice of my sweet Savior say, "Look up, for the day of salvation is at hand."

God does something glorious with brokenness: here, at the foot of the Cross, God transforms complete wretchedness into life and hope and transcendent joy.

Do I want to testify about the greatness of God to others? Do you want me to sing to you the praises of my Savior?

I would LOVE to tell you about my holy, holy, holy God and about my sweet, sweet Jesus. But I must warn you first: this is a story that begins with great brokenness. I can hardly bear to tell it. Do you think you can bear to hear it?

Monday, July 24, 2017

STUDENT/TEACHER

You pour yourself into your children. Sometimes your pour out so much of yourself, so much physical energy and emotion and prayer, that you think there is nothing left inside of you. You feel emptier than the inside of a stale ping-pong ball.

But then...

Those amazing young people turn around and fill you up in return, like water that has rushed out to sea only to return again to the shore in powerful light-flecked waves that fill the tidal pools and smooth the fretted sand.

You pour yourself into your children, and they fill you up in return.
You teach your children, and they teach you in return.
You encourage your children, and they encourage you in return.

Recently, the youngest and I were having a conversation - more than one conversation, actually - about setting goals and achieving goals, about obstacles and disappointment, about pressing through discouragement to complete an arduous task, about not giving up when success proves elusive.

Such valuable life lessons to pass from parent to child

...or from child to parent.

I received a letter this past week. A "Thank you, but no thanks" kind of letter. Not devastating, but disappointing. Truthfully, one of the most gracious and encouraging no-thank-you letters imaginable. Still, when I read the letter, a sad little sinking feeling settled around my heart.

I took a deep breath, read the letter again silently, and then I read the letter aloud to my youngest. Her response? "That is so awesome, Mom! Now you know some specific things you can do to improve. That is so encouraging!"

Awesome? Encouraging? Seriously?

Yes.

Not the no-thank-you part of the letter, but the here-is-how-you-can-improve part.

Persevering in the face of disappointment was a lesson fresh in my youngest's experience, so she shared the lesson with me.

I am thankful for such a sweet and gracious teacher. And, yes, I am encouraged.

And now...back to work!

Friday, July 21, 2017

THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT

Contemplating seasons of life, in this my birth month...old people, I hear, are prone to reflection.

I once was young. Now, I am not-so-young. Some things have changed over the years, but many things have not.

A few things that have NOT changed:

  • Mosquitoes still think I taste delicious. (I would post a picture of my legs as proof, but that would make you itch all over.)
  • The stars on a moonless night still take my breath away.
  • The house I grew up in is still the most beautiful house in the world.
  • I still love Tennessee summertime.
  • Images - as in a movie - still affect me more deeply than they seem to affect lots of other people.
  • I am still inordinately fond of red hair and freckles.
  • I love sitting on the porch swing during a thunderstorm so I can watch the lightning show. Rainbows make me feel giddy, like I live in a world filled with magic.
  • I am still prone to stomp in puddles, or in the creek, or in the fountain in the park.
  • When I cry - even snot-nose, tears-streaming down my face kind of crying - I still do so silently.
  • I still value integrity.
  • I still love the feel and smell of sheets and towels dried outside on the clothesline.
  • I still think my mama's fried chicken is the best, and I still love to hug my daddy.
  • I still believe in Happily Ever After.

A few things that HAVE changed:

  • I have old lady skin - the kind that looks like crepe paper - and the veins stick out on my feet and hands. What's up with that?
  • I think early bedtime is a blessing, not a curse.
  • When I was young, I used to think some babies were not-so-very-pretty. Now, I know there is no such thing as an ugly baby.
  • As a rule, I am not afraid of people, even large groups of people or people who are very different from me. People are wonderful. That's a BIG change from when I started first grade!
  • I do not want to be a veterinarian when I grow up. Maybe a manatee, or Wonder Woman, but definitely not a vet.
  • I used to not like oatmeal, turnips, coffee, beer, green olives, or raw cranberries. Now, I can't think of a single food that I strongly dislike. I LOVE FOOD, and I love trying new kinds of food. (This, perhaps, is not such a good thing!)
  • I used to think people who cussed were probably not very strong Christians. Used to.
  • I do not think it is a good idea for young children to see how far they can leap out of the loft window in the hay barn. (Suzanne and Tom Wright, it is a miracle we survived to adulthood.)
  • I am no longer a fan of "tanning" - I am instead a fan of sunscreen. (BENJAMIN☺)
  • I no longer sleep like a baby. Up every three hours during the night, awake for the day before dawn, crabby when I don't get my afternoon nap...now that I think about it, maybe I do sleep like a baby. Well, then, let me say: I no longer sleep like a teenager.
  • I hated piano recitals when I was a girl; now, I love piano recitals. Being a member of the audience instead of a student performer makes all the difference in the world!
  • I have been a Christian for almost as long as I can remember, but, at 53, I have greater brokenness, more solid assurance, and deeper joy in Christ than ever before.
What about YOU? How are you the same? How are you different?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

THE GIFT OF BROKENNESS

"What do we have that we did not first receive from God? What do we have that we should not be willing to give back to him in worship?" - Thabiti Anyabwile

We are working through Anyabwile's What is a Healthy Church Member? Sunday mornings at Grace. The above quote followed a statement about financial giving, but it applies to so much more: to gifts such as teaching, leadership, and prophecy; to resources such as time, energy, and education; to passions, preferences, and personality.

What do I have that I did not first receive from God? What do you have that you did not first receive from God?

The answer, obviously, is NOTHING.

Everything that we have, we have received from God. Everything.

When I consider that "everything" - the "everything" which I should be willing to give back to God in worship - I tend to think of good things. Positive things. Things that appear valuable and helpful. Things like gifts and abilities and resources.

But considering the above questions Sunday morning - What do I have that I did not first receive from God? What do I have that I should not be willing to give back to him in worship? - I realized: everything means everything. Not just the pretty things or the things others value, but everything.

That means - even the hurt places, the unlovely things, the parts deep inside of me that are broken. Everything.

I have been living in a very broken place for a very long time. I am beginning to realize that brokenness, like everything else in my life, is a gift from God. It, too, is a gift I need to give back to him in worship, for the edification of his body, to the praise of his glorious grace.

It is possible to know sound doctrine, and yet to know nothing of the love of Jesus and to share nothing of the love of Jesus with others. I can prophesy, serve, teach, exhort, give, lead, and show mercy (Romans 12:6-8) - I can do many good things - and still completely miss the gospel.

When I am broken, however, I have no good thing at all with which to sustain myself or to share with my brothers and sisters but Christ.

Even brokenness comes to me from the hand of God. It is a gift. Is brokenness a gift that I will bury, like the foolish servant who buried his one talent in the ground? Or, is brokenness a gift that I will invest for kingdom work?

How can I not give this, too, back to God in worship?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

SIX EASY WAYS TO GET YOUR CHILDREN TO COME TO WHERE YOU ARE

I know I can get a little heavy here at the blog. Overthinking things...that's my spiritual gift. I am not generally a person characterized by levity.

Other people have the gift of levity. That's one of the reasons we need each other in the body of Christ: we all bring different gifts to the table. Thinkers, lovers, do-ers, emoters - we help each other grow and stretch in different ways. Clearly, God loves diversity and thinks it is a good and necessary thing!

That said, Madam Heavy has something she wants to share with you other moms out there.

Moms, have you ever had difficulty finding your children when you need them? difficulty getting your children to come to where you are?

Dinner is on the table getting cold - or - you're standing at the door with your car keys, ten minutes late to leave for a doctor's appointment - or - the dog just threw up and the baby is crawling across the floor and you just can't get to both the dog and the baby fast enough - and you yell, "Hey, kids! I need everyone down here NOW!" - but NO ONE COMES.

You wonder if your darlings relocated two states over while you were switching the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer. Were they abducted by space aliens? Where the heck are the precious little dumplings?!

This seasoned-mother-of-seven has learned the secret to getting your children to come to where you are FAST. Today, I want to share with you...

 SIX EASY WAYS TO GET YOUR CHILDREN TO COME TO WHERE YOU ARE

1. Mop your floors. Don't know where the kids are? Sweep and mop your floors. Your kids will swarm into the house like flies into a hog barn. They will probably be wearing muddy boots.

2. Try to use the toilet...alone. Grab a book, lock yourself into the bathroom, and settle comfortably on the porcelain throne. I guarantee that within minutes your children will gather right outside the bathroom door, and they will all be screaming. Your toddler will need to pee NOW!, your six-year-old will have a medical emergency, and your 8-year-old will be yelling something about an explosion in the microwave.

3. Whisper. As in, a secret or something confidential. Now, this won't work if you're just whispering for the sake of speaking softly. Whispering - "Kids! I need you here right now!" - won't accomplish a darn thing. You actually have to be whispering something that you absolutely DO NOT want your children to hear. Whisper something confidential, and you kids will pop up around you like whack-a-moles: "What? What was that? What did you say?"

4. Reach for your secret bag of chocolate. You know those dark chocolate baking chips hidden in the back of the freezer? The mini-Snickers on the top shelf of the pantry, pushed back behind the box of oatmeal and the jarred spaghetti sauce? Yeah, that chocolate.

The same children who cannot hear you calling their names at the top of your voice, they develop Spidey senses the minute your fingers touch a package of hidden chocolate. It doesn't matter how quietly you open that bag of chocolate...your kids will hear the faintest crinkle and come running.

5. Make an important phone call. You need to talk to a representative at your insurance company about a claim they denied again - or - you need to give Angie the sad news that the cat she left in your care while she spent the summer in Europe, well, the cat died (maybe you won't tell her the part about the coyote) - or - maybe someone calls you, a friend who is going through a major life crisis, and she needs an ear to cry into before she completely cracks up.

Get into one of these phone conversations, and I promise, your kids will come out of the woodwork. Not only will they be present, but will be ridiculously needy and vocal, too. "Mom, I'm starving!" "Mom, I can't find my favorite bra!" "Mom, I need help NOW!" "Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!"

Shush!-ing - and - the Can't-you-see-I'm-on-the-phone! death look - and - the I-am-going-to-kill-you-if-you-don't-be-quiet finger across the throat - totally ineffective. You will swear that the Apocalypse has begun right at your elbow. And your noisy kids will not go away: they will stick to you like burrs in dog fur...like noisy burrs.

6. Get naked with your husband. The kids are upstairs playing with Legos or outside in the back yard building a fort. Dad comes in from mowing the yard to take a shower. When Mom brings Dad a fresh towel, you both get to thinking - forget the towel: how about a little "afternoon delight" instead?!

Get romantically tangled up with your husband. Before Mom's undies have time to absorb the water on the bathroom floor, everyone under the age of ten who lives in your house will have paraded into the bathroom, and Mom and Dad will both be scrambling for towels. Works like magic.

* * *

Your turn: what tips do you have for finding your children? Please share!