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!

Friday, July 7, 2017

URGENT!

URGENT: Cure discovered for toenail fungus!

Seriously, people, this was in the subject bar of a recent message in my email junk folder. Can someone please explain to me how "toenail fungus" and "urgent" make sense in the same sentence? Maybe if I actually had toenail fungus, I would understand.

When all my kids were still at home, the word "urgent" was reserved for things like asphyxiation, severe head wounds, broken bones, the washing machine going on the blink, or the two-year-old needing to go potty.

My daughter is rather keen these days on getting to the mailbox the minute the mailman arrives. Urgent might be a little bit strong of a word to use in her case, but it's not too far off the mark.

I've had a really bad case of chiggers before, and I've had some miserable poison ivy rashes. Chiggers and poison ivy have a sense of the "urgent" about them - relief can't come fast enough!

As a child, I made it a tradition to stomp a nail into my foot almost every summer. I can testify that a rusty nail in the foot needs urgent attention.

I am 53 years old now. These days, things besides chiggers and puncture wounds set my "urgent" alarm bells ringing:

I know the location of all the best public restrooms in a one-hour radius from my home...because when I need to GO, there ain't no time for dilly-dallying!

That first cup of coffee in the morning? Yep, add that to the list.

Hot flashes: I need a cold shower, an icy beverage, and a high-powered fan, NOW. The beer cave at the local Quick Mart is a paradisaical oasis for a woman in my stage of life. I'm surprised they haven't posted a sign on the door: "WOMEN OVER 50 NOT ALLOWED."

Email spammers have it all wrong. Toenail fungus, hair loss, and the latest scoop on Hillary Clinton are not matters of urgency. That recipe my sister-in-law shared for a beer-Kahlua-chocolate-ice cream float, on the other hand...

* * *

What about you? What makes your "urgent" list?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

MANY MEs

I have written here recently about Reginald-the-Lamb's ornery refusal to behave when my daughter works with him each day. I wrote Saturday about Reginald's star performance in the ring: you could not have found a better-behaved lamb!

Guess what? Sunday, back at home, Reginald popped right back into his familiar ornery belligerence. I was shocked. After his fabulous performance on Saturday, I thought Reginald had moved past such naughtiness. I expected him to behave nicely-ever-after. Boy, was I wrong!

I know people like Reginald - people who speak and behave one way in a particular setting, then speak and act a totally different way in the "show ring"...at church or among peers or in front of coworkers.

Then, there are those people who have a "self" inside their heads and another "self" that engages with the world in which they live. This duality is something I struggle with myself - I know my intentions; never mind what my actual actions say about me!

Why am I writing today about these Many Me-s (both my own, and those of others with whom I relate)?

First, because I do not want my good intentions - the Me inside my head - to anesthetize me to the self-deception I practice when I consistently fail to act on those good intentions. My actions testify to what I truly believe. My actions expose who I am, as opposed to who I think I am. Sadly, the ideal me living inside my head often proves to be a fantasy, an illusion.

I once heard a theologian describe shalom as a kind of integrity: things are what they appear to be. No deception, no duplicity, no confusion. On an individual level, shalom-ness is integrity of person - it is being the same inside and out, in our thoughts and in our practice, in private and in public.

I want my desiring and my doing to demonstrate that kind of personal integrity. Oh, how I long for shalom!

Second, I am writing because - there really are Reginalds in the world. Reginald A, a model lamb in the show ring - is the very same lamb as - Reginald B, who will knock you down and trample you for sport.

I have learned that the Susie I know and the Susie you know may be two completely different people. And when you are crying because Susie broke your heart, I do not need to tell you how wonderful Susie is...I do not need to explain to you how you've got Susie figured out all wrong...I do not need to tell you, "Well, if you would just do [fill in the blank], Susie would be a better friend."

Instead, I need to listen, to grieve with you, and to pray that God will help us all to love more like Christ.

But he looks so sweet and cuddly!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

LAMB LESSONS: FOLLOW-UP ON REGINALD

In Thursday's post - Yet More Lessons Learned from a Lamb - I shared a few of the challenges my daughter has faced as she has labored to train her ebullient lamb, Reginald. (Ebullient is euphemistic for You're not the boss of me - I'll do whatever I want/I am bigger than you, so I think I'll just drag you half-way across the yard.)

Helen and Reginald had their first show today, so you are due an update.

Honestly, we were concerned that Reginald might go all "ebullient" in the ring today. "What am I going to do if Reggie acts up and I can't control him?!" Reggie is a good deal bigger than Helen. Lambs don't wear halters/leads in the show ring, and Helen wondered how she would keep him under control if he started acting up. What if he got loose?

Helen has invested sore muscles, sweat, and more-than-a-few tears in this lamb. She has worked very hard with Reginald, but even as recently as yesterday morning, there seemed little to show for all her effort.

But today, when Helen and Reggie stepped into the ring, this ornery lamb behaved like a prince:


As a follow up to Thursday's post, I want to say:

I am so proud of this young lady for the phenomenal patience and perseverance she has demonstrated as she has worked with her lamb. I am impressed by her hard work and by her determination to maintain a good attitude despite moments of discouragement. Well done, Helen. You are an inspiration to your mom.

I am so thankful for a God who hears and answers our prayers. I am thankful that God is well-acquainted with sheep. I am thankful that He condescends to meet us in our need...even if that means meeting us in the show ring of a hot, dusty arena. Is there anywhere we can go to escape the presence and the love of our heavenly Father? No. Nowhere. God is so awesome!



Thursday, June 29, 2017

YET MORE LESSONS LEARNED FROM A LAMB

Last summer, my daughter cared for and trained a lamb to show at the county fair. This summer, she is training Lamb #2. Once again, I am learning much from Helen's lamb project. I am learning things like...

Our greatest strength is also often our greatest weakness.

In the ring, an owner wants her lamb to brace. Bracing is a precise, tensed stance that displays the lamb's musculature and conformation. It's sort of like a body builder striking a show-off power pose.

Last year's lamb - Bertie - was a sweetheart. He loved Helen and snuggled up to her like a puppy. That sweet temperament, however, was devoid of the somewhat aggressive physicality needed in the show ring. Bertie was so completely chill that "flexing his muscles" was a completely foreign idea to him.

Last year's lamb - Bertie - was a sweetheart!

This year's lamb, Reginald, is a beautifully-muscled powerhouse full of spunk and spit. He's the cocky sheep version of "Hey, Baby, check out these glutes!" Reggie braces perfectly, almost instinctively. The down side of Reggie's great physicality and energy is that there is no "Chill" setting on his temperament gauge.

This year's lamb - Reggie - is an aggressive stud muffin.
(Um, well, except that he's not actually a stud.)

The challenge Helen faces - the challenge we all face in some area of our lives - is: do I see my circumstances as a blessing/opportunity, or do I see them as a problem/curse? And, am I mindful of how my strengths are also my areas of weakness, so that I can correct my weaknesses as I endeavor to develop my strengths?

Tenacity: the stubbornest girl/lamb wins.

Reginald is not very smart. He IS very stubborn. As Helen leads Reggie around the yard each day for exercise, he bucks, jumps, sits back on the lead and resists her every way imaginable.

If you watched Helen working with Reggie this morning, you would have wondered if that lamb had ever been handled by a human before. Yes, he has. A lot. Still, Reggie begins each workout with the resist-at-all-costs mentality of a 3-year-old human.

Reggie has tried Helen's patience to near the breaking point. She has at times wanted to throw in the towel. But this morning, she was back outside, wrestling Reginald around the yard until he calmed down enough to behave like a civilized lamb. This afternoon, she'll do the same thing again. And again this evening. And again tomorrow morning... (Thanks to Reggie, Helen is developing some awesome muscles herself.)

I admire Helen's tenacity. I am confident she will succeed in training this ornery lamb, because she is determined that - as stubborn as Reggie is - she will be even more stubborn.

Yes, size does matter...and mamas will do almost anything for their kids.

Have I mentioned that Reginald is a moose? And that he's super muscular? And that he has a lousy attitude?

Have I also mentioned that he weighs nearly twice as much as his trainer? That often, it looks more like Reggie is dragging Helen around the yard than the other way around?

If you have ever been to a livestock show, you have probably wondered how on earth tiny little people manage to lead great huge animals around the show ring. Well, let me tell you...

Somewhere in the process of that animal's training, Mama or Daddy looked out the kitchen window and saw her/his precious little baby being dragged across the yard by a stupid, stubborn, ornery excuse of a show lamb/calf/whatever, and Mama or Daddy decided - That's enough of that!

For every kid you see in the livestock show ring, there is a mama or a daddy who has gone smack-down with an animal.

Me - I've got weight, stature, and brains on that lamb. He's got nothing on me. And after raising seven kids, let me tell you, I don't have any problem going head-to-head with his sass.

When life's circumstances drag you through the weeds and brambles, sometimes you just need an almost-200-pound woman with gray hair to step in and yank a knot in somebody's tail. God gives us parents - and He gives us older, wiser, more-experienced Christian friends - for a reason. We all need help sometimes, and it is okay to ask for help.

Pray about everything.

One of the things I love about my daughter Helen is that she prays about almost everything. No concern is too small or too big to take to her Heavenly Father.

Helen and Reggie have their first show on Saturday. That's only two days away. Will Reggie be ready to behave himself in the ring? I don't know. But I'm certain of one thing: Helen - and Helen's mama - will be praying.

If you think about it on Saturday, would you please pray for Helen and Reggie, too?

* * *

What did I learn last year from Bertie? Click on these links to find out!
THINGS I HAVE LEARNED FROM A LAMB
MORE LESSONS LEARNED FROM A LAMB

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

SWEETER STILL

The song "I Keep Falling in Love with Him Over and Over Again" contains these words:

"When I first fell in love with Jesus,
I gave Him all my heart.
I thought I could not love him more
Than I did right at the start.
But now I look back over the mountains and the valleys where I've been...
It makes me know I love Him so much more than I did then.

"And I keep falling in love with him
Over and over, and over and over again..."

* * *

It's been a rough week. Heck, it's been a rough decade. But this past week, rougher than usual. By Sunday morning, my ship was dragging bottom.

Then...

Sunday morning during worship, a friend preached about the plagues God inflicted on the people in Egypt. A couple of points from James's message that really stood out for me:

- Through the plagues, God displayed his omnipotence, providence, mercy and judgment. God created and rules over all of creation: God is sovereign, even in the midst of terrible circumstances.

 - In the plagues, God had a purpose for the Egyptians (including hardhearted Pharoah), AND God had a purpose for his people. While the Hebrews were exempt from some of the plagues, they were not exempt from all of them: God's people suffered under the plagues, too. While God was displaying his power to the Egyptians, He was also transforming the faith of his chosen people. One group ended up broken, wanting the presence and power of God to depart far from them; the other group was moved to worship and was empowered to embark on an arduous journey that demanded they live out their faith in the terrifying but life-giving presence of God.

I felt like Sunday's sermon was written just for me, like God used James (who knew nothing of my heartache) as a mouthpiece to speak to me the very words I needed to hear. Life is hard, people. It is hard for all of us, whether we are redeemed or lost. The good news is: as a child of God, I can be confident that my heavenly Father rules my life and He uses everything - even terrible things, even painful consequences of another's sin and hardheartedness - for my good and for his glory.

Sunday evening, while I was still weary and my heart still sore, a young friend shared her own grief and broken-heartedness, and then she shared how encouraged she had been by the words of another song, "Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken." Together, I sang with sisters in Christ:

Man may trouble and distress me,
Twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me;
Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, tis not in grief to harm me,
While Thy love is left to me;
Oh, were not in joy to charm me,
Were that joy unmixed with Thee.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure,
Come disaster, scorn and pain
In Thy service, pain is pleasure, 
With Thy favor loss is gain.
I have called Thee "Abba, Father;" 
I have stayed my heart on Thee;
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather;
All must work for good to me.

Soul, then know thy full salvation
Rise o'er sin and fear and care
Joy to find in every station, 
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee;
Think what Father's smiles are thine;
Think that Jesus died to win thee;
Child of heaven, canst thou repine?

Could these words have been more timely balm for my sore heart?! I think not!

But THEN...

Yesterday - Monday - my brother David had a heart attack. I received the news yesterday evening...he and my sister-in-law Tracy were at the hospital...still awaiting test results...messages flying back and forth between family members eager for the latest update, fervent prayers, a restless night...

This morning, a phone call. It was David. Yes, he had had a heart attack, but all is well. From the hospital, David called this morning to tell me, "I have a policy that when I'm feeling down on my luck, when I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself or to think 'Woe is me,' I think of someone else and then I focus my attention and prayers on that other person. I just wanted to call you this morning and tell you that I love you and to let you know I was praying for you yesterday."

David knew nothing of my personal grief, yet - while he was waiting in the emergency room for test results and then undergoing treatment for a heart attack - while I was praying for him - he was praying for me. I wept and laughed at the same time as I told my brother that God knew how much I needed those prayers yesterday!

These past few days, God has been telling me over and over how very much He loves me. He is such an attentive and persistent lover of my soul!

I have written before about The Incredible Sweetness of God's Love. People, this love keeps growing sweeter and sweeter. God is so good. He meets me in my need. I cannot help falling in love with him, over and over, over and over again.

* * *

Are you weary? Is your heart sore today? Perhaps these words will encourage you as they encouraged me and my young friend:





Monday, June 19, 2017

THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS

Several times over the past few months - more times than I want to admit - I have wronged another person and needed to ask forgiveness. It is humbling to go to a brother or sister and confess, "I was wrong. I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?"

Also humbling, in a very different kind of way, is when the other person responds with "Oh, it's no big deal" and then completely skips over the issue of forgiveness. Or when the person replies "I'm not really into the whole repentance/forgiveness thing" and just walks away. Or worst of all, when the person says and does nothing at all. Ouch.

I have had several occasions to ask for forgiveness over the past few months, and I have noticed a strange phenomenon. The adults of whom I have asked forgiveness, with one exception, have either casually dismissed my personal sin and my need for forgiveness, have dismissed the need for repentance and forgiveness in general, or have ignored me altogether. By contrast, the young people of whom I have asked forgiveness - every one of them - responded, quickly and simply, with "I forgive you," followed immediately by a hug, a smile, or a kind word of encouragement.

I do not know why this is - why the young people seem so much readier to forgive. I do know, however, that I want to be more like they are. I want to be quick to repent and quick to forgive...not only quick to forgive, but to articulate that forgiveness, to speak forgiveness to the person who has asked for it.

Over the past few months, I have learned from these gracious young people: "I forgive you" is a gift.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

GOODREADS GIVEAWAY: BETHEL ROAD


Just in time for beach or poolside reading! Now through July 15, you can enter for a chance to win one of ten free copies of Bethel Road at Goodreads.com.

When Kathy Parks takes a wrong turn on a winding country road, she discovers her dream house: a dilapidated but beautiful brick Victorian on Bethel Road. Kathy must first convince her husband Ron that the derelict house is salvageable. Then, she wonders, should she tell him about the ghost in the downstairs bedroom?

Join Kathy on a journey to discover the true meaning of home as she searches for a place she can call home forever.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

THE STING OF GRACE

Thinking about the wonderful grace in which we walk in Christ Jesus, it occurs to me anew that grace carries with it a sting.

Abstract grace - some disembodied concept that floats around inside my head - that doesn't sting. No, that kind of grace is safe, faraway, romantic, painless.

But the grace that is mine in Christ is not abstract. It is real, practical, personal. It reaches into the mess of my day-to-day life and touches my flesh, my mind, my heart, my soul. It touches what I say and think and do. It touches everything about who I think I am. No part of me escapes God's relentless grace.

Whatever this grace touches, it exposes. Not sin in the abstract - sin that is mine by virtue of my being a daughter of Adam, that faraway misty sin - but sin in the particular. My actual, lived-out, freely-chosen sin. My pet, I-don't-want-the-world-to-know, today sin. MY sin.

This exposure hurts. (I did so want to believe better of myself!) Sometimes, the pain of exposure is excruciating. Sometimes it hurts the people around me, too, because they stand too close to me or because they love me.

Perhaps it is fear of this exposure and pain, this initial sting of grace, that makes some people so reluctant to receive it. Grace can indeed appear terrible.

But I can testify...

That initial sting, however painful, is nothing - NOTHING - compared to the joy that follows as grace washes over the great festered sores in my soul and transforms rancid flesh into living tissue.

All this thinking about grace brings to mind the following post from a couple of years ago... 

NAKED
- originally posted August 17, 2012

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
 - Romans 1:16-17

"I am not ashamed of the gospel..." Why would Paul make such a statement, unless there was some possibility, some assumption, even some likelihood, that shame would be a natural emotion for someone associated with the gospel of Christ?  Why would he need to assert that he was not ashamed?  Ashamed of what?  What is shameful about the gospel?

I suppose there are lots of answers to those questions, but one in particular has occupied my thoughts this week.  Let me try to explain...

By trusting in and testifying to the gospel - by confessing my own complete poverty and filthiness before a holy God, and by resting only in Christ's righteousness applied to my account - I am basically proclaiming to the entire world that I am a Loser.  Worse than a loser.  No, I am not "all that and sliced cheese."  I can't even do the first little thing, take the tiniest fumbling baby step toward a right relationship with my Creator.

The gospel - the "good news" - begins with the very bad news that I am a sinner, that I hate the things of God, that not only do I deny His holiness and justice, but I run from it with everything I've got.

But captured by God's grace - captured and captivated! - captured by grace which flows from God's infinite mercy, I have been made new.  Transformed by my Creator from a God hater to a God lover.  Not because I desired God and sought Him out, but because He desired me and pursued me.  Not because of any virtue in myself, but entirely because of the virtue of Jesus.  Not because I had faith, but because Jesus is faithful.  Not because I have within myself one iota of righteousness, but because Jesus has applied to me the very "righteousness of God."

As a redeemed sinner, I find the gospel message beautiful - it is life and hope and joy and peace.  But the gospel also has a dark side...it exposes me for what I truly am.  I cannot tell you about the radiant beauty of Jesus without exposing the darkness in my own heart from which He has saved me.

If I am going to tell you that Jesus died to save sinners - I am going to have to put down the facade, strip away the self-deception that so desperately labors to make me (and you) believe I have any righteousness in myself.

To truly believe and rest in and live out this gospel - it's like standing in front of the world naked.

Yes, the shame of the gospel would be too great to bear, were it not for the glory of Christ, were not for Christ's covering me with His own righteousness.  Thankfully, the gospel is powerful - powerful enough to overcome my shame.  Indeed, it is the very "power of God for salvation"!

It's a power that makes a dirty, trembling, naked sinner look up in faith and joyfully proclaim to the world around her, "I am not ashamed!"

Thursday, June 8, 2017

PERSEVERANCE

The waistband of my denim shorts is too tight. Guess I need to lay off the brownies and chocolate chip cookies...again!

I am intimately acquainted with the indulge-expand-oh,no!-cut back cycle. Over the years, I have learned that the third day of "cutting back" is the hardest.

Day 1, I am super-motivated. I imagine how trim I'll look and how much energy I'll have when I achieve my weight-loss goals, and I tell myself I'll go shopping for cute new clothes.

On Day 1, I am also not very hungry. Saying "No" to those brownies and cookies is really not that difficult (especially when I'm thinking about how awesome I'll look in a month).

Day 2, I am still motivated, but my fuel tank starts to feel a little empty. I enjoy a big, beautiful salad and grilled chicken for lunch, but then I immediately wonder if there are any chocolate chips hiding on the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet. I catch myself. "No, no, no...not going there!"

Day 3, I am ready to eat bark off a tree, as long as it's battered, deep-fried, and smothered in gravy. When I munch an apple for "dessert" (ha!), images of hot-fudge sundaes dance through my head.

Day 4, forget those images of the future thin me: I'm all about thick me today!

Here's the thing...

I can set admirable goals - lose 10 pounds. I can have lofty ambitions - write 1000 words on my manuscript today. I can intend to do wonderful things - love my neighbor. But if I lack perseverance, none of those amazing things are going to happen.

You know what? I don't have much perseverance. My perseverance reserves run completely out in about four days. Or less, depending on what I'm persevering - or not persevering - toward.

In the Bible, perseverance is called a fruit of the Spirit. Perseverance is a God thing. Perseverance is not the same as will power, which I can conjure up on my own. Will power is my resolving, "I will do this, by golly!" Perseverance is me actually doing it. One is inside my head. The other works its way out through my hands and feet and words and actions.

If I don't have perseverance, and if God is the source of perseverance, then, obviously, I need to be petitioning my Father for this gift: "Father, I need perseverance! Please, give me some! Help me persevere!" I need to be knocking on his door, day in and day out, pleading for this Holy Ghost gift.

I need to persevere in asking for perseverance. Sounds like a Catch 22, doesn't it? Except that, when I ask for perseverance, God always gives me exactly the amount I need.

Maybe it won't be enough to turn down that brownie or to type out that 1000 words, but it will be enough to draw me back to Himself so that, in my need, I can pray once again, "Father, I need more perseverance! Help me persevere!"

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

INIGO MONTOYA, LIFE, AND THE GOSPEL

Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride

As a young boy, Inigo Montoya stood by helplessly as a mysterious six-fingered man murdered his father. When Inigo tried to defend his father, the six-fingered man left the boy with scars on both his cheeks.

Inigo dedicated his adult life becoming a master swordsman, hoping one day to meet the six-fingered man once again. His life's ambition was to find the six-fingered man and avenge his father's death.

In a scene near the end of The Princess Bride, Inigo finally confronts the six-fingered man: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

As a boy, Inigo had been no match for the six-fingered man. Young Inigo challenged his father's murderer, and he was humiliated, left with two gruesome scars to remind him and everyone he met that he was inadequate, a failure.

Unfortunately, here at the end of the movie, Inigo is still no match for the sadistic, cowardly, dishonorable Count Rugen. Rugen taunts Inigo as he proceeds to puncture just about every major artery in Inigo's body. Inigo, faint from loss of blood, collapses against a wall.

Confident that he has mortally wounded Inigo, Count Rugen stands calmly before the young man and waits for him to collapse onto the floor. Instead, Inigo straightens, winces, and repeats: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

The six-fingered man is stunned. Inigo's knees buckle, but again he regains his composure. "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Every time Inigo repeats that phrase, he grows stronger. Advancing on the six-fingered man, Inigo duels him until, finally, the six-fingered man is defenseless and begging for mercy, terrified for his life.

As a child, Inigo had not been defeated - he had only been scarred. Those scars motivated him to study, to learn, to grow strong, and to face down the thing that shattered his world when he was a boy.

When he finally faced Count Rugen, Inigo was no longer a weak, cowering child. He had grown into a focused and determined young man and a master swordsman.

What do I learn from Inigo Montoya?

I learn that although my past shapes me, it does not define who I am. The scars I bear are not the end of my story.

In this particular scene from The Princess Bride, I am reminded of the many times I have faced fear, shame, a sense of inadequacy or worthlessness.

"My name is Inigo Montoya." When I am at my lowest, I need to remind myself who I am and, more importantly, whose I am: I am a daughter of the Most High King.

When he fought Count Rugen, Inigo was strengthened by repeating his lifelong resolution. When I face the adversary of my soul, I am strengthened by repeating the truths of God's Word.

"My name is Camille, and I am a beloved child of God. My God is sovereign, He is good, and He loves me very much."

Yes, I may have scars, but, no, I am not defeated.

Friday, June 2, 2017

MMMMM, DIRT!

Photo courtesy of Dawn Guy of Troy, TN. Thank you, Dawn!

When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to tell me, "Everybody needs a little dirt to scratch in." Grandmother loved working the earth. For as long as she was able, she maintained a garden and small orchard. At 98 years old, Grandmother no longer has the physical strength to dig with a shovel or run the tiller (although her mind is still sharp as a blackberry thorn!); she does, however, keep several potted plants in her room at an assisted-living facility. Grandmother stills believes that "scratching in the dirt" is good for the soul.

Research backs up Grandmother's claim. In her article "How to Get High on Soil," Pagan Kennedy wrote that M. vaccae, a microbe found in soil, "has been shown to boost the the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine circulating in the systems of humans...In other words, [M. vaccae] works in much the same manner as antidepressant pills." (Pagan Kennedy, "How to Get High on Soil," The Atlantic, January 31, 2012. For entire article, click HERE.)

The smell of healthy soil, it turns out, is a natural mood booster.

We country folks are not surprised. When heavy rains of early spring give way to sunshine, farmers head out to the fields with ginormous "do-alls" and 36-row corn planters. The air fills with the rich earthy smell of freshly-turned soil. Roll down your car windows as you're driving down the road and inhale deeply, and your mood instantly brightens. Inhale too deeply, and you just might get high!

Almost seems like we humans were created to scratch in the dirt...like we were meant to live life in a garden.

* * *

"...the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden...and there he put the man whom he had formed..to work [the garden]." Genesis 2:7-8, 15

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A 1-TALENT INVESTMENT STRATEGY


Who do you think is the best fiction writer ever? This question initiated a lively discussion at my house over the weekend. Most agreed that J. R. R. Tolkien was in a class of his own. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the best-selling novels of all time. Tolkien began writing his trilogy eighty years ago, but it is as lively, captivating, and relevant to readers today as when it was first published.

Who else is on your list of top/best fiction writers? The answer to this question was more varied. J. K. Rowling was a heavy contender, as was C. S. Lewis.

Mom, do you think that maybe one day you'll be as good a writer as J. K. Rowling or Lewis? At this question, I wanted to crawl in a hole and disappear. Maybe one day, if I work hard at my craft every day and if I live to be a hundred and fifty-nine...maybe one day, Son, I will write well enough to pen a foreword for the umpteenth edition of a Rowling or Lewis book. Maybe. Write as well? Ha! Such presumption!

Last week, I wrote about the temptation to be jealous of those who are more successful than ourselves. (You can read that post HERE.) No, I am not jealous of Tolkien or Lewis or Rowling, neither of their ability nor of their success. When I think of these amazing writers, I am simply grateful. I am grateful that God has extraordinarily gifted these individuals to communicate the gospel in powerful ways through the fiction they write. However...

This morning, as I recalled my family's best-author conversation, I got to thinking: with so many excellent writers in the world, why do I write at all? Why not get back to mopping the kitchen floors and leave writing to those who are so much more talented than I am?

So I asked God that question: "God, I love to write, but my writing gift is small. Should I devote my time to writing - and to learning to write better - or should I set writing aside altogether?"

God is so kind.

He took me to the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, to the parable of the talents. In this parable, a man entrusts his property to his servants before he leaves on a long journey. He gives one servant five talents, he gives one servant two talents, and he gives a third servant one talent. After a long time, the man returns home. Servant #1 invested the five talents, and earned his master five talents more. Servant #2 did likewise with his two talents. Servant #3, however, buried his one little talent and earned no interest for his master. And for this - for refusing to invest his one talent - he was punished.

Reading through Matthew 25:14-30, I was reminded: my job is not to compare whatever talent God gives me with the talent(s) He gives others, but to be faithful with the talent with which I have been entrusted.

I can look at 100-talent writers like Tolkien and Rowling, and think of my 1-talent writing: "One talent? That's too insignificant to invest. I'll just bury it in the ground." - OR - I can look at the small talent God has given me, and ask, "Lord, how can I invest this for you? How can I grow this for you, to advance your kingdom work?"

God doesn't call me to be faithful with what He has not given me. He calls me to be faithful with what He has given me...even if what He has given me is one small talent.

What "talent" has God given you? Is it big? Is it small? Maybe, like me, you think your gift is too small to even matter. I encourage you - delight in the small gift God has given you, and then invest your gift, grow it, and present it back to God with interest.

I think we will both be amazed, you and I, at what God can do with one small talent.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

IF I AM NOT MY OWN, THEN WHY AM I JEALOUS?

"For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's...you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God...each of us will give an account of himself to God." - Romans 14:7-8, 10, 12

* * *



If I am not my own, then why am I jealous?

Jealousy is all about comparison. It's about one-up-manship. It's about feeling better about myself because I have more notches in my stick than you do...or feeling like a failure because I don't. Jealousy causes me to be unduly critical of those who achieve greater success than I do, it robs me of joy, and it sets me on a path toward discouragement and defeat. At its core, jealousy is about finding my worth, security, and delight in something other than God.

God created each of us as unique individuals:  no two people are exactly alike. Each of us has been gifted to reflect God's glory in a unique way.

For me, as a writer, that means I am called to write the story God has gifted me to write. Yes, I have much to learn from other writers, but writing is not a competition between me and the author of today's New York Times best-seller. God requires me to give an account of my obedience to his calling on my life - He does not require me to give an account of how well I fulfilled his calling for Best-seller Bob.

Karen Ball posted an excellent article at The Steve Laube Agency this week about the green-eyed monster called Jealousy and about how it preys upon writers, in particular. Karen confronts jealousy as sin and she exhorts writers to repent of the comparison game. Then, she issues a challenge to turn the temptation to indulge in jealousy into an occasion for praise instead: instead of envying the writer whose success is greater than mine, I can rejoice with other writers over God's blessing in their lives! (You can read Karen's entire post HERE.)

Jealousy demonstrates a large view of myself and a small view of God:  when I am jealous of another's success, I believe and act on the lie that life is all about me, and not about my Savior.

I am thankful for the reminder in the Romans passage above that whether I live or die, I am the Lord's. Because I am the Lord's, I do not have to play the comparison game. Because I am the Lord's, I can rejoice with those who are rejoicing, even if they are other writers who are more successful than I am. Together, we can glorify God and give thanks for his goodness!

I can't help but think that Satan smiles when we indulge in the sin of jealousy. How our enemy must recoil, then, when we turn from self-interested comparison to celebrating God's goodness to others! Is there someone in your life who, when you think of them, you feel jealous? Repent, and thank God not only for the blessings He has given you, but for the blessings He has given others, too.

* * *

"Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.'...May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." - Romans 15:2-3, 5-6

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A BIRD SITUATION

This is my Father's world, and to my list'ning ears,
all nature sings...and sings and sings and sings!

We have a Situation at the Kendall house, one involving a bird.

I love birds. Birds are like messengers from God. The electric blue of an indigo bunting, glowing like the tip of a fairy wand on a stalk of waist-high grass; goldfinches, sparks of sunshine exploding from the creek bank; the sooty gray of delicate phoebes nesting on the porch. The slow, elegant grace of a blue heron as he lifts off the pond behind the house. The hypnotic honk of geese calling to one another as they slice a vee across the sky; the drum-like boom of owl song echoing across the valley in the evening; the buzz of wood duck wings, just above the surface of the water; the friendly whistle of the Bob White quail. I love birds.

But that mockingbird...

We have one particular mockingbird who neither sleeps nor eats. He perches on the rooftop and sings his heart out all day long. He sings all night long, too. He sings loudly, all hours of the day and night, frenetically cycling through his repertoire of quail and cardinal and meadowlark impersonations.

Did I mention that he sings LOUDLY? Did I mention that he sings ALL THE TIME?

I am normally an early-to-bed girl, but last night, I got trapped in a book. I crawled into bed around 10:30, promised myself I would read "just one more chapter," and then proceeded to read until midnight. My mockingbird provided background music for this late-night book fest.

At midnight, I turned off the bedroom light. Morning would come early. I needed to crash fast.

Mr. Mockingbird sang on and on in the darkness just outside my window.

At 1:30, I wondered, "Is this one of those things that will eventually become background noise?"

Train whistles and the slice of steel wheels down metal track became background noise when we lived in Millington. The trains rumbled through the night and shook the house, but they did not disturb my sleep. Frogs and cicadas in the summertime, shrieking so loudly you have to yell to be heard over them - I can even sleep through frogs and cicadas.

But this mockingbird...

At 3:30 this morning, he fell silent.

Finally, sleep!

Shortly after 5:00 am, Mr. Mockingbird was back at it, piping like a Scotsman. Right now, he is warbling down the chimney, his song amplified like a rock star's by the narrow brick tunnel into the house.

I have the windows open this morning so I can hear the other birds, too. The music is beautiful.

But this mockingbird...

He has been singing for days, weeks, months, almost nonstop. No, his music has not yet become background noise.

I hope Mr. Mockingbird takes the night off tonight. I am tired and need some sleep.