Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Who Handles His Dishes

After naming a tribe for service,
the Lord went on to call out families in it by name for specific duties.
He said where He wanted each one to camp in relation to the tabernacle.
God concerns Himself with even our temporary dwelling places.

"The duties of the children of Gershon 
in the tabernacle of meeting included the tabernacle, 
the tent with its covering, 
the screen for the door of the court, 
the hangings of the court which are around the tabernacle and the altar, 
and their cords, according to all the work relating to them."
This family's entire ministry
was related to maintaining and transporting
the large leather and fabric pieces
that the tabernacle was constructed of.
Brushing off dust,
and washing, and folding,
and oiling the leather to keep it pliable,
and storing them carefully when they moved.
"This is the service of the families of the Gershonites,
in serving and carrying." 

The Kohathites "duty included the ark, 
the table, the lampstand, the altars, 
the utensils of the sanctuary with which they ministered, 
the screen, and all the work relating to them."
An interesting detail related to the Kohathites' duties
explains how the sons of Aaron are to cover
and prepare every item they are responsible for handling
and the Kohathites "are not to go in and watch 
while the holy things are being covered, lest they die."
They were expected to bear holy things
with a reverence that did not touch them,
and did not get to see them.

"The appointed duty of the children of Merari 
included the boards of the tabernacle, 
its bars, its pillars, its sockets, its utensils,
all the work relating to them, 
and the pillars of the court all around, 
with their sockets, their pegs, and their cords...
And this is what they must carry 
as all their service for the tabernacle of meeting...
and you shall assign to each man by name the items he must carry.

Each one of these duties are particular to the family and to the individual,
but in concluding each catalog of tasks, it repeats, 
"And their duties shall be under the authority of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest."

"According to the commandment of the Lord 
they were numbered by the hand of Moses, 
each according to his service and according to his task; 
thus were they numbered by him, as the Lord commanded Moses."

The Lord called out a specific tribe, specific families,
and specific men for particular tasks.
And their duties were holy and appointed only to them.
Every one of them was known by name to the Lord,
and called to a particular care for the Lord's things.
No one else could do their job.

In ministering to the Lord, I may find I am carrying holy things I may not see.
I am doing Him service
even though that service means busying myself
with tables and lamps, bowls and forks.
God cares who handles His dishes.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

That They May Serve Him

I picked up a chronological Bible some time back,
and started using it in the mornings.
I thought it would be a valuable way to go through the Word,
better setting history in its context for me.
And then I came to Numbers --
probably the book of the Bible with the driest reputation.
I set it down for awhile and went about my devotions in other ways.
But yesterday I started back in again.
I read chapters 3-5.
And I underlined things to ponder.

These chapters are full of direct quotes from God.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
"Bring the tribe of Levi near, 
and present them before Aaron the priest, 
that they may serve him. 
And they shall attend to his needs 
and the needs of the whole congregation...
Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites 
from among the children of Israel... 
Therefore the Levites shall be Mine...
They shall be Mine: I am the Lord."

The Lord counted the Levites as His own,
but they were appointed to serve people.
They were given to Aaron and the congregation for labor.
Not as slaves, but as ministers of the tabernacle.
Their work was the Lord's work.
But it was for the benefit of people the Lord loves.
And their work freed the priests
to serve in the capacity the Lord appointed for them.

Do we realize how valuable our work is to Him?
The Lord was not only concerned with the duties of the priests,
but with the very specific ministry
of the things the priests needed to do their work with.
I have behind-the-scenes work
the Lord has given to me to do
that allows my husband to serve in the capacity the Lord has given him.
And each of us has her own part of the Lord's work to do.
Doing well the task He gives me
is exactly the best way to serve Him here.
Even if it seems set apart from the 'real work'.
If He has called me by name to tend stuff in service to Him,
it pleases Him well if I do that.

Monday, January 1, 2018

An Unwelcome Servant

It's another new year.

My facebook feed pulls up old memories each day.
It showed me a post I wrote eight years ago,
as I was close to being admitted to the hospital
for an infection I had been battling for months.
It had been a lot of severe pain,
and a lot of antibiotics,
and warm compresses,
and several aspirations and skin biopsies, and incisions.
I had been placed under the care of a specialist
who confided to me that she wished it was cancer,
because she would know exactly what to do about it.

I was drinking turmeric powder in milk,
and eating raw cranberries,
and high dosing vitamin c.
But mostly, I was sitting, exhausted and in pain, on my chair.
I was worrying about my husband being widowed
and my children without a mother when they were so little.
I had to give that up.
I prayed, and I stared at a wall,
and I stared unpraying at a wall,
and everything looked dark.

The ordeal had begun in the springtime, but it wasn't an ordeal at first.
At first, it was just a concern.
And then it grew into pain.
And all the awareness and prevention in the world didn't keep me from the trial.
See, I saw it coming.
I got help early.
I checked in regularly.
I did what I knew to do to promote health, and to prevent surgery.
And I was prayed for.
And I was still afflicted.

It wasn't my first experience.
Sixteen years ago yesterday,
I was taken to an emergency room and sent to emergency surgery
for a similar infection that had gone too far.
My firstborn was six weeks old when that happened,
and I didn't know I was in danger.
But when the doctor saw the infection, his eyes grew wide,
and he rushed to the phone to talk to a colleague,
and tried to tell me in a calm voice
that he was sending me over to see a friend at the hospital.
When the triage nurse saw it, her eyes grew wide,
and she got on the phone to call the surgeon down to look.
Papers were presented requiring my signature,
and my objections to anesthesia were overruled politely,
and I was given a few minutes to feed my baby lying on the ultrasound table.
And they wouldn't let me walk anymore.
I was put on a gurney and wheeled up to preop,
where it was discovered I was still wearing street clothes,
and another nurse promptly remedied that.

When I woke up, I felt so much better
with a gaping hole in my body than I had before surgery.
My husband was trained to pack the wound.
He packed it for ten weeks,
and I had a daily visit from a visiting nurse for much of it.
I was trying to avoid that whole situation again.

Anyway, today I was remembering these things, as I read my old words.
And there was a verse that came to mind I've been pondering over.

"Therefore we do not lose heart.
Even though our outward man is perishing, 
yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, 
is working for us 
a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 
while we do not look at the things which are seen, 
but at the things which are not seen.
For the things which are seen are temporary,
but the things which are not seen are eternal."

Affliction is an unwelcome servant, but a faithful one.
Many women would stop the pain of labor if we could.
Send affliction away.
But there comes a point when a pregnancy is overdue,
and it would be a danger to mom and to baby
to prevent the labor that brings that baby out.
Some of us suffer longer than others to gain that reward.
But I would not trade any one of my six children
to get back some pain free hours (or in the case of one, days).

Affliction is working for us.
I couldn't stop thinking about that phrase this morning.
And I kept thinking about those waves of contractions
I had to learn to breathe through.
To relax into.
To allow them to do their work in bringing forth my children.

There's another word up there to note, too.
Paul said, "Our outward man is perishing..."
One version says 'wasting away'.
Another says 'being destroyed'.
The NASB says we are 'decaying'.
There's a serious error that many buy into that rejects the truth
that Christians can be being renewed from the inside,
while also perishing in their bodies.
Like somehow an afflicted saint is not a victorious saint.
But on the contrary, affliction works for us.
It's working an exceeding weight of glory.
It's building eternity into us.
It's giving us eyes to see what is invisible.
It's training us to hope in the reality, and not the illusion.
It's working patience into us.
It's giving us compassion.
When we reject it,
we are rejecting the very servant God has sent us to make us fit for heaven.

Several weeks ago, I came across a prayer for the sick
in the Book of Common Prayer:

Sanctify, O Lord, the sickness of Your servant, 
that the sense of his weakness may add strength to his faith 
and seriousness to his repentance; 
and grant that he may live with You in everlasting life; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Sometimes it's difficult to believe
that our sickness could be a means of sanctification.
And we don't want to submit to that.
But it would be well to lean into it, and to learn to breathe through it. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

What Tasks She Was Given

Yesterday, in my advent reading, I considered Mary.
I spent awhile thinking bout her,
and what tasks she was given to serve the Lord in
-- the significance of motherhood.

The holiness of gestating and birthing
and breastfeeding Jesus in all its mess.
Diaper changes, and potty training.
Cooking for Him, cutting up His food.
Holding His hand, and walking slowly for His short, young legs.
Giving Him His bath, tucking Him into bed.
Getting Jesus a drink of water,
and sitting down to eat with Him at the table.
Sewing for Him;
knitting for Him;
mending His torn clothes.
Kissing boo boos, and cleaning out skinned knees.
Planting, watering, and weeding the vegetable garden.
Cutting up a chicken for dinner.
Standing by and watching while they hurt Him.
Weeping at the cross, and preparing His body for burial.

These tasks, these human tasks,
so often feel outside the service of God.
Many of them are done alone.
There's no audience for this service -- no audience but Him.
This was Mary's calling -- the great purpose for her life.
Her most holy and intimate ministry to the Lord.
They are holy things when they are done for Him.
Jesus said that a cup of water given in His name has a reward waiting.
How many cups of water do you suppose she fetched for Him?

"He who receives you receives Me," He said to His disciples,
"and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me."
Who opened her life to receive Him more than she did?
Years after she answered, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord!
Let it be to me according to your word,"
she was still enduring snide innuendos by religious people.
Her son, 'that Holy One', always looked at as tarnished by evil minds.

This woman, young and hopeful, betrothed, and a virgin --
said yes to the disruption of her life and her plans.
She gave herself entirely, body and soul, to the will of God.
No 'after I've filled up my bucket list' from her.
In her virginity, she welcomed Him.
Before her marriage, and before her home was established.
Have some, in welcoming strangers, entertained angels?
Consider Who she welcomed in to her very body.
But every one of us has the opportunity to serve Him.
Jesus said, "Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven
is My brother and sister and mother."
Oh, that I would respond like she did --
she who is highly favored,
and blessed among women,
and who found favor with God.

The Limbs Lopped Off

We add things in to our lives one at a time -- small things.
Baking bread every other day.
A front porch and a fence that lets the kids run
while we drink coffee together.
Buying the organic flour from the bulk bins at the natural grocery store.
Daddy making pizza from scratch on Fridays.
Batches of scones every Saturday morning.
The making of the yogurt.
The laundry washing and drying and folding and putting away.
The clothesline.
The walks in the woods, and the lunches by the water.
The music we play,
and the friends we pray with.
Watering the houseplants.
Where and how we read our Bibles.
We settle into our grooves,
weeding out the things that don't work for us,
and adjusting each thing that does until it's a good fit.

Several times in our twenty years of marriage,
our life has gotten lost, it feels like.
A baby is born, and the baking ceases.
The dishes go undone,
because we haven't found our new rhythm yet.
The baby cries when it's time for cooking,
and we eat McDonald's, because everyone is hungry.

There's a job loss, and a forced move,
and our pictures are packed away,
and we don't see us on the walls anymore.
Are we still here
if we don't see ourselves smiling together anymore on the walls?

Just as we finish painting the oppressive walls
we were too tired to paint at first,
and we take the pictures out of their boxes,
and remember ourselves in the smiling frames,
and breathe again in the salt air,
holding hands on the beach,
and seeing the kids smile and run,
a call comes that we know must be answered,
and we pack up the music again.
We don't hear the songs of our life for awhile.

We miss ourselves.
The rhythm of the bread and the music and the yogurt and granola.
The way we work and the way we play.
The breathing and the writing and the smiling family photos.
The knitting of our days, one by one, into fabric.

Sometimes it's years before the pictures go back up,
and I take them out to look at them, and to hang them up,
and the children in the picture aren't with me anymore.
My babies with their curls are men and women now.
Almost, anyway.
And their siblings haven't seen their infant perfection,
because the pictures weren't on the walls
for the first few years of their lives.
And we lived in other places that they don't know.
And we were another family that they never met.
And I struggle not to cry
because other people stay in the same places always,
never putting their pictures and their music and their baking in a box.
It seems like they have always been untrimmed and unpruned,
and I grieve the limbs we had lopped off.

So many new grocery stores to learn,
and friendships to build,
and green places to find,
and we had to find them without our pictures on the walls.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Seeing Glory

I've been reading about the total solar eclipse for weeks.
How many things we've learned
about the sun, the moon, our own planet,
the laws of physics, and our universe
through observation of these events we are witness to by 'cosmic coincidence'.
I told my husband weeks ago I wanted to see it.
With no reservations,
and fully booked accommodations, it seemed impossible.
(I've told you I have six kids?)
We both researched, and tried to brainstorm how to do it.
The closer we got, and the more I read, the more I longed to see it.

We would have to drive into the eclipse path
in either Oregon or Idaho to view it,
and the predictions of traffic sounded nightmarish.
We looked over maps of eastern Oregon,
looking for the more remote locations to see it from.
I hadn't had the money to pick up the eclipse glasses
I first saw in the grocery store,
but thought I could wait a week or so until he was paid.
Like many people, when I went back for them, they were gone.
I scoured stores in town for three days, and there were none.
I checked Amazon.
Sold out.
Couldn't ship in time.

We started praying.
And I found a paper listing local sources for them I'd had for a week or two,
but not read through.
I began calling the places on the list I hadn't already checked (which wasn't many).
And the third one in, I got a half positive:
"I think there's still a box on the counter..."
I called my husband and asked him to race over there and see if they did.
A few minutes later, he told me he was the proud owner of their last six pairs.
This development encouraged us to make every effort to get down to see it.

Our kids were all sick leading up to it.
Saturday, another one began to vomit.
But knowing we may never get another chance,
I continued to gather what we might need.
I studied our van, and decided to attempt sleeping Sunday night in it.

All the kids were still sickish, but nobody had thrown up on Sunday.
We weren't able to leave town until after 8 pm Sunday night.
Less than one hour into the trip,
the kid who had been sick on Saturday started throwing up again.
Our hopes of getting there by a little after midnight
slipped further and further away
as we stopped at gas station after gas station
to use the facilities and clean out our bucket.
But we kept finding what we needed when we needed it,
and I bought a high priced bottle of 409 to disinfect with.
The three year old wet through her clothing, and we took care of that mess.

We had a general area in mind to watch from,
but it was pitch black (with stunning starscapes and falling stars!),
and without light, it was hard to tell if we'd be able to see it.
My husband had seen a promising looking truck stop on a map
that we thought we might be able to park in and sleep.
We finally got there around 2 am, but it was coned off,
and we didn't know what to do.
I didn't want to view it from a paved parking lot, anyway.
After sleeping very little, I felt the kids would need grass and trees,
and shade in the desert sun.
There was a state park next door,
but we had figured it would be crawling with people
 since they had camping facilities there.
We thought we'd go see if we could use the bathroom, anyway,
since we had counted on being able to use the truck stop bathrooms.
The road before and after the state park entrance was lined with cars waiting to get in.

The entrance was blocked with cones, too,
but there were state workers sitting there.
We pulled up close, and asked if we could use the bathrooms.
The park ranger said, "Well, the park is closed for day use."
It seemed final, but she looked at us, at our van, and said,
"Did you just pull off the highway?"
"Yeah... we thought we could use the facilities at the truck stop, but it's all closed up."
She nodded,
and then she told us she was going to let us in for ten minutes to use the bathrooms,
but we had to go back out since the park wasn't open until 3 am.
So we were able to brush our teeth, change the babies, and use the facilities.
Another mercy.
As we pulled out, and thanked the rangers,
my husband asked if this was the line to get in,
indicating all the cars parked on the shoulders.
"Well, we can't tell you you can park there," they said,
"but at 3, you can come park inside the parking lot."

So we parked our van directly across the street, behind someone's truck.
We removed the carseats, unrolled the sleeping bags,
padded the floor for the baby, clipped sheets up over the windows,
and got everybody into their assigned sleeping quarters.
My husband and my oldest son in the front seats, reclined.
I laid a sheepskin over two bins to make a bed for the three year old.
The two middles each took a bench seat.
The baby slept on the floor between the two men.
And I slept on sleeping bags with my oldest daughter.

About fifteen minutes after we settled them all in,
Jeff pulled into a parking place in the park
(the second vehicle admitted for the day),
and we attempted to sleep a few hours before it got really loud.
The babies were wired, and had trouble resting,
so I was surprised when I woke up to find that any of us had slept at all.
The milling about our van by people coming into the park picked up a lot around 5 am.
In the daylight, our situation was clearer.
About 20 feet from our parking place, there was a beautiful, grassy,
tree-shaded place to set up with a perfect view of the sky
that (by cosmic coincidence) was next to the one man in the park
with thousands of dollars in telescopic equipment and cameras aimed at the sky.
We set up a tent with no windows facing the sun,
threw sleeping bags and pillows, and toys and books and drawing materials into it,
and fired up the new camp stove to make coffee and oatmeal.
Amos ate two bowls, and kept walking back, holding out his bowl,
and asking, "More, please? More?"

My introverted daughter Elisa brought a book into the tent, and read,
coming out to look at the sun off and on until about fifteen minutes before totality,
when she stayed out.
Jeff took the little ones down to walk by the river for a little while,
and Isaiah and I went over to speak with the telescope man for a few minutes.
He offered a peek into the telescope, and we jumped at the chance.

As the eclipse began, a quietness came over the park.
There had been a constant line at the bathrooms all morning,
and we had heard they closed the park to new arrivals when they hit 1000 people.
Even though there were many people there, it did not feel crowded.
They were spread out over the grounds, and many were down at the boat-launch.
The quiet, though, was unusual for the amount of people there.
Especially since it lasted from just after 9 am until totality.
The park was full of owls, and their hooting was lovely.
There were a few possibly tipsy people around, but it wasn't a party scene.
A man a couple hundred yards away had a guitar,
and broke out into song periodically.
Just before totality, I heard him singing You Are My Sunshine to the sun.

As the shadow fell, some birds all went wherever it is they go,
and the owls, I noticed, got quiet.
I had asked my husband to videotape from just before totality,
and I'm glad I did,
because the hushed dimness that we had been in
erupted into cheers and shouts, and gasps of astonishment.
"Oh, WOW!" and other expressions of awe seemed to come from everywhere.
And rightly so.
The guitar man was praying out loud in another language.
Everything he'd sung all morning had been tinged with humor,
but I think the prayer was sincere.
Babies started crying in fear of the dark (although mine didn't).

Afterward, I told family, "That was the most glorious thing I've ever seen.
The sun's corona is so beautiful.
I've never seen anything so beautiful in my life."

And here's the thing: that beauty is always there.
The sun's corona is always blazing out its glory.
But we can only see it on these rare occasions
when the sun itself is veiled for a moment,
and our frail eyes are able to look up at what otherwise blinds and maims us.

Revelation 1:16 says of the Lord Jesus Christ:
"His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength."
In Exodus 33 the Lord says, "No man shall see Me and live".
But in John 14, Jesus says, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father."
He took on flesh, and veiled Himself in it,
giving us the chance to take a really good look at Him.

Praise the Lord! 
Praise Him from the heavens;
praise Him in the heights!
Praise Him, all His angels;
praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon;
praise Him, all you stars of light!
Praise Him, you heavens of heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, 
for He commanded and they were created. 
He also established them forever and ever;
He made a decree which shall not pass away...
Let them praise the name of the Lord, 
for His name alone is exalted;
His glory is above earth and heaven.
(from Psalm 148)

Daddy Will Carry It

Late one night last week, our three year old was crying,
and we went down to tend her needs.
She was wet and needed changing.
After being changed, she continued to cry as I tucked her in.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
She wasn't awake, but she answered,
"I can't carry stuff!"
She was dreaming.
In my mind, I saw her small body struggling to lift heavy loads.
"It's okay;" I said: "Daddy will carry it for you."
Her little body relaxed, and she stopped crying,
settling into her bed to sleep.

How many of us are crying and troubled when we should rest?
Our Daddy will carry it.
He will carry us.
Take a deep breath,
and let Him carry the stuff.

Lord, my heart is not haughty, 
nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
nor with things too profound for me.
Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever.
~ from Psalm 131

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dwelling Place

Since early August, we've had no home.
(Don't be too alarmed. We haven't been sleeping outside.)
Our house sold.
We weren't living in it, anyway, but it still felt like losing to sell it.
We've been here renting for three and a half years.
At first, it was fine.
It's a large* house.
Three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs.
One bedroom and a bathroom downstairs.
But we moved in with four children, and then had two more.

Every time we have had a baby, it's been a disruption to life and routine.
I figure on a year of unpredictable chaos,
and then a settling in to routine we can work around.
Because I nurse them, we've kept our babies in with us for the first year.
It takes less time to settle them if they need to eat in the night.
Wakes less of the household up.

We passed our youngest child's one year mark in December,
and he's still in our room.
The fifth child is sharing with sisters.
I've had a growing irritation with our living situation.
At nap time, there's been no retreat
for those of us who need quiet spaces in our lives and thoughts.
We love each other, but good fences make good neighbors -- even in families.
The one napping upstairs, and the one napping just off the dining room,
and the fact that the kitchen, dining, front room,
and living room are all open to each other,
has meant that, no, a friend can't come over -- it's nap time.
And no, you can't watch a movie.
I can't go to my room for a little quiet.
And they can't go to their rooms.
And although it's been a little better now that the weather is seasonable,
it's been grating on several of the more introverted members of the family.

We started looking a little more seriously for a home to make our own this fall.
We had been looking (but casually) since the spring,
when our anticipation of freedom from our mortgage was growing.
It's something we've been praying about.
Longing for.
When we began to look seriously, the market was pretty fast.
At least five homes sold before we could even look at them.
But we walked into a house in October that was perfect -- or nearly so.
It had been on the market since the week we sold our house in August.
The pictures I had seen online actually drew a laugh out loud.
Some of the color combinations looked horrible.
But I am a woman of imagination,
(and experience with redemption),
so we went to look.
And I fell promptly in love.
It was an unusual thing for me,
because I've always just bought what I could afford,
and what would do.
Every house we've owned has been a house we could make work.

But we are tired of moving.
We want to just live quietly, and not move.
And we told the realtor we were not in a hurry,
and planned to take our time,
and find a place we wanted to live in.
That fit our family.
That fit our lifestyle.
That felt like a sanctuary.
A retreat.
And when I walked into this house, I loved it.
It has four official bedrooms, and a bonus room with a closet in it.
Two of the bedrooms are upstairs.
It has an upstairs living room, and a downstairs living room.
There's an office.
A dining room that isn't carpeted (!!).
It has been owned by older people who were having mobility issues.
So they moved the washer and dryer upstairs,
leaving a utility room downstairs with hookups.
You probably don't have eight people competing for a washing machine,
and do not realize the depth of the possibilities.

The most beautiful thing of all to me is just the house's layout.
No one comes up confused about which door to knock on --
the front door that opens almost into the living room
which is scattered with toys,
and in which I am trying to nurse a baby while answering math questions --
or the back door which opens into the laundry room
with the cat's litter box and the hand washables hanging up to dry.
It has an entryway.
With a coat closet.
And a slate floor.
And that entry way leads to a living room with closing doors,
a dining room with a closing door,
a kitchen (with a hidden pocket closing door!!)
and the bedrooms are not visible to it.
So if perchance someone comes up to the door,
and there are people in the house who are not dressed for company,
or dishes waiting to be washed,
or a table that has not been cleared and wiped,
those things can remain private.

And the backyard is fenced and gated.
Run free, children!
Go outside.
The hoodlums will not see you.
And I won't need to see you, either.

And there are trees and flowers.
I did not fully appreciate the glory of a tree
until I moved to a place in which they must be planted and watered
in order to exist.
Every window of the house looks out on greenery.
It soothes my soul to look out the windows.
Where I live now, I close my blinds.
(Go on back to the people being under-dressed for company,
the breastfeeding in the living room,
and the child-induced chaos of environment for reference.)
Plus, I may not have mentioned this,
but in the wee hours of the day,
my hair and makeup are not presentable.

In October, when we found this house, and fell in love with it,
we were not yet approved for a mortgage.
We didn't know what we could do yet, and we began to pray.
We prayed the Lord would keep this place for us, if He was willing,
since we couldn't make an offer until we were approved.
It took us a couple of weeks to get those things in order.
But the number we were approved for wasn't enough.
We made an offer that was ignored.
We came up a tiny bit, because that was all we could do,
and that was ignored, too.
Our banker gave us savings goals that would allow us to do more,
and we began to save and continued praying.
And checking on it.
I think we made a third offer in December.

Our realtor and banker both told us they were also praying for us.
The realtor was probably tired,
because we continued to look at other houses halfheartedly.
None of them were right.
Finally, in February, we were close.
We talked with the banker, and she assured us that we could make a higher offer.
We called the realtor immediately,
and she got the offer all written up, and called the listing agent.
She called us back, devastated.
They had accepted an offer the night before,
and the agent had forgotten to call her as she had promised.
We asked her to submit it as a backup offer, and we kept praying.

None of these prayers were confident in the outcome.
We didn't know.
Did the Lord want us to have this house?
Did He have something else in mind for us?
Is there even room for our family in this valley?
It just seemed too much of a coincidence
to see it going under contract right at that moment
to not be directly related to our pursuit of it.
I kept asking the Lord, "Is this Your will? Am I wrong to want it?
If You don't want me to have this, help me to kill the desire.
If it's not from You, I don't want it anyway...
even though I really want it."

Even our backup offer was ignored.
A week or two later, we tried again,
hoping maybe it would fall out of contract.
We were told it was a sure thing,
and the building inspection contingent was done.
We thought maybe that was the final word,
and the Lord wanted us to move on.

A house came on the market that would do.
We did not love it, exactly.
But we liked it.
It had seven bedrooms and over an acre.
With some adjustments, we could make it work for some years,
until our children started moving away,
and the house became way too much for us.
We made an offer, but we were outbid.
It was depressing.
"Lord, will You please make room for us here?"

We slowed down our looking considerably after that.
Kept watching listings,
but most houses are made for small to medium families,
and we passed that years ago.

In April, having continued to watch the first house,
and ask after it now and then,
we went to go see a few houses with our realtor.
Two could be made into something suitable,
but didn't have our hearts,
and the idea of making an offer
while the one we really wanted still hadn't closed made us hesitate.
We asked one more time about it,
because it should have closed a week before,
and its status was still the same.
I got a text late that night telling me the listing agent was confused,
because everything had been going along fine,
but now something was wrong,
and she didn't know what, but it was in the process of falling out of contract.
Would we please submit another offer?
We held our breath and tried again.

Eight months after the house was listed,
six months after we found it in a fast market,
two months after it went under contract with someone else,
ten days after it was supposed to close,
and six or seven offers in for us, 
we went under contract.
We closed June 2.
And we were so glad the Lord shut the door on the second house,
even though it was depressing when it happened.

Personally, I have prayed and wrestled over this house.
Again and again I came back to the Lord
to give Him the longing for it,
to submit my own will to His,
to tell Him our needs, and trust His care for us,
to ask for it,
to qualify the asking with with wanting Him more.

Do you ever do that?
Just really wrestle with the Lord over something,
to succeed in laying it down and giving it to Him?
That He gave it back to me is so humbling.
I'm flabbergasted, and overjoyed.

On the morning of June 2, we hadn't yet heard if we could close that day.
I read my Bible in the morning, not really sure if that was the day,
and in my regular reading, I was back in Genesis 26:22 again.
It's a passage I've been praying over for a long time.
"And he moved from there and dug another well, 
and they did not quarrel over it. 
So he called its name Rehoboth, because he said, 
'For now the Lord has made room for us, 
and we shall be fruitful in the land.'"
Less than an hour later
the realtor called us with a closing appointment time.
The Lord has made room for us!

*Large is a matter of perspective, isn't it? 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Gathering Graces

A week ago, in the morning, I walked a labyrinth.
It was a stony, weedy path, and had not been meticulously maintained.
Nevertheless, I could see where I was supposed to walk, so I did.
As I walked, I looked.
Small wildflowers lined the path.
They were so small, they couldn't be seen from outside the path,
only from within.
They were tiny perfections.
They reminded me that on a rocky path, however it might from afar look like the path beside it,
there are particular things to thank God for.
Tiny perfections blooming where you are.
Intricately shaped.
Gather them up.
Smell their honey smell.
Do not neglect the looking.
Walk your path with thanks and eyes to see the flowers He has planted there.
And when you find you must return, look again.
The third time through, I found a new flower.
Really consider the lilies of the field, and how He clothes them.
Walk with a handful of mercy and grace.
Pick them up.
Don't go empty-handed.
Enter His courts with praise,
and His gates with thanksgiving.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Unlovely Valentines

I actually didn't expect hearts and candy to define my marriage.
I am a realist.
At least, that's what I think of myself as.
(You sunshine and unicorns people would call me a pessimist.)
Best case scenarios don't often occur to me.

Anyway -- it's Valentines Day.
I see all the posts from friends celebrating a renewal of their love,
a remembrance of the beginning of their romance.
I love that.

One friend mentioned in her love story
that they have lost as many babies as they have living children.
That's four.
I love these people dearly.
She said something about not having chosen the things they've walked through.
And it rings so true.

I found myself thinking through the unlovely valentines.
The markers of love that you've walked through together.
The hurts.
The waiting.
The pressure.
The labors.
Each one another bond, a shared grief.
The lost jobs, lost relationships, lost children.
The death of parents, of friends, of dreams.
The infertility.
The miscarriages.
The months without income.
The depressions.
The failures.
The frustrations.
The sleepless nights with sick children.
The frozen pipes.
The wound packing.
The wheelchair pushing.
The broken down cars.
The financial hardships.
The baffling parenting dilemmas.
The hormonal swings of pregnancy.
The things you don't take pictures of to share on Instagram.
The choking on tears together.
The desperate prayers.

Those parts of the vows we made --
the for poorer, for worse, and in sickness parts --
they have value.

The forgivenesses, and bandaging,
and helping each other dress because we are too injured to dress ourselves.
I would not trade them for other people's cruises.
Flowers are romantic,
but this morning my husband said that of course he had time
to rub juniper oil into my stiff neck and shoulder before he left:
a smelly, messy valentine.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Negative Confession

"And David said in his heart, 
'Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul. 
There is nothing better for me 
than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines...'"

I love the substance and truth of the Word.
Scriptural saints are human men and women,
with passions like ours, and debilitating fears, and sunken spirits
that need Him to breathe life into them.
Here, David, the prophet of the Lord, the future king of Israel,
the man after God's own heart
falls into fear that drives him for awhile.
He forgets what God has said of him,
and believes his present is all there is,
and the only escape is to run to the enemy.
And, even more horribly (in some circles),
he voices his fear.
He speaks out his 'negative confession',
'speaks his own death',
'utters a curse'.
Yet God's purpose for him will prevail.

Though his words are faithless, and hopeless, and expectant of the worst,
David never does perish at the hand of Saul.
And there IS better for him in his future
than this awful episode in the land of the Philistines.

There are others, you know.
"And Abraham said, 
'Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; 
and they will kill me on account of my wife.'" 

"And Jacob their father said to them, 
'You have bereaved me:
 Joseph is no more, 
Simeon is no more, 
and you want to take Benjamin. 
All these things are against me.'"

"Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot;
 for she said to herself, 'Let me not see the death of the boy.' 
So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept."

In fact, so many come to mind, I couldn't list them all.
Esther. Elijah. Isaac.
Paul mentions despairing even of life because of the hardships they had suffered.

There is a false doctrine that goes around that 'speaking curses'
and negatively confessing your fears brings them to pass.
But Proverbs 26:2 says,
"Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, 
so a curse without cause shall not alight."
And in Numbers 22, an effort is made to curse Israel and God won't let it be.
"Thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed."

Our own fears and failures may sidetrack us,
but the Lord's purposes stand in our lives.
And no one can curse whom He has not cursed.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

And That Is No Insult

My husband is not
The Most Amazing Husband in the World(!!!).
And my children are not
The Most Brilliant and Incredible People you will ever Meet(!!!).
I am not The Kindest, Most Patient, and Loving Woman(!!!)
my children have ever had the privilege to know.
And I am not the Best Wife Ever(!!!).
And that is no insult to any one of us.

I struggle with The Best People Awards.
The Most Amazing People.
The Awesome Ones.
I find myself wanting to ask
(regarding The Best Husband and The Most Amazing Wife),
"To Whom?!
How many husbands do you have?
Have you tried them all?
Because, um, that's not okay."

Family love isn't just for the lovely.
It's for the crybabies, and the irritable women, and the cranky men.
I have wonderful parents.
Exceptional parents, even.
But I will not tell you they were Perfect, or The Most Amazing.
I can remember failures.
Things they later apologized for.
Parenting mistakes.
Mature love doesn't require amazingness to validate its affection.
And mature love has something to forgive.
That's hard to do when you live with The Beautiful People.

My husband doesn't have to be
The Most Amazing, the Wisest, the Strongest, or the Manliest.
He's mine.
I love him because he's mine.
Because we're one.
Because our kids are ours, we treasure them.
Not because they're smarter than all the other (stupid?) children in the world.

I am proud of their efforts
whether they beat all the other (losers?) in the contest or not.
When they draw me pictures,
I don't have to tell everyone they are The Best Pictures Ever Drawn(!!!)
to acknowledge their specialness.

I can admire those I love without making everyone else less.
I can honor those around me
without painting them as giants among grasshoppers.

Because otherwise, when they aren't the best anymore, then what?
What if the Woman with the Most Beautiful Smile loses her teeth?
What if The Best Provider loses his job
and can't be The Most Amazing Provider anymore?
What if you're married to one of the other spouses in the room--
you know: the ones who forget birthdays;
who lose their tempers periodically;
who get depressed and cry for a few days;
or who can't afford to take you to Hawaii?
Are our bonds dissolved
when our spouses turn out to be some of the lesser people?
Or do our obligations to bring up our children in love end
when said children turn out to be intellectual dunces or uncoordinated nerds?

I can tell you I love my husband, and admire him,
and he blesses me with kind and thoughtful behavior,
and I am proud of my children,
without declaring that your husband is, in fact, a second class runner up,
and my children surpass yours in every area:
their natural abilities which they haven't even had to work at
far outshine your children's accomplishments
bought with hard work and long hours of practice.

Beloved, let us love one another,
 for love is of God,  
and everyone that loves is born of God,
and knows God.
Oh, Lord -- help me to love better,
even though they aren't The Best Ever(!!!)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

On Visible Mending and the Handiwork of God

A skirt I made from a vintage tablecloth
caught on something while my daughter wore it,
and a big, 90 degree tear resulted.
I thought about letting the work of my hands go, but it bothered me.
The tablecloth had been stained, and had holes in it when I found it.
I had carefully cut around some of the leaves in the border,
and applique-patched them over the holes.
I dyed the skirt a soft gray, which hid the stains.
I liked how I had taken an object that could not be used as it was created,
and repaired and restored and remade it
into what I thought was a lovely garment.
Now it was torn, and the tear was not able to be hidden.
I have heard my whole life that if a seam tears, you can repair it.
But this wasn't a seam.
It was ruined.

I set it aside for weeks, not willing to toss it,
but not knowing exactly how to fix it.
The cloth I made it from was long gone.
There was nothing to patch it with.

One day, looking for an embroidery project for a friend,
I came across visible mending on Pinterest.
Oh, my!
People were doing this on purpose, and loving the mended project
even more than something new and pristine.

I pulled the skirt back out, and sat down to make it useful again.
Instead of trying to hide my repair,
and pretend the damage had never been done,
I used embroidery floss with its subtle shine,
and stitched far more stitches than were necessary for usefulness,
enjoying every one.
That particular rip would not likely rip again.
When I finished, somehow I loved this handiwork
even more than I had loved it before.

I looked the skirt over, and found a couple of worn places
and a small hole I'd not noticed before.
I added a spiral of stitches over a worn place.
An embroidered rose to fill a small hole.
I'm too invested in this fabric now to toss it lightly aside.
I'd rather repair it.
Restore it.
Redeem it.

The useful has become a work of creativity and art.
A poetry of stitches instead of an exercise book sentence.
A painted portrait instead of a police sketch.
This shows the soul of the image -- not just its hair color and mouth shape.

This morning I was reading Nehemiah 9:17:
"[They] refused to obey, 
neither were mindful of Thy wonders that Thou didst among them; 
but hardened their necks, 
and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: 
but Thou art a God ready to pardon, 
gracious and merciful, 
slow to anger, 
and of great kindness, 
and forsookest them not."

I looked up several words, but it was that last phrase that arrested me.
He forsookest them not.
He didn't leave them.
He didn't depart from them.
He didn't leave them behind, let them alone, abandon them or neglect them.
He didn't let them loose, set them free, or let them go.
They were not deserted.
All those things come under the first meaning of the word.
There was a second meaning.
To restore, repair.

"For we are His workmanship, 
created in Christ Jesus for good works, 
which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
(Ephesians 2:10) 

Oh Lord -- I am so full of torn places --
stains and holes. 
My flaws are all in the body of the fabric, not the seams.
Don't let me go.
Repair and restore me. 

But He does more.
He makes beautiful things -- stitches art into our mending.
We are His workmanship, the Scripture says.
His creativity repairs us uniquely.
In places, His handiwork becomes far more visible
than the original fabric was,
His stitches the only thing holding any of it together.
Where we are stitched will not match anyone else's repairs.
Unique to our flaws, His creativity, and the material at hand,
each one becomes a newly-made creative expression in His overall masterpiece.
We are all worked into the whole.
Maybe you've thought of yourself as the worst patch.
But He repairs, remakes, restores --
and places you into the whole
as a trophy of His love and creativity.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Rear Guard

Our house passed out of our ownership today.
Our tenants moved out fourteen months ago,
and we've been paying the mortgage
and the rent where we live now
without the help of an income that just covered the mortgage
of the house left behind coming in.
We did not see any possibility of doing that,
and yet, by the Lord's mercy, we did.
And we ate, too.

Years ago, the Lord spoke a promise to us.
He directed our steps with it:
halting us when we were ready to go too fast,
and sending us forward
when we didn't see how we'd guard ourselves from behind.
He did for us as He promised,
and we are humbled by His care.
The mortgage debt is gone and the cost of our cross-country move.

While we were there, we prayed about how to impact the community for good.
But it felt like that was a loss when we moved away.
The family that bought the house from us are involved in the community,
in ways that build it up.
It's the first home they've ever owned,
and its age and history (read: constant need of upkeep because she is so old)
were part of the draw of that house to them.
I am so happy to have sold it
to people who will love it,
and who will be enabled to deepen their own roots
in a community they have already been investing in.

And yet, of course, I feel like crying.
For the first time in many years, we don't own a home.
And the bookshelves my daddy built me are someone else's now.
My books fill IKEA shelves, which are perfectly adequate,
but not labors of love.
I long for a place of our own.
A quiet sanctuary.
My husband reminds me of another promise:
'Everyone who has left houses
or brothers or sisters
or father or mother
or children or lands
for My name's sake,
will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.'

You are our Home, Lord.
Thank You for covering us.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Breathe Life

Two weeks ago Thursday morning, my niece drowned.
I saw two urgent prayer requests come through,
and when I asked for details, my heart sank.
My sister's baby had gotten out of the house.
They found her floating on her back in a kiddie pool.
She was blue.
No pulse.
She picked her up and turned her over, trying to get the water out.
She ran screaming to her husband that she was dead.
"No!" he yelled.
He knew what to do, but who knows what to do?
He laid the baby on the ground and did chest compressions on her.
After about a minute, her heart started beating.
She started wheezing and moaning.
My sister brought her inside, and she vomited water,
but she wasn't responsive, and she was abnormally stiff,
and her cry was not right.
An ambulance took her to a hospital,
where no one answered questions, and the baby's eyes didn't focus.
Some of these details came through later,
but all I knew was that she'd drowned, and it didn't look good.

I trembled, and I wept, and I begged God to save her.
To restore her.
To preserve her brain.
To hold us all up.
"I don't know how to pray!" I cried.
I didn't eat, as I had intended to.
And I kept my heart lifted up, but almost wordlessly.
I just couldn't put it into words.
You breathed life into mud, You can rebreathe it into her. 
Please breathe into her?

We aren't exempt from the snakebite that bites us all.
"...And if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; 
they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover..."
Even this stunning promise implies snakebites, and deadly drinks, and sickness.

I hesitated to even ask for prayer. 
Like speaking the evil that had fallen on us made it real.
But it was real.
Better to call the snakebite what it is,
and throw ourselves on the mercy of God.
I texted a couple of friends for prayer. 
Lord, she's been bitten. Please restore her. 

My sister said the baby had been staring at a corner of the room,
not seeing it when she did open her eyes,
and not paying any attention to any of them.
My sister didn't know what to do, and she was hopeless.
But she prayed, and she kept praying.
The baby turned her eyes and looked at them.
She followed them with her eyes.
Her stiffened out body relaxed.
She said they saw when she was restored.
She was transferred to a hospital equipped for children.

Her breathing was at 99%
Her oxygen levels were good.
The x-rays looked fine.
Her neurological tests came back fine.
A few hours after the whole ordeal, she was laughing and eating Cheerios.
They wanted to watch her overnight, to make sure.

"And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, 
and laid them on the fire, 
there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. 
And when the barbarians saw the animal hang on his hand, 
they said among themselves, 
No doubt this man is a murderer, 
whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. 
And he shook off the animal into the fire, and felt no harm. 
Yet they looked when he would have swelled, or fallen down dead suddenly: 
but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, 
they changed their minds, and said that he was a god."

It's an interesting phenomenon,
(and one that ought not to be our first response to hearing a story of misery),
that other people's misfortunes
are immediately used as a means for us to point at culprits,
to assign blame, and to heap scorn on the victims.
When Paul was bitten by a snake,
the response of the onlookers was first to make him at fault,
and then to deify him.
Both are wrong.
Paul was doing exactly what God had called him to do,
and serving in the way that he could when his service resulted in a snakebite.

It doesn't even say he prayed when the snake bit him,
and yet the Lord saw fit to keep poison from its usual course of action in Paul.
Blessed be His name!

So many times in the gospels, Jesus was brought a hopeless case,
and His compassion moved Him to heal.
And I love truly His kindness, and His genuine concern for the families,
and that we never once see Him say, 'Who sinned?!'
In fact, His answer to that very question from His disciples was, to paraphrase:
"Neither. But that God's work should be revealed in Him.
And that's My work. I am the Light in the darkness."
And with that little explanation,
He squatted down to mix His spit into mud
to put in the blind-man-suspected-of-sin's eyes.

Three hours after my niece's restoration,
my parents were sitting beside my grandmother, whose death has been expected,
when she breathed her last.
The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Friday, June 10, 2016

He Will Come to Us Like the Rain

My heart has been so heavy lately--
heavy with sadness and anxious for my children's future.
Pondering and contemplating.
And there is just a weight on my shoulders.
I walked out of the house this evening with some errands to do,
and my six ducklings tagging along (one of which is taller than I am now).
I went to pull the car out, and there had been a little rain.
It's so lovely how it clears the air,
and fills my senses with its cleanness.
You don't know what a luxury and a mercy water is
until you move into a desert.
But it's such a precious gift when water falls free from the sky,
and washes out the dust.

The very first rain that ever fell on this earth was judgement.
Forty days and forty nights of it.
It was unfamiliar, but well earned.

Later, with the law, came a promise:
"I will give you rain in its season,
the land shall yield its produce,
and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit."
(Leviticus 26:4)

And there was a promise to Israel:
"The land which you go to possess
is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come,
where you sowed your seed
and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden;
but the land which you cross over to possess
is a land of hills and valleys,
which drinks water from the rain of heaven,
a land for which the Lord your God cares;
the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it,
from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.
And it shall be
that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today,
to love the Lord your God
and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul,
then I will give you the rain for your land in its season,
the early rain and the latter rain,
that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil.
And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock,
that you may eat and be filled.
Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived,
and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them,
lest the Lord's anger be aroused against you,
and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain,
and the land yield no produce,
and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you..."
(Deuteronomy 11)

"He shall come down like rain upon the grass before mowing,
like showers that water the earth."
(Psalm 72:6)

"Come, and let us return to the Lord;
for He has torn, but He will heal us;
He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
After two days, He will revive us;
on the third day He will raise us up,
that we may live in His sight.
Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord.
His going forth is established as the morning;
He will come to us like the rain,
like the former and latter rain to the earth."
(Hosea 6:1-3)

If you follow the rain through the Scriptures, you find two things:
the judgement of God in its destructive power;
and the mercy of God in providing it in its season.
Oh, and also famine.
Whether in giving it, or in withholding it, our eyes ought to be on Him.
We need Him to rain softly on us, to water us for fruitfulness.
We need Him to hold it back in seasons of sunlight, so we don't drown.
We recognize His judgement in flood and in famine.

I rejoice in a soft rain.
The loveliness of its smell, the coolness it brings to the dusty earth.
But I want it temperately.
I do not want a flood of judgement.
And I want enough.

So this evening, I breathed in the cleanness, and thought of Him.
But I did my errands heavily.
We looked out the windows of the store
as we brought our purchases up to pay,
and the sun was low and slanting in the sky.
The clouds were dark.
The sun broke through, and lit up the wet world
and the green trees from within.
We hurried to buckle the babies in standing in the rain.
And to get them out again at the next store.
The kids deliberated over their purchases, but finally decided,
and we prepared to run out to the car again.
But one step out of the store, and we were stopped in our tracks.
There was a brilliant double rainbow spanning the entire town.
From the set of hills south of us into the set north of us.
Glowing neon.
We stood and pointed.
It was just a soft rain, and we were mesmerized.
And I was reminded again of His judgement,
and of His covenant of mercy.

And God said: "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth..." (Genesis 9)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Mind-Numbing Work of Redemption

I do the same things All The Time.
I pick up the dirty clothes, and sort them into the hampers.
I button the buttons, and turn the socks right side out.
I spray the stains, and I fill the washing machine.
I take the wet clothes out, and straighten them,
and hang them on the clothesline to dry.
I take them down, and fold them, and send them to be put away.
And then I sort them out into the hampers again.

I rinse dirty plates, and stack them,
and I fill the dishwasher with them.
I unload the clean dishes, and put them in the cupboards,
and then do it again.
Sometimes three times a day.

I nurse the baby in the middle of the night,
and I feed him again in the morning.
In the late morning.
At noontime.
In the afternoon.
In the late afternoon.
At dinner.
In the late evening, just before he goes to bed.

I change diapers.
And again.
And again.
The progress of my days
is marked by piles of used diapers,
moved bookmarks,
dirty dishes, 
and clothes that need another washing.

I told my husband, "I don't know what purpose I have right now."
A friend asked me how I am doing, and I said, "I feel dull."
And I do.
I mean, seriously,
what point is there
in washing and washing and straightening
what is never clean,
and never straightened out?
You would think I do nothing at all
if you looked at the crumbs on my floor.
Because if I vacuum three times a day,
there are still crumbs on my floor.

I have been meditating on the Proverbs 31 woman,
whose equal I am not.
And I've been thinking about how she wraps herself up in food prep,
and laundry maintenance.
And I was contemplating two questions the other morning:
What is God doing in my life?
And how do I join God in His work?

What is God doing in my life?
He's drawing me into fellowship with Himself and with others.
He's refining me.
He's making me new in Christ.
He cares for me and my concerns.
He redeems me.
He washes me.
He comforts me.
He heals me.
He plants, waters, weeds, prunes...
He fills my darkness with His light.
He's working resurrection in me.

And how do I join Him in His work?
Kissing hurts, and healing wounds.
Mending what's broken.
Washing what is dirty.
Straightening what is crooked.
Feeding the hungry.
Planting and weeding and watering.
Bleaching out the stains.
And returning what has become unusable to a state of usefulness. 

Suddenly the laundry stains are meditative.
And the dishes, endlessly worthless with grime,
are also endless reminders of the restorative work He does in me.
The children needing comfort,
and the babies needing baths --
are praiseworthy reminders of the comfort He gives,
and the washing of the Word.

The dishes and the laundry are in constant need of redemption--
as I must constantly be redeemed from the sin that soils me.
My usefulness depends on my washing.

I looked down at the pants I was wearing -- a thrift store purchase.
A cast-off redeemed.
I put the same things back in their places every single day.
I bring order out of chaos.
And while I work in the kitchen, the toddler is trashing the living room.
And the shoes are scattered out of their baskets in the laundry room.
And it isn't going to end.
But as they mature (and we have other areas in disarray to set right),
they'll lend their hands to the work.

The material matters.
These mind-numbing, repetitive tasks that I do again and again
are the very same tasks He has set for Himself in me.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

How To Sustain

Sunday morning, February 28,
I was in the Word
and had my attention drawn to two passages of Scripture.
The first is Proverbs 15:4:
"A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: 
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit."
A wholesome tongue.
A healing tongue.
Another version called it a gentle tongue.

So, I was praying about that.
Thinking about what James says about our tongues.
A very world of iniquity.
And that the man who has control over that is a perfect man.
I prayed for forgiveness and transformation.
Because I have not achieved such perfection.
And sometimes, the words escape me.

I want to heal with my words. 
To restore and redeem. 
To reconcile. 
To build up.
To bless You and Your people. 

Then the Lord brought my attention to Isaiah 50:4:
"The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, 
that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary."
Ah, Lord-- give me the tongue of those who are taught.
I want to know how to sustain the weary with a word. 

I read through these with my children, and we prayed together about them, too.

Sunday afternoon my brother went to the ER
because a pharmacist told him to when he saw his swollen elbow.
Tuesday afternoon, he went in for exploratory surgery
because of an infection that was not responding to antibiotics, and kept growing.
In surgery, he finally got a diagnosis: necrotizing fasciitis.
Maybe you never heard of it.
You probably don't want to.
I actually already knew what it was
because we have a family friend
whose life God miraculously spared from it in the 1990s.

A number of us skipped dinner for intercession,
(my oldest three children joined in that decision).
I did not sleep much.
My brother's ambulance was arriving at his third hospital very late,
and I wanted as much news as I could get.
And I was praying.

Once he was in surgery again,
and I knew the news would be awhile in coming, I grew so tired.
I fell asleep on my phone.
When I woke up, in the wee hours of the morning,
I looked at my phone and saw a little conversation, but still no news.
I prayed again, and found myself thanking God
for my brother, my family, my parents and my husband,
my very dear brothers and sisters in Christ
who were awake praying over my baby brother,
doctors and nurses who care and strain themselves doing it.

My sister said a little while later that she had fallen asleep
feeling guilty that she was so tired she couldn't stay awake.
So tired.
But here's the thing, and what really has been balm:
While we were collapsing exhausted,
the Lord was waking up people who love Him to intercede.
I've heard from at least fifteen people
(and I do not doubt there are more)
who were awakened to pray in the night.
And I think of Moses standing with his arms lifted but weary,
and friends who care coming in to support.
And I am overwhelmed with gratitude
at God's handiwork in uniting a family that is not family.
I am so thankful for the family He placed me in,
that transcends states and nations, that crosses over time zones.
When one member suffers, we all suffer.
Bless the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits.

And yesterday, as I was pondering the whole thing,
and thinking how like to flesh eating bacteria
the growing evil in our nation and world is,
and how we need to be directed to the care of a doctor,
to have the condition recognized for what it is,
to be scrubbed clean of it,
and to be prayed over,
but we are too tired and weak to intercede alone --
the words came back from Sunday morning again.

A wholesome tongue.
A healing tongue.
The tongue of those who are taught.
That I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.
Because we are weary.
My brother's body is weary.
And prayer and the Word sustain.

And perhaps God will have mercy on our nation if we call out to Him.
Those who are taught intercede.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Quiet Time

It's that magical time in the morning*
when the sleeping baby begins to grunt
and snort
and squawk
and scream.
When a mother tries to pray,
and all the children outside her bedroom door quote movie lines.
When she opens her Bible
and hears a loud crash, and someone cries out in agony.
When the sound of small feet running slams into her bedroom door,
knocking it open,
and a smiling toddler appears saying,
"Me watch Baby Beluga?!"
When, even though she is trying to read in Genesis,
her mind sticks on this:
There is a difference also between a wife and a virgin. 
(You think?)
The unmarried woman is anxious for the things of the Lord, 
that she may be holy, both in body and in spirit: 
but she that is married, is anxious for the things of the world...
Talk about serving the Lord with distraction. 
Foiled again.
I guess I'll take a shower.

*Morning, to most people, signifies the early part of the day. Here, please take it to mean any point within the twenty-four hour span of a day in which a moment of silence might tempt a woman to try again.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Cream of Sausage-Sauerkraut Soup

When you make bratwurst cooked with sauerkraut,
and serve it with baked or roasted potatoes,
the leftovers are the perfect beginning to soup the next day.

Heat butter in a pan.
Saute onions in it, if you want to.
Add chopped kale or spinach if you have it.
I made it today without either onions, kale, or spinach,
but they really do improve it.
When they are softened,
add chopped sausage (Polish works fine, too),
and all the sauerkraut,
and cook a little before adding a couple of tablespoons of flour.
Stir well, and add a little chicken broth and your chopped leftover potatoes.
Heat to very hot,
then temper cream or milk with it before adding all of it back to your pan.
Stirring often, cook until thick and bubbly.
Even my soup-hater asks for seconds.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Make Her Beautiful

We listen to a song often that was done by Hillary and Kate.

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

It's such a lovely song, with such a simple truth.
And I think of the scripture that tells husbands
to love their wives as Christ loved the church:
how He gave Himself for her,
sanctifies her, 
and washes her with the water of the Word.
The church does not come perfect to the Savior's arms.

Sometimes I read Christian marriage advice and it's so cardboard.
I get especially annoyed by the advice to wives
that tells them how to be perfect.
To get perfect hair and exercise more and wear lipstick.

I'm a tomboy at heart, and not a trophy.
And I have never wanted to be a glossy beauty.
I wanted to be loved.
I wanted to be wanted.
But not wanted because I looked like someone else's idol.

When I met my husband, I was going out of my way to not be glossy.
Imagine this beauty, (which was a regular ensemble):
overall shorts and a t-shirt,
a braid pulled through a baseball cap pulled down low,
and thick socks with work boots.
I had some assets I could play up,
but I wasn't exactly in the frame of mind to catch anyone.
In fact, I was tired of being noticed physically.
It felt more like an insult than a compliment to be thought pretty. 

The first time I met him, I wasn't quite so off-putting in my dress
as described above.
I was wearing a hippy skirt with the work boots.
I guess in a small way, the skirt said 'feminine'.
We were praying in a group for a mutual friend
who was suffering from LSD flashbacks.
He openly stared at me through the prayer.
He didn't look away when I looked at him.

One day, a couple of weeks later,
I got off duty in the kitchen
when everyone else had eaten their dinner already,
and he sat down with me while I ate my dinner.
He asked me what I was going to do that evening.
"I thought I'd go up to the cafe and read poetry," I said. "What are you doing?"
"I thought I'd go up to the cafe and read poetry," he answered.
It was just plain -- I'm going to hang around you and be with you.
No pretending to run into me.
No begging to join me.

My husband makes me feel beautiful.
I am 32 and a half weeks pregnant.
I'm big.
And I'm older and tired.
My skin is drying out, and my lips have faded.
My hands are getting kind of papery.
My hair is frizzier than it used to be.
But he treats me like I'm beautiful.
It's my sixth child I am pregnant with.
He doesn't say things like,
"Have you thought about maybe getting a gym membership 
and getting back what you once had?"
Or, "Maybe you could get laser treatment 
for some of those scars that are marking you up now."
I cannot imagine that he does not see these flaws.
They are glaring realities to me.
But he doesn't seem to see these flaws --
even though he packed the wounds that left them for me.

I think I'd even rather have the scars that mar me
just to see how he looks at me like I am beautiful anyway.
The reality is that I am not more beautiful than I was
in my young, strong, healthy, unmarred body.
But weirdly, I feel more beautiful to him now than I did then.
I'm more confident in his love than I was.
I don't feel like I have to hide from his eyes,
in order to maintain the illusion of perfection.
If, in his eyes I am perfect, I will accept his verdict.
And where perfection was lacking,
he helped bring it about with his own hands.
Not the perfection of an airbrushed photo,
but the perfection of healed flesh and whole skin.
Of function where there was brokenness.
When I first saw the damage, I cried.
I couldn't look until it was nearly done healing, and I still cried.
But he saw it in every stage, and he never recoiled.
He didn't cry, and he didn't criticize, and he didn't complain.
He changed bandages twice a day.
And he did the dishes while I laid there.

if you want to be married to a beautiful woman,
let your love make her beautiful.
Don't compare her to the unflawed women you see.
The ones who haven't borne your children in their bodies.
Don't shame her for the thing that she is.

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Mouse Is Responsible

I came across a news item that began thus:
"A mouse is responsible for triggering a stampede in a mosque 
in the Moroccan city of Casablanca 
which left more than 80 people injured, officials say."
It went on to say, "Worshippers were reported to have fainted 
after a mouse crossed over a woman's foot while she was praying, 
causing her to rush outside and creating panic among worshippers."

We had a mouse problem in a former house.
They had grown bold, and ran right across the living room while we were in it.
One night, my husband was sitting on the floor, and a mouse ran past him.
Without thought, his hand flew at it, and it was knocked out.
In fact, it might have died instantly.
He picked it up by the tail and flushed it down the toilet.
A mouse is a slappable fear.
A flushable fear -- until we let it stampede us.
Because our stampeding can crush real lives.
The stampede was what injured the crowd.
Have you ever been stampeded by a mouse?

I fight fear.
Crippling fear, at times.
Gut-wrenching, knee-shaking fear.
Stampeding fear.
One way I fight it is to let it knock me down,
and then I pray there.
I try swallowing it, sometimes, but it comes back up.
I feel my heart swell and pound,
and my resolve turn to Jello.
And my thoughts race to a bunker filled with organic canned goods
and solar-powered electronics
and books
and gold pieces
and plenty of yarn to knit.
But then what?
I don't want to live in the bunker.
So I drop down again on the weak knees, and let myself say it all there.
All the fears,
and the griefs for things that are someone else's reality that I can't fix.
The distress over world affairs that are so wrong.
They're so, so wrong.
They are sickeningly, damningly wrong.
And the good guys are only half as guilty...

Back to my knees.
Lord, You had mercy on the children in Nineveh.
You were willing to rescue Lot's daughters from Sodom. 
There is no hope in us... but YOU are merciful. 

Peter said things to women that jump out at me and run through my mind:
"...your pure behaviour in fear
whose adorning--let it not be that which is outward, 
of plaiting of hair, 
and of putting around of things of gold
or of putting on of garments, 
but--the hidden man of the heart
in the incorruptible thing of the meek and quiet spirit
which is, before God, of great price
for thus once also the holy women who did hope on God
were adorning themselves, being subject to their own husbands, 
as Sarah was obedient to Abraham, 
calling him `sir,' of whom ye did become daughters, doing good
and not fearing any terror."

He mentions faultless behavior in fear,
but then says not fearing any terror.
Not put to flight by fear.
Perhaps a faultless response to fear 
is not to surround ourselves with gold and garments,
but to stock up on meekness and a quiet spirit.
That's rich currency with God.
Holy women hope on Him.
They dress themselves in obedience.
They do good in the very face of the fear.
And they are not stampeded.

Friday, June 12, 2015

It Isn't All My Life

Sometimes you ask me how I am, and I demur.
Maybe someone just called my husband in crying distress and needing prayer,
and it's broken our hearts that the same people
who have borne up under so much pain are hurting again.
Why do some people
seem to get so much more than their fair share of grief and heartache?
Shouldn't there be a rule
that you only have to deal with one death every ten or twenty years or so?
They're on my heart, and you want to know how I am,
and I'm fine.
Really, I am.
And how is that fair?
And I can't talk about how they're hurting, because it's their private grief.
And although they shared it with us, it isn't ours to share.

And just a day or two later,
someone confides a soaring joy that makes us laugh out loud --
and tells us we can't breathe a word of it.
Even though it's a fulfilled promise of God.
And we nod, and try to tamp down the smiles a little,
so as not to let on that we know.
And it's such a privilege to be allowed into both --
the sorrow and the rejoicing.
But, man -- how to respond to your question?
How am I?
I'm elated!
I'm heartbroken.
I can't tell you about either.

And so I tell you something mundane from my life.
And maybe you think I'm withdrawn.
Or I'm hiding something.
Or that I don't want to be friends.
And I want to be friends.
I want to share my life --
but it isn't all my life.

And even sometimes when it's my own hurt I don't speak of,
it's because maybe someone has acted badly.
They've done something mean,
and I'm trying to respond the way I ought to.
I don't post their dirty laundry on my Facebook status,
and gather all my friends to my side to condemn them.
Because do you know my hope?
I hope they come to their senses.
I hope they recognize the error someday.
And how will they ever be able to do that
if everyone they know thinks they are the devil's own apprentice?

A friend told me a story about a pastor he knew
who had been really wronged by people who knew him.
He'd been slandered and they had drawn others away and separated themselves.
The pastor had been really upset privately in my friend's presence --
and rightly so, frankly.
He's a human being with natural emotions.
The pastor had said he'd be happy if he never saw ______ again.
A few years went by.
The person he'd said that about realized he'd been misled.
He'd misjudged the whole thing.
He came back repentant and asked to be forgiven.
A few more years went by.
A new area needed a church pastor.
The pastor laid hands on and sent out that same guy who had come back.
Our friend was a private witness to both.
And I smiled to hear about restored fellowship with more depth --
the depth of repentance and forgiveness.
A reality of Christian fellowship.
Sometimes when we're hurt,
we have to choose the end game.
Hope for reconciliation, because we are family, screw-ups and all.

In the same way that you will never have a healthy marriage
if you go tattling about every failure your spouse has to your family of origin;
how will you live love for the church
if you can't swallow a few hurts and hope for the best?
Sometimes our love points out an error,
and sometimes it shuts its mouth and prays,
and accepts a painful slight.
Paul rebuked Christians for going to court against each other.
"Why not rather be wronged?" he asked them,
"Why not rather be defrauded?"
Better to be a victim in this case, than a plaintiff.

And how are you doing?