Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On This Last Day of 2013

Anyone who knows me knows I hate New Year's Resolutions.
Perhaps it began as rebellion against pointless school homework.
Maybe it's because I generally hate change.
Or my inborn anxiety of the future.
I'd like to think it has more to do
with a distaste for navel-gazing, and self aggrandizement.
Also, I never saw the point of sitting around
thinking about all the ways I am not good enough yet,
and how to really buckle down and be perfect.

This year brought massive unforeseen changes into our life as a family.
I am writing this from the other coast,
and mere weeks from giving birth to a surprise baby.
My parents and siblings have been geographically scattered this year.
We began last year in only two places: New England and Africa.
By fall we were scattered into five.
I didn't see that coming.

I hoped some day we could take our kids to see the country.
We took the 4700 mile route to the new state,
stopping in various places to spend the night and eat a meal or two with family.
My kids told me that Niagara Falls was even more amazing than Disneyland --
both of which they got to visit this year.

I dreamed of train travel,
and in the spring my daughter Elisa and I got four days of train travel
like heroines of old.
That was not in my plans.

Christmas Day, I dug out the four journals that covered 2013, and began reading.
These are where I write things down.
Funny things the kids said;
devastating fears that I pour out and beg God for rescue from;
Scriptures He soothes me with;
hopes for my family;
confessions of failure and my need of mercy;
prayers for my husband, children, parents, grandparents,
brothers, sisters, in-laws,
brothers and sisters in the Lord,
churches on three continents,
friends who are suffering,
enemies who are hurting me;
anxieties that are overwhelming me;
praises for answered prayers;
inadequate thanks for blessings I don't deserve;
records of phone calls received out of the blue;
and notations of positive pregnancy tests,
and movements of new life felt.

You see, I have a story to tell.
A story that has been going on a long time, and that isn't ended yet.
A story of weakness and loss
filled with strength and hope.
A story of infertility crowned with children.
A story of trembling faith going forward anyway.
Of unexpectedly expecting.
Of saying 'yes' in spite of fear.
Of God's faithfulness and light.

It has encouraged my mind and my heart to read my fears and prayers,
the promises of God I wrote down,
and how He helped me this last year.
I have few resolutions for this coming year.
I hope I trust Him better,
because He is trustworthy.
I hope I love Him better,
because He has loved me so.
I hope I know Him better,
because He knows me: all my fears, all my failures, and all my hopes.
He has been faithful to me,
and He astounds me with His kindness.
And all my fruit is found in Him.

Perhaps I will continue this useful practice --
looking over the year as I recorded it,
taking note of fearful expectations and merciful realities,
of my prayers and His helpings,
and marking the lessons He taught me.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Chosen Part

After reading my Bible the other morning,
I guess my mind drifted off.
I wasn't reading anything about them,
but I found myself daydreaming about Mary and Martha,
just pondering what happened that day.

Now it happened as they went 
that He entered a certain village; 
and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, 
who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word.
But Martha was distracted with much serving,
and she approached Him and said, 
"Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? 
Therefore tell her to help me." 
And Jesus answered and said to her, 
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 
But one thing is needed, 
and Mary has chosen that good part, 
which will not be taken away from her."

I have heard many teachings on this over the years,
usually at women's events.
And while mentally I gave assent to the need to sit at His feet and hear Him,
I have always had this confused appreciation for Martha's position.
I mean, the woman just had Jesus and His entourage drop in for food and rest.
What: is she supposed to let the food prepare itself?
Mary's not helping -- how will it get done?
How does Martha even have a choice in it?
And, being the woman of my house,
and the oldest of a large family
(where I was often pressed into service I would happily have forgone
to sit with people and talk),
I sympathize with Martha's annoyance at her sister.
So it's with some troubled crinkling of my brow
that I ponder this story, always.

Martha was engaged in frantic service of her own contriving 
for the purpose of caring for the Lord.
I have to conclude from what Jesus said to her,
that she chose her part.
This is obviously a woman who does much.
A hospitable woman.
A woman with food on hand.
She is a responsible lady.
And as I thought about her, I thought,
Surely she had some pita and hummus on hand.
Olive oil for dipping.
A bowl of olives.
A store of wine.
Dates. Almonds... you get the idea.
But I think she wanted to Pinterest out the spread.
And her zeal for tasks she chose for herself
was making her angry and judgmental,
and keeping her from His presence.

Jesus said Mary had chosen a better part.
She had chosen quietness at His feet.
Open ears.
Fellowship while it was available.

Martha had a misplaced urgency.
The time was short, but it wasn't meal time that was the pressing matter.
It was time spent with Him before He was gone from them.
She became a critic in her self-ordered anxiety to serve.
She pointed her finger, and unleashed her tongue,
and complained about her sister.
And idle Mary, who wanted to hear Him,
heard Him defend her presence at His feet.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Even in the Unsuccessful Things

I was out all afternoon outfitting children with snow boots that fit them,
and generally making sure they wouldn't suffer frostbite tomorrow.
I picked my husband up after a few hours,
and having succeeded in finding at thrift stores
boots for two of the three who needed them,
we headed over to another store
to attempt finding an economical pair for the last one.

I was not successful, but we wandered into the grocery section,
where samples of pear slices were being handed out.
The children wanted some, so we stopped and waited
while the sample lady sliced some for them.
We smiled and thanked her, and went on our way.
About fifteen minutes later,
we passed her again headed another direction, and she called out to us,
"Do they want anymore pears?"
They did, so I stopped again, and thanked her again.

We had not been able to locate the day old bread rack,
although we were looking for it.
So I turned back to her, and said,
"Maybe you know... where is the day old bread rack?
I haven't been able to locate one."
She left her station, and came and showed me where it was.

A few minutes later, we were still looking the rack over,
when she came back and gestured to Jeff and I to come over to her.
The kids started to follow, and she said, "I don't want your kids to know,"
so Jeff stayed back with them, and I followed her around the corner.
"Give me your address," she said.
I was confused by this direct demand from a stranger.

She started talking kind of fast, obviously excited.
She told me she goes around and does these sample things all over,
and she did one last week where her product didn't arrive until a day late,
and when she talked to the company,
they told her she was just going to have to dispose of it herself.
"What am I going to do with 600 of these?!" she said.
"So I have been praying about who to give them to," she told me.
And I know I am supposed to give them to you for your kids."
I started to tear up at this sweet little reminder
that the Lord sees us and cares for us,
and I pulled out a notepad and wrote down my name and address for her.

"You're a Christian, aren't you?" she said.
"Yes, I am," I answered, "I just moved here."
"See? The Lord wanted me to give you this," she said. "I can tell.
The Spirit is all over me, and I know."
I hugged her, and said, "Thank you," yet again.
I told her where I live, I didn't even get her name.

And walking away, I thought about how He leads us,
even in the unsuccessful things.
My daughter can wear her brother's old boots:
they'll do for a day.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Together as Friends

I have always dreaded reading some of the letters
to the churches in Revelation.
I want so much to be a included in a letter to a good church,
and not one of the ones so fearfully rebuked.
But in my Bible reading this morning,
I read two letters -- the one to Philadelphia,
and the one to Laodicea.
I was surprised to find myself encouraged.
To Philadelphia, He said,
"I know the things you do, 
and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. 
You have little strength, 
yet you obeyed My word and did not deny Me."
Philadelphia is one of the good churches.
But here He mentions their weakness.
Could I be weak and still an obedient child He is pleased with?
Could I be too small to open doors for myself,
but He opens them for me anyway?
He goes on,
"Because you have obeyed My command to persevere,
I will protect you...
I am coming soon.
Hold on to what you have,
so that no one will take your crown."

To me, perseverance is great strength.
Pressing on through pain, and adversity.
But He has already mentioned their small strength.
Can you see it?
This is one of the weak things through which He displays His strength.
One of the things which are not.
This church is a conqueror that is not strong.
Isn't He wonderful?

And then I came to Laodicea.
This was a church that felt it had arrived.
They knew how to live.
They were spiritually rich, they thought.
Stockpiled larders: no needs.
Self-sufficient and self-righteous.
Clothed in their own righteousness,
their perfect coverings and medicinal applications.
Somehow they saw themselves as something they weren't.
In reality, they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
(Just to set the scene I remind you of this background.)
But this morning I noticed the promises.

"Buy gold from Me," He says to them.
"Then you will be rich."
"Also buy white garments from Me 
so you will not be ashamed by your nakedness,
and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see."

It's funny (or maybe tragic) how we revel in us.
Our righteous accomplishments,
our righteous coverings,
and our righteous contrivances for spiritual health.
But compared with His real righteousness,
we stand there naked and blind and unhealthy.
Completely exposed because our coverings don't change us.
They only look good to other blind men.
Anyone with His healing in their eyes can see the holes.
But He offers Himself -- the Lord our Righteousness --
the Light of the world, come into the darkness.
The Treasury of Heaven there for our plundering.
"If you hear My voice and open the door, 
I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends."
Open ears and open doors, and fellowship with Him.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

He Sees How We Calculate

Two children sat sniping at each other,
though each had work assigned
that was not getting accomplished while they criticized.
Said one to the other,
"You are never going to finish your work or get ahead,
because you are behind in your readers,
and I know you are behind where you should be in school."
The instructor was brought into the conversation
by the tears of the one who felt stupid.
The assignments accomplished so far by the 'behind' one
were exactly what the child had been given to do by the instructor.
More was not expected, but the child was ashamed
when compared to someone else's standard.
The one doing the mocking was actually two years behind in math,
but had not been made aware of that,
because the instructor knew the diagnosis,
and was happy enough to see progress, even if it was slow.
But the mocking was mean, and wasn't going to be tolerated.
"If you want to make others feel like they are stupid and less
because of something that is not your business to evaluate,
you ought to know that you are two years behind in your math,
and you have no business judging the shortcomings of those
who are doing exactly as I told them.
Your business is to encourage and love one another,
not to tear each other down."
The instructor heard a genuine apology a few minutes later --
not the one that had been forced
before the child understood its own failure.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said something so hypocritical."

How often we gloat over our 'accomplishments' which are natural abilities,
not knowing how far behind we are in areas others sail through.
We begin to look around, thinking we're ahead of the game,
and we discourage those who are doing their best
at the task assigned to them
by the One who knows their needs and abilities.
He may be quite happy with them,
even knowing their grade placement and their age.
And He may be quietly keeping us from knowing how far we fall short,
since we are progressing toward His goals for us --
even if the tasks are far below our grade placement and age averages.

How much better for both if they had been merciful to each other,
encouraging each other and rejoicing over the good.
Comparing ourselves against each other is no way to improve.
Our Teacher, our Helper, our Father
knows our needs, our shortcomings, our progress
(even if it looks like a shortfall to others).
Our eyes should be toward Him for our assignments.
For our correction.
For our promotion.
He knows better than we do -- and better than our fellow students --
where we are at in His estimation.
He's seen our test scores.
He sees the areas of brilliance,
even while He works to improve where we appear to be fools.
He hears the good reasoning we used to come to a wrong conclusion,
and has a plan for how to train our minds to calculate better.
He knows the calculating was done in our heads,
and it was a complicated problem,
and we don't have the skills to jot down our thoughts
because our hands need training and strengthening.
And our math will improve with our handwriting.
Practice this 'a' again.
He sees how we calculate with nearly perfect outcomes,
but don't understand what any of it means --
and He's concerned that our high scores don't reflect real knowledge,
just memorized formulas.
He knows we're behind because we took a slower path,
because there were others who needed help, too,
and our pace was matched to theirs.
And He knows that once the basics are mastered, we're going to excel.
So He isn't troubled by our grade level,
though we are now troubled by someone else's chiding.

For we do not make bold to rank or to compare ourselves 
with certain of those commending themselves, 
but they, among themselves measuring themselves, 
and comparing themselves with themselves, are not wise, 
and we in regard to the unmeasured things will not boast ourselves, 
but after the measure of the line 
that the God of measure did appoint to us--to reach even unto you; 
...not boasting of the things not measured, 
in other men's labors, 
and having hope--your faith increasing--in you to be enlarged, 
according to our line--into abundance,
...and he who is boasting--in the Lord let him boast; 
 for not he who is commending himself is approved, 
but he whom the Lord doth commend.
2 Corinthians 10:12 -18

Another child, who speeds through the work assigned
with time to spare every day, came and said,
"She is having trouble with math. Would it be alright if I helped?"
"Why, yes. Yes, it would. And I am so glad you would like to."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Among Those Who Had Not Dared

I read another chapter in The Making of a Man of God this morning.  
Vanquishing the Enemy, it was titled.
It was about David's conquering of Goliath.
These things ministered to me:

'Saul's idea was to dress him up and make him as much like Goliath as he could.

'Of course, the most wonderful thing of all is this: that the victory of David was the victory of Israel. Every Israelite -- mark this carefully, and may the Lord give you the thrill of it in your soul -- became a conqueror that day because of David's triumph. They all shared in his victory.

'In Saul's mind, God was absent from the whole conflict; He didn't enter into it.

'David was strengthened and sustained by the Word of God, and by faith he was successful in the battle. He knew perfectly well it was no use imitating the enemy by dressing up like him and going out in Saul's armor -- he saw the futility of that. Rather, he must put on the whole armor of God that he might stand his ground in that evil day.

'In our concluding glimpse of this story, have you noticed that there was a spectator? His name was Jonathan, the son of Saul, who naturally watched the whole battle with great concern. He had been among those who had not dared launch out into the fight, but as he watched David go out and fight Goliath in the name of the Lord, his soul was knit to David's, and he loved him as he loved his own soul...

'Then Jonathan "stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle". In other words, that day he saw the principle of victory, and he was identifying himself with that principle by which David had won. He was giving away all the carnal weapons of Saul's armor that he might cast himself in faith upon David.'

Jonathan was a man who had already had victory before.
But he found himself standing as a spectator
who didn't venture out against the giant.
I love that Redpath pulled this in to this chapter,
because sometimes we too, stand back and tremble
even though we've fought before.
And it is just so stunning to me to think of this warrior
taking the robes of his status, and his weapons of victory,
and everything that identified him as the son of Saul,
the flesh-king of Israel,
and stripping them off and giving them to David,
the shepherd who was not a warrior but conquered anyway.
He threw away the inheritance of the flesh.
He threw away his right to the throne.
He cut off his privileged kinship to become David's brother.
Redpath goes on:

'We have nothing except -- and what glorious exception -- the Word of God, the power of His Spirit, the anointing of the Holy Ghost upon a life which has surrendered all confidence in the flesh.

'Child of God, you may have victory yet, in spite of defeat, as you recognize the power of Goliath and his tremendous strength, if you, like Jonathan, love the Lord Jesus with all your soul and just put down at His feet every weapon, every confidence in technique and program, and recognize that the battle is won not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit. If you come to Him in total submission, He will give you power from on high, because the Lord's victory is your victory.'

Though I be the offspring of Saul, Lord,
accept me as Your own flesh and blood,
and make my offspring Your own, crippled though they are.
You are the rightful King --
the victorious Champion and Defender of Your people.
You fought the battle we had no strength to fight.
You won the victory we could not even attempt.
Help us to lay down all the weapons of flesh
and go in Your strength, and not our own --
to be clothed in Your favor and Your anointing --
to gain victory through Your Word, Your power, and Your anointing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

We May Magnify The Grace

I picked up an old book this morning I've been thinking about lately.
Opened to the forward and read this: 

"The Bible never flatters its heroes. 
It tells us the truth about each one of them 
in order that against the background of human breakdown and failure 
we may magnify the grace of God 
and recognize that it is the delight of the Spirit of God 
to work upon the platform of human impossibilities. 
As we consider the record of Bible characters, 
how often we find ourselves looking into a mirror. 
We are humiliated by the reminder of how many times we have failed. 
Great has been our stubbornness 
but greater still has been His faithfulness... 
My own heart has been searched to its depths 
as I have been brought face to face with my own frailty 
and the abundant mercy of my Savior... 
The conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment, 
the manufacture of a saint is the task of a lifetime. 
It is the matchless marvel of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ 
to take a life from the dunghill and set it among princes -- 
to replace the bias of degeneration by the bias of regeneration, 
and to cause a man who has sunk to the depths to cry to God, 
'Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me... 
Then I will  teach transgressors Thy ways; 
and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.'"

~Alan Redpath, 
Forward to The Making of a Man of God, Studies in the Life of David

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Power of His Inscription

My grandmother had a habit
of discounting complaints about people when I voiced them.
It wasn't just me she did it to.
There was something about tearing other people down
that she just didn't want to join in on.
Even if the ugly about them was obvious,
she would pipe in with something good --
no matter how small and insignificant the good was.

There is yet another story circulating about some unnamed Christians
who mistreated their 'homeless' pastor.
These stories bother me.
Because we are so quick to tear down our brothers and sisters,
in an attempt to stir them up.
(Or is it just to judge them?)
But the story is put out there with a false picture,
and a false narrative,
and whatever good it aims for is darkened by its untruth.

Have you ever read the story of Noah?
He was a man who had the grace of God upon him,
who had escaped the judgment that was the end of his world,
and whose family had escaped by his faith, too.
There he was: he had managed to take in a harvest of grapes
after so much loss.
So much change.
Perhaps the atmosphere of the new environment
had changed the nature of wine.
Or maybe the elevation he was at
affected him differently than where he lived before the flood.
Maybe it felt like his harvest was the only good thing on the face of the earth
after so much devastation:
and he'd worked hard to grow it,
and he was tired,
and he just wanted a little more of it.
Whatever it was, when he drank the wine, he got drunk.
And the very son saved by his father's faith and his righteousness,
and his uniquely personal friendship with God,
found him uncovered and mocked him.
Wanted to write a news story about it.
To take pictures of his foolishness,
and laugh about it with his brothers:
to shame his father.
He was cursed for it.

Another story comes to mind.
One of exposure.
There was a woman who had a trap set for her.
And she was caught in it.
Guilty and uncovered.
And the trappers dragged her in shame
before the Son of God to get judgment.
But He looked down.
And He bent lower.
And He put His hands in the dirt
and wrote things there.
And we don't know what He wrote.
But the power of His inscription
caused the damning stones to fall from the hands of her accusers,
and embarrassment to inspire them to slink away.
It seems they had been reminded of their own uncleanness.
"Where are your accusers?" He asked her.
"They've all gone," she choked out.
Neither do I condemn you;" He said, "go and sin no more."

The apostle Paul was complained against by the Corinthians
(a truly remarkable thing, considering the state of that church).
His ministry was judged
and his delivery unfavorably compared with the eloquence of Apollos.
Paul said, "But with me it is a very small thing 
that I should be judged of you, 
or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. 
For I know nothing against myself; 
yet am I not hereby justified: 
but He that judgeth me is the Lord. 
Wherefore judge nothing before the time, 
until the Lord come, 
who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, 
and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; 
and then shall each man have his praise from God. 
Now these things, brethren, 
I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; 
that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written; 
that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other. 
For who maketh thee to differ? 
and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? 
but if thou didst receive it, 
why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?"

I marvel that in the very thing that men wrongly judge,
Paul said the judged would receive commendation --
that the Lord, in examining motives,
would have anything good to say about those judged of men.
Perhaps because He sees our faith,
where others only see our fumbles.
Paul encouraged the Corinthians
to stop passing judgment on things
that weren't their business to evaluate.
All our gifts are gifts from Him,
and it is His business to evaluate our use of them.
And if I may use the term:
judging from history,
it would appear that Paul's 'contemptible speech'
left their beloved eloquence silent.

I think of my Grandma,
and the praise she was apt to heap on the undeserving,
and I am encouraged to hold my tongue,
or say something nice.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

If You Are Wise

I read James 3 this morning.
I expected to be slammed by the things James says about our tongues,
and certainly I did once again take note of them
in hopes of pushing them further into my heart.
From the time I was a child, I knew I was guilty in the face of this passage.
Perhaps if my tongue took a key to unlock,
I would pause long enough to hold it when I should.

But it was verse 13 onward that opened in my mind today.
"If you are wise and understand God's ways,
prove it by living an honorable life,
doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom."
Some translations call it meekness.
Wouldn't you almost think that wisdom and knowledge
would make you bold and brash?
According to the Scripture, it brings humility with it.
Because really, understanding God's ways
will make me more ready to submit to them.
And wisdom will recognize my own past foolishness.
My lack of understanding that led to the experiential knowledge, perhaps.

"Jealousy and selfishness are not God's kind of wisdom," it says.
"Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.
For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition,
there you will find disorder and evil of every kind."
O Lord -- banish it from among us!

"The wisdom from above is first of all pure."
Clean. Innocent. Modest.
Jealous motives and selfishness are not its motivators.
It doesn't operate to protect me and my kingdom.

"It is also peace loving, gentle... and willing to yield to others."
It loves peace.
It is not hoping for a fight.

"It is full of mercy and good deeds."
This mercy is compassion that acts.
When we lack compassion, we are quick to judge.
We think the worst of other people's motives.
But compassion is quick to feel their pain.
To recognize fear or loneliness or aching hearts
in the actions of others.
It pities and prays and offers a hand,
instead of whispering.

"It shows no favoritism and is always sincere."
The world is a dangerous place to be sincere in.
But it is such a refreshing thing in a world full of lies.
There ought to be no question in our minds
when we are with other believers about their sincerity.
There ought to be genuineness and reality in our interactions --
an honesty about who we are,
not little intrigues and manipulations,
and party loyalties.

"And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace 
and reap a harvest of righteousness."
O Lord; open our eyes to ways in which we can plant peace,
and harvest righteousness.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

His Marks Will Cover The Whole

In between daytime and nighttime trips to an observatory for my son's birthday, we stopped to explore the Maryhill Museum. The grounds were beautiful, and I always enjoy looking at art, and the Native American artifacts drew our attention, too. Especially the waterproof parka sewn from seal intestines, and the intricate beadwork with its vivid depictions of flowers and animals.

But we wandered into a display of pottery made by Ken Standhardt that resembled basketry, and had a video playing showing the artist's technique, and that stopped me for awhile. What is it about the process of art that moves me so? I watched as the potter shaped and roughly centered the clay, as he moved it to suit his will, and gave grace to a blob, and symmetry to dirt, and made it into something beautiful. The pot's shape was complete, symmetrical, its future clearly marked out in its form. But he cut it from the wheel, and set it on a shelf. "He is preparing the surface for his mark," the narrator said.

You see, it wasn't ready. It was a pot, and it had purpose, but it was not able to receive the impression he wanted to put on it. It needed to dry out for awhile. It needed the texture of leather before he could mark it. Have you ever felt like you've been set down, and left to dry for awhile?

His tool was a can opener. Mainly. He also used a ball point pen. What common things press my soul, and leave a mark? In His hands, any instrument can work together for my good. Does it feel like He makes the same mark over and over again? But I wanted variety, and uniqueness in the outcome. And again, I feel the same shape pressed into me. Over and over, again and again. And I am supposed to yield. Trust Me: don't be afraid. Trust Me: don't be afraid. I need to mark this side, now. Trust Me: don't be afraid.

The designs he pressed into the pots were mesmerizing. He said people asked him how he got them so perfect, when he had no plan and didn't measure before he began to press his tool in the clay. "There's plenty of imperfection in each individual impression," he said. But the overall body of the work appeared perfect. How often I feel the individual marks made in my life have imperfection in them. But He is the potter, and I am the clay, and in the end, His marks will cover the whole.

You can watch him work here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bound Weight

I am getting ready to move.
For months, I have been making decisions about items in my home.
Is this necessary?
Do I love it?
Even if I do love it, can I live without it?
On the other hand; even if I don't love it,
does it serve my family's needs?
And sometimes the things that go and the things that stay surprise me.
The time is getting nearer, and the homeyness of here is fading.

The crocheted blankets in clashing colors?
They stay.
Grandma made them with love, and we are keeping them.
We'll get rid of the nice new one with no purpose, instead.
The glass canisters I love?
Some of them are given away, even though I love them.
I am a book fiend,
but have managed to let go of a few cubic feet of them.
Whoops -- I dropped a plate.
One less thing to pack.
I crammed too many papers through my shredder at once,
and it finally gave up serving me after so many years of abuse.
At least I don't have to pack it now.
The curtains I just bought for the windows?
Leave them.
They were bought for this place, to serve these windows.
The air conditioners we couldn't function without?
Our tenants won't be able to function without them, either.

I find myself happily tossing or giving away
things I have had for many years.
But some of them are harder.
Goodbye, Christmas cards.
Goodbye, welcome lights.
Goodbye, homemade starter from scratch.

You see, some things won't keep for the journey.
They were made to be used here and now,
and not saved up for future meals.
Non-perishables can come, if they are necessary.
But the perishables will all be left behind.
Shipping charges go by weight and distance.
And we really only want to give weight allowance to things that matter.
It's a long trip.

As I pack, and as I sort, I keep thinking,
"Throw off the weight and the sin that entangles."
And I wonder what that weighed?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I Was Unaware

The drive to church this morning felt like fall.
The sun was shining on the falling leaves
that flashed in the sunlight.
They blew across the road,
and caught all of our attention while we visited outside.
The children chased them,
and I watched them
and thought about how the wind blows where it wills,
and we see its effects.
We see two leaves from the same tree
lifted and swirled in different directions.
And I went into the church knowing it was our last morning there.
Some of our newer friends came in and said,
"We brought a gift for you."
Smiling thanks, and thinking how sweet it was to do,
when she told me, "It's all gluten-free so Isaiah can eat it,"
I broke down and cried.
Because it wasn't just sweet.
It was loving and thoughtful and tailored to us specifically.
And I cried a lot more through the rest of the day.
Because I look at these people,
and I met them in different places,
and I see how the Lord arranged each meeting.
And I was unaware
when I sat next to a girl in my new school
who kept talking about her new Gameboy
that she would be so dear to me
and I would cry to leave her.
And I didn't know when I saw a man
standing in the back of a crowded auditorium in Southern California,
in an army green jacket
that we would serve three churches together on the opposite coast
and he would marry my sister.
And I don't know the next time we will all be together
but they are mine, and I am theirs,
and the communion of saints grows large to me.
And twenty-four years ago,
when my Dad obeyed the Lord's call and moved us here,
it was all loss to me.
It was the time of falling leaves
and soon-to-be cold.
I did not own a coat.
We did not know the gain in store for us.
The friends transformed to family by the blood of Jesus Christ.
The marriages and births -- union and life.
It felt like loss and separation.
I did not love it when I arrived.
"But I am so grateful you came," my friend said.
"I am so grateful, too."
We don't know what gain He has in store
for saying yes when He asks us.
The losses loom large and seem unbearable sometimes.
But what we lose to Him is gain.
We have a choice.
And I shudder to think what we would have missed out on
had we closed our hands and said no.
No, it is too cold there.
No, I don't own a coat.
No, I don't want these friends.
No, I don't need that blessing.
"Surely the Lord is in this place," Jacob said, "and I knew it not."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Tell Every Trembler

"God has been faithful to you.
Tell it to your children. 
Tell them God will save sinners when they come to Him, 
for He saved you... 
Tell them He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins 
if we confess them to Him, 
and to save us from all unrighteousness, 
for He forgave you. 
Tell every trembler you meet with 
that Jesus will in no wise cast out any that come to Him.
Tell all seekers that if they seek, they will find, 
and that to everyone who knocks, 
the door of mercy will be opened. 
Tell the most despondent and despairing 
that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, 
even the very chief..."
(C.H. Spurgeon, The Practice of Praise)

Sometimes the trembler I meet with is the one in my mirror.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

In The Multitude of My Anxieties

"Unless the Lord had been my help,
my soul would soon have settled in silence.
If I say, 'My foot slips,'
Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up.
In the multitude of my anxieties within me,
Your comforts delight my soul."
~Psalm 94:17-19

As a child, I loved flying.
In fact, I loved it until September 11, 2001.
My anxiety increased with each trip taken after that.
In 2010 I stopped flying
when the Obama administration
instituted its new security measures against even innocent American citizens.
Since then, I have taken some long car drives,
and even a long train trip (which I recommend heartily).

But earlier this month, we were asked to come out
and be introduced to the church.
It was an internal wrestling match for me.
I intended to send my husband alone, and stay behind.
I am that courageous.

Some of you fly without anxiety, I suppose.
Perhaps being irradiated in the name of security doesn't bother you.
Perhaps being pulled out for additional screening
every time you've flown (save one) since 2003 doesn't disturb you.
But it has disturbed me.
Maybe you don't mind surly blue-shirts who question your clothing choices,
look suspiciously at your glasses,
yell at you for not knowing where to stand,
and make your children cry.
But I have minded.

I suppose the turmoil was because I felt I ought to do it,
and had no intention of doing it, regardless.
But I love Jesus, and I want to please Him.
In distress, I prayed about it in spite of my determination.
And after praying about it,
I opened up my Chequebook of Faith devotional and read this:

"'Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, 
and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out' 
(Deuteronomy 28:6)
...I have a good deal of work to do within my own soul; 
oh for a blessing upon it all, 
the blessing of the Lord Jesus, who has promised to abide with me.
I must also go out.
Timidity makes me wish that I could stay within doors, 
and never go into the sinful world again.
But I must go out in my calling,
and I must go out that I may be helpful to my brethren,
and useful to the ungodly...
Oh for a blessing upon my going out this day!
Lord, let me go where Thou leadest,
on Thy errands, under Thy command,
and in the power of Thy Spirit."

I flipped through a book by Oswald Chambers that same day,
one I had not looked at in years.
Its title?
So Send I You.
"The stamp of the saint 
is that you can waive your own rights and obey the Lord Jesus."
I told my husband I would go with him.
Knowing me as he does, he had not insisted.

These anxieties are thorns to me.
Painful, irritating limitations.
Messengers of Satan to torment me.
They slow me, and hurt me.
Handicap me.
And as with Paul, who begged the Lord to remove his thorn,
the Lord answers,
"My grace is all you need.
My power works best in weakness."
They hold me down, and make me weak,
but when I lean on Him to walk through them,
they give me power.

Having opted for a pat down instead of being scanned,
and having encountered a very polite and respectful agent
who did not yell at me or act irritated with me,
I walked through the airport toward our gate.
We weren't in a hurry.

As I looked around,
my eyes fell to rest on a display set up on the way to my gate.
"The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in."
(Psalm 121:8)
There was a Bible open in the display case.
Two verses were highlighted in it.
They happen to be significant ones to me.
"He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord,
'He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him will I trust.'"
(Psalm 91:1,2)

And He did preserve our going out and our coming in.
Thank You, Father:
in the multitude of my anxieties within me,
Your comforts delight my soul.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Therefore I Have Hope

I opened my Facebook this morning
and saw one of those things
posted by Christian friends with good intentions,
hoping to stir up in you the perfect parent
and thus lead your family into a state of unmatched perfect outcomes,
never yet seen in the world.
That was how it felt, anyway.

Don't forget: everything depends on you.
If you fail to be perfect in parenting,
and general citizenry,
all is lost,
and your children will lead the next pagan revival.

Honestly I didn't even read the post.
I have enough anxiety about my performance,
and the results of my performance
without reading it.
Maybe it was a truly helpful post.
But its title looked unbearably guilt-trippy and depressing to me.

And when a child in my house informed me this morning
that I 'was bearing false witness against them!
by requesting that the pan cupboard be straightened up,
knowing that particular child
had shoved everything into it topsy-turvy in a haze of daydreaming,
I lost my temper.

The bickering between this one and one other has worn me down.
I am tired of hearing pointless arguments
and contradictions without cause.
And snotty little comments made to provoke tears.
And denials of reality when reality is that the child is a space cadet,
and walks around putting things in odd places,
whether the places and actions are remembered or not.
And it was the last straw.

I did not bake some cookies to correct the misinformed little soul.
I failed to keep my cool.
And probably ruined all future hope of happiness and prosperity for the child.
Maybe of Christianity, too.
Although I did apologize,
and the child apologized,
and we hugged one another and forgave one another.

It says that if your brother has something against you,
go to him and be reconciled.
It doesn't say,
"If your brother has something against you,
you are obviously damned
because Christians never do wrong by each other,
and don't need to ask forgiveness of each other."

It isn't our perfection that sharpens one another, I think.
I think that where it says,
"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,"
it's more about friction than lubrication.
Sometimes I wish there was less to sharpen in me.

My husband texted me, "Broken people beget broken people.
If it wasn't for the Lord, what would we do?
He is strong.
He will hold us up."

Feeling like a jerk, I sat down and looked over a few blogs,
hoping to glean a little grace.
And my eyes fell on one of my favorites,
which was quoting a Scripture yesterday:
"This I recall to my mind,
therefore I have hope:
The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness."

And it's from Lamentations -- a bit of grace in itself.
'Compassions' are multiple.
'Lovingkindnesses' are multiple.
New every morning.
And strangely enough, though I am a Christian,
I need them again today.
Maybe you do, too.

There is reason to hope.
Though my lovingkindnesses stopped with six words said to me,
and my compassion probably didn't even get out of bed this morning,
His was new again, as ever.
And His faithfulness is great.

Have mercy on us sinners, Lord,
and sanctify our dirt-born lives.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Those Things Which He Lacks

This morning I was praying for my son,
and thanking the Lord for the gift that he is.
Asking for help in nurturing him:
that we would strengthen his weaknesses,
and encourage his strengths.
I was thinking about the way he sees things
and understands ridiculously complex concepts,
while struggling to form written sentences on paper.
And before I knew what I was saying, I prayed,
"Lord, thank you that his brilliant mind is handicapped.
Please cause him to lean on You in trust
for those things which he lacks.
You are good, and You do good."

And it hit home.
"Lord, I also lack much that I need to excel.
In me, I cannot find all that I need."
Ah, but I remembered:
In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
"In You, I can do valiantly.
Help me, Lord.
Thank You for my lack.
In my helplessness, You make me trust You."

I was thinking about David's prayer,
when he said the Lord had made him to trust
while he was at his mother's breast.
A breastfeeding infant is a powerless person.
But for David it was a place of trust.
Later in his life, he said the Lord had trained his hands for battle,
and taught him to leap walls.
It was the same person who did both:
laid there, helplessly nourished by his mother --
and fought Goliath and lions and bears.
A helpless infant, and a mighty warrior.
A fleeing refugee, and a conquering king.
A cave dweller, and a palace owner.
A hotheaded man bent on revenge,
and a man showing mercy to his enemies.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Broken and Gilded

We took our children to the Museum of Fine Arts on Saturday,
where there was much to wonder at.
In the Asian arts section, a strange shape across the room caught my eye,
and I walked over to look at it.
It was unusually shaped, glazed and gilded pottery of some kind.
I read the plaque explaining about it.
The artist (Yee Sookyung) had collected potters' discarded fragments --
so many pieces that were broken and tossed out
by those who knew what they were doing.
Professionals with tasks at hand had done their work,
and when a piece did not measure up, sent it to the trash pile.

But an artist had a plan.
Collecting these useless broken pieces,
she set out to use an ancient technique for pottery repair.
Gluing each piece together carefully,
she formed a misshapen vase out of those pieces rejected by their owners.
But she wasn't finished when she glued them.
Each broken edge, glued to other broken edges,
made one by her skill, was gilded.
All the breaks were painted with gold.

The finished piece
was certainly not what any potter would have set out to form.
But an artist did.
It is called a "Translated Vase".
And while the pots those professionals made
were probably sold in shops to be used in households,
the artist's work is displayed in an art museum.
Every day, hundreds of people walk past it,
and they look at the gilded edges of broken discarded trash
and they read the name of the artist.

God, being rich in mercy, 
for his great love wherewith he loved us, 
even when we were dead through our trespasses, 
made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), 
and raised us up with him, 
and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: 
that in the ages to come 
he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: 
for by grace have ye been saved through faith; 
and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 
not of works, that no man should glory. 
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, 
which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.
~Ephesians 2:5-10

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Keep Close, My Soul

I am a day behind in my One Year Bible reading, if today is September third.
Note my lack of confidence even in the date.
I am reading the New Testament readings, and the Psalms and Proverbs.
Today, Paul described his ministry --
and I felt like he described my lack.

"We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, 
and no one will find fault with our ministry...
We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind...
We prove ourselves by our purity, 
our understanding, 
our patience, 
our kindness, 
by the Holy Spirit within us, 
and by our sincere love...
We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, 
whether they slander us or praise us...
Our hearts ache, but we always have joy."

I don't know about you, but even without anyone else's help,
I can find fault with my ministry.
My endurance is weak.
My understanding is severely limited.
My patience is more than it was, and not near what it should be.
My kindness is small.
Sometimes I wonder, "Lord, is Your Holy Spirit in me at all? 
Do I imagine Your leading?"
And when my heart aches, it aches.
I grieve easily.
How can I ever live up?

Somewhat downcast from this passage,
I opened up my Chequebook of the Bank of Faith and read this
(also a day behind):

"Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord" (Hosea 6:3)

Not all at once, but by degrees shall we attain to holy knowledge, 
and our business is to persevere and learn little by little. 
We need not despair, though our progress may be slow, 
for we shall yet know.
The Lord, who has become our teacher, 
will not give us up, however slow of understanding we may be; 
for it is not for His honor 
that any degree of human folly should baffle His skill. 
The Lord delights to make the simple wise.

Our duty is to keep to our main topic, 
and follow on to know, not this particular doctrine or that, 
but Jehovah Himself. 
To know Father, Son, and Spirit, the Triune God, 
this is life eternal: let us keep to this, 
for in this way we shall gain complete instruction. 
By following on to know the Lord, 
we learn healing after being torn, 
binding up after smiting, 
and life after death. 
Experience has its perfect work 
when the heart follows the trackway of the Almighty Lord.

My soul, keep thou close to Jesus, 
follow on to know God in Jesus, 
and so shalt thou come to the knowledge of Christ, 
which is the most excellent of all the sciences. 
The Holy Ghost will lead thee into all truth. 
Is this not His gracious office? 
Rely upon Him to fulfill it.

~Charles Spurgeon

On Sunday, my brother-in-law said this:
"Lay down your apprehensions and pray,
'Lord, what would You have me to do?'"

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Every Stone In A Wall

I am a member of AAA.
Our first year of marriage, we locked ourselves out of our car three times,
and have mostly maintained membership since.
As a member, I receive AAA Northern New England Journey magazine.
They often have articles that interest me.
But two days ago, I sat down to read one about New England's rock walls.
I love our rock walls.
In fact, I engineered one myself several years ago.
In the AAA article, it mentioned a workshop two men were giving
to pass the craft on.
It's a skill that could be lost, if it isn't taught.

The article explained some of the principles behind building one.
For stability, the wall cannot be plumb.
It tapers in a gentle A shape, the weight at the bottom.
But this really caught my attention:
"When mortar isn't involved, just two things hold a wall together: 
gravity and friction...
Always maximize the contact between stones; the friction is important. 
When a stone is placed correctly, 
it's almost a visceral  sensation, according to Headrick.
'You can feel that stone serving a purpose 
when it clicks into place and fills a void,' he said.
And yet, as he and MacMartin acknowledged, it is rare to find a perfect stone.
'Every stone is going to have a virtue and create a problem, 
and the key is to create a problem with a solution,' said MacMartin. 
'It's like chess or Tetris. You always have to think ahead.'
One solution that appeared to take some students by surprise 
was the use of so-called hearting stone, 
angular wedge-shaped pieces 
measuring anywhere from three to five inches in diameter. 
Those stones comprise the heart of the wall, 
shimming the spaces between the larger stones 
that present the wall's public face.
Unlike pea gravel, hearting stone prevents the components of a wall from shifting.
And it brings another benefit as well. 
'There's a source of pride 
knowing we placed every stone in a wall,' Headrick said."
(article written by Peter Crabtree)

The Scripture speaks of us as living stones being placed together.
I have long had a mental image of a long line of Christians from the ages,
coming one by one to lay down in the wall,
each one carrying the implements of his martyrdom --
and following behind our Lord Jesus Christ with His cross on His shoulder.

He is the master builder, and each one of us presents Him with a problem,
being imperfect, and not exactly suited to our positions.
But we are each of us a solution, too, in His hands.
He places us where gravity pulls us inward and downward,
and where friction rubs us against each other, in perhaps uncomfortable ways.
But that gravity and that friction give us stability, and hold us together.
They show His skill in building something to last.
The public faces of His building are not the strength of it.
It is the small stones at the heart of it
that allow friction and gravity to be evenly shared throughout the wall.
We bear each other's burdens through our placement,
each one of us essential in the integrity of the structure.
Each one carefully considered for its faults and its virtues:
used to strengthen the whole, and to compensate for someone else's weakness,
while also being perfected by the stones placed to hold us up.

Come to the Lord, the living stone rejected by people as worthless 
but chosen by God as valuable. 
Come as living stones, 
and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, 
where you will serve as holy priests 
to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. 
~1 Peter 2:4,5

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

As We Actually Are

"He had always managed, somehow, to follow a canonized saint when he was called to a parish, someone who had worn a halo and been surrounded by seraphim, even when walking to the corner for a newspaper.
   In his first parish, it had taken a full year to be forgiven his green innocence in the wake of a priest who, mellowed by age, was wise and all-knowing, not to mention full of truth and light.
   Though he was again and again the leading choice among the candidates, the frost inevitably came as his congregations sized him up.
   One parish had chosen him because he was unmarried but later wished he were married with children.
   Another liked him because he was unaffected but decided he needed more charisma.
   One search committee thought that being slightly under five feet nine inches in his sock feet was a characteristic that lent spiritual humility but changed their minds and wished he were taller."

My husband recently accepted a request to pastor a church far from where we live. I read this in one of the Mitford books last night, and it made me laugh. If you could build the perfect pastor, complete with every quality you ever liked in a human being, I am sure the result would not be whatever you actually got in a pastor. I mean, really: we don't even get to choose every quality we want in our spouse. My list would be so long, that no living man could fulfill it. It would include many things that would disqualify the father of my children. And I also would not meet every item on his list. We don't get to cherry-pick our children's beings, our spouse's, our sibling's, or our fellow church member's. And yet:

The Scripture tells us to love one another with a fervent love,
to forgive one another,
to bear with one another.
None of those things have to be instructed
when we are complete in perfection.
We don't have to forgive those who are never offensive.
We don't have to bear with those who don't annoy.
And no one has to tell us to love those who are lovable beyond all measure.
One of the things I appreciate so much about God's Word
is that it acknowledges us as we actually are -- not just what we should be.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Not Everything

I don't really have a green thumb.
For all the tomato plants I have grown every year,
I haven't had much to show.
I try to start seedlings indoors,
but I start them too soon or too late,
or I forget to water them.
I threw out a whole tray of seedlings that didn't make it this spring.
I had an empty planter box, and on a whim,
I started throwing veggie scraps into it to compost.
That's where the seedling failures went.
And one day, I looked in the compost pile, and saw a happy little plant.
I didn't know what it was until I came upon some roadside plants for sale,
and saw the label on a cucumber plant.
Sure enough, I have been harvesting cucumbers lately from my discard pile.
And I was just sitting here thinking about the things we throw away.
The people we write off.
The ones we assume will never have any fruit.
Maybe it's you you've given up hope on.
But keep watering.
Not everything that looks dead is.
And seed comes to life when it's watered.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

On Our Faces: Strength and Peace

I read Psalm 29 this morning.
It's a call to honor the Lord for His glory and strength.
It is full of the roaring of the sea,
and thunder,
and power,
and the splitting of cedars, and their shattering,
and mountains skipping and leaping,
and bolts of lightning,
and earthquake,
and twisting oak trees,
and forests stripped bare,
And floodwaters that the Lord rules over.
"The Lord reigns as king forever."

I like to visit the ocean during storm --
but I don't get too close.
I love thunder, but it scares me, too.
I remember a long few nights when that ice storm
knocked out the constant buzz of the power,
and the only sounds we heard
were the sounds of trees splitting in the woods and crashing
over and over again.
We'd look out the window in the dark
and hope the ones that fell
were not the ones that shadowed the house.
I've ridden out earthquakes,
and they leave my knees quaking.
One time my husband and I
were standing in our kitchen during a lightning storm,
and lightning struck our driveway,
about twenty feet from our kitchen window.
Instinct threw us both on our faces to the ground.
It isn't a power you stand up to.
As a child, I walked through a burned out forest during a tornado warning,
and its atmosphere imprinted in my mind.

This chaos shows me small and weak.
They all overpower me.
They make me catch my breath
and fall on my face,
and stand back at a safe distance,
and shelter under doorways.

But the last verse -- it really amazes me.
"The Lord gives His people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Making of a Mother

I am not a natural mother.
I am pregnant with my fifth child, and I don't bake cookies.
At least not often.
I do not delight in meal planning.
I usually don't have a plan.
Thankfully, I grew up in a home where basic kitchen competence was instilled.
But I have never delighted in cooking.
Dishes were torment to me for many years.

Our first child was a miracle.
(What child is not a miracle, really?)
We went to a doctor to get some results --
to explain why three and one half years into our marriage,
we hadn't conceived.
"You're going to have a very hard time getting pregnant," they told us.
"Maybe ten years down the road," I thought. 
"Maybe never."
We cried ourselves to sleep for days.
We had hoped for a year of childlessness after we married.
We didn't want forever.

It was one week to the day after our bad news
that I took a pregnancy test in the middle of the night.
I shook my husband awake and showed him.
I had been pregnant when we had the tests done.
It was like the whole thing was orchestrated
so we knew it was a gift, and a miracle,
and not an accomplishment.

His birth took a long time.
Sixty-five hours from the first contraction.
Twenty-six of them were hard labor.
Three hours of pushing,
an hour and a half of that with a vacuum.
No pain meds.

Breastfeeding was not the instinctive harmony that it should have been.
I did it, and I did not quit.
But I wanted to.
When he was six weeks old, I had emergency surgery.
His short frenulum had done irreversible damage,
and after the surgery, I had a visiting nurse.
The wound packing went on until he was four months and one week old.
The nurse did one every morning,
and my husband did one every evening.
This was in addition to having a newborn who did not sleep.
We also did not sleep.
I am surprised I healed at all.

When he was nine months old,
(and still not sleeping -- although he was running),
I got pregnant again.
We did not know we could, and we were exhausted,
and we had moved twice already since his birth,
and my husband did not have a job yet in a new city.
I did not feel overjoyed.
I felt tired.

It took a long time into that pregnancy before I was reconciled to it.
I wanted more children,
but I was still not recovered from my first.
Labor began with my membranes rupturing.
I hardly felt like it was labor until I was eight and a half centimeters dilated.
She also required three hours of pushing, and a vacuum.
Like her brother, she came out face up --
with her cord wrapped around her neck, under her shoulder,
and tied in a knot.
Another miracle.

She was the nicest baby I ever met.
Her brother still woke up every night, hungry.
But she slept six hours, then eight,
and by three months old slept twelve hours.
It did not hurt to nurse her.
She was satisfied after every feeding.
And she wanted to be put down
so she could watch her brother run from the corner of the room.
She did vomit on everything -- constantly -- but  was otherwise a dream baby.
Her cry was soft and reluctant.
She was inclined toward contentment.

Somewhere in their early years, I accepted that I am a mother.
Not a woman who has had children,
and will someday have her real life --
when they are out of the way.
But a mother.
It's who I am, and it's what I do.
Maybe that sounds stupid, but it was a revelation to me.
My entire being was designed for this.
I had a womb while I was in the womb.
It is the most important work of my life --
and the dirtiest,
and the most intimately painful,
and it has permanently scarred me.
These living beings came through me,
and fed from me,
and left their DNA behind in me.

And I can't help but think of my Redeemer,
who came to do His Father's will.
He came perfect.
Fulfilling His life's work left Him pierced through,
and striped,
and bruised,
and marred beyond recognition as a man.
He is still known as a Lamb, having been slain.
His work is permanently wedded to Himself.
He came to be wounded,
and to give life through Himself.
He stooped low, lower than any of us.
And His name is exalted above all other names.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Victorious Lame

"'I will save her that halteth'
(Zephaniah 3:19)

"There are plenty of these lame ones, both male and female. 
You may meet 'her that halteth' twenty times in an hour. 
They are on the right road, 
and exceedingly anxious to run in it with diligence, 
but they are lame, and make a sorry walk of it. 
On the heavenly road there are many cripples. 
It may be that they say in their hearts -- What will become of us? 
Sin will overtake us, Satan will throw us down. 
Ready-to-halt is our name and our nature; 
the Lord can never make good soldiers of us, 
nor even nimble messengers to go on His errands. 
Well, well! He will save us, and that is no small thing. 
He says, 'I will save her that halteth.' 
In saving us, He will greatly glorify Himself. 
Everybody will ask -- 
How came this lame woman to run the race and win the crown? 
And then all praise will be given to almighty grace.

"Lord, though I halt in faith, in prayer, in praise, 
in service, and in patience, save me, I beseech Thee! 
Only Thou canst save such a cripple as I am. 
Lord, let me not perish because I am among the hindmost, 
but gather up by Thy grace the slowest of Thy pilgrims -- even me. 
Behold He hath said it shall be so, 
and therefore, like Jacob, prevailing in prayer, 
I go forward though my sinew be shrunk."

~ July 16, Chequebook of the Bank of Faith, Daily Readings by C.H. Spurgeon

Oh, it would be a miracle if this lame woman ran the race and won the crown.
But it gives me courage to think of Jacob limping forward to his crown.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Best Where It Breaks

I washed fresh basil from my garden,
and broke off leaves and added them to the quartered cherry tomatoes.
My husband picked up a stem and breathed it in.
"Why does it always smell the best where it breaks?" he said.
"Because that's where the oil is released," I said, absentmindedly.
"Just like in real life," he answered.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Such Common Things

Master, Thou workest with such common things--
Low souls, weak hearts, I mean-- and hast to use,
Therefore, such common means and rescuings,
That hard we find it, as we sit and muse,
To think Thou workest in us verily:
Bad sea-boats we, and manned with wretched crews--
That doubt the Captain, watch the storm-spray flee.
 (~George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul, July Four)

I read that days ago, and read it again this morning.
We are so common.
Such low souls, with such weak hearts.
Bad sea-boats with wretched crews.
In spite of our wretched state,
our doubtful watching of storms,
and fleeing hearts,
God works in us verily.
In a real way, though it be by common means and rescuings.

Probably the most common thing on earth is dirt.
But dirt, in His hands, lives and breathes, and learns to speak His language.
He formed man out of dirt, in His own image.
He is all glorious, and He decided to copy Himself into dirt.
Does that puzzle you like it does me?
When men decide to have an image of themselves made,
they choose marble, or gold, or any noble material.
Something that lasts.
Something that is valuable before they even form it.
Not mud.
But our Father in heaven can form the eternal out of meltable mud.
What gives us value is the work He puts into us.
His hands forming us, and His breath breathing into us.

Thank You, Lord, for stooping to write with Your fingers in the dirt.

Monday, July 1, 2013

I Am Transformed

Fruit carries DNA.
Human, animal, and even plant fruit
all carries code from mom and dad.
Which means that my son, while human, and male,
and sharing certain features with your son,
is uniquely mine.
He has me stamped in every cell.
He is a combination (and a unique one)
of his father and myself.
He has siblings, but each one of them is unique.
Carrying code from mom, and code from dad,
they are the fruit of union.

It fascinates me that a father's body is not altered by reproduction.
But mine is.
40% more blood.
Digestion is changed.
Hormones bathe every cell,
altering its function to nourish the baby.
And it doesn't end at birth.
Those babies -- that fruit --
leave cells circulating in our bloodstreams forever.
(And, on an interesting note, in mothers who have heart attacks,
cells from their babies have been found rushing to the heart to repair it.)
They leave cells circulating in our spirits, too.

Where my body has had to stretch to accommodate that baby,
I am permanently marked as their mother.
An internal exam by a competent doctor shouts,
"This one has had children!"
My brain has undergone change.
Every pregnancy further alters a woman's brain.
In gestating them and birthing them, I am transformed.

My heart pumps more blood.
It holds more.
Human breast tissue only matures upon nursing an infant.
I read a sad interview with a modern sex symbol
who said she really wanted to breastfeed,
but wouldn't because of how it would change her breasts.
It does change them.
It promotes health for them, and for the baby.
Breastfeeding reduces breast cancer and heart disease for women.
It's good for our hearts to nourish fruit.

I can't help but wonder how union with Christ,
and fruit of the Spirit works in me,
changing me for eternity:
repairing my damaged mind and heart;
reducing the morbidity of life in this world.
More mystery to ponder.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fruitful Little Plants

I am not a great gardener.
But several things I planted this year have met with some success.
My peas are bearing.
And we have been pulling radishes and eating them.
I brought a bowl of fresh peas to my sister's house today,
where several of the children and she and I
savored opening each pod and eating them raw.
As I opened each one, I thought about the one pea
I planted in the ground for each plant,
and wondered how many peas each one turns out on average.
Thirty fold? Sixty fold? A hundred fold?
These are fruitful little plants.
Seemingly more so than any of the tomatoes I have ever nurtured.
One dry pea, planted alone.
And these are they who are sown on good ground; 
such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit,
 some thirty-fold, some sixty, and some a hundred.
~Mark 4:20 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

In Union With Us

My mind is preoccupied lately with thoughts of reproduction.
Of intimate connection that results in living beings.
Jesus said, "Abide in Me, and you will bear much fruit."
He said, "I am the Vine, and you are the branches..."
We bear no fruit apart from Him,
but He also has His fruit in union with us.

Human fruitfulness, too, depends on physical union.
Union without barriers.
My children are equally his and mine.
They bear both our DNA.

In a fruitful marriage, this is not a one-time occurrence.
It is conceived,
and gestated,
and birthed,
and washed,
and nurtured,
and matured,
and fed,
and clothed,
and taught.
And there may be multiple fruits
in various stages of maturity
being looked after simultaneously.

Bearing fruit is the work of the physically mature.
But its preparation begins at conception.
At birth, that immature child's equipment is already there,
waiting for growth and transformation and union.
It is mind-boggling to think that my body
has had stored in it for more than thirty-five years
half the child whose heart beats now inside me.

I read about a couple who consulted a fertility specialist
a number of years ago.
They had been married for some time, and wanted children very much.
But there were no children.
There were some tests done, and extensive, invasive questions asked.
And finally, the doctor got to the bottom of the problem.
These people had never had intercourse.
All the working equipment in the world
doesn't produce fruit without union.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Afraid to Eat

Satan is an abusive father.
When we move from darkness to light,
being translated by God's Holy Spirit,
and adopted as sons into His household,
many of us continue to cringe at meals;
to be afraid of our baths.

We're afraid to eat;
afraid to sleep;
afraid to play;
and afraid to be alone with our new Father.
We're afraid to open His gifts.

But our Father in heaven is kind.
He wants to feed us good food.
To give us rest; to afford us pleasure.
To clothe us in glory.
To make us brothers and cared-for children.

We're afraid, but not with reasonable fear.
We fear abuse and neglect and hurt and duty.
We're afraid of being spoken to,
and afraid silence is brooding cruelness.
We are wary of the very One we most ought to trust.

"Who remembered us in our lowly state,
for His mercy endures forever;
and rescued us from our enemies,
for His mercy endures forever...
Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven!
For His mercy endures forever."
~From Psalm 136

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Makes Rich

We took our youngest in for oral surgery
to remove a lump that should not have been there.
I've undergone several surgeries myself,
and my anxiety over him being anesthetized was shaking me badly.
Weak knees, heart palpitations, shortness of breath.
With all my attention focused in prayer on him,
I heard a Scripture in my head that did not seem to apply.

"The blessing of the Lord makes rich, 
and He adds no sorrow with it."
I didn't even know where it was.
Were the words right?
Yes, they were.
Could they be for me?
I set that on the shelf in my heart and wondered.
I had been setting a few things there over the last few weeks,
like lost property whose owner was unknown --
and hoping I could claim them.

I begged the Lord to speak to me about him,
whether I should cancel the surgery or not.
The day before the surgery, my guts twisted with angst, I heard that Scripture.
It confused me.
What blessing?
I read, "The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; 
and He knows those that trust in Him."
And, "God is our refuge and strength, 
a very present help in trouble."

On surgery day, I read this:
"In my distress, I prayed to the Lord, 
and the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear: 
what can mere people do to me?
Yes, the Lord is for me; He will help me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.
The Lord is my strength and my song; He has given me victory.
Songs of joy and victory are sung in the camp of the godly.
The strong right arm of the Lord has done glorious things!
The strong right arm of the Lord is raised in triumph.
I will not die; instead I will live to tell what the Lord has done."
And, "The path of life leads upward for the wise; 
they leave the grave behind."

The surgery went well.
I am certain the office staff labeled me a nutcase,
because I called them up the day before
and demanded to know if the support staff
were trained in advanced life support techniques.
Were they equipped for airway obstructions?
Did they know he was small for his age?
And yes, I did tell them I was concerned they were going to overdose him.
They assured me they were competent 'in all codes',
and they weighed him again in my presence before dosing him.
I was so relieved, and thanking the Lord for my baby
when we took him from the office walking;
but kind of holding my breath still.

Later, after the surgery, I found the verse in Proverbs,
and looked more closely at it.
"Berâkâh: benediction; 
by implication prosperity: 
blessing, liberal, pool, present."
That was the definition of 'blessing' in the verse.
It wasn't just a newspaper fact, it was a promise to me while I was in distress.
I read from a devotional written by George Mueller.
Titled More Grace, he said he wanted to encourage younger believers
"to expect greater things from the Lord, who delights in giving abundantly...
Let us look out for it, for God delights to give more grace...
It is the joy and delight of His heart to give more and more and more."

If it was the Lord speaking it to me,
I was certain He was telling me I was pregnant.
I was afraid to get my hopes up,
that the Lord intended to bless us, and to keep Silas, too.
That it was time to stop bracing myself for loss and hurt.
That there was a sea change already in progress.

I wanted this blessing.
I wanted this promise.
I didn't plan it, and I didn't seek it, but I wanted it hungrily.
Because this was His will, His favor, His blessing --
and He was offering it to me?
Riches? Abundant prosperity?
Without sorrow?!
It was like hope: living, and breathing, and growing, given as a token.
Mercy offered to me, and to my children.
Yes, please.
Please let me have this.

I looked through baby names for meanings that suited that verse.
Using a website, I looked them up by meanings.
A first and middle name from a list of name combinations we liked
that I made years ago surfaced.
If this all turned out to be true,
I wanted to be ready with a name that would remember it.
The first name came up in more than one place.
One of its meanings was 'a standing pool'.
It was connected with riches.

I wrote in my journal, "I have been waiting for the next blow for six years, I think.
Six years of hyper-vigilance, fear, and expectation of no good thing.
I want to walk in hope.
I want to walk in the light of Your grace."

We bought a pregnancy test and a bottle of prenatal vitamins.
I was afraid to take it when I got home, because if this was all in my head,
I was afraid I would plunge into depression.
This hope felt like a promise, and the loss of it would feel like a curse.
I took the test.
It was positive.

Jeff read to us from the Psalms that night, the day after Silas's surgery:
"He turns a wilderness into pools of water
and dry lands into watersprings...
He also blesses them and they multiply greatly...
When they are diminished 
and brought low through oppression, affliction, and sorrow, 
He pours contempt on princes, 
and causes them to wander in the wilderness where there is no way; 
yet He sets the poor on high, far from affliction, 
and makes their families like a flock.
The righteous see it and rejoice, and all iniquity stops its mouth.
Whoever is wise will observe these things, 
and they will understand the lovingkindness of the Lord."

If the name that keeps cropping up is any indication, this is a girl.
And I will be graduating from a multipara
to a grand multipara of advanced maternal age.
We saw our baby's heartbeat yesterday. 
I already get to be a grand multigravida.