Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Flipping the Pancakes

I made potato pancakes for lunch.
They are basically two ingredients: mashed potatoes and eggs.
Garlic, salt and pepper to taste.
I've struggled with making them right.
My dad always made them for me, and I loved them.
The first time I tried to do it on my own, as a married woman,
I added milk.
Wondered why they were wrong.

I did okay today.
They're funny things, though.
When you first mix them up, they're so sloppy.
I slap a spoonful onto the frying pan in butter, and then wait and watch.
I always try to flip it before it's ready.
It falls apart.
Half flips, half doesn't.
I use the pancake turner to pat the entire thing back into a circle
and wait longer.

More heat, more pressure, and it becomes one.
I slide the turner underneath, and it holds together.
Moves as one.
Less breaks off to do its own thing.

As I cooked them today, I thought about marriage.
These two ingredients forming one thing.
The heat and the pressure and the time
changing us from an incoherent mass that falls apart
when we try to work together
into something that moves as one,
each part a complement to the other.

Perhaps it occurred to me because of a line from our wedding vows:
we promised to adhere to one another.
Our pastor thought that a funny phrase,
and made a joke about our first kiss.
But I think it's a beautiful turn of words.

And I hope my soul is melding just as surely to the Lord's.
Growing more and more able to move when He moves.
To hold fast and remain.
To be mixed together with Him in such a way
that I am His, and He is mine, and we are one.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It Wasn't You

"So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: 
and He hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, 
and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt."
Genesis 45:8

We forget that God can and will use the sinful actions and animosity of rivals
to further His plan in our lives.
That the angry brother, driven by jealousy,
can still be subject to God's control.
It doesn't excuse the sin to acknowledge the sovereignty.
God moves even through conflict and unhappiness and dysfunctional families.
In every one of the families of the patriarchs, there are issues.
The extra women. Hagar. Zilpah. Bilhah.
There are brothers at war.
Ishmael against Isaac. Esau against Jacob.
The sons of the handmaids against Joseph.

There are favorites played, between wives and between sons.
Marital strife -- even between Isaac and Rebekah,
who had no extras in their marriage.
But the children caused conflict between them.
Years of unsettled wandering and infertility.

And a Promise that did not fail.
A future and a hope that is still working in their children.
Being named the friend of God.  
Governed by God.  
The father of faith.
The one the nation is named for.

"It was not you who sent me here," Abraham's great-grandson said.
"It was God."

Perhaps he had taken to heart
how God had moved and worked in his great-grandfather's family.
His grandfather's family.
His father's family.
He had moved them through conflict and animosity --
sometimes earned, and sometimes unmerited.
But always directed.

The conniving father-in-law.
The disdainful household help.
The jealous step-brother.
The fighting wives.
The cheating employer.
The murderous brothers.
All of them had been ultimately fitted into the intended will of God
and the Promise He kept promising them.

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Musings on the Social Network

I am thinking about what edifies others,
instead of draining them of their energy and motivation
with complaints and problems.
Giving thanks.
When my eyes are scanning for what to thank Him for,
instead of what bothers me, what I don't like,
how I've been wronged today, how things aren't meeting my expectations and desires,
it sends out ripples of good through my own heart and mind, and into the community.

But the opposite is also true.
Scanning for negatives to complain about, for faults in others,
for what to be unhappy about,
creates unhappiness first in me, and spreads to others.
I have a child prone to "I don't like..."
For some time, my response to these comments has been,
"What DO you like?"
It's funny how it changes things to look for the good instead of the bad.

So, I ask you today: what do you like?
What can you thank God for?
What is praiseworthy today?

I love quiet mornings with my coffee and my Bible and my husband by the fire.
My sons came down this morning
and told me they had picked up their room without being asked.
And although there is much busyness getting ready for Christmas just now,
I get to spend time doing some shopping with a friend, instead of facing the madness alone.

Ah, and friends. Don't they make you smile just by existing?
What a gift that God gives them to us, that He sets the lonely in families,
and makes us into one in Christ.
And now it's YOUR turn.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Second and First

I took my son to his second piano lesson today.
Second is a key word to what follows.
His teacher seemed quite pleased with his ability to hear the music.
I do not play the piano, although a number of people in my family do.
I brought a book along, intending to read.
But I kept being distracted by overheard reminders
to sit with a strong back,
and to keep his hand positioned in a hill, and not a valley.
In spite of the repetition of these reminders,
it was obvious she was pleased with his musical inclination.

His teacher taught him a new warm up.
He played it, and then asked her
if he could show her something it reminded him of.
"Yes, of course."
He haltingly worked out a tune, faltering a little at first,
and then plainly resolving into It Is Well With My Soul.

Scenes from my uncle's house, while he lay very sick
with his parents and siblings around him singing this came to mind.
Laughter through tears, and joy in sorrow.
A few months later, they were singing my Grandma home,
with the same uncle brought in through video phone calls.
So many songs of faith and hope in pain and death.
When I recognized the music, I cried.

I do not know
what parents usually experience with their children's piano lessons.
This is my first time.
But my son stuns me.
As we got into the car to leave, I said,
"I've never heard you play that one before."
"Well, that's the first time I ever played it, Mom. That's why it wasn't right."
The first time you ever played it, it was nearly in a flash of inspiration
from hearing a short warm-up exercise?
Of course.
"Hey, next time pick something I can hear without crying."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Burning Down The Forest

My husband and I were out on a date once, holding hands in a Chipotle line
when I spotted someone we knew but hadn't seen in awhile
who was looking at me with horror on his face.
Honestly, he looked like he wanted to burn me up.
I urged my husband to go over and say 'hi' while I kept our place in line.
It turns out the man hadn't recognized my husband,
whose hair was significantly changed from our last meeting,
and was sure I was an adulteress.
I wonder what he would have told people about me
if he hadn't been set straight with a tiny bit more information.

Paul said not to accept an accusation against an elder
except on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Something about that instruction makes it apparent
that the accusations are more numerous than the realities.
And testimony is not repetition.
It doesn't mean if more than one person is gossiping about it, it's valid.
It's two or more sources of eyewitness accounts.

We often hear one person's story, and get angry.
But if we wait for the next side, things become a lot clearer,
and the anger is misplaced.
I've done that myself.
They say with age comes wisdom. (We can always hope so, anyway.)
I've begun stalling judgment when I hear something outrageous.
Often enough, a little more information clears it up.
Sometimes the rumor really does have something to it.
But often, someone 'saw' something that they were completely mistaken in.
Or they heard someone else's report that was mistaken.
Best not to pass that lie on, even if you think it's true.

If you don't have something nice to say,
say it softly in a back room?
Or bite your tongue until it bleeds.
Avoid lighting a fire that burns down a forest if it serves no good purpose.

Did someone tell you something mean about someone else?
Help it die, instead of breathing life into it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Where Did You Come From?

I knew this day was coming, and it still sideswiped me.
My firstborn is a teenager today.
He's still shorter than me,
but I expect next year that won't be the case.
We are giving him piano lessons as his birthday gift.

I remember how his dad looked out at a baseball field
on our drive home from the hospital with him.
His dad loves baseball.
But this son is not the baseball type.
His mind is not his dad's, and it isn't mine.
His dad made the phone call to arrange the lessons,
because he loves who this particular man/child is.

He picks up instruments and works things out on them.
He draws with an eye that sees things three-dimensionally,
and can spin them in his mind.
He delights in geeky books about relativity and chemicals.
He sat in public crocheting an angel a few weeks ago.
I do not crochet, but this boy,
when he was shown how to make a simple crocheted chain
at the age of six or seven,
hid under his covers with a flashlight and crocheted a functional mitten.
The other day, we were discussing lie detectors, and he casually said,
"I made one from my snap circuits a few years ago."
From what he said, it worked in some form or another.

Sometimes I look at my children, and think,  
"Where did you come from?" 
Because they came from us, but they are not us.
They are eternal beings,
but they have not always existed.
God still speaks life into existence,
and sends it into the world through the doorway of other lives.
It stuns me to have been the doorway to these living beings.

Happy Birthday, son.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Do The Opposite

Philippians 1:28 tells us not to be 'in any way terrified by our adversaries'.
I read this in a commentary by A.T. Robertson:
"The word 'terrified' means 'startled like a scared horse' 
or 'fluttered like a surprised bird'.
"War horses will stand the booming of cannon 

and the bursting of shells at their feet. 
Some Christians are like scared rabbits. 
They jump and run at the first adversary who says 'Boo!' 
They have no more courage than grasshoppers and shy at every shadow... 
Panic is the worst sort of defeat. It is rout... 
The signal of life or death comes from God, 
not from the fickle crowd at a gladiatorial show." 

Fear is the enemy to fight.
The enemy's tactics throughout the book of Nehemiah 

were concentrated in provoking fear.
Whether it was from declared enemies, or enemies in the guise of friends, 

Nehemiah was urged to act on fear. (Nehemiah 6:10-14) 
But the Lord's purpose 
was that he should continue the task He had given him,
and ignore the voice of the 'prophet' that said, 

"They're coming to kill you, 
and they're coming to kill you by night. Hide!"

In our day, too, sometimes the voices even of other believers 

urge us to fear, to run, and hide.
Let's rather do the work the Lord has given us to do, 

and not be terrified by our adversaries.
Those voices are propaganda

and they are attempting to get us to do the enemy's work for him, 
by laying down our tools and abandoning the Lord's work.
Make Satan fight his own battles: don't score victories for him.
The Lord is with us, as long as we are with Him.

A quote from a mother during German occupation of Ukraine to her sons: 

"Whatever they [the Nazis] tell you to do, do the opposite."
She recognized they were the enemy.
The enemy of our souls is not on our side. 

Obeying his voice will not save us from the things we fear.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Overcoming Blood

I find myself pondering the life that's in the blood.
The life of sin, that infects and reproduces,
that multiplies and overwhelms,
and results in a life bled out.

There was a doctor laboring in a hopeless fight
to save his patients from a death that just kept conquering.
And he got infected with it, too.
And he knew the disease, and he isolated himself.
And by the grace of God, he overcame it.
He was raised up from that death bed,
and his face glows when he speaks.
And his wife's face looks full of joy and wonder.
And he's been asked to share his story with news channels,
and to speak to Congress,
and to talk to the President about how to conquer this death.

But more than that:
he keeps opening his veins for fellow human beings,
and donating his blood -- the overcoming blood.
It was something that a recovered patient had done for him,
while he lay dying of the incurable plague.

And I think on Jesus, dying of my sin,
and raised up full of Life,
and He opens Himself up to conquer my infection.
He offers His overcoming blood,
to fight my plague from the inside out,
so I can grow clean and whole.
The Life is in the Blood.

And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, 
and because of the word of their testimony; 
and they loved not their life even unto death.  
~Revelation 12:11

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Overwhelmingly, In All These Things

Every now and then, I read something in the Word
and rearrange it mentally for emphasis,
or to try to grasp better what it is saying.
This morning it was out of Romans chapter 8.
What it says is this:

Who shall separate us from the love of the Christ? 
tribulation, or distress, or persecution, 
or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 
(according as it hath been written--
`For Thy sake we are put to death all the day long, 
we were reckoned as sheep of slaughter,') 
but in all these we more than conquer, through him who loved us; 
for I am persuaded that neither death, 
nor life, nor messengers, nor principalities, 
nor powers, nor things present, 
nor things about to be, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, 
shall be able to separate us from the love of God, 
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I was reading a New American Standard this morning,
so it was a little different.
Not different in meaning, but different in words.
(As a side note: one of the remarkable things about the Living Word,
is that it lives in every language.
Translate it into the most lowborn language you can find,
and let the lowest common denominator of humanity read it and believe it,
and it will raise him up and transform him.)
Just to think a little more about what was being said to me, I rewrote it:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
In tribulation we overwhelmingly conquer.
In distress we overwhelmingly conquer.
In persecution we overwhelmingly conquer.
In famine we overwhelmingly conquer.
In nakedness we overwhelmingly conquer.
In peril we overwhelmingly conquer.
In the face of the sword we overwhelmingly conquer.
In being put to death all day long like sheep being slaughtered, 
we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
Nothing can separate us from His love.

It is a shocking, revolutionary doctrine, which I still wrestle with.
But there it is.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wherever It Goes

To the church he founded
the same week he was beaten with rods,
and left with many wounds,
and thrown in prison, Paul later wrote this:
But I would ye should understand, brethren, 
that the things which happened to me 
have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel; 
So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, 
and in all other places; 
And many of the brethren in the Lord, 
becoming confident by my bonds, 
are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 
Philippians 1:12-14

The thing is, the gospel can't be chained.
See, this was the city where the chains broke with him in them.
Where an earthquake, instead of crushing him under the debris of the jail,
broke him loose,
and woke a dead jailer, and took him out of the dark and into the Light.
These people should have known already what Paul wrote to them --
that just because he had been bound, it hadn't bound the gospel.
It was to their credit that they worried about him.
True brothers would.
But had they forgotten the birth of their own church?

You can't abort the gospel.
I heard a woman say once how she had heard the Lord speak to her
while she was having an abortion.

You can't drug the gospel.
I know people who were plainly changed while high as a kite.
I've heard of drunks mockingly repeating what they heard the pastor say,
only to have a hearer transformed.

I know a man who was living in a garbage dump, hungry, in a Muslim country.
He thought he saw a loaf of bread, and he shoved a child to get it.
But it wasn't bread.
It was a piece of paper, and it said,
"Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, 
and you shall be saved."

God's Word has power wherever it goes -- even if that place is a tired church,
or an unconcerned church kid.
It wasn't that I'd never read my Bible before.
I certainly had -- I was raised in church.
But there was so much good literature out there to read.
I wanted the best.
I read in an encyclopedia one day that the Psalms in the Bible
are some of the world's best poetry.
So I began to read them on my own.

When the nightmares woke me up at night,
I remembered something I had read:
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High 
will abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
My terror changed to peace, and I couldn't stop reading it.
I wept over Hosea, read in the Living Bible version.
You know, the one that says His Word is a flashlight to my steps,
because 'lamp' is so archaic?
Hosea -- a story of a heartbroken husband with a tramp for a wife.
And plainly, God identified with him.
With a man in love, and so unfaithfully treated.
But a man willing to take her back.

I think about Paul, the things that he suffered,
and the man that he was when he was changed.
This was a man who approved the violent death of the church's first martyr.
A man who participated in the tearing apart of Christian homes
and Christian families,
and the legal pursuit thereof.
A man willing to travel to Syria to rout out the Christians from there, too.
A man breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples.

When the Lord asked Ananias to go to him, Ananias argued.
He had heard of the evil this man had done to the saints,
and the power he had to do more.
Maybe the Lord was unaware of these terrible deeds?
But the Lord said, "He's My chosen vessel."
And when Ananias went, he called him 'brother'.

I'm thinking about and praying often
for our persecuted brothers in Syria and Iraq right now.
But I am also wondering who might be a chosen vessel of the Lord Jesus Christ
who simply has not yet been knocked off his horse?

It has been long years
since I had the joy of spending time with that brother
who was saved in the dump.
I don't know where he is anymore, but his gentleness remains with me.
I have a vague memory of him telling with tears and shame
how he had helped to throw a Christian into a pit.

We brought him to the airport once,
and being Middle Eastern, with a Middle Eastern name,
he was stopped at security, even before the increases since 9-11.
He had an electronic Bible in his bag,
which the agent suspiciously demanded to know about.
He was delighted.
He pulled it out of its case, turned it on, punched in John 3:16,
and showed it to the guard.
The guard was busy, and was trying to move on to the next person.
"Read it!" he insisted.
And the guard did. Out loud.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, 
that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, 
but have everlasting life.
His eyes teared up, and he nodded.

Are you praying for these persecutors?
Because some of them may be brothers who just are not yet born.
And they may be the very evangelists God intends to speak through.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Too Many Apples

My garden has been a little neglected of late.
The tomatoes are a jungle
that has made passage down the rows nearly impossible.
I go out to pick ripe ones, and I find them.
But there are clusters in the middle whose flashing red is beyond my reach.
The large leaves of the suckers obscure my view,
and the spiders have wrapped webs around the thick growth in the center
that makes me loathe to reach in to grab some.
I planted tomatoes because I love tomatoes.
I want to eat them, not let them go back to the earth.
So I recruit my husband, and together we begin to cut.
The goal is to make the fruit reachable,
to give ourselves a clear view,
and to trim away what only drains resources,
complicates the purpose of the plant,
and causes good fruit to go to waste because it cannot be seen to pick.
To simplify.

I saw a news story today that set my mind thinking about cutting back, too.
A sheep was found in Australia who had never been shorn.
It looked like a tribute to Twinkies.
A good shepherd shears his sheep, cutting back that heavy wool,
freeing it to walk and to live.
A sheep that is never shorn is wasting its energy, and getting far too hot.
And a good gardener cuts back even green growth.

A local farmer was talking with me several weeks ago,
and I asked him why the neighbor's apple tree (which overhangs my garden)
was throwing its apples into my garden before they were ripe?
He asked me some questions about the tree, the way the fruit clustered,
and the state of the apples that fell.
Then he told me there were too many apples.
They were crowding each other.
He said that if we were to carefully twist off every other apple,
the apples that were left would grow large and healthy.
That was something to think about.
Twisting off healthy fruit for the sake of healthier fruit.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

My Dad Didn't

My Daddy.
Sometimes I think a lot about him.
He is sixty today.
He fathered two daughters before he got a son.
I am the first.
I got him when he had no experience.
When he was still young, and he worked so hard,
he was usually asleep in his chair before I went to bed.
He let my sister and me fill his hair with barrettes.
He chased us around the house on his hands and knees,
and tickled us when he caught us.
"Daddy! Play Tickle Monster!" we shrieked.
He let us ride his back and pretend he was a horse.
He has a broad, strong back,
and it was difficult for our little bodies to hang on and balance.
I loved him because he bought me a Tonka truck
that I could drive my Barbie around in.

He let me climb in the rafters of houses he was building.
Sometimes let me up on the roof with him.
But also reacted with alarm when he saw me go higher than I should have,
or act carelessly with things that required caution.

When Dad was building our first from-scratch house,
we lived in a garage he had built.
In laying a good foundation for the house,
he had to pump loads of soapy sand mixture into the footprint to level it.
I got home from school that day,
and my mom told me to dress in messy clothes and come help.
I think we were helping air bubbles to release or something,
but basically we were given permission to jump off the foundation walls
into a sloppy wet mudhole.
It was awesome.

He never acted like women and girls threatened him
with brains and opinions, or pink paint and flowers.
I remember when he was getting ready to teach out of John one day,
and he came to a passage Bible teachers argue about.
I was a teenager, and he read me the passage,
and asked me my opinion on it.
And then he listened to my answer.
We were not afraid to speak if we had something to say,
and he was never too puffed up to listen.
When he had sons, we weren't suddenly banished to the kitchen.
We were welcome around the dining table
when visiting pastors came to our house.

He corrected us calmly, when he had to do it.
Mom did more of the day to day instruction,
and he didn't undermine her authority with us.
He didn't come in and undo what she had asked of us.
He reinforced respect with his own respect.
He wasn't much of a voice-raiser, except when he was on the phone.
I wonder if his hearing was going,
because he always raised his voice to talk on the phone.

He is not a meddler in other men's business.
If asked, he gives wise counsel.
Sometimes he'll give wise counsel in spite of not being asked.
Usually because the consequences of the error being committed
are going to harm someone else.
But I have watched him teach things to other men,
and he teaches them in such a way that they feel like men
even though the mistake they are making is not too manly.

I wanted to be a building contractor when I grew up,
because my daddy was a building contractor.
I still want to be like him, but in my own woman-way.

My dad was so accepting of the personhood of his wife and daughters,
that I have found myself sideswiped a number of times
by men who claim to be Christians
and stomp down the personhood of the Christian women in their lives:
who shout them down if they speak truth.

My husband said to me one day,
"I think some men like to exchange 'shut up' for 'submit' in the Scriptures."
I'm glad my dad didn't.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

So Much Dirt

I was out in the garden weeding again,
counting tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers,
and looking with glee at the purple turnips swelling up.
Examining my yellow zucchinis.
And reaching into the tangle of tomato plants
to pull those weeds that want to take over out by the roots.

So much dirt.
You need the water to loosen the weeds,
but the water also makes the dirt so much dirtier.
I had flecks of it on my face, and ground into my knees.
I weed barefoot, so I'm sure you can imagine the state of my feet.
I wore gloves, to give me courage around the pincher bugs
and the spiders lurking in the leaves,
but the mud still got through.

It made me think about the importance
of washing with the Water of the Word myself
even as I try to help someone else pull their weeds.
Because that dirt just gets on everyone.

"My friends, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, 
those of you who are spiritual should set him right; 
but you must do it in a gentle way. 
And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, too.
Help carry one another's burdens, 

and in this way you will obey the law of Christ."
Galatians 6:1,2 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

That We Might Hear It Later

Flipping through a book on my shelf this morning,
I found notes from something I wrote down about five years ago
on the back of an overdue notice from the library:
"Simon was so convinced of himself, that he couldn't hear the Lord."

I am thankful that the Lord speaks anyway:
that although our self-confidence shuts our ears to truth spoken to us,
He speaks it that we might 'hear' it later,
once we've failed in our estimation of ourselves;
denied Him, and cursed to emphasize our lie;
and run away just as weak and fearful
as all the weaklings we set ourselves up as stronger than;
and wept bitterly at our own inconstancy;
and our failed love and diminished strength.
That His love holds on to us through our failure to hold on to Him.

"But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail.
And when you turn back to Me, you must strengthen your brothers."

'When you are converted,' some versions say.
When you've done a 180.
When you've come around.
When you repent,
you'll be in a position to not just be strong for you,
but to make others stronger.
Real strength does that.
It makes others stronger.
It doesn't just rejoice in its own authority,
its own ability to conquer.
But it pulls strength out of grace, having failed,
and makes other people's hands stronger.
It stands beside the tired-armed, and helps them hold their arms up.
It doesn't just yell at others to Stop Limping!
It digs out the splinters as painlessly as possible,
so weak little feet can walk again.

He sees weakness and future failure,
and prays faith and strength into it.
And that very failure becomes the strengthener of the weak.
He is the Lifter of our heads, and the only good we have to boast of.

And turn your eyes and look at Him:
knowledge of coming failure in His friends
is met with hope, prayer, mercy, love, and forgiveness.
Though He is leaving them,
He does not fret that they are not what they ought to be.
I fret about those I consider it my duty to perfect.
But our Jesus isn't fretting.
He trusts the work of the Holy Spirit in Peter.
He prays for him, and speaks to him what he needs to hear,
and although He knows perfectly well Peter can't hear Him,
trusts His words will hit their mark
and do their work even after He's gone. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Beautiful Things

Hilary and Kate made me cry with their beautiful music tonight.
I wanted to share it with you, too.
Please go listen to this.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Delaying Thanks

I expected my husband home Friday afternoon.
I sent him off last Saturday to a conference.
He rode in a bus with several other men, and to get down,
they drove straight through,
and arrived exhausted about 22 hours after he left me.
Thursday at noon, they began the drive north,
and I got regular texts along the way.
Towards the top of California, he told me they had blown a tire,
and were stuck until the tire shop opened the next morning.

The progress on Friday was slow.
It became more and more clear every hour
that an evening appointment was not going to be met.
They were hot and tired.

At 9:00 that night,
it was finally time to head to the meeting place to pick him up.
I pulled out of my driveway just in time
to see a flaming pink and purple sky behind the distant mountains.
In the other side of the sky hung a supermoon.
The temperature had come down enough
to enjoy the half hour drive in the beauty
I usually am closed up in my house for.
I put the c.d. in my player of two cello players my sister sent me as a gift,
and found myself breathing thanks at this forced pleasure.

I wonder at the seemingly meaningless delays that obstruct us.
Having a young baby,
I am regularly stopped on the side of the road feeding her
because she can't wait.
I try to point the car at something interesting and enjoy the delay.
I don't want to forget to look up when there is something worth seeing.

I was one time traveling to a conference myself
when we inexplicably took the wrong route.
It was a route we had driven before.
There was no excuse for the mistake.
Half an hour or an hour beyond where we should have turned off,
we noticed the mistake, and had to turn around and retrace it.
We were all so disappointed, because we ended up in a horrendous traffic jam.
It took forever, but we finally came upon the cause of the traffic jam.
There was a semi truck and several small cars
scattered and crushed all over the highway.
Recalculating where we would have been if our own timetable had been met,
we all grew quiet as the awareness of God's hand
obstructing our way for our own good sunk in.
I often think of it when I am irritated at obstacles.
Maybe this obstacle is God's provision for my needs.
Maybe this obstacle
is something I will thank Him for when I can see more clearly than I can now.

I don't know why always.
But I have seen Him stop me and thanked Him later more than once.
I might as well look around at the sunset and the supermoon,
and listen to the cellos, and breathe in the spearmint on the evening air
and thank Him now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Living With Transition

My mother posted pictures of a remodel they are working on
in response to water damage in their laundry room.
The repair goes beyond the laundry room, into the kitchen
because of future plans for the house.
She said this, after explaining what they were doing,
"Don't know when we'll be able to completely finish the kitchen 
but we're willing to live with transition to save steps later."

I grew up walking on splintery plywood subfloors,
and writing Scripture verses on exposed sheetrock,
because the walls were unfinished, too.
We lived in a number of different houses.
Sometimes my parents bought places that needed a lot of work,
and although they were 'finished', they weren't quite right,
and they were promptly plunged into an unfinished state.
I remember when they ripped out the living room and kitchen floors,
subfloors and all, and I had to jump down in between the studs
onto the pea gravel in my bare feet outside my bedroom door
before they poured a foundation right through the big picture window.
When it was finished, it had become an appropriate home for people,
and no longer a haven for snakes and banana slugs, and spiders.
They left every house they ever owned better than they had received it.
But quite often that meant we lived in it with some lack for awhile,
while we waited for the resources to finish.

Sometimes the changes were to enlarge,
or to make it more functional for the family we were at the time.
Sometimes they were repairs of things that had worked well
when they were put in, but something malfunctioned,
and damage had been done.
As an adult living in my own home, my dad also helped us sometimes.
I bought a house that had leaked behind a bathtub wall,
and mold had become a problem.
Over and over again the previous owners
had added new caulking over the mildewed old.
The mold kept overtaking the shaggy mess.
My dad helped me rip it all out.
New sheetrock was in order before the tile surround could be put in.
Stripping back is part of building up.
Without the stripping back, the same problem will again seep through in time.

One time I was surprised with a new laundry room when I got back from a trip.
It was so beautiful, and functional.
But a few years later, a flood from my broken washing machine
necessitated tearing out the brand new floor and laying a new one again.
Homeownership involves responding to problems at hand
before going forward with dream projects.

Buying a home wisely includes getting problems assessed before you buy.
The last home we bought had a list of issues we needed to consider.
None of them were dealbreakers -- it was a house worth buying --
but some had to be addressed before we could fix other things.
The electrical had to be replaced
before I bothered painting the upstairs hallway.
The house had plenty of power,
but the way it was arranged meant that we were constantly blowing fuses.
It required redistribution, and it needed new wiring.
Replacing wiring sometimes doesn't look like anything is happening.
Just a few new holes in walls, and little piles of drill dust, and little by little,
a change in how the power is being supplied.
The power becomes less noticeable, because it's responding as it should.
But once it's finished, the insurance rates go down,
because a danger has been eliminated.

Living with transition requires patience from the dwellers.
The laundry room cannot function while it is disconnected for remodeling.
And leaving things undone for a little longer may save steps later.
You see, that laundry room-- the one that had to have its floor replaced again?
The subfloor had been rushed to meet the deadline for the surprise.
As we were fixing it, I heard a comment:
"This should have had cement board for a subfloor."
The plywood couldn't take the water.
It swelled up and broke the grout when it flooded.
Another day spent preparing it properly (and living with the transition)
would have meant not replacing it again later.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Notes From the Garden

I pull a lot of different kinds of weeds from my garden.
Just because it's green, doesn't mean it's good.
I want to see my garden full of green things.
But not the green of weeds.
I'd rather see empty brown dirt around my potato plants
than this abundance of greenery that chokes out the health of the real things.
The last potato in the row, the one close to the edge,
has a lot of green on it.
I look closer, because the leaf shape seems wrong.
It has been entwined in a viney weed.
It takes me a long time to free the plant.
The weed that has entangled it started growing a foot away from it,
and crept over inch by inch.
It wound itself tightly around the potato,
strangling it out in its climb higher.
I feel along the length of the vine, until it enters the earth,
and grasp it and pull out its roots.
But its body is still wrapped in and around the potato.
When I finally pull it free, the potato sags,
because it has been unaccustomed to supporting its own weight.
It doesn't know how to stand, and its leaves are small and look beaten.
I wish I had gotten there sooner.

There were some happy surprises, too.
Some volunteer tomatoes seem to be growing well.
I left them where they stood, though I did not plant them there.
And buried under the weeds, as I pulled them away,
the purple leaves of basil that I thought was bad seed advertised its beauty.
First one, then two, then six or so plants made themselves known.
A joy to find good seed among the insidious weeds.
All is not lost.
I weed on.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

And That's Because It Is

it feels like life is throwing containers of cold moldy oatmeal at you
when you open the fridge,
while you are trying to fix a meal for someone else,
and there's a baby crying in the background.
And that's because it is.

Friday, May 30, 2014

To Lift Others

I got a note from an old friend a few days ago.
Told me how the Lord had brought me to mind in prayer.
Spoke of faithfulness, and thanks,
and friendship with God,
and sunlight.
Isn't it good to hear encouragement?
Have you given any out lately?

I found myself pondering
how words of thankfulness and blessing that we hear
slip down the drain when one complaint is voiced.

But thou, O Jehovah, art a shield about me; 
My glory and the lifter up of my head
~Psalm 3:3

I am thankful for those who let Him use them to reach out and lift others.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Water and the Weeds

I turn on the sprinkler for a few minutes in the garden,
letting it pool up on the dirt.
Then I turn it off and wait so it can soak into the ground,
as I go around watering the rest of the things I have planted.
Once the water has soaked down, and no longer pools,
I take my bucket and squat down in between the rows
and begin another day's weed pulling among my onions.
The dirt is wet enough to cake on my hands, and under my fingernails.
What are these weeds? They're everywhere.
I focus on one small area at a time, carefully grasping each one at the base,
and applying slow steady pressure with a gentle twist.
When I am careful, and don't rush the work,
the weeds come sliding out satisfactorily,
all the way down to their slender root tips.
They pile up in my bucket.
The vegetables I planted become visible.

My toes go numb in this position, and I stand up to stretch.
I double over, and work awhile that way,
to let my toes and the back of my legs rest.
It was a hot day, and the garden earth lets off a cool vapor.
I think about Adam walking in the cool of the evening,
and wonder what the Lord showed him there in the garden.
I think about weeds and water and good soil.
How we need to be softened up with the Water,
so our hearts can let go of those bitter roots.
How skipping the watering makes the weeding impossible.
The roots break, and the weeds hang on.
I don't want that good seed to be choked out.

I spot a huge weed, and prepare for a struggle with it,
but the water has done its work, and it comes out easy.
I am careless over a small one, because it is small,
and I move too fast, and it wasn't watered well, and it breaks.
I'll have to work harder on it the next time.

I don't finish this time, just as I didn't the day before.
It will not be finished.
But tomorrow, I'll pull a few more after I water.
The rows are getting clearer, and the good seed is growing.
The weeds will get smaller.
They won't go away entirely, but it will be clear which side is winning.
Each day when I finish what I am doing,
and see how much was accomplished, I am surprised.
It was more than I expected -- even though so much is left.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Quiet Living in an Unquiet World

It was one of those nights best communicated
by a cranky baby,
a chili dog,
a chest cold,
a light in my face,
and heavy equipment working on a road not far from my house.
Can I please have a nap?

Most nights, I head to my bed nearly giddy with anticipation of sleep.
It's so disappointing when the snorting and complaining start up
just as I begin to drift off.
And when I wake in the morning,
it would be nice if I felt more rested than I did when I laid down.

I started my day with coffee, and a hungry baby who left me one-handed.
I've been reading the book of John,
and I balanced that while holding the baby and sipping the coffee.
It feels good on my throat, and lessens the coughing a little.
There is a crashing sound from upstairs,
laughter from another room,
and strains of Oh My Darling, Clementine playing from the harmonica.
The harmonica makes me smile.
I owned one myself as a kid, and never once played a real song on mine.
My son was playing two or three before he had owned it 24 hours.
But this is Quiet Time.

Quiet Time is that magical thing Christians urge each other to have
in order to grow spiritually.
First Thing in the morning, when you are fresh.
Except I am not fresh.
I am exhausted.
It consists of reading one's Bible prayerfully just as the sun comes up,
and all the rest of your family are still sleeping.
Mine are rarely still sleeping,
and I feel like the sun was shining in my face all night.
It was really the garage light, but nearly as bright.
Then, of course, that Sweet Hour of Prayer.
When they truly are silent,
and I am not interrupted by announcements of the cat having thrown up,
or the toilet overflowing,
I do spend more time 'in prayer'.
And if the baby is sleeping when we go to bed at night,
he holds my hand and we whisper together softly,
holding our breath when the snorting and kicking starts up.
But most days, it's here a little, there a little.

I think about ambition for a quiet life while I fold laundry.
About working with my own hands while I pull a few weeds in the garden.
I pray for a grieving friend while I rinse the plates,
and sometimes it's less words
than just a heart lifted up to heaven with an ache and a sigh.
I trust the Holy Spirit to know how to minister to that sighed-over friend.
I think about the phrase 'the God before whom I live', as I live,
transferring loads of laundry,
and changing diapers,
and cleaning out the spaces between small toes.

Study to be quiet...
I'm trying.
Trying to get it right.
Practicing again when I got it wrong.
The Scripture calls a quiet spirit very expensive to God.
It's worth cultivating.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Just Words From a Song

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase.
To added affliction He addeth His mercy:
to multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,
His power has no boundary known unto men:
for out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
when our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
when we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
our Father's full giving is only begun.

His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,
His power has no boundary known unto men:
for out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

It's beautiful at any time, but it was sung over a coffin today.
It is the weak He displays His power in,
and when are we more weak than in the face of death?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I Needed You

I needed you.
I needed you to wreck my world.
To yell into my quiet life,
and smear your sticky fingers on my windows,
to highlight how dirty they are anyway.
It was easy to be the perfect mother when there was no one talking back to me.
When my theoretical children showed off my parenting theories.

I needed you.
I needed you to struggle through sounding out r-a-t,
so the impatience could rise up in my chest,
and I would know I need my Father to be patient with me, too.
Because sometimes, the simple things in His Word
are the ones I'm stuck on, too.

I needed you.
I  needed you to come late into my life,
later than we wanted you,
after we knew we were failures.
A little gift of grace we couldn't earn.
A gifted miracle.

I needed you.
I needed you to stare up at the sky and shriek that you saw an airplane,
because I was too old to look up
and wonder at the impressiveness of flight until you reminded me.

I needed you.
I needed you to hold me while you sucked your fingers
and laid your head against my chest,
and sighed and fell asleep and drooled on me:
to watch your belly rise and fall with your sweet baby breaths.

I needed you.
I needed to learn to give,
and to pray,
and to hope the best for you when your spelling was atrocious,
and your writing was behind.
I see you in your future -- perfected in the things you practice doing now,
and I never saw anyone like that before you.
Love believes all things.

I needed you.
I needed your trust to teach me about trust;
your fears to help me to lay mine down;
your bickering so I would value peace.
In correcting you, I correct myself.

I needed you.
I needed to hear you laugh until you couldn't breathe;
I was serious, and you were carefree.
You taught me to laugh at myself.
To see the person with the sparkly eyes
behind the milk mustache, and the dirty clothes.

I needed you.
I needed you to forgive me for blaming you for taking what I lost myself.
To throw your short arms around my neck and kiss me
even though I got it wrong and made you cry.
You've borne with me, and taught me grace;
how families have to choose over and over again to love and to forgive,
because in being family, we have much to forgive each other for,
and we aren't always so lovable.
But we always need it, don't we?
And sometimes the one with the loudest voice needs the most gentle handling.

Monday, April 28, 2014

To Breathe Quietly

We drove up into the mountains to explore around a lake today,
and to throw some fishing lines in and get the kids some casting practice.
To soak the sunlight into our skin
and watch the birds fly
with their wingtips just touching the surface of the water,
and the ducks thrashing around together wildly,
and to hear the water sloshing softly at our feet.
It's important, I think, for human beings to learn to breathe quietly,
and to listen to natural sounds.
It often gives me a chance to notice things.

It's wetter than here.
I showed my son the moss growing on the north side of the trees,
and handed my daughter a stick with lichen on it
I could only describe as radioactive green.
A bumble bee flew into our fishing net,
and I picked it up to take a closer look.
The trees are taller here than my kids are accustomed to.
I watched them rub their hands over the bark the same way I used to,
and I pointed out how big and prickly the pine needles are
compared to the soft White Pine needles they are familiar with.

To the eye, this yellowish stuff is far greener than it appears here
As we drove through the forest,
my eyes were repeatedly drawn to the vivid green
that some of the trees sported.
Greener than anything else I saw.
And yet, looking a little closer,
it was all the dead branches that looked so alive,
coated as they were in death-eating moss.
The living branches weren't so showy.
They were duller, but they were alive and fruitful.
Those verdant showpieces were unstable, brittle, and fruitless.
Something to ponder.

The forest of the future
And then there were the empty spaces.
Except they weren't.
Because what was growing in them was the forest of the future.
It wasn't so noticeable today, but in a few years,
you won't be able to see the forest for the trees.
Those trees have taken root already.
They're healthy, and they're growing.
They're alive, and in due season will bear fruit.

Now You Offer It To Me

That thing that made you weep and sent you reeling,
and the thing that hurt too much to bear alone,
that pushed you to seek comfort 
and to beg for company --
it resulted in a hand reached out to steady,
and a drink that when you swallowed quenched your thirst.
And the words your sister told you let the light in,
and the light was just enough so you could see.
You're still standing in the comfort, like a blanket,
warmed enough that now you offer it to me.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort;
who comforteth us in all our affliction,
that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction,
through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
For as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us,
even so our comfort also aboundeth through Christ."
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

"For even when we were come into Macedonia our flesh had no relief,
but we were afflicted on every side;
without were fightings, within were fears.
Nevertheless he that comforteth the lowly, even God,
comforted us by the coming of Titus;
and not by his coming only,
but also by the comfort wherewith he was comforted in you,
while he told us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me;
so that I rejoiced yet more."
2 Corinthians 7:5-7

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Soul Sisters

"I had a bad dream last night," she told me.
When she told me what it was, I agreed.
It was a very bad dream.
I asked her to read Psalm 91:1 to me --
a verse that has chased away nightmares in my life.
I suggested she learn it and keep it in her heart.
And she told me that she had awakened her sister in the night,
and that her big sister had prayed with her,
and let her fall asleep in her bed with her.
Oh, how good and pleasant it is when sisters dwell together in unity.
I am so blessed to have my daughters ministering to each others' needs.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Come Together Again

Every successful marriage
has had thousands of choices to come together again.
To be joined.
To come home to her every night,
and to say yes to his advances.
To try again, even if she gave you the cold shoulder.

It isn't the vows that bring the intimacy --
those only begin the marriage.
We speak words of love to one another,
but they must be said again.
And we must choose to yield ourselves to one another.

We long to commune, to lessen our loneliness, to be joined in community.
Paul advised that each man should have his own wife,
and each woman her own husband,
because of sexual immorality.
"Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, 
and likewise also the wife to her husband."
This is apostolic marriage counseling.
That we would have a spouse, and give ourselves to them.

"Do not deprive one another 
except with consent for a time, 
that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; 
and come together again 
so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." 
So much about this passage is so practical.
Have sexual intercourse with your spouse.
This is one very specific way we can serve their spiritual needs.

The intercourse of marriage--
sexual, emotional, financial, spiritual--
is a mysterious display of Christ and the church.
That abiding in the vine that Jesus spoke of is a plant life display.
They are both about connection, unity, exchange--
intercourse resulting in fruit.
In human intercourse, it is a choice that presents itself again and again.
We Christians are presented again and again
with the option to interact with Him intimately, or to shut Him out.
If we want to bear His fruit,
if we want our union with Him to be successful,
we must yield.

Perhaps you have said 'no', and it has become a habit to say 'no'.
I'm too tired.
I have a headache.
We've grown too far apart.
I've washed my feet; how can I defile them again?
Seek Him again, because His heart is still for you.

Or perhaps it is worse than just not opening up when He came to you.
Maybe you called Him 'master', and lived in His house,
but never saw Him as your husband.
Maybe you have never been close,
and all your children have been someone else's.
And He is broken-hearted over your infidelity,
but you are hard-hearted.
Make a choice to be His for real.
He'll buy you back from the auction block of your whoring shame,
and call you His own,
and let you bear His children.

I will heal their backsliding, and love them freely,
 for My anger has turned away... 
I will be like the dew to Israel; 
He shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon...
Those who dwell under His shadow shall return; 
they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine. 
Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

And you will find yourself saying,
"What have I to do anymore with idols? 
I have heard and observed him. 
I am like a green cypress. 
Your fruit is found in me."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

In Mismatched Socks

Thinking about my Mama this morning.
I'm thankful to have a real mom.
Not a plastic Christian mom,
but a real flesh-and-blood one --
who I saw fearful, and praying,
and perplexed, and encouraged.
A mom who could apologize,
because she didn't think she was always right
just because she was the mom.
Sometimes I think that was worth more
than doing everything perfectly the first time.
A woman who said she used to pray,
"Is it possible to be pregnant and in the Spirit at the same time?"

She let me dye a pink streak in my hair,
and when her friends questioned the wildness of it,
she said, "You dye your hair. What is the difference?"
She did not expect us to look like catalog kids.
And she let me go out in mismatched socks.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Food for the Hungry

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High 
shall abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I read it in my news feed this morning, shared by a friend.
It's one of those verses that marked a turning point in my life.
I remember the night I read it so many years ago.
I woke up from a nightmare that night, and it came to my rescue.
The Word came in, and the fear went out.
I said it, and the darkness fled.

I have asthma.
Some seasons the asthma is worse,
and I use an inhaler to release the squeezing of my lungs.
Reading that verse this morning felt like Albuterol to my spirit.
I breathed it in, and the squeezing released.
Oh, I love His Word.
Medicine to my soul, food for the hungry.

Thank You, Father, for the balm that You give us,
for the remedy to our spiritual ailments.
Thank You for the water You give to the thirsty,
for the growth that You bring when we take You in.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

His Mysterious Ways

In human economy, we pick the best man for the job
(or the most photogenic woman).
We stack up his or her gifts and talents against all the other applicants,
and tell the others they didn't measure up and are unwanted.

My husband and I visited with another pastor the other day,
and together wondered at His mysterious ways.
Some of us forget His ways are not our ways,
and His thoughts are not our thoughts.
We think He is altogether like us -- angry at what we are angry about,
and tickled pink over the things we like.
That He looks people over and says,
"That one is really special -- so superior to the others. I pick him."
But that isn't how He chooses.
I can't explain His choices, because they are absurd.

He chooses outcasts, and failures, and weaklings.
The ones who don't deserve to be considered.
The barren women, and the washed-up men.
We choose strength to do hard jobs.
He chooses David, a kid with a sling shot.

Why does He choose the things that are not?
Because it gives us no cause to boast.
Should even the most glorious among us be standing tall in His presence?
He is the One who ought to be worshiped, not ourselves.

When He works through our foolishness,
and ignores the wisdom of the wise,
it more clearly shows His power.
He does not need the cream of the crop.
He does not require a noble metal to show His artistry.
Mud will do.
His breath, His kiss of Life will raise us up.
Creation and Redemption both transform dirt from death to life.

O Lord: breathe Your image into me.
Let this nothingness reflect Your love and creativity.
In all the places I am empty, fill me.
Form my chaos into Your image.
You are Life, and You are Peace.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hear No Evil

There was a commotion upstairs, and then I heard, "I'M TELLING MOM!"
I sat captive in my chair, nursing the baby as I often am.
I looked up at my husband, "Please... no. Go stop them from telling me."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Did You Forget?

I went to a ladies' retreat this weekend.
I think it has been five years since I last went to one.
Lydia came with me and together
we sat behind a screen set up for nursing mothers,
and I listened as carefully as I could between nursing and changing
and shushing any whimpers that started up.

I am normally a note taker,
and that helps me to process and retain the teaching that I hear.
When my arms are full of babies and their belongings, it's all I can do to listen.

The speaker paused fairly early into her first session
and asked for a verse from the audience.
Someone said a reference I recognized
from close enough to me that I could hear it plainly.

The speaker asked her to say the verse.
The familiar words came in like an old friend.
I know these words.
The ones He spoke to me through three different people in the same week
nearly two dozen years ago.

The speaker's voice smiled,
and later on in the teaching, she had more things to say about that same verse.
When I had a moment, I wrote the words down again to remind myself;
once on the provided note paper,
and once on a tiny little card I could put in my pocket.

I left the retreat earlier than the other ladies,
so I could help my husband get the kids to church this morning.
After church, I walked into my husband's office and stood next to his desk,
looking at the papers and books he had there.
I saw a piece of paper and picked it up.
It was a tattered index card, and I recognized my own handwriting:
"Do not fear, for I am with you; 
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. 
I will strengthen you, 
surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."
~ Isaiah 41:10

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

To Be Carried Differently

On the plate this morning:

And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more 
in knowledge and in all judgment;
That ye may approve things that are excellent; 

that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ;
Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, 

which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
~Philippians 1:9-11

I read through it multiple times this morning.
Looked up words to get a better sense
of what exactly Paul was praying for these people he held in such affection.
That phrase 'approve things that are excellent' gave me pause.
The word 'excellent' seemed like a strange choice.
It has to do with carrying something separately.
The difference it references nearly always indicates something superior.

This I pray: that your love would be more than enough, abundant;
recognizing and grasping the value of the important things; 
that you would be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 
being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, 
to the glory and praise of God.

It began to clear.
We do need Him to work in us that we might recognize the valuable.
We don't measure importance like He does.
I think of Him sitting and watching the givers at the temple,
and calling attention to the widow with her mite.
How He stores up tears in a bottle like they are some treasure.
and our prayers there in heaven -- wafting up as incense to Him.
How He keeps a book of remembrance with words of faith recorded in it.
That He notes what we lose for His sake --
the presence of siblings so sorely missed;
and the safety of long-tested friendships;
and the joy of being part of the group
and not measured by someone else's yardstick;
and the freedom to pray what's really weighing you down
with others who will carry it too.

Some things have to be carried differently.
I bought a specialized shirt for my train trip down the east coast last year.
It has a pocket designed to keep the most important things
out of the reach of pickpockets.
I was determined not to get stuck without cash,
the ability to get more cash,
a credit card, identification, and phone numbers.
Everything else could be replaced if it was lost or stolen,
but those were the things worth carrying differently,
because they would see me home.
I didn't just throw them loosely into a backpack
and shove them under the train seat.
They sat there zipped into safety close to my skin.

Lord, please give us overflowing love
that recognizes and grasps the important things,
that when everything else is lost,
we'll have our identity and our fellowship unbroken,
and our heavenly currency right there in a safe place,
with access to more when we need it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Unfashioned Altar, Low to the Ground

An ancient, pagan temple -- Megiddo
"An altar of earth you shall make for Me, 
and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings 
and your peace offerings, 
your sheep and your oxen. 
In every place where I record My name I will come to you, 
and I will bless you. 
And if you make me an altar of stone, 
you shall not build it of hewn stone; 
for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it. 
Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, 
that your nakedness may not be exposed on it."
~ Exodus 20:24-26

We have such a longing for our service to the Lord
to stand out as a work of art.
But He asks us to form His altar from dirt, or unfashioned stone.
It was a functional place of worship.
And its function was all about a bloody atonement.
About payment for sin, and peace at a cost.
It is not a place to be showing off our skills with a chisel.
This altar was a necessity because of a multitude of transgression.
Because our works are at enmity with His holiness,
and must be reconciled.
How wrong it would be to put our works into the altar.
But we would like them there -- distracting from the blood.
Drawing men's eyes away
from the reality of death making payment for our sins,
and toward the incredible artistry we possess --
the gifts God gave us.
We don't want earthen altars:
such dirty accommodations for worship.
Something more permanent --
a little flashier and more fashionable would please us better.
He'll allow stone, but not stone formed by us.
Just simple, earthy materials over which blood must run.
The sacrifice ought to be the central thing in our worship.
Our tools, our gifts, our expertise are a profanity to His altar.

He says He'll come and bless us
wherever He has caused His name to be remembered.
It's remembered at the altar of His sacrifice,
and not in the work of our hands.

And how we would like to build steps up to it.
Steps up to the blessings, steps to the atonement.
Stairs to climb to peace with God,
a way to ascend for the payment of sin.
Its height would hold the blood up high enough that others might not see it.
They might just see us standing a little higher than they are.
But the reality is that in climbing steps to the altar,
our nakedness is exposed.
We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
No man comes to the Father but by Me."
He is the sacrifice, and we cannot climb up to Him.
In our service to the Lord,
we ought to keep the blood right there at eye-level.
Visible to the lowly.
Not formed by human hands.

Friday, February 7, 2014

You Don't Know When

"When are you going to have that baby?" they kept asking,
as I passed my estimated due date and kept on going.
In a day of inductions and planned c-sections,
waiting around for labor is archaic.
"Who knows?" I would smile and shrug.

The end of pregnancy is a time full of signs.
I can know the times and the seasons --
it's clear(ish) when the baby is term.
Ready for the world, but still inside.
There were Braxton Hicks contractions for the entire third trimester.
But really, until last Friday, not many real or regular contractions.

On Friday, I noticed they were coming every 30 minutes.
Mostly all day long, picking up in the evening,
letting me rest at night.
I worked on double and triple checking that I had what I needed
for when the time came.
I took my mom for a drive to see what we could see,
but I stayed close to town.
On Saturday, they were about every twenty minutes.
Is the laundry caught up?
On Sunday, by bedtime, they were ten minutes apart.
We put all the gathered things together in one place,
and laid a towel in the bed for me to sleep on, in case my water broke.
They tapered off a little while I slept,
but I was aware of them even in my sleep that night.
When I woke the next day, they were still there,
slowly advancing toward zero hour.

I had another non-stress test scheduled for Monday,
and we watched three or four of the contractions on the monitor,
and how the baby's heart responded.
I was offered the choice of coming back for another
either the next day, or the day after.
I scheduled it for the day after, suspecting she'd be born before that.
And leaving the hospital, we went to walk, to get this labor moving.

The doctor had asked me to go to the hospital
when they were five minutes apart.
But I don't operate that way.
So I tried to gauge averages.
Around 8 pm on Monday,
they were between 3 and 10 minutes apart for the hour.
They were hurting, so I got in the shower.
Suddenly, I was having them too close.
When we arrived at the hospital,
I had the joy of being stabbed with IVs
and peppered with medical history questions
while going through transition.
All the preliminaries finally completed,
and the doctor appearing in short time,
my request to get in hot water was finally granted.

This is my fifth child, and not my first rodeo.
I did not expect any speed in delivering her.
It was a surprise then,
to have to pull the cord on the wall when my water broke,
and there was meconium in it,
and in the rush to try to get me back to my room,
she was delivered there in the hot tub room -- not according to plan.
My husband said the hospital personnel
looked like Keystone Cops racing about,
with the alarms beeping.
My baby in my arms, they helped me on to a wheelchair
and covered me up to get me back down the hallway to my room.

I have been mulling over what Jesus said to His disciples
in Matthew 24 for several weeks now.
He talks about signs like labor pains,
and as I always approach labor gradually, with one eye on the clock,
and one on whatever duty I am trying to complete,
it's been in the back of my mind.
There's a normal rhythm to our lives
that is disrupted by approaching childbirth.
The signs increase, and the focus narrows.
Are my bags packed?
Where is my insurance card?
Do I have what I need for this immense event?
That last day, seeing the evidence,
we had everything in the car ready for transport.

It is interesting to me that in telling all the tumultuous signs
of the end of the world to His disciples,
Jesus describes a faithful servant
as one who is feeding the household when his lord returns.
Let's narrow our focus, and pass out the vittles.
To Peter, before He departed, He said, "Feed my sheep."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It's A Sweater

I started a new pattern a few days ago.
My husband took one look at the thirteen inch long
by one-inch wide piece of knitting hanging off my needles,
and said, "What is it?"
"What do you think it is?" I asked.
"A doll scarf?"
"Nope. It's a sweater."
Right now, it's mostly a ball of yarn.

But somehow, as I thought about it,
and thought about those things that God has begun,
and this unfathomable piece of work in my hands,
I thought about His faithfulness to complete the work He has begun,
and knew I could say with confidence, "It is a sweater."
I do not have the steadiness that He has,
or guaranteed existence of myself until it is finished,
but should I remain alive, and able to do the work, this is a sweater.

I've been pondering fruit a lot this year.
Human fruit. Blossoms. Zygotes.
Swelling but unripe apples.
All fruit is a sign of life and union.
Communion. Intercourse.
And it grows at its own rate.
And I am due on Friday, but I don't know her birthday yet.
I know she's alive, because she keeps kicking me.
But she will be born in God's time.

And she will have things in common with all of us,
and things that mark her uniquely, too.
And she will be smaller than her siblings,
and weaker, and more dependent.
Further from reproducing than some of them are.
At a different stage of development.
And 100% one of the family.
As much the future of our family as they are.
They are my future grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Of course, to produce them, they will have to be living and unified.

"Abide in Me," He said, "and you will bear much fruit."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

If I Had Been Alone

A man told us his story -- well, a very small part of it, anyway --
and it touched my heart.
He is a farmer.
And he's seen a lot of trouble.
Financing through bankers, and at the mercy of the weather and the markets.
This crash and that crop,
and lenders who suddenly demanded payment.
I looked at his boots while he spoke.
He'd been hurting, but there were trees to trim.

He started in the past, telling about the bankers,
and the stress, and the trouble.
And he said, "I would have given up, if I had been alone."
But he wasn't alone in his trial.
Someone else would have suffered worse if he had given up.
And he hung in there for their sake.
He kept planting and kept working,
and filled out more paperwork than anyone should have to fill out,
and he looked down and saw the name of a lender
whose card had been sitting on a desk for five years longer
than the man had been gone from the company.

But he called the company, and the president asked to meet him.
And he had been hurting when he went,
but they called in some other men,
and they laid hands on him and prayed for him,
and then they lent him a hand, too.
And a big crop came in -- with prices he'd never seen in his life.
And he offered a deal to some sharks
and against all odds, they took it,
and he was free.
And he thought he had lost the farm, but it was not lost.

And all I could think about while he spoke was how having a fellow sufferer,
and that fellowship of suffering
had given him endurance to keep working.
To plow in hope, when it was hopeless.
To trim the trees that hadn't put out enough fruit.
Or whose fruit had been badmouthed by celebrities,
and no one would buy it and eat it.
To work another day and pray another prayer,
and reap a harvest of mercy.
And how two are better than one,
because one loses heart.

Sometimes, faith plods on,
but it gains the strength to do it through fellowship.
And maybe you are the strong one, who wanted to give up,
but you had someone at home who was sick in bed,
and you couldn't let them bear the cost of your quitting.
Or maybe you're the weak one, who couldn't do the work,
but your very presence lent strength and purpose of heart
to the younger man who could --
if only he had a reason.
Let's be each other's reason to work another day,
even if we can't be the one sweating in the field.

They held each other up.
The one stuck behind in pain
and the one working through the pain
both benefited because of the love there was between them.
And that is looking out for the interests of another more than oneself.
You see, he said, "He was more heavily invested than I was."
And he couldn't let him bear it all himself.