Starting With a Gray Smudge

ash wednesday:

Somewhere in my little girl, growing up years, I began to believe my Baptist church was “doing it right. I placed a high value on being “right” in my faith, overlooking and often ignoring Jesus’s plea for righteousness through him.

And so that little girl mind of mine grew up with some pretty self-righteous thoughts about what the church should believe and do. And I was going along just fine, until I fell in love with a boy whose family was Methodist on one side and Catholic on the other. I wasn’t worried, the Methodists were ok. They had a fabulous midnight Christmas Eve service.

Read the rest of the story  here on the Fourward blog.

 

Where We Are Meant To Be

compass

In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.

 John Oxenham

It’s a nice thought isn’t it?

This great fellowship of love stretching itself around the world, making loops and crisscrossing the globe, touching everyone.

It’s true. This is the way of Jesus, his love finding us wherever we are. His red blood dripping down on us, into us. We embrace it and say, “Hallelujah! I’m saved!”

And then what?

Because Christ restores the peace between God and us, we now go and, “…are Christ’s ambassadors…” to this message of reconciliation and peace, (2 Corinthians 5:20).

And some of us will go and tell, unable to hold back such a beautiful ministry of reconciliation. But for others, it is an uneven road, because while we are forgiven and reconciled, we have much to forgive and reconcile with each other. This world is filled with high rocked walls of entitled rights and petty preferences, abuse and forgotten-ness. Yes, even the church looks like this.

Read the complete post from Janna Lynas on the Fourward blog.

 

After Christmas Let Down

I was stuck.

This was just yesterday, but slowly,  I’m crawling out of the sinking hole I found myself in 24 hours ago.

And this is how I found myself in that hole:

There was the taking down of the tree which had to be done since the tree hadn’t taken on any water since the day we bought it. Evidently it was a big bother to everyone else, but mother prevailed and somehow managed to persuade the boys to come and locate their ornaments before my husband literally sawed it limb from limb from the middle of the living room.

There was also the taking down of two small artificial trees and a few other decorations around the house. The plan – to get it all done by noon and still have plenty of time to break out the new popover pan and planner I got for Christmas while trotting from my kitchen to my office with my new, cozy slippers. It would all be done and I would get all that I wanted.

It never happened.

The sun was consumed by the clouds by noon. The boxing and putting away of all things Christmas rested firmly on my shoulders while everyone else around me put puzzles together, played endless hours of video games and asked me when lunch would be ready. Seriously? Lunch? The grey clouds outside seeped through the vents and rolled over my attitude as well.

Late afternoon I thought I saw some clearing and perhaps God looking on me with favor, when my oldest quietly crept into the downstairs, heaved a long sigh, and said, “I need a hobby… (big sigh).” So, as her mother, I encouraged her to not just shop for things already made, but to try her hand at making those things instead. All of which earned me a trip to town. I did my best to want to be there, and I did really want to be there with my daughter, I just had things calling me elsewhere. Like here.

Dinner time magically appeared, made mostly by my husband. After twenty years of marriage, he can recognize when I’m feeling foul and need him to step up and care for me with barbecue chicken and mashed potatoes, cleaning the dishes and otherwise leaving me the heck alone.

And so he did.

And so I folded up my plans and my dreams for the day. Football bowling, video gaming and puzzling wreaked from the living room and still, even after being cared for, the grey cloud hung around, refusing to leave.

At this point, all that could cure me was a good talk with God and a documentary.

And so I did both. God and I met in the semi-quiet of my bedroom (I could still hear the reactions from the football game) with a plea for time and courage to put myself aside and be a wife and mother. Then I found a great documentary called Minimalism, which was just what I needed to help dig through the greed I witnessed before and after Christmas. I mean, who was more minimal than Jesus?

And as I went to bed last night, I was light. I looked back at all that was accomplished and remembered this life, it’s not just for me. This Christmas let-down heaviness that felt like wearing shoes with lead soles wasn’t something that lasted. There was a promise that ran deeper and fuller and clearer. I remembered what it was. This meeting the immediate call of my day and embracing it. The hope that tomorrow would be new and the work accomplished today for others might clear a path for the other unique ways I am made. God has declared that he has great plans for me and my future (Jeremiah 29:11), and I rested easy last night in the knowledge and grace of this truth.

It’s all blue sky and a brilliant sun today. I’ve made those Rosemary popovers and I’ve planned and looked ahead to the new year coming soon. I’ve reflected and wrote about where I’ve been and what I hope for in 2017. Mercifully, I’ve been given hours for this and I am thankful.

I know it won’t all be according to what I want (“We plan the way we want to live…), but I know it will be good (…but only God makes us able to live it.” Proverbs 16:9). And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And He Will Be Called… Mighty God!

There’s a picture of a castle on my desk. I visited this place a long time ago. It makes me think back to stories I’ve heard about kings and queens and the mighty men who pledged allegiance to fight and protect their leaders and their country.

Images of might remind me of Braveheart and Gladiator and someone tall and strong, with bulging muscles, standing, one foot slightly in front of the other, ready to run toward the fight. A face, fixed with determination, eyes clear and focused, even as evil circles all around. There is only one thing to do: run to the danger, moving quickly and forcefully. And in the end, when all seems lost, a victorious warrior emerges, the battle won, the enemy defeated. This kind of might would do nothing less than die for what is right, for honor, and for the protection of others.

These are stories from long ago, and it seems as though that’s where they’ve stayed; in the ancient past.

It seems hard to find, someone who is truly willing to fight for us, for what is right and good and pure. It seems much easier to see those who are looking out for themselves, for their own good, whatever it takes. The fight looks different these days, not with sword and stone but with guns and bombs. Yet, we fight about the same things: preferences, ingnorance, power and inequality.

These are the battles that make our news feeds and the headlines. But some of us are in emotional battles that seem even more overwhelming than the physical.

The good news? We have our Mighty God, Jesus.

He is the One who is ready, one foot in front of the other. He is the One with a clear and focused view of us and all the evil that surrounds. He is the One who moves with force, relentlessly pursuing until the battle is won.

Can you see him? He is our warrior, our champion, our hero. He is relentless in the fight for us. He simply won’t ever stop coming for us. He is our Mighty God.

Take time to stop and look for your warrior, the one who is on your side. Take time to lay your battles down and let him fight for you. Take time to notice him championing your day, your family, your life. He’s there, fighting for you in everything.

And although Jesus’ story is from the ancient past, it never grows old. He’s continually teaching us something that is brand new. Look! Our Mighty God has already won the battle, and he longs to see us emerge, victorious, standing beside him.

Our Wonderful Counselor, our Everlasting Father, our Prince of Peace, our Mighty God.

Don’t Pray For Patience… It Might Change You!

“Prayer is very dangerous business… For all the benefits it offers of growing closer to God, it carries with it one element of risk: the possibility of change. In prayer we open ourselves to the chance that God will do something with us that we had not intended.”

-Emilie Griffin.

As we wrapped up our time with our small group, it was announced that we would move on to the next fruit, patience, in one week. I didn’t miss this announcement and listened for the response. Maybe a little too quickly, there was a sarcastic chuckle and then I heard it, “Don’t pray for patience. You know what that means!”

But it is in our prayers we sometimes pray for patience. Our busy, get it done, check-it-off-the-list-so-I-can-forget-about-it lives sometimes don’t work that way and we find ourselves praying for patience, usually half-heartedly.  Do you sometimes, like myself, catch your breath before uttering a quick prayer for patience in a difficult circumstance, and in that same breath consider your options? If I do ask for patience, what will God allow to teach me what I ask? And as Emilie Griffin puts it, does “something with me that I had not intended!

It’s difficult isn’t it? Waiting for something?

As a young child, I remember waiting (not very well), for Christmas morning. Sleep was impossible. Constant trips to my parent’s bedroom door every hour were inevitable, asking, “Is it time yet?” It was excruciating, the waiting for that something that was sure to please, that was good, that was anticipated, that for which I had asked. At five years of age, it had never been suggested to pray for patience, not that I would have understood.

Years later, I found myself waiting for a friend to call, to show up, to tell me words I needed to hear. Oh how patient I was for what I thought I wanted. I waited, and waited, and waited. But those words never came. Funny, I don’t remember praying about this particular time for patience at all.

I’d guess we all have stories of waiting for things, for people, and because this is a faith blog, I’ll throw in a story from the Word. These twelve men who had followed the Word, God’s Son, weren’t waiting. They were hiding. Jesus revealed himself to Mary and she had told them, but there was immense doubt. How could it be? Impossible! Jesus, alive? And so He appeared to them, yet one was absent. Jesus had lived with them for three years. He was a man and yet he was more. And one of the twelve who had listened, travelled, and witnessed incredible miracles and evidence of who He was found it hard to believe, even with the others in pressing agreement. Not unless he could see with his eyes and touch with his hands. And in merciful patience, He allowed it. Jesus allowed it. In that moment, salvation came in the form of seeing. And Thomas went on to believe and tell countless others of his encounter with Jesus and maybe how his loving patience was the proof he needed to believe.

It’s our human nature. We have to see, we have to touch, we have to check off our list to see progress, we have to get things done. We have to do. But things take time. People take time, often longer than we are willing to give. But then, this is found:

“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience is salvation.” 2 Peter 3:15

 And my mind jumps to a 92 year old man, restless in bed, missing his love for four years now. We had prayed, we had talked, we had prayed for his soul. His past was haunting – all that he’d done. This is not the man I knew, my grandpa. I see who Jesus sees and Jesus is patient, yet I am not, counting what seem like hours left of his old life. Jesus came in a dream, knocking quietly. The heart shaped knob was turned and salvation came. 92 years of patience. Eternity will not miss him. He is home.

In all our impatience, our desire to be productive, to do and feel accomplished, what do we miss? What friendship? What conversation? What listening? What learning? What presence do we lack?

I’ve been turning the word over in my head and my heart. God is taking me through a season of patience, teaching me what it is and what it is not. Patience is not the absence of doing, but it is the action of being present, of being. It is enduring and abiding, even persistent. It is a remaining in or under. This is what Jesus teaches us through this fruit of the Spirit. This patience teaches us to keep coming back to ask, to give permission to wait and see for ourselves if that’s what it takes, although blessings of faith to those who believe even without seeing.

Friends, “…the Lord’s patience is salvation,” the same fruit of patience that exists for all of us who call Christ Lord and friend. Don’t miss it. Pray for it. Embrace it. There is something God intends to do with us.

A Life of Influence

The intensity and honesty of the whisper was not wasted on me: “You are a Titus woman.”

A Titus woman.

I remember running to my bible to read pages that had probably never been turned in my bible until that night. I read the verses over and over. I think maybe I was too young or too tired to really hear the message at the time. I had two young babes in my house and a husband who had just begun his ministry. I had no time to think of me besides wife and mother. Yet, these words have stuck. And as I’m wondering what these words mean for me, the Holy Spirit would graciously direct its attention to my Titus woman. There are many that have influenced me, that have challenged me, that have taught me with their life, yet there is one that I can pinpoint very specifically over the last two decades. This is for her.

In our early married days,  we had the common sense, not to mention the Holy Spirit prompting us, that we needed a place to worship in community. After a year of searching, we literally stumbled upon this place and haven’t looked back. We were young and bold and quickly asked questions, joined various groups and began making connections.

My earliest memories of those years are a reminder of how much I had to learn and how much grace would be poured out on me by my Titus woman. A mixture of laughter, deep wisdom, hospitality, generousity and care, our paths crossed every Sunday morning and evening for three years. I listened, I prayed.

I wanted to do it all, so I signed up for everything. I grew impatient and spoke very sarcastically and was quickly reprimanded by her. It stung a little, but I listened. I prayed.

Babies came. We were celebrated and showered by my Titus woman. She asked me to pray, and so with a foggy mind, I did and barely remember the words I spoke, except later she told me the impact they had made on her. She couldn’t have known what was coming but the words that spilled out of my mouth were for her. The embrace was sincere and lasting.

Our own families grew and grew and while I stayed at home, she returned to her vocation, a sacrifice, but she was willing. I watched. I listened. I prayed.

We celebrated a friend with a milestone birthday. She laid out her best table and asked me to help, this invitation, an honor. She prayed for our friend. I listened. I prayed.

Years passed, and our interactions were few. Then, as God does, he united us again, loving children who didn’t begin life with us, becoming a commonality we’ll always share. She’s gone before, me behind, and I’ve sought her out.  I’ve listened.  I’ve prayed.

When it came time for me to return to work of an old kind, God would have it that we would be together. She looked for me, checked in with me, encouraged and dispensed advice I desperately needed. I listened. I prayed.

And now, while life’s joys and disappointments continue, she is the person I share them with. Not daily, not even weekly, sometimes not even monthly, yet she is my Titus woman. Someone who can talk me off a roof I’m clinging to with my fingernails when life is not what I thought it would be. A hug that all at once in a span of seconds reminds me who I belong to and that she understands. A sense of humor and laughter that reminds me what is truly important. An encourager, a discipline dealer, an admirer and lover of her husband and home, a humble spirit-lifter, a savior follower. She is my Titus woman.

Thankfully I’ve had the good sense to pay attention, to remember, to pray. I’ve been taught with speech, I’ve been taught with gentle but firm rebuke. I’ve been taught with a life that I have seen in action. I’ve watched and listened and prayed for nearly two decades, and I’m wondering, if I have this Titus woman influence? Who is watching me? Who is listening to me? Am I courageously speaking boldly and with authority the way I’ve been taught? Am I pouring into the life of those younger than myself? Am I looking for an opportunity to share what I know or what I’m learning?

Until this life ends, we will continually learn from those older than us and forever teach those who are blessed to be younger in reverence, in speech, in moderation, in goodness, in love, in self-control, in kindness, in submission, “So that no one can malign the word of God.”

A Titus woman.

One who has listened and prayed. One who teaches to listen and pray.

God’s blessings to you dear friend.

 

Collecting Rocks

Dear Kiddos,

We made a break for it today. The sun was out, not too warm, but the sun was out, so we drove away from home. I’m smiling right now recounting our steps, our inside jokes and how the things that were bugging us melted away as we walked together, talked together.

I’ve been thinking about our walks in the woods. I’ve been thinking about the rocks we collect. Smooth stones, taking years to form and worn over with water and wind. We start out skipping them across the water, then one catches our eyes. Draws our attention, we point it out, then place it in our pockets.  It goes in a pile on the fireplace, or in a box of treasures in our bedrooms, symbolic of the time we spent together. After a while, we don’t know where one rock came from or who found it, but it doesn’t matter. The rock was only a physical reminder of something that formed in our hearts.

Kids, there are three kinds of rocks: Igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic. It’s important to know the difference between the three and recognize them when you see them. You see, igneous rocks are the strongest and most valuable rocks. They are formed deep within the earth from molten magma. Sedimentary rocks are formed from the water and the air, leaving deposits from here and there. Temperature and pressure can also alter other rocks, otherwise known as metamorphic rocks. You will encounter all three of these rocks as you move through life. Pay attention to them. They are reminders.

Rocks have been used throughout time, mainly to build structures to live or work in or to mark a boundary. I’ve seen beautiful, low stone walls that meander through the English countryside, begging you to stop and wander over. I’ve driven past high, cobbled ones with broken bottles on top, a warning to the unwanted. I’ve seen rocks in a river providing a way across and still others stacked together, a memorial of remembrance.

Stones. Rocks of remembrance – they are what build you up. Those stories that go deep, that tell you who you are. The things you will learn over the years of your lives. It takes years, it takes dedication. It takes time. Yet God will continually whisper it over you forever, from the center of you, “You are mine.”These are your strongest, most valuable rocks.

Outside the core, family and friends will leave behind pieces of themselves. They get added to the pile. A few more stacked on top and an alter begins to take shape.  They’ll share their life with you as you share your life with them. You’ll make some trades, learn some hard lessons, some will stay with you and others will scatter. It’s ok, Jesus understands. He had close friends and family that didn’t get him either, but for those who stuck it out, who came back around, he shared his glory.

More years will pass and some of your rocks will take on new meaning or change in some way due to  the pressures and stress of life. These new rocks will accumulate, and sometimes seem stronger than they are. The good news?  They can be chiseled off and discarded. The place they once were will remain, another reminder, a space in your heart that was touched and is now gone. It’s a tender place, so let God fill it up with his whisper,

“You are mine.”

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You see, when you were born, your dad and I recognized you were too precious to belong to us. You are a part of us, but make no mistake, you are from God. HE is your rock. He has these incredible, masterful plans he’s made just for you, things I could never begin to dream of – just for you. He loves you more than I ever could. It is impossible to match his love and this is something I don’t understand, because I love you more than my own life.

So I’ll keep taking walks with you, I’ll keep talking with you, keep adding rocks that catch my eye to your life. You’ll decide where they go on the top of your pile. It will take a lifetime. It will take dedication. It is my gift to you. Layers of memories sitting atop the eternal Rock.

You see, this legacy, these rocks, were left for me to stack on my pile. When I was a little girl, your grandparents took me to church every Sunday and sometimes every Wednesday night. And sometimes we’d sing a song that I now know is one of my igneous rocks, one of my strongest rocks. All I remember is the chorus:

On Christ the solid rock I stand.

All other ground is sinking sand.

All other ground is sinking sand.