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Thanks for stopping by, whether you got here by a link or hitting "next blog" -- I am glad you are here. I've also done some writing on homeschooling, and what I learned thinking I was teaching.

Friday, December 31, 2010

IF GOD "TEXTED" ME . . .

For several years, I was moderately scornful of texting, and frankly, it irritated me until I tried it. I am texting now, having I upgraded to a keyboarded call phone when a new friend confided that it helps in keeping up with her thirty-something kids who don’t return calls, but do return texts. So, too, my forty-something friends, and even my over-fifty comrades return my texts promptly with cheery responses. My contemporaries and older are not so chatty.

Maybe their thumbs are keeping them from texting? Mine sure do.

My thoughts come fast – but the minuscule letters and symbols foil my aging thumbs! And sometimes I inadvertently hit “send,” delivering incomplete messages replete with embarrassing typos. Nonetheless, when I hit “send,” my phone shows me a blue mail box that means it is sweeping my thoughts and gaffes to another’s phone. Then, that special text message chime I set, sounds – woo-hoo! Reminds me of the same thrill “You’ve got mail!” evoked before spam overran my e-mailbox.

What if God texted?

In a sense God is “texting” with all His creation – whether in the heavens, on earth, or in His relationships with people. (Psalm 8:3-5, 19 and 119) And I thank God He keeps on texting. (John 20:31, 3:16-17) I am so grateful His messages are never erased and never need correction. (1 Samuel 15:29)

If God actually texted, His messages would be as profound and personal (Jeremiah 33:1-3) And I would never be out of His network! “Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? . . .” (Psalm 139:7-12, The Message)

His messages might be quite brief – alarmingly brief, and Oh so pithy! I’d hate to receive the one Belshazzar got: Mene, Teqel, Peres
“ . . . God has numbered the days of your rule and they don't add up. . . . You have been weighed on the scales and you don't weigh much. . . . " (Daniel 5:26-31, The Message )

How fast can I reply, Luke 18:13, with no typos? “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

At the close of 2010, when I reflect on how I lived these past 365 days, alas, that message to Belshazzar, it isn’t so far off the mark for me. I did not rule well all God entrusted to me; I was a poor steward of all the riches He’s put at my disposal, especially time; I did not tend relationships as carefully as I might. And I neglected to choose the better as Mary did; I have gotten so involved with my worries and troubles that, like Martha did, I missed time with You. (Luke 10:41)

It’s all the more precious then His word to me, and thee, dear readers, is simply condemnation – but comfort. (And conviction)

"Come. Sit down. Let's argue this out."
This is God's Message:
"If your sins are blood-red,
they'll be snow-white.
If they're red like crimson,
they'll be like wool.
If you'll willingly obey,
you'll feast like kings.
But if you're willful and stubborn,
you'll die like dogs."
That's right. God says so.
(Isaiah 1:18 The Message)

God, help me to hear and read your messages today with as much anticipation I hear and read texts from my loved ones –

Happy New Year – His final word is Jesus: God with us, Immanuel, for He shall save His people from their sins! (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Looking Away from A Water-Stained Floor

We finally met on the fly, in the DFW airport; I was picking up some family, and she had flown in to speak about disability issues at Dallas Theological Seminary. She didn’t know me, but she had been introduced to me through her music, and then her art. So, I have known of her for over thirty years. Her voice is clear, her paintings and drawing as pristine and moving as her sketches and paintings. Her writing is as powerful as her music and art. And most mornings I hear her speak when I read the daily e-mail her ministry sends.

This morning, the devotional, written in 1993, was about spiritual blessings – her point was we are more blessed than angels:
“. . . What are our spiritual blessings? Peace that is profound. A soul that is settled. Assurance of joy. Grace to let go and give. Life eternal, rich and free. A home in heaven. A best friend in God. Truly, we have more than the angels.”
It’s easy to say Amen when life is sweet; it’s another matter to say that when illness, grief, disappointment and other pains assault us. Yet, my “friend” speaks as a quadriplegic, and now a breast-cancer survivor. (2010) She has the right to tell me – and you, dear reader, to “Snap out of it!”

Joni then explained how, though profoundly afflicted, she is content with every spiritual blessing God has given her in Christ. She quoted from The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, written in the 17th century by Jeremiah Burroughs:

"Luther says: 'The sea of God's mercies should swallow up all our particular afflictions.'If you pour a pail full of water on the floor, it makes a great show, but if you throw it into the sea, there is no sign of it. Afflictions considered in themselves are great. But let them be considered in the sea of God's mercies and then they are not so much. They are nothing in comparison."

Maybe you hurt for good and sufficient reasons this morning, dear reader – I know I’ve got “good” reasons to be less than upbeat. But just for today, I will consider Joni Eareckson Tada’s wisdom and look away from water staining my floor, and consider the ocean of grace that sustains me in ways too numerous to count. I pray you can, too.

Love in Christ,

bwsmith

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mary’s “Work” – Believing the Inconceivable

What did Mary understand after Gabriel spoke?

She understood that God would bring forth a living human being from a virgin womb – as He had said to Isaiah seven centuries earlier – and as the angel Gabriel declared to her.

What did Mary do? She believed what God said. ( Luke 1:38) Elizabeth, speaking for God declared Mary was blessed because of what she did – she believed God. ( Luke 1:40-45) Mary examined the fulfilled promises of God. (Luke 1:46-55) And she believed what seemed impossible but what was promised – she, a virgin, would bring forth a son.

Incredible! Inconceivable!

Yet, my religious convictions – which I call my faith – rest squarely on this promise, that God would bring forth a child whose conception was unique. (Isaiah 7:14; John 1:13) I repeated this conviction for decades before I confessed it:
“We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, . . .” (The Nicene Creed)

His conception was as unique as His mission, a mission defined by His name, Jesus – because he will save his people from their sins; Immanuel – God with us. (Matt 1:20-23) And, before a unique moment in time, I recited what I did not understand:
“. . . and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end . . . ” (The Nicene Creed)

Once a year – but every day – I remember that God, who so loved the world, gave His Son,
“. . . Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!” (Phillipians 2:5-8)

The longer I walk with Christ, the less I understand – and the more precious the examples of women like Mary become to me:
Believe God,
Remember His faithfulness when what He says sounds inconceivable; when what He asks looks impossible.

Mary exemplified what I can do when nothing makes sense – she believed in the One whom God sent. (John 6:29) And, still a virgin, nine months later she and her betrothed, Joseph, beheld her Son; a baby, named by Joseph, Jesus. ( Matthew 1:20-2:1)

“. . . And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

“And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” (The Nicene Creed)

May God fill our hearts with the Hope that does not disappoint. Merry Christmas!

The painting is "The Annunciation" by Henry Ossawa Tanner  , an artist worth knowing!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Refreshment at a Food Court



Chase Bank in Ft. Worth wanted to take down a Christmas tree, lest it offend some – the Grinch is alive and well. But so, too, is the Spirit who has been stirring souls this year to form a praise choir that amazes, encourages, and dumbfounds their impromptu audience – first at a department store in Philly and then a food court in Canada: Handel’s famous chorus, sweeps over them. The opening chords literally silence folks who then crane their necks to pinpoint the music’s origin. Some rise and sing, others smile as they take photos – others sit quietly – even reverently.

What a blessing these sightings have been – and what a portender of how it might be when the Lord returns. We will be going about our daily business – eating and drinking, and suddenly He will appear – every eye will see.

Technology greatly enlarges our vision. Over 11 million hits on Youtube saw and heard the Lord praised:
Hallelujah! (Praise God!) sung 49 times Hallelujah!
For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Twice His rule is described, and then explained:
The kingdom of this world is become
the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and of His Christ;
and He shall reign for ever and ever – a fact repeated three times.
And then five times, the choir says of Whom they sing:
King of Kings, . . .
and Lord of Lords, for ever and ever.

God help me not just to tear up and sing along with a powerful piece of Christmas "music."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reconciliation

 
“It is preferable to separate rather than patch up our differences.” That conviction guided my upbringing and soured many relationships. When I became a Christian, I hoped never again to suffer broken relationships because of “differences.”

So, discovering that squabbles happened among believers devastated me; realizing that *I* had a bone to pick with some Christians blew my mind.   I had walked away from many people with nary a backward glance  — but leaving the relationships that Christ was forming was excruciating. Somehow, every time I tried to explain why I would no longer be speaking to so-and-so, I could hear the Lord clear His throat. The longer I persisted in avoiding a person, the more he or she came to mind, especially during the Lord’s Supper. My excuses were never sufficient “justification.”

Okay, Lord. What do You want?

 “Barbara, when you are angry with your sister, you shall be guilty before the court; and when you say to your sister, 'Raca,' you shall be guilty before the supreme court; and when you  say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” (Matt 5:22 )

  “Oh no, Lord — I didn’t mean she was a fool — just misguided.”

 "Barbara, if therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your sister has something against you,  leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your sister, and then come and present your offering.” (Matt 5:23-25)

“But, Lord, she is wrong about _______!”

"Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with her on the way, in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.” (Matt 5:23-25)

 “Now, Lord, she started it!”

 “Barbara, it takes two to quarrel.  “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” (James 4:1-3)

 “Uh . . . I just want to avoid any further arguments.”

"Barbara, if   you  remember that your sister has something against you —  real or imagined  —  leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your sister, and then come and present your offering.” (Matt 5:23-25) She who separates herself seeks her own desire. She quarrels against all sound wisdom. (Proverbs 18:1)

    “Lord . . .”

“My dear determined daughter, a fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing her  own mind.” (Prov. 18:1-2)

 “Well, what if  . . . ?”

 “Barbara,  refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. As my bond-servant, child, do not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses  and escape  from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” (2 Tim 2:23-26) 

 “But, Lord — isn’t that instruction just for ministers?”

“Barbara, if any man is in Christ, (she)  is  a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled you to Himself through Christ, and gave you the ministry of reconciliation, . . . God through Me was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to you  the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
“My child you are an ambassador for Me; . . . ” 

“The ministry of reconciliation — that means settling *differences, Lord. And some of those differences maybe mine!”   

 An ambassador follows orders, trusting his sovereign to act. My instructions are make it right when quarrels break-out in the Body that Christ is  building. My instructions, like to any ambassador are to die to a personal point of view.

So, I have gone to sisters in Christ and asked forgiveness for *my* part in causing any separation between us. I went with Christ’s words in my ears: 
"Barbara, if you  remember that your sister has something against you —  real or imagined  —  go; first be reconciled to your sister!  (Matt 5:23-25) “She who separates herself seeks her own desire. She quarrels against all sound wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:1) Let me handle the next step.”

Lord, I believe -- Help thou my unbelief and help me to take that first step.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Proof?

I am looking for proof – something unmovable and strong that will support my death and make sense of my life; some thing –concrete evidence that as it sustains me, like food and drink, will make sense so others will have an “Aha!” response.  The search becomes more pressing as the days whiz by – I am approaching the end of my life and I want to know if it will be the beginning of a new life. I may not have all the time I need to discover the evidence, however,  if news reports are credible there is a band of folk who relentlessly  wish to quicken my sure demise – terrorists who believe their God wills it.

So, in addition to reading the Scriptures, I read about other people’s search; the most disturbing one has been  Walking Away from Faith: Living with Doubt & Unbelief  by Ruth Tucker; the most recent book has been  The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by Peter Hitchens. Both authors describe experiences, their own and others’. My search is not unique. Nor, are my doubts and fears when I pursue the God of the Bible.  

Bible study always raises as many questions as it answers – which is why  The Gospel According to Moses  by Athol Dickson was helpful:
    “God loves and honest question. . . if I feel a need to ask a question because of a loving desire to draw closer to God, I should ask as many ways as possible, even if the only answer is repeated silence.” (pages 17, 26-27)

As a brand new Christian, I talked often with my pastor, William Mahlow. I think back to what he said to folks who wanted to know if God were real: Read the Gospel of John. You will have an answer – the question, then, is what will you do with that answer?

On such a pink cloud, I was I could not fathom how anyone could question anything about God. Getting walked out into a desert or two – watching others go through their deserts – however, can generate a few questions. So, too, seeing each other stumble in the trek, harming each other can raise doubts that God is infinite and personal.

I am studying the Gospel of John, again, and am working through chapter 6. John described  Jesus as clearly infinite and personal when He
  •  fed 5000 people from a few loaves and fish
  •  walked several across a stormy sea
  •  confronted the Pharisees with a challenge that offended many disciples
  •  comforted the twelve who remained.

Is this the proof for  meaning in my death and life? The answer remains a question:
      “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.” (John 6:68-69 TLB)

Monday, November 22, 2010

It’s Never Too Early to Celebrate . . .

Last year the first outdoor Christmas decorations I noticed were the day after Thanksgiving; this year the lights were twinkling last week – two weeks before T-day.  Some folks have put up their trees and decked the halls. The stores here have been in gear for weeks.

I don’t begrudge anyone doing whatever it takes this year to spread a little cheer. We can use it – we need a little Christmas, “right this very minute!”  A favorite movie moment is Auntie Mame, having lost her job in the Depression, warbles all the delight the season brings, and is then is rescued by the soon-to-be love of her life.  But, when the scene ends, the  trappings go as quickly as they appeared – just like the  real-time light extravaganzas; cold dark nights rule – and the spirit is plunged again in deepening gray.

This year the Christmas lights seem to spotlight how dark the darkness is. This year, despite the lights, the darkness is more palpable. It seems the premature glitz is barely covering deeper heartache. Leaving aside the flood of bad news from cable news and talk radio – more of us have big health and financial problems that weren’t on the radar screen last year. A few of us have lost spouses and children, literally and spiritually.  It’s hard to muster  a “Ho-Ho-Ho!” from a heart breaking with grief and worry.

What is more unsettling, the decorations [still] ignore the manger – the humble holder of the light that will not  fail.  But, I know about that Light – in Him there is no darkness. (1 John 1:5)

God help me to see that blessed manager with renewed vision, choosing not to be impaired by fear,  frustration, sin  –or doubt.  May I sing a carol from Psalms, and mean it with all the gusto I put into the Hallelujah Chorus!

 . . . Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for the gracious and compassionate and righteous [woman]. 
 
Good will come to [her] who is generous and lends freely,
who conducts [her]  affairs with justice.

Surely [she] will never be shaken;
a righteous [woman] will be remembered forever.

[She]  will have no fear of bad news;
[her] heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.

[Her] heart is secure, [she] will have no fear;
in the end [she] will look in triumph on his foes.

[She] has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor,
[her] righteousness endures forever;
[her] horn will be lifted high in honor.
 
The wicked . . .  will see and be vexed,
he will gnash his teeth and waste away;
the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.
  (Psalm 112:4-9)

It’s never too early to celebrate His birthday –

Saturday, November 20, 2010

It’s Still About Me

I don’t who I am madder at – them or me.

Someone had plans for a “Mac-mansion” a few blocks from us – but the economic downturn seems to have slowed their plans. For more than a year, they have neglected the landscaping: no grading or grass or plants. So, when it rains – as it did earlier this week, the runoff from their unseeded front and side yard creates quite an impediment for walkers: a long stretch of  squishy mud on their sidewalk.

The other morning I had hit a good pace and I didn’t want to break stride and  hop into the street; I estimate a few wide steps and I’d be through it. Not only was I wrong on how big the hurdle was, I misjudged its depth. I didn’t fall, but I could have skidded into a knee-wrecking tumble. Many thoughts hurdled through my mind as I felt my new walking shoes sink and slide, coalescing around the conviction that it was their fault I made a bad choice.

Two days it took for the shoes to dry enough so I could chip off the mud soaked leaves; it took another day for the shoes to dry again from the hosing that forced the mud from the shoes soles. Three days is time enough to admit taking a short cut through another person’s negligence isn’t worth it. Taking the time to steer clear would have been a much better plan – but I was so sure I could navigate the mess.

So I am madder at myself: one, for making an unnecessary mess. But two, for forgetting to pray until just now for the people whose problems might be a wee  more pressing than mine.

Image Source

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nightmares as Answered Prayer?

The dream has different scenarios, but the same theme – final exams loom; I am unprepared. and unable to find the room where the tests are administered;. I see my future flash in front of me – doomed. Though I have good grades in some classes, in at least two, I have cut these other so often, and done no homework,  I can’t even fake a performance – and the classroom is not where I thought it would be.

The panic that I feel as the dream unfolds  wakes me up, calling to mind how poorly prepared I am in many areas of my life – I cut one too many of life’s classes, maybe?

When I cut classes in high school – or I skipped lectures in college, I had fun stuff to do; when I skipped out on life’s lessons, I just thought I knew better. When I was young – ignorant of what made my little world so secure – my dreams and answers made sense; I quickly detected others’ foibles and failures, and knowing I would not make those mistakes, I skipped their lessons.  I quit listening to my parents, whose struggles were choking off any conversations worth having; I stopped going to church, shortly after my parents stopped going, and life seemed more real outside the stained glass. I pulled away even from friends when their choices looked too confining for my ambitions – me, the ruler of all I survey. And of course as a benevolent, wise  ruler, I would right all social wrongs I discovered. 

So, I wanted out of my life as I knew it – I remember the slant of the late afternoon sun on the lawn the day I decided to go as far in the opposite direction as all my friends went, and my parents seemed to value. And no one objected – or argued – or tried to dissuade me when I walked out. Only one person, my aunt,  offered a parting shoot: “If this doesn’t work out, don’t be embarrassed to come home.” When I reached the end of my search for the personal peace and affluence I craved, her words were a dim light on the rocky return path, I ‘m still traveling. 

Some of the classes I cut had lessons that I am glad I am not learning. Mastering denial, which many of my family did  because of alcoholism, is not a worthwhile life skill.  Nor, is pigeonholing people a commendable accomplishment. And it’s also unproductive to study with people who know about God, but haven’t met Him yet.  I am grateful for the make-up classes that God, though. My attendance isn’t always perfect – nor is my mastery of subjects like humility, gratitude, perseverance and compassion complete.

When my recurring nightmare of being lost and unprepared for a major exam shakes me awake, some might say regret and guilt are knocking. God knows, I have enough of them! So, I wonder if my Teacher has more lessons; I wonder  if the nightmare  is an answer to a prayer I say I like to pray?  

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

People tell me, “Be careful what you pray for.” But I have an upcoming final – not sure when, and don’t know where; all that I think I know, all that I have ever done will be tested. (1 Corinthians 3: 10-15) Since the Teacher is up all night, maybe we can review some? (Psalm 121)


Image source

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Way to Pass the Time

Spending some time on a fall day watching the leaves turn color is time well spent. Like watching grass grow, or a snowflake fall, though, we can’t see the process, so much as we can see the result. One day the leaves are lush and shady – the next brilliant red-orange; then,  whoosh – they are gone.

Emily Dickinson mused –

 Besides the autumn poets sing,
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the haze.

If slowing down long enough to regard imperceptible autumnal change for its delight is a good use of time, then how much more delightful is taking time to see how people I love change? When I take the time to look, maybe I will then see – perhaps,  just a few moments of my full attention will refresh and comfort them and as well as  me?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Word About My Newly Organized Cabinets

First, we are no longer annoying each other in our efforts to get dinner on the table. So, I correctly imagined a functional arrangement. However, I can’t always remember where I relocated every thing. So, I have spent the past few days searching for glasses and silverware in the wrong places.

 Morever, I can’t remember where I put the meat platters to conserve storage. Maybe that’s why I still leave my kitchen cupboard doors open rather than shutting them?

Oh wait – I put all the serving pieces in the dining room side board.

Well, leaving doors and drawers open is a habit that’s starting to drive me nuts – it’s driven my family nuts for years.

Why do I do this? I hope I discover it’s a more compelling reason than laziness.

I like the word "indolence." It makes my laziness seem classy.  ~Bern Williams

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hanging with the Hurting . . . Feeling the Burn

Ok – the Rangers are not having a good second World Series night – the pitchers are walking in runs! It looks bad . . . 9-0 Giants in the eighth inning. And the Rangers went down in the ninth – game over.

Wow . . . A second big loss!

Our baseball team is struggling to perform - to be as good as they have been and we know they can be – a snapshot of life.

Ball games, like baseball or softball, show how groups of talented people work together to reach goals. They are put together by other people who can spot talent, develop it and use it to great advantage and  entertainment.

Technology has changed how we watch a baseball game. Years ago, the only way I knew what players looked like was by checking their  baseball cards. Now I see them close up on TV and know who shaved and who didn’t. Sometimes what I see is too much information! Close-up shots show the emotions the players experience as they play. I see faces of players in the dugouts – and the litter underneath their feet as they await their turn at bat. I  see how pitchers respond to the catchers’ signals; instant replays from many different angles; freeze frames capture the sheer force of a strike-out as the bat is nowhere near the pitch.

Our recent return to being baseball fans reconnected me to a paralyzing childhood fear. The words, “It’s your turn up at bat,” or “Batter up!” panicked me when I was in school. Facing any kind of pitcher, quickly showed my athletic limitations; a strike-out, or a foul-out substantiated them. If I connected with the ball, alas, I was an easy out at first. The shame and fear of striking out, fouling out, or being tagged out was real – so was failing the team.

So our return to baseball – albeit on a couch –  has been an unexpected  goad, reminding me that I don’t go through life alone – I am on several teams: my family;  our business; my community – state and nation, and the church. In each of these arenas, it isn’t just about my individual game – which always needs improvement, no matter the venue.  It’s about how I am helping my team, even from a position of limitations.

 I see people I love who are struggling; they are up at plate, or playing a base or outfield in the games of their lives, and for all the times they are stellar players, other time they fail. What am I doing? Am I so hung up on myself – my very real failures and selfish ambitions  – that I can’t see fellow teammates are struggling too?

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth – a bustling city which had many of the same sins that stumble  21st century Christians –  and said he ran his race to win – and he urged the church to do likewise. (1 Cor. 9:24-25) He was quite a competitor (Philippians 3:4-6) He had his eyes on the prize – and yet he saw those who stumbled – felt a deep compassion. “Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Cor. 11:28-29)

I want the Rangers to win – but I can’t help them.

I want my family to win. Not just success in the world’s eyes – but success in God’s eyes. I can help them. I want all of them to wear a victor’s wreathe – my husband and children, and their children; for my brother and his family; for aunts and uncles, in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews – everyone I know! For my church – for the pastors and teachers, choir and servants, I want them to be lights that can’t be extinguished or hidden.  And if I and those closest to me  “win” the races set before us, perhaps my nation will one day love the Lord.

The starting point is  knowing and caring how other people are doing – and considering their welfare as important as mine. 

Impossible? Well,  look how the Rangers have come together, and how far they have come. Despite reversals, uncertainties and failures, they kept showing up, they kept playing ball and they got beyond their past! It’s an example I can practice; it’s an example I recommend – whether or not they win the World Series.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Kitchen Reorganization – One Year Late

The kitchen in our “new” home is rectangular, with an L-shaped workspace. The sink sits below a cheery window; a small set of drawers is on the left, and a larger drawer is to the right of the sink. Similarly sized upper cabinets flank the window. The stove and fridge are to the right of the sink. Across from the fridge, a window overlooks a small table and chairs. To the left of the window, a modest bank of upper and lower cabinets houses canned good, extra dishes, and some small appliances – the whole space is adequate for two or three folks moving about.  

When we moved in, I tried to organize the kitchen to reflect how I prepared and served food; the larger drawer seemed perfect for flatware, the upper right cabinets held all our cups and glasses; dishes went on the left sided cabinets. I did not, however, factor in what Doug would be doing while I served dinner. He graciously helps set the table:  while I am ladling out the chow, he was close by, trying to get the silverware and glasses. We were constantly in each others' way. I occasionally lost my charm.

Now, good help is hard to find; so an “aha” moment dawned finally. After enduring this congestion for almost a year, I rethought the layout, and switched the knives and forks, freed up the big drawer for cooking utensils – heretofore jammed into the small lower left  bank of drawers. I kept the plates on the left, out of range of the stove, but  moved the glasses from the right to the left. Doug had space to do his thing, and I no longer have to stand aside while he rummages for forks or glasses. The switch took maybe 30 minutes after making a run to get some small cutlery trays, and a few drawer organizers.

It took hundreds of collisions before I thought through how to make it easier for Doug to keep helping me. Preparing dinner is important – but so is serving it with a minimal fuss.  My first layout made sense for me, but not for anyone trying to help me.

Next I thought I’d cull the canned goods for anything expired: I found a dozen plus dead canned goods – and some spices that were fours years past their prime. No, I didn’t check the dates when I unpacked from the recent move.  Everything still seemed fine.

Didn’t we  just get here, anyway?

Actually, it will it was five years this AUGUST that we have been in Texas, four, since we set up housekeeping in a garage apartment. Then I recycled kitchen stuff I haven’t used, sometimes in three years.

Is there a wider application here?

  • If I want help, make it easy for others to help by thinking through what might work better for them.
  • If I don’t want to get sick, or make Doug sick, get rid of stale food. And inventory those habits, hurts and hang-ups more conscientiously  than I did the canned stuff. Keep what is good. Get rid of what is not working for me!  

When you blame others, you give up your power to change.  ~Author Unknown http://www.quotegarden.com/responsibility.html

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Checking my Pulse:

Reflections Upon John Chapter 2

Autumnal vision can be skewed by memories and emotions. And I am worried and discouraged about many things – my own failures and limitations,  those of the church, and enemies who want to destroy America, and the church, literally. Reading through John’s account of the wedding and the Temple purging, I gleaned comfort when I saw an application for my changing age and stage. In this account, I see God in Christ drawing very close to His people privately to meet a highly personal need, and publicly to restore right worship.

Circumstances can rob me of joy. John endured many worrisome and discouraging circumstances. However, John believed God was faithful, and since he had a pulse, he had a purpose in a situation that the world might judge as a supreme failure.

  • The Romans still controlled Jerusalem.
  • He had been exiled, cut off from the churches he shepherded.
  • Tradition says his face was plunged in hot oil.
  • He had seen the Temple torn down, and the Jews dispersed.
  • He knew many were persecuted for the Lord’s sake.

So,  John stayed focused on his mission – making Christ known so others might believe and have life in His name.  John wanted others to know that happened when Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, lived with His people as His hour came. John described when and why he and the others put their faith in Jesus of Nazareth, and why many did not.

Christ’s first miracle connected an Old Testament promise of fine wine, restoration and revival to a literal occurrence. “The beginning points to the end.” (Pastor Skip Ryan) Next, the Lord did something that took John and the disciples many years to understand. It was not a miracle; it was Christ’s  job. (Malachi  3:2-4) Nothing escaped His notice – including the heart of man. 

At my age, I can feel myself running out of many things I took for granted. At my age, I also know I can’t know all the sins that impede my prayers – and I can’t turn a blind eye to my failures and those of the church. (Psalm 130:3-6 )  How reassuring it is to read John’s account of the Lord doing what He came to do,  quietly, personally, and then publicly  – perfectly.

“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Evidence of Recovery

 When I get a cold, I know the morning that my black, steaming java tastes like warned sludge, the bug will not go quickly or quietly.  Coffee lost its charm for me about a week ago, just  five days into something I picked up somewhere. This cold so outwitted my home-remedies and over the counter meds, I went to the doctor Monday when my voice left me. No fever, no lung gunk meant we agreed this was just a nasty virus: stick with home remedies.

But I could not sleep for coughing. It didn’t help that Sunday I watched an engrossing mystery whose villains suffered from a rare genetic disease called fatal familial insomnia. Maybe this wasn’t just a cold? Ten nights, awaking every hour with  an eruptive coughing spasm made for  a fuzzier brain than usual.

So, I trundled back to doctor, who said, sympathetically, he was not happy to see me. He gave me drugs that seem to be working. I know I am coming out of the viral fog that has robbed me of so much charm, and too many days. Coffee again tastes like its good old self. 

Thank you, the much maligned pharmaceutical industry!  

As you helped me, may you quickly develop and produce the drugs for my loved ones whose battles are longer, fiercer and more painful than any I faced. I pray God restores to them health and joy in simple pleasures.

 Also praying that we see and enjoy, deeply enjoy the simple pleasures God has granted even as we are walking through dark, scary valleys.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Back in Texas

 Reason and faith are both banks of the same river.  ~Doménico Cieri Estrada
 (quotegarden.com)


One week ago today I was organizing myself to head to Maryland, and the week I spent there flashed by, even though the days were filled with several long hours of giggles and tears. This morning I am not organizing much except some pleasant memories. Yes, here I am — sipping coffee in absolute quiet — well except for the classical radio station’s soothing strains.  No ear-piercing shrieks, squeals, squalls or loud crashes. Even my phone is silent. The loudest noise is me sniffling because the baby shared her cold.

In thanking God for what He provided this week past, He showed me – at the airport – a concrete reason  we could enjoy our children and their children, a place to worship and hear the Gospel of Grace, and sleep in peace. The reason?  Soldiers.

They face head on what is always lurking around the corners of my life – death. Many young people – and not so young as well –  dressed in fatigues – coming from or going to battles I could never fight; battles that mean I can live in peace.

This peace that God has enabled is not only for my pleasure – it is an opportunity. How well will I use it, knowing its cost to my fellow citizens and the Lord Jesus Christ?

While I can, let me learn, live and love because You, Lord loved me first. And You have given me a hope and a future. 

Come and listen, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
 I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
  If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
 but God has surely listened
and heard my voice in prayer.
 Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!

(Psalm 66:16-20)

. . . My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
(Psalm 73:26-28)

. . .  I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
 The LORD has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.

(Psalm 118:17-18)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Seriously?

I write this to the traveler seated in the row ahead of me on my recent  flight. Do you ever think about the fellow passenger whose space you cramp when you shove your seat back, O noble air traveler?

Do you?

You snuggle into your seat; I feel that as my tray table lurches forward, checking my crossword puzzling.

Are you comfy, yet?

Do you stop for even a second and wonder how or if the person in back of you is coping with a diminishment of their traveling space that your comfort required of them?  

Seriously!

Then, I can’t help but wonder: whose “space” has been diminished because I needed my comfort now? I don’t like this thought – but it keeps me from jamming my tray table back up with my knees.
But I remember other flights -- and other issues . . . commercial air travel remains a sound and personal tutor. As does this little proverb from quotegarden.com:
Whenever we safely land in a plane, we promise God a little something.  ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

Monday, September 13, 2010

Serendipity

Ten years ago today we visited a church in Dallas, and heard a sermon on the very passage that was  this morning’s Bible study: John 2:1-11. In my Bible I saw I had noted the date and sermon topic and preacher: September 12, 1999, “The End Points to the Beginning,” Skip Ryan.  What are the odds, I would open my Bible to study a passage which was the text for a sermon in a church of which I never expected to be a regular worshiper?

Ten years brought surprising changes for the pastor and for us. The most surprising: our nation was attacked almost two years to the day, September 11, 2001, changing us forever, whether we lived in Maryland or Dallas. In this decade, Dr. Ryan stepped down from the pastorate and we moved from Maryland to Dallas and are now fellow worshipers of a church we never imagined joining that morning. Both our children married; we enjoy grandchildren and renewed relationships with family and new friends.  And I am very aware that I am 3650 days closer to the Beginning than I was ten years ago,  listening as Dr. Ryan  urged us not to be “closet drinkers” – we must not be dainty with the wine of the new covenant. (George Herbert)

That “Beginning” is the feast that the wedding at Cana foreshadowed – and one whose prospect thrills and scares me. Wars, rumors of war, earthquakes – tsunamis – Christians stumbling, friends battling cancers, people dying  young, financial setbacks, news of addicts relapsing: ten years of pain and problems, and that feast sure looks good. I hope we see each other there! God bless you dear reader until we do.
On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine--the best of meats and the finest of wines. 
On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, 

the sheet that covers all nations;            
 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; 

 he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. 
The LORD has spoken. In that day they will say,
"Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation." (Isaiah 25:6-9)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Tropical Storm, Hermine

A Tropical Storm, Hermine.


“Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” Oscar Wilde

Hearing the sirens, and then sound blasts from the TV is unnerving; hearing a weatherman plot the course of an unseen tornado, and recognizing the cross streets, because they are within blocks of our house creates a dry mouth, quickly. Faster actually then I could have imagined.

Then while huddled in  a bathroom . . . the only interior space, I remembered:  I have no shoes on, and if the house does collapse, it might be tricky picking my way through the debris. This is not good. Then I imagined what the bathroom would look like if the house in fact collapsed. Being barefoot would not be my biggest problem.  

But, we had our cell phones and computer; so. we could chat about our predicament to other family, across town, huddled in their interior walled closet. What’s more, I remembered to bring in bottled water – no shoes, but I have water. And we can watch  the storm pass by, electronically, as the computer shows colored cells moving away.

The watch is not yet over – but I am hopeful the deluge will not turn back.

Last week, a category 4 hurricane blew itself out over the eastern seaboard – and a tropical storm dumped so much rain in Texas, we had deadly floods, and tornadoes. Two people lost their lives, and others lost their property. And Friday marks the peak of the hurricane season.

Tonight’s conversation may be unimaginative, how-some-ever,  I am much relieved to be having a  tiresome chat about the weather now, considering what I was imagining when the sirens went off, and Doug and I were huddled in the guest bath.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hurricane Season

Hurricane season usually runs from June through October. and the picture of  monster storms, one after another, churning and destroying is a picture that describes what is going on in the lives of folks I know.  Cancer is wreaking its havoc. In each case the disease blew up forcefully – unexpectedly – and is flooding people’s lives with cures that seem as deadly as the disease. Like a real hurricane that spawns other deadly events like tornadoes and flooding, cancer is not the only catastrophe these dear souls face. In the midst of one friend’s fight, the marriage of his adult child collapsed, and so did the ceiling in his home when their water heater malfunctioned. Another friend’s cancer battle erupted abruptly during a move and renovation of their new home – major surgery, major chemo and radiation all during the stress of remodeling. And I have several other friends with stormy cancer tales that blew up this summer! 

When bad times hit, and are compounded by the collateral damage of “cures,” or other disasters,   I can see why Job’s friends shut their mouths in the face of their friend’s anguish! (Job 2:13)  Even saying, “I am praying for you” sounds both feeble and presumptuous.

Many years ago, I prayed that God, who was not then my personal Friend,  would totally heal a friend from lung cancer, in part to show me that He was real and worth knowing. She was the same age I am now: 64. For  nine months she fought – and spoke very little of God. Her sister came and tended her. I think she was a Christian, remembering some things she said to me – she would be close to 100 if she still lived. But my friend died, and I got the idea  prayers  – my prayers – were pointless and powerless. For many years following I felt  unqualified to talk to God, other than sending “arrow prayers.”
 
In the face of so much suffering, I still feel “unqualified” to pray – and my prayers still sound both feeble and presumptuous. What has changed is that now I believe God is real and have faith, (though small as a mustard seed), that He in Christ is worth knowing – and moreover He receives all my prayers, and answers each one. (Isaiah 53:12) Moreover He Himself prays (Hebrews 7:24-25), asking  for things I have phrased poorly, or even forgotten to ask. As a father overlooks silly and ignorant requests from his child, God  sifts through my words, and gives appropriate answers.

Unlike Job’s friends, I have no idea why some of my friends’ storms are so severe. But, I will keep  watch with you friends, as we wait together for these storms to blow out to sea.  And I will enjoy God’s loving and purposeful rescue for you.   I am praying for you and yours   during these “hurricanes” that are bearing down on you, dear friends. But way more powerful is the truth  that  Christ the Lord intercedes , and His words are powerful, and purposeful.(Romans 8:26)

“Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” 
(Isaiah 46:4)

Art work:  Hurricane Season - Gavin Mayhew

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Stuff!

Who is rich?  He who rejoices in his portion.  ~The Talmud

As this August ended, I looked back in my notes about this time last year. We had concluded a huge yard sale – a sale so complicated that the experience disabused me of ever wanting to do one again. Yet, I still like bargain shopping.  It stirs a bit of self-validation, and an impression of control over my circumstances.  Maybe an echo of a thrill my predecessors had hunting dinner?

Who knows?

 But even the best deals come with unforeseen costs.  The Learning Channel has a series on hoarding that vividly show what  George Santayana – philosopher and writer in the last century –  meant when he said of  personal possessions, “. . .  they would take away my liberty." Liberty isn’t the only loss.  Possessions take money, energy and time – and they can overtake life itself. The wealthiest man in the ancient world reported, “I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, . . .” ( Ecclesiastes 5:13) Recently in Las Vegas a woman, whose pursuit of finds knew few limits,  was finally discovered, buried underneath her “treasures.”

Her stuff, all inanimate objects, engulfed her. Makes me wonder if William Blake had a point:   
    Since all the riches of this world
    May be gifts from the Devil and earthly kings,
    I should suspect that I worshipp'd the Devil
    If I thank'd my God for worldly things
. ~ Gnomic Verses
  
"Stuff,"  inanimate objects whose proliferation,  has spawned careers for home organizational experts, social workers and television producers may be the 21st century equivalent of Biblical plagues. God used plagues to get His people’s attention (Exodus 32:35; Numbers 11:33-34), and as a sign of His power to Pharaoh. Today God lets us see how unsatisfying and annoying “stuff” can become.

 We say we can’t live with too much of it, and we panic if we don’t have enough of it. Accumulating “stuff” doesn’t replace God, and can’t  put off my appointment with death. (Isaiah 44; Luke 12:16-21) And more "stuff"  is never enough. (Eccl. 5:10)

Oh God! : Don’t let me buy the lie I need more, or do not have enough! Don’t let me die, unnoticed and buried in stuff! I so understand Agur’s plea:
    Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
    Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, 'Who is the LORD?'
    Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:8-9)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Context

“When you give a lesson in meanness to a critter or a person, don't be surprised if they learn their lesson” Will Rogers

Context is a powerful interpreter of facts. Understanding the entirety of what a person said, when and where they said it and why  are crucial components of getting the facts straight – we need to listen and read as carefully as a good commentator  would speak and write. This week many reporters, politicians and other pundits blew it, and we saw a new low in journalism, politics and social commentary.

It started sinking with a charge and then a counter charge of  racism. For a brief moment, a news blogger, Andrew Breitbart, tried to show that the NAACP, which had charged others of racism, approved a black woman’s decision to withhold help from a white man. But the context of her admission showed something quite different. However, few people took the trouble to look behind the sound bite  Then, those who jumped in to condemn her were later embarrassed to discover that the out-of-context quote disregarded that she had given a powerful testimony of  racial reconciliation.

Shirley Sherrod, the U.S. Agriculture departments’ Director of Rural Development for Georgia, speaking before members of the NAACP, several months back, was urging its members in March of 2010 to consider advantages of job opportunities USDA programs for  rural development.

But first she gave her audience some background. She grew up in south Georgia, and saw a lynching and the perpetrators released on a technicality; she wanted out of the south! Then,  her father was murdered but his assailants were never charged; her family next lived through a cross-burning. But,  she vowed to stay in the south and work for change through the tumultuous decades of ending racial segregation. Had any of her accusers or repudiators  listened to just one minute on either end of “gotcha” words, they would have heard a story much different and more convicting than the  sound bite.   Listen for yourself!

Ms Sherrod  ended her speech by paraphrasing a proverb: Life is a grindstone, but whether it grinds us down or polishes us up is up to us.

Words are also like a grindstone – tearing down or building up. Words have meanings, expressing ideas that have consequences. In many of the reports of Ms. Sherrod’s speech, we saw consequences of words, taken out of context and used as weapons - offensively and defensively. And it was the context, the full story, of why Ms Sherrod  withheld her full help that should have engaged our full attention!

I hope Ms. Sherrod’s grinding experience will polish her, even as she has been bruised by other people’s rush to judge her.  More than that I hope we remember the power of words – especially when we decide to use them as millstones to grind  down those with whom we disagree. Words have power to build up or tear down, to curse or to bless.

At one time, flaming arrows were terror weapons, shot by enemies invading a fortress to kill wound and demoralize its defenders. Now we shoot sound bites. We who live with sound bites  should  pause instead of  speeding down information highways; we should  ask a few questions that many journalists, politicians and other pundits neglect or decline to ask. Until we develop this habit, we will never rightly understand each other or the world in which we live. We will remain more interested in fighting with each other than learning what is true

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Unexpected Kindnesses

I thought I was getting the oil changed and the AC rejuvenated in our old Volvo. We had no idea how thorough the auto service company would be – and what a blessing it was to have repairmen go over our beloved buggy as carefully as they did. Apparently I was driving on a bit of borrowed time, so to speak: a decrepit battery, leaky oil gasket, improperly fitted replacement muffler, a dirty filter, worn rear brake pad, and trim work, among a long list, and this in addition to cruddy oil, and a wheezing AC. 

Can we say major maintenance issues? But the bill was oh so reasonable for all the work they did, going above and beyond what we had thought we had needed.

I had no idea I had been driving with so many problems – any one of which might have been a bummer to contend with on a summer day in Dallas. But when I drove home, I felt the difference! I had been accustoming myself to the problems I thought it just came with the territory of driving a 1993 “Classic.” The glitches and maintenance problems had become the new normal for me.

All those parts that needed cleaning, tightening, fine tuning and  replacing had to be serviced if we want to avoid the expense of replacing a car.   Considering the possible scenarios, God’s finger prints were all over this one.  I totally underestimated what was required to keep an old car properly  serviced.

And I see a connection to keeping me running too. I need the Lord tinkering in my heart and mind – road-testing my performances as much as I ever needed a good mechanic to go over our car. I get way too accustomed to living with – rationalizing – bad attitudes, less than stellar speech, and weak performances.  God’s kindness to me is even more persistent than the kind mechanics’, and more skillful. 

What a blessing to still be on the road, because of unexpected care!
Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
. . .
 Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your might to all who are to come.  ( Ps 51:2,  7-11; 71:9, 18)

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Coffee Mugs

None but two of my coffee mugs match.  I brought these two back from our most recent trip to Maryland. They were twenty-nine years old early  this May. Made in Japan, their shape is unusual and their pattern is  cheery but restrained, and singular;  I’ve never seen them anywhere, ever again.  Their  plump shape and  whimsical dollops of color  have impressed almost everyone who used them, too:  their weight, shape, and colors – they even hold the right amount of coffee.

So, now they are in Texas, matching mugs that match  none of our other ones. Could the potter who threw them, the painter who embellished them, ever have imagined how priceless their little creations would become? For, when I open my kitchen cabinet and see them, they match so many memories – priceless memories. They  remind me of so many treasures – and just how far God has led me. ( 2 Samuel 7:12)

When I experience the unique “joys” age brings or,  when I wrestle with what faith in Christ means, Dallas doesn’t have many hills that challenge me to consider the source of my help. Amidst so many clamoring voices that bring me the news of local, national and international disaster – not to mention church failures –  my funny little mugs remind me of the wide places into which God has led me; they recall the loving kindness of so many people, and His unfailing help, as the memories they evoke awaken. (Psalm 16:5, 113:9)
I lift up my eyes to the hills--
      where does my help come from?
  My help comes from the LORD,
      the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip--
   he who watches over you will not slumber;
       indeed, he who watches over Israel
          will neither slumber nor sleep.

 The LORD watches over you--
      the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
         the sun will not harm you by day,
              nor the moon by night.

  The LORD will keep you from all harm--
          he will watch over your life;
             the LORD will watch over your coming and going
               both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Does knowing facts matter?

I watched “1776" today -- and saw the birth-pangs of the USA splendidly presented in music, dance, and clever dialogue. I never tire of the romance, the politics and passion that attended our nation’s start. Even as the musical celebrated what is best in our creation, it underscored the costly compromise slavery and high cost that many paid:  "Molasses to Rum" to slaves, and  "Momma, Look Sharp."

Two hundred thirty four years ago, in Philadelphia fifty-six men risked their lives and fortunes to sign a document that outlines a complaint against arrogant and willful governance , even as soldiers under the command of General George Washington had engaged the Redcoats in fierce battles.

What did that document spell out? It spelled out the rights of the people, those governed, to change a government that oppresses them. “. . . We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . .” It has been described as a statement of principles through which the US Constitution should be interpreted.

The men who signed the declaration, drafted by Thomas Jefferson and amended, believed independence from tyrannical power was worth the cost. What do we believe today?

The newest nominee for the United Supreme Court, Ms. Kagan , is not persuaded of the force of the rights spelled out so carefully in the Declaration of Independence. And now we learn that  one in four Americans doesn’t know from whom the United States declared its independence.  (Marist Poll July 02, 2010)

Why should that matter, hmmmm?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Romans 8:26




You kneel one night and say your prayers, and you think you know what trouble is; the next night, you realize you had no idea what trouble is. What a difference twenty-four hours makes – leaving aside the inundation of local and world news. Suddenly, family and friends, for whom I bless God, need suits of armor I don’t know how to forge.  And just as fast, I, who thought I was growing up a bit in the Christian life, see how immature I am, stunned that:
  • An unexpected summer storm destroys weeks of work to build an outdoor pavilion so that a church can be more hospitable in the community.
  • A routine medical checkup leads to  unexpected tests – tests, that may reveal a serious underlying health issue.
  • A child takes another step away from the Christian faith.
  • A Christian sues another Christian.

Then there is the usual daily dose of the larger world:
    “. . .  wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.” (Matthew 24:6-7)
And this is just the beginning.

 Who are you God, the one to Whom I pray at night – the one to Whom I should entrust everything, and not just what I can’t cope with?

Gentle Shepherd – Mighty God,  my fellow sheep and I are wandering, and there is a storm coming – a storm from which we have no shelter save You. We thought we knew the way, but we are wrong – and we are lost. The shadows are overtaking us, and I am afraid.

I am afraid because I know I often have done wrong and I have not chosen the right I could have chosen. For all the progress I think I am making, I wonder if I am not going backwards?

I am afraid because when I look at my fellow sheep I often see the same fears and failures. When I look at those who shepherd, I see some have stumbled, others are flat-out tired from herding us, and a few are hurting us.

Help us God. Help all the leaders of this world cope rightly with the facts of life and death.   Help those who got a heavy helping of life that seems to overflow their plates. Help me pray for them, and serve them – because I do not know what to do.

Maybe that’s where I should be? (Psalm 46:10; Romans 8:26)

Monday, June 28, 2010

They Sprouted!

The tiny than tinier seed whose name is a mouthful, Rudbeckia hirta, sprouted. Well, some of them did. I planted thirty-six starter plants, and at least six of them waved at me this morning when I went to water them. Well, they didn’t really wave.  They are still too minuscule to have much personality.  But the dots of fresh green amongst dark brown is as pleasing as a wave, and a testimony I did not drown them.

Watering teeny, tiny seeds in those diminutive composition flats is tricky. A spray bottle’s application is safer but slower; the watering can is faster – but if I don’t water carefully, I can flood the flats. I flooded a few compartments this past week. The spray bottle was empty, and the watering can was full; so, I used what was easiest on a hot evening – a recently filled watering can. 

Sometimes – too often – that’s how I talk to people. Emotion or fatigue or something wells up in me, and I flood an unsuspecting soul with my words, because it is easier. Full of myself, I will answer loudly, in exasperation; or, I will mutter a caustic remark.

And I am really bad with customer service operators. 

For someone who says she believes in the fruit of the spirit, when I am trying to settle a bill or other service problem an eavesdropper would be hard-pressed to hear kernels of kindness. Frustration can culminate  in disrespect  – and I speak as I would never wish to be addressed.

Harsh words to strangers (to anyone) can become stumbling blocks. Mahatma Gandhi once declared  he was impressed with Christ, but not with Christians:  “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”   Apparently,  a churchman in a South African church had barred Mr. Gandhi from entering the church, and used intemperate speech, and he remembered the insult.  Why do I “forget” that my words to an unseen person may inflict life-changing harm?

Speaking to someone thousands of miles from me is a feat of communication that Paul or John could not have envisioned. Instead being filled with  awe that God has provided me such a venue to be His ambassador, I have too often blown the occasion, flooding the flats of another person’s soul, when I could have taken the time, “refilled” with the Holy Spirit, and misted their hearts’ soil.

The comfort and blessing of God’s word are that my Advocate not only defends me before my accuser but He pleads my case, and paid my court costs before I understood their magnitude. (1 John 1:9-10) The mercy is He did not treat me as I deserved. (Psalm 103) And therefore, because of Him, I can treat others with forbearance, kindness and respect. So, making sure the spray bottle is filled, before I water those tender sprouts next time – I pray God reminds me the mission field may just be the next service call I must make!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reading My Garden

Sydney Eddison, gardener and author,  observed, “Gardens are a form of autobiography,” and I see a comparison between my gardening adventures and my life.  In Maryland I knew what I wanted to plant, but I didn’t always bother with a few important details of how to make the plants flourish. Sometimes, I put the flowers in an inhospitable location – like the year I planted Black-eyed Susans.  I didn’t have so much luck growing them in Maryland. I made some basic gardening mistakes the time I tried. I  didn’t transplant the containers of flowers deep enough into prepared soil. I chose a part of the garden that didn’t get as much sustained sunlight, and the soil was too sandy to retain water, and I did not divide them at the end of the season or deadhead expired blooms.

So, they did not flourish or bloom again.

Doing the right things in the wrong way – or with the wrong attitude – often ends badly, no matter how hard I worked. Just because I wanted to plant something, didn’t mean I knew how; just because I wanted it to grow in a particular spot, didn’t mean it could or would. Soil preparation, proper plant tending, light and water matter – so does knowledge.

But,  as grim a reflection of my gardening skills (and character defects) that  my gardens sometimes show, they are happy reminders that God redeems what I count as losses.  He shows me that ignorant enthusiasm can be harnessed, and redirected. And the mystery of life is grander than my blunders. However, as I now read more carefully the directions jammed in the plant pots, I make sure where I plant plants corresponds with what is labeled with bright yellow or purple suns.  By building on what I am learning, I am not killing so many plants. Except for the pineapple sage I just planted in the wrong place.

Now, I am hoping I had time to add some Maryland color in our Texas garden.  Starting some Black-eyed Susans from seeds, yesterday, I knew I was late . . . two months late. They’re  wild flowers, one of the most common, so I am hoping the seeds I just committed to starter containers will not be temperamental.

Reading the directions on the packet, I learned the seeds, smaller than poppy seeds, need sun to germinate. And I needed to press them ever so slightly into the soil without covering them up. Teeny-tiny black seeds are hard to see against dark brown potting soil, and figuring out how much pressure presses a minuscule seed no deeper than one-eighth of an inch were challenges,  so late in yesterday’s 100+ degree heat.

Now, I am nervous, wondering how hard I pushed those seeds down – if the spot is too sunny, too hot, or too dry – or if I started too late? I really would like to see them sprout. If they emerge, I will have a perennial reminder of Maryland for they are the state flower of Maryland – and another page in my autobiography.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

WORMS

Worms are many and varied; some are helpful – the slimy, slinky ones, that is. Others are not – like the one that invaded my computer. Suddenly I found my browser going to strange internet sites. Doug spent two days and nights trying to root the “critter” out. This meant I was unable to complete my preparation for guiding a discussion group, “Having Difficult Conversations: Living out your calling as a peacemaker.” (Matthew 5:9) 

This little class is a passion on mine – helping Christians rein in the power of conflict in their relationships.  Conflict is a difference of opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires. (_The Peacemaker_ , Ken Sande, p. 29) And I was in conflict with my computer! When I calmed down, and realized the reality that no computer was what it was – and nothing but patience and perseverance would root out the invader,  I thought about the great metaphor this setback was for the trouble conflict often creates.

Conflict, like stress, is not always bad; it can motivate creative thinking; it can be a great teacher – showing us things we would never learn otherwise. Yet unresolved conflict splits apart people – wrecking relationships and churches.  I believe we can do better, but we often do not – because what we want gets in the way of resolving and reconciling conflicts.

Conflict erupts, and we often cannot see why or how we clash with another; another person and I differ, and this is frustrating an idea, emotion or need I feel deeply. And like that computer worm took me places on the internet I didn’t want to go, conflict also takes me where I don’t want to go. James did a great job describing the wormy places that unreconciled conflict can lead me – and why:
“Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they         just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don't have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn't yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. You wouldn't think of just asking God for it, would you?  And why not? Because you know you'd be asking for what you have no right to. You're spoiled children, each wanting your own way.” (James 4:1-3, The Message, emphasis added)

I needed outside help conquering the computer worm; it took time and skill. How much more do I need help in rooting out the causes of conflict in my heart and in the relationships God established! God is great “tech support” in unresolved conflict – He is the only one who knows the depth and breath of the infection. (Jeremiah 17:9-10) And He is the only help who can diagnose and heal all the worm holes my pride and self-centeredness dug. (Psalm 107:20-21; Isaiah 53:5; Jeremiah 17:14) He is the only reliable shield against the viruses infecting our hearts. (Psalm 18:30) 

And for what it is worth, He answered my prayers, helping Doug; the computer works for now – though that worm may still wreak havoc – again a picture of the dangers unresolved conflict creates! (Hebrews 12:15-16)


Image Source

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Don’t Wait to Remember

Walking past a large room in an assisted living facility, I saw an old woman yelling at the nursing aid to give her back her empty food cup; the yelling escalated into reaching and grabbing – and became an anguished tantrum. As I walked along a corridor and saw women and a few men, seated in wheel chairs, lining the nurses’ station – waiting – dread nagged at my mind. 

If God grants me life, how could I live if this is the path He designs?

Christ said we would have tribulation in this world; growing older and watching others age, and others approaching the end of their days I see trouble comes in many more costumes then I imagined.  (John 16:33)

Visiting with an uncle and aunt this weekend reconfirmed that brass in the golden years is the major problem my mother attested that it was. They both live in assisted living communities;  though separated by 80 miles, their experiences have many similarities.  Loneliness, decrepitness, and dependence punctuate the challenges of growing old, making old age no place for sissies. Old age demands humor, courage and  grace; it needs others’ forbearance,  even the kindnesses of strangers.

The Lord told Peter as much:
“‘I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” (John 21:18-19)

We think Peter was crucified, upside down, perhaps during Nero’s brutal persecution of Christians in 67 A.D. But, the Lord’s prophecy resonates when we see how age and infirmity can rob us of strength and ability.  Maybe I will need help in ways for which I can’t imagine asking; maybe I won’t even be able to ask! 

How can I uncoil fear’s icy fingers from my heart?  By doing today, what I might not be able to do tomorrow – Remember God now – “. . . before the years take their toll and . . . the winter years keep you close to the fire.” ( Ecclesiastes 12:1-7)

Remember God and walk – by faith that:    
    He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts.
    For even young people tire and drop out,
        young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
    But those who wait upon GOD get fresh strength.
    They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
    They run and don't get tired, they walk and don't lag behind. (Isaiah  40:29-31)

This morning I sang with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir – maybe you will join in?

     Through Every Pain Every Tear
    There's A God Who's Been Faithful To Me

    When My Strength Was All Gone
    When My Heart Had No Song
    Still In Love He's Proved Faithful To Me . . .
   
    He's Been Faithful
    Faithful To Me
    Looking Back His Love
    And Mercy I See
    Though In My Heart I Have Questioned
    Even Failed To Believe
    Yet He's Been Faithful, Faithful To Me . . . 


Sing along, too!

Friday, May 21, 2010

I Looked in a Mirror

While I said I would avoid mirrors, I needed to see how my little dermatological problem was responding to treatment.   The telltale signs indicated the infection was not going anywhere. But I did not look at my face.  Panic is not a pretty picture.

All plans for the morning changed as we went back to the ER for the third time. I entered the ER as if on a crest of a wave – shortly after,  a dozen or so folks swept in behind me, each looking for help – for health – for that sensation of well-being, strength, calm, and vigor. At least this is what I was looking for. All I could “see” was an abdominal inflammation and discoloration – my imagination ruled.

Mercifully, a triage doctor saw me, and pulled up the lab report, quickly learning I did not have MRSA, which the previous ER doctors assumed. (My lab work had not been finished at the time.) I learned that without lab reports, doctors treat what they suspect, while, if they have a conclusive lab report, doctors can treat based on what they see and objectively know. This doctor saw the remains of a sebaceous cyst that somehow had become infected.  The cyst may have  formed around an insect bite in I received in 2005. He proceeded to remove the offending substances, and remind me to follow up in a few days.

So,  five years ago, an insect bit or stung me on my abdomen; I don’t know what. But I developed a tiny bump on which I could see what looked like bite marks. I showed it to a few doctors during routine physicals – and they were not concerned. No other signs of trouble until last week when the first symptoms presented and I took myself to a walk-in clinic. Was there really a connection?  I don’t know – but I see in this experience a lesson.

Small problems, left unattended for whatever reason, may generate  unanticipated or unintended consequences. Small duties, ignored for whatever reason, may also generate  unanticipated or unintended consequences. And bypassing even the smallest opportunity to show kindness may generate unforeseen or unintended sorrow. Often overwhelmed – paralyzed – by news of world events, I need to remember that attending to the small stuff is where I can make the biggest difference.

God willing, an ER doctor was able to help me by excising the scars of an old wound. God willing, tomorrow, I’ll be able to do the next thing to hold my place in the human race. And God willing I’ll return a portion of the kindness, compassion and help shown me these past few days.

“Do not despise this small beginning, for the eyes of the Lord rejoice to see the work begin, . . . "
    (Zechariah  4:10 TLB)