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If you’re going through a challenge, this post is for you. Maybe it’s a teen challenge, a fertility challenge, an over-the-edge exhaustion challenge, maybe it’s a health challenge – your own or one you love.

Maybe it’s a financial challenge, a dream challenge,  a broken-down car challenge, academic or behavior challenge, a heart-breaking challenge.

There’s only one rule for further reading: Do Not Qualify Your Challenge, don’t compare, quantify, or measure,  don’t shut off conversation because it’s not the exact challenge. Challenges are challenges – they stretch the heart, stretch faith and hope; they frustrate, hurt and, yes, grow us. In each challenge, God is the same.

As a child of God, though, the course of action is the same, regardless of the challenge: keeping our eyes on the one who can walk us through the challenge, protecting us, helping us, and, at times, carrying us. Whatever your challenge is, this story is for you, too.

In just a few days, we celebrate Easter, the resurrection of our Savior who died to save us – to save us from a life of separation from the Father. He became the forever sacrifice, his spilled blood covering our sin so that our creator, our Father, could look upon us, his children, pull us into his embrace, and walk with us homeward.

December 20th, my husband and I started a journey, where Christmas, Passover and Easter collided and burst alive, bringing into sharpened focus what it is to believe. it. all. And in the believing watch the writer of our story unveil a plot designed to shorten his life before my husband took his first breath.

December 20th, Christmas  time- a mistake just realized. . .

Noticing a discrepancy between his heart rate when kayaking and walking, when my husband went for his annual physical, he was referred to a cardiologist he’d seen the year before. When he returned from the heart visit, he told me there was a problem.

There’d been a mistake.

The tests from the year before hadn’t been forwarded to the primary care doctor – and no one had notified him. Last year’s test results showed severe aortic stenosis. He needed a heart valve replacement. He was only 59 years old.

He came home without a description of what a heart event would look like – or what we were supposed to do in a heart event. I wanted a manual with step-by-step directions. I wanted to be prepared. I felt like we’d been handed a time bomb that could go off at any minute.

I wasn’t willing to wait around. I’m pro-active.  He was in to his primary care doctor in 30 minutes. Surely there was a mistake, we thought. Wrong file? Wrong name? Wrong person? My friend’s 94 year old father’s aortic valve was replaced the year before – this is something that should have been 40 years down the road.

At 4:28 that afternoon, after not hearing anything further, I called to make an appointment with my friend’s father’s cardiologist at St. Thomas Heart in Nashville, two minutes to closing. The receptionist listened to the story – I hung up  with an appointment for two days later with the promise of a referral following.

We weren’t ready to tell our sons – not until further information was accurately gathered and a plan formulated. Besides, it was Christmas.

“Who’ve you told?” he asked, seeing my sheepish expression. Well, my friend who gave me the name of the new cardiologist.

Another friend drove over with a smaller Christmas Tree cookie cutter that evening. When I walked out to her car and she handed it to me, I burst into tears – so two people knew.

Two people God sent across my path who believed in the power of prayer, who believed that God still heals, still does miracles, still answers the prayers of his children.

God knew I would need to keep my hands and heart busy on the day  in-between.  We were surprised but He wasn’t. . . He was already steps ahead of what we knew. . . which is why weeks earlier he’d dropped this idea into my heart to build friendship, to fill my home and heart, to mix, bake and find space for laughter.

I baked a hundred cookies that night, with dough for 50 more. You see, I’d invited a family with as many kiddos as mine over to decorate cookies. . . the day before the cardiologist visit  – cookies to take to a local assisted living at lunch time to share and sing Christmas songs. We cut out more cookies, talked birth order personalities, baked some more, talked spiritual gifts, laughed, made icing, had fun with decorating points, made a huge mess, and delivered the results with Christmas songs and time spent with the residents.

christmascookiescThe new cardiologist diffused the time bomb and scheduled further testing January 2nd to solidify the plan for an aortic heart valve replacement.

Another in-between, another wait. He had complete peace; I baked: my grandmother’s coffee cakes, Christmas cake, majeskas and bourbon balls, Christmas casseroles, and hot chocolate. I measured, stirred, whipped, baked, washed the measuring spoons and cups, the mixer, the pans over and over. . . and kept my focus on the one leading us through this journey. . . . and thankfulness for the reason for Christmas steeped the in-between, the wait, thankfulness the son of the king agreed to come down from his throne, be born a baby in a manger. . .

Yet, just as quickly as I thanked God for the birth of his son, I was thanking Him for Easter, for the crucifixion and resurrection, for the sacrifice of the unblemished lamb whose shed blood would cover my sin so God would be able to look upon his children – to love, fight, protect, heal each of us, to hear our prayers, know our fears and abate them, save us from Satan’s attacks.

“The sun has finally come, heralding the hope of the Christmas Season! This seeming constant rain and darkness has been a reminder of life without the birth of our Savior – and this sunshine drives home the symbolism of the saving hope He brings and what this celebration is really about! Wishing you and all you walk among the saving hope born of Christmas!” ~ December 24th, Instagram

A couple of challenges ago, I learned not to hold my breath in the wait of a prayer sent out. Breath-holding until the challenge has passed isn’t trusting God. There’s no peace in it, no fully living with a breath-holding mentality. God leaves such precious blessing in the wait of a prayer sent out, but when we live holding our breath, pausing until the prayer  is answered, we miss the blessings. The most important part of living happens in the hard wait, so I breathed in, “Lord, Jesus Christ” and breathed out, “Have mercy on us.” Breathing Jesus in. Breathing mercy out.

Intentional living, intentional loving, intentional focusing on the one who had the map to this journey. . . The Christmas gifts we gave weren’t all spot on. The stockings looked like a slackard elf put them together. Everything seemed a step off except for when my focus  was on the one who held both of us by the hand and guided us.

It was an I Believe Christmas. . . 
run smack into an Easter resurrection. . .

Maybe that’s what everyday living should be – a collision of Christmas and Easter in a come alive way.

lakeleafcWe decided before Christmas to tell the boys on Bucher Family Hat Day, January 1. I think it took a while to process this significant health challenge, to solidify how we were going to walk this forward, and finding the words to use to express and encase this challenge.

At no point did Keith ever doubt what the outcome would be: God had this! He didn’t doubt it for a moment.

My heart’s desire, maybe it’s my mission statement, is to show the boys what marriage looks like as we grow old with God as the center of that relationship. January 1 we were ready to tell our boys, to lead them forward through this challenge as God led us. They were about to realize marriage with God as the center isn’t challenge free but faith full.

Living over 1 1/2 hours from every major city, including downtown Nashville, we experienced a lot of drive time at 4:3 a.m. for the next 8 weeks. January 2 began a series of tests: a TEE, and heart catheterization were the big ones.

His arteries were great. My cooking did not cause the problem. It wasn’t that he’d eaten the wrong diet, not exercised enough, not lived the right kind of life style – whatever that may be.

He was born with a two-leaf heart valve (bi-cuspid), instead of a three-leaf heart valve (tri-cuspid). He was born destined for a life cut short. Our sons will need to be tested eventually.

Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy – he does it slyly, a sneak-thief thinking he can outsmart God: switching three-leaf heart valves with two is just one way. If we put our heads together, I imagine we could fill a book with a list full of ways Satan tries to interfere with God’s kids. Yet, no matter how Satan tries to interfere, God isn’t just a few moves ahead. He’s already implemented the steps for the win.

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
   I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
   My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
   Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them” ~ Psalm 130: 13-16

The heart-valve study chooses the procedure for valve replacement: open heart surgery or the TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve implantation). One is very uncomfortable with an eight week recovery, while the other requires only an overnight hospital stay.  The study chose open heart surgery, and within six months was no longer an option. The procedure needed to be done quickly because since last year’s sonogram, the aortic valve was now critical.

A mistake had been made a year before. . . or had it. . .

The birth and resurrection had never seemed so closely connected.

Rummaging through Keith’s top drawer, I found his hospital baby identification bracelets. His mom and dad had no idea they were expecting twins. The story is a sweet one.

Dr. Mahaffey came out to tell Lloyd, my father-in-law, he had a healthy baby girl. Some minutes later he came out again and congratulated him on a son.

“But Dr. Mahaffey, you just told me I had a girl. Don’t you know which? Is it a boy or a girl?” my father-in-law, 25, asked.

“Son, you have one of each,” the kindly old doctor said, at which point, Lloyd slid down the hospital wall in shock.

They still laugh about the audacity of how Dr. Mahaffey charged double for the two: $75 a piece.

Those baby bracelets with the misspelled name, the II signaling he was born second. . . no one ever realized satan had already made a move to destroy that precious life. Satan didn’t yet realize God already had the saving plan.

As we stepped deeper into this “All is well” journey, one by one, God sent people across our path who stopped for real conversation, whose “How are you doing” wasn’t just a hand-off greeting, people who still believed miracles happen, that the power of God overcomes. I also invited a hand full of women I’d written with in the blogging community for years, women with a heart for intercession to pray with us. 

Slowly, a small brigade formed, praying with us for complete healing, for unflagging strength and courage for the journey, to encourage us to keep our eyes focused on the one who works those miracles, who heals the broken places, who has the best battle plans and wins.

This small brigade were the Aaron and Hurs in the hard of the challenge.

So Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’ So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword” (Exodus 17: 8-13).

These intercessors who believed with us: “All is well!”

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During the pre-tests for open heart surgery, a nodule was found in his lung. The plan changed. Though the PET scan was borderline inconclusive, the pulmonologist thought it was Adeno cancer. An eight week recovery was out of the question. Open heart surgery was switched for the TAVR to be followed by a biopsy followed by lung surgery.

I asked God how I needed to pray. He sent me to 2 Kings 4: 8-37, the story of the Shunammite wife and mother whose son had fallen ill and died. She didn’t wail and tell the world of her challenge, her grief, her fear or heart-break. She just said, “All is well.”

“All is well”  I said as we followed him.

Severe aortic stenosis? “All is well”

Nodule in the lung? Cancer? “All is well”

How are you doing? “All is well”

All is well!

The Passover just collided with Christmas and Easter.

That mistake? It wasn’t a mistake after all. . .

(The rest of the story in Part II: When Easter, Passover and Christmas Collide)

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Linking with these blogs this week:
Trekking Through – http://www.trekkingthru.com/
http://www.richfaithrising.com/ Unite the Bloggosphere
http://purposefulfaith.com/ Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://www.messymarriage.com/ Messy Marriage
Mary Geisen/ TellingHisStory

Inspire Me MondayLiterary Musing MondaysTea and Word TuesdayPurposeful FaithTell His StoryRecharge WednesdayPorch Stories Linkup, Welcome Heart, Worth Beyond Rubies WednesdayEncouraging Word WednesdaySitting Among FriendsDestination InspirationTune in ThursdayHeart EncouragementMoments of Hope Faith and Friends Faith on Fire FridayFresh Market Friday, and DanceWithJesusFriday

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Father’s Day is bittersweet for me. I rejoice that my son’s have the father I never did – and I realize more keenly what I missed and wonder what I would have been like had I a father like they have. This post is for all the fatherless daughters, whether because their fathers were physically absent or emotionally absent, this is for you.

For these daughters whose father never said, “You are mine, a gift from God, to cherish and protect,”

or wrapped you in his arms to hug away your wounds, whether self-inflicted or inflicted by others,

If your father did not  provide security or chase away the night terrors,

or missed seeing you receive your award because he was standing outside smoking a cigarette,

If you missed those Father Words, telling you you were beautiful, filled with awesome gifts – well, every daughter should have a father who thinks she is beautiful.

If your father did not carefully help your mother choose your name and rejoice on the day you were born and every birthday afterwards,

Who did not stand between you and danger,

Who received your shabby chic gifts with careless disregard, saying your handwriting too small to read your stories,

Who never treated you like a princess, or the world’s greatest softball pitcher, or the next Jane Austen because your dreams just never entered his mind.

Never tucked you in or taught you to pray,

Who never said, “I believe in you” when the world did not,

Who left it up to someone else to teach you how to drive a stick shift with manly patience,

Who did not rejoice in your marriage or was there to hold your child in his arms when he was born, to be a doting grandpa who would say, “Don’t talk that way to my daughter, boy.”

Who never said, “I love you,”

If you had an earthly father who did not father you, I encourage you to ask our creator, our Father, our God to fill that empty void, to open your eyes to the true daughter-ship that you have in Him, your rightful place in His family. Brokenness through rejection is NOT God’s plan for you.

“But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour” (Matt 9:22)

God will be that Father you never had. He gave you great gifts that unfurl within you at just the right time He created you beautiful (Psalm 139).

He rejoiced the day you were born and on the first day you sought Him out – “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek” (Psalm 27:8)

He knows the needs you have before you ask him (Matt 6:8) He wants to know what is going on in your life. He wants to hear every rambling word, every detail, every thought written in your heart no matter how small.

He not only takes care of the night terrors but the life terrors as well “I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalms 34:4)

He is a father who not only provides but is like the father who stops by and fixes your sink when your husband’s out of town, who checks in on you when one of the kids are sick. “And he sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God: and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him to prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:5)

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1)

Stop swinging your arms like a small child fighting someone bigger. You waste your energy. Let Him stand between you and danger. He wants to fight your battles. It is like He is telling you, “Step back, little one. Take deep breaths. Stop shaking. Wipe your nose on your sleeve. Be still. I’ll take care of this for you” (Exodus 14:14).

The first thing I want to do when my spirit soars is to throw my arms around his neck for a massive father-daughter hug that I have spent my life reaching for, believing for. He wants it for me; He wants it for you, too!

Dear Father, I thank you that you called me away from a spirit of brokenness and rejection. Father, there are days here that I miss the tangibleness of an earthly father who loves me, but I pray that you will open my eyes to the relationship you offer me. Open my eyes to how you help me through the day. Help me to overcome what I do not feel or see – but have by faith and hope. I want a father/daughter relationship abundantly alive and real. Replace emptiness with Father Words and Father Memories. Help me to live that. Thank you Jesus your great sacrifice so that your father could be mine, too!

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February 26, 2018: The snow trees came at winter’s beginning – and I’ve been waiting for the snow trees to come again, but they haven’t. The snow holidays have been too few, though there was a flu holiday, which is not the same at all. The crocuses and daffodils have made an appearance, the Bradford Pear buds are on the edge of blossoming. Easter egg green grass, robin’s egg blue skies, the barometer herald Spring coming, but there are still 23 more days of winter. There are 23 more days of nature’s mischievous, impish, sly ways. In Five Windows by D. E Stevenson, the shepherd and the minister’s son talk about whether March borrows days from April, or whether April borrows days from March: “We get April days in March, and then they’ve got to be paid back; so we get March days in April.” I may get my snow holiday yet, but back porch living is starting to look much more appealing than fireside living, but whatever kind of living, it seemed time to pull  out, “When Winter is Late” – in a kind of tattle tale way to warn all my Spring-happy friends to beware of winter jumping out at them when they least expect it – but like all tattle tales – nobody wants to really heed what’s being said, but I just wanted to say it anyway because sometimes I just cannot help being a little mischievous, too!

January 19, 2015: Winter is playing it’s games right now. The sun shines like Springtime. There’s no frost on the windshield in the mornings – and I find myself thinking of tomato and chard seeds . . . . but I’m waiting. The more it feels like Spring, closer comes the snow . . . . and I love snow flakes and snow days . . . . and so I wait with expectation of God’s grace in coming changes, like weather patterns, seasons and how time fills the daily.

January 30, 2013: I felt like I needed to say this again – for many reasons, inside and outside reasons.

January 3, 2013: The boys, they have been moaning – moaning over weather channels calling for snow and snow not coming. Tonight, the boys kept looking at the weather radar – hoping. Too big to put ice cubes down the toilet – they just plain, old-fashioned hoped, with a dose of moaning for garnish!

At 11 p.m., when my husband and I were locking up, turning lights down, he called me to look out the door: The Snow Trees had come. I danced. I twirled. I trotted upstairs, to shake each boy gently awake, point out their windows, announcing the arrival of The Snow Trees – and wrapped in their sleepiness, they had now joyful greeting for the snow trees.

Feb 1, 2013 – They didn’t even remember me announcing: The Snow Trees have Come! – but they were so happy they had come!
snowday9c2

Winter 2012

Winter is late.
The snow hasn’t come yet.
I am
waiting.

The Daffodils and lilies arrive
too early
not suspecting
Mother Nature trickery
in mercury messaged
invitation
and stems climb out
of  warm brown covers
turning their hope
to an unreliable sun
so vulnerable, so unprepared
for Winter coming late

Even Dogwood Blossoms
are deceived
with sun signs and
mercury tricks

Wouldn’t at least
the dogwood
know
with the story of our Savior
imprinted on the fibers
of its design,
that signs and seasons
are unreliable
time clocks
for announcing
jobs and tasks,
like blooming and snow fall,
seed time and salvation

Unlike winter
God is never
late

Unlike rising mercury in January
God does not deceive or lead
falsely

God is never
surprised
about disappointments and troubles
we find ourselves
in
He is never
late
to redeem us from
our rushings into places
not ready for us

or maybe
places and tasks
we are not
yet
ready for

Only we
are surprised,
disappointed,
our budding faith
nipped
by trusting sun signs
and mercury
instead of God Words
God Whisperings

God always plans
Time to grow
into
His plans
for our lives
seed time
and harvesting.

“He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1: 7-8)

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chateauchambordddcc“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

God didn’t design our lives with a good-enough-to-get-by plan. His blueprint designs are pressed-down, shaken together and running-over kind-of-designs.  I don’t know about you, but my expectations are always short-sighted compared to his. I’d rather walk out God-sized dreams than my-sized dreams. Wouldn’t you?

Photo of Chateau Chambord, taken June 2017

 

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wreath22I was born in the early 60s, but I grew up in an earlier generation. I grew up in my grandparent’s house, with a grandmother and grandfather who were pre-teens during the first world war – and were raising pre-teens to babies in the second world war. My neighbors were spinsters, widows and couples who grew up during the same time. Sometimes, I feel like I’m from a different world – and maybe, well, it’s because I was raised steeped in another generation.

MaryEdna3My grandmother wore sheer elbow length gloves during her First Communion because her skin was too dark. She had gone to live with her grandmother for a year before her First Communion to take the classes necessary receive the sacrament. The mumps didn’t stop her – apparently, nothing stopped you from the sacred ritual.  Especially, if you left home for a year to live with your grandmother to be prepared for it. A rare photo, of Mary Edna, in her gown, is probably the only photo of any of her family bearing a striking jaw line – courtesy of the mumps.

Women who grew up in the early 1900s, experienced the great wars and the Depression met in multiples of 4 around bridge tables where every few months, Charlotte Rousse and tomato aspic were served on the best dishes, where recipes were held close and rarely shared because community was small – and a stellar dish would become synonymous with the one who made it. When my brother and I would come tearing in from school on those illustrious bridge days, we  were expected to make bridge table rounds, speaking to each group, answering questions from women, who were mostly generous with their kind words. I always left the rooms smiling. Grandmotherly women laid their cards on the table so much more neatly and kindly than did our own peers. Maybe that’s why, today, I have always been more comfortable with older women than my own peers.

It’s from this community – of community bridge partners and neighbors from an older generation – that I gained an insight and perspective into so many different layers of living – a Live. Experience. Learn. Pass it Down kind-of-experience, where I learned my life is not my own – and my soul hands were open to catch the blessing they poured out.

Stop:  5 Minutes of Writing. Just 5 Minutes – unless you just cannot stop yourself.  Won’t you join me over at Kate’s Place for 5 Minute Friday? Sit down, pull over a cup of Wild Apple Ginger Tea, and see what everybody else is writing about the word . . . “Neighbor” Maybe you can join in – it’s just 5 minutes. Come enjoy the fun! (My 5 minutes ends here, but I wanted to share the following story about neighbors who never sat at grandmother’s bridge tables, but were constant neighbors until their deaths. What follows is one of those experiences.

Live. Experience. Learn. Pass it Down.

“Don’t do what I did,” Laura May, my 80-year-old-neighbor said to me when I was 18, getting ready to graduate from high school. She had called my grandmother to send me over to sit with her. She thought she was dying and didn’t want to be alone. I was terrified.

Over 13 years, I sat on her front porch a few times, overcoming shyness to visit. One 6-year-old morning, peering through backyard hedges, I was caught, spell-bound, watching an argument unfold between  Laura May and her widowed sister – about boundaries, inside work (Ms. Schindler) and outside work(Laura May). They were refined little ladies. Laura May in her neat dress, with her stockings rolled down around her ankles mowed with an old-fashioned push mower. I tried it once in later years, totally depleted and exhausted at the effort, not able to match her stamina. That morning, I watched them bicker, totally enthralled. . . until they noticed me in the bloomed-out forsythia. They stopped immediately, calling out a friendly, southern, “Mornin’ Maryleigh.” I muttered a “Good Morning” and ran.

I grew past bee catching and porch-wall climbing as seasons turned, Ms. Schindler died and Laura May was left alone in her parent’s Victorian house with blue and white tiled fireplaces, ornate trim, and black walnut woodwork. In the winter, the bare forsythia allowed her to watch us eat in the kitchen. As a teen, in the summer, the stairwell window allowed her to sit, watching all the coming and going, teen antics with my friends, still picking violets, surprise parties, dates, proms – and me mowing our yard.

Until one day, she was dying and afraid. And she wanted me to sit with her.

In her down-stairs sitting room turned bedroom, she told me her story, a “My-life-is-not-my-own” story that needed passing down. A young man turned away because she was expected to take care of her parents. A life turned away – no children, no husband – because her parents chose a different path for her. Oh, how she regretted that. She did not want me to make that same mistake; she feared I would stay home and take care of my divorced mother and grandmother. She wanted me to live life overflowing.

 Live. Experience. Learn. Pass it Down.

Nobody owns me. Nobody owned her. Nobody owns my sons. But God calls us to live life fully in a “My-life-is-not-my-own” way, where we pour out all that is within us into someone else to help them grow and grow strong, to strengthen their wings to one day fly and in flying soar, and in that soaring, see – that their life is not their own.

She missed that chance to teach someone to grow, to fly, to soar. She wanted to ensure that I did not miss it, too. In that moment, her life was not her own – she gave a part of it to me.

 “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 11:25)

festivalarticleAllowing others to pour their story into our lives is just as important as pouring our stories into others’ lives. Those stories are God’s stories, God’s messages, God’s encouragement. “Sit Long. Talk Much” is a sign over my porch door. It reminds me to share what God put in me.

Esther’s life was not her own. Peter’s life was not his own. Mary’s life was not her own. Ruth’s life was not her own. Sarah’s life was not her own. Peter’s life was not his own. Neither was Saul’s.

My son, the answer to a 4 year prayer, he graduates in May. Freedom is all he has talked about for at least 4 years – freedom to live his life his way, make his choices, live his dreams, determine what values to re-seed, which to prune or pull out. “It’s my life,” whispered, shouted, cried out in his thirst for freedom, for control.

I remember that feeling, thinking, “It’s my life.” I can do what I want, be what I want, live what I want, wear what I want, eat what I want. Suddenly, one day though, truth makes a lie of those words. My life is no longer my own. It never really was. . . . my life that is. I gave my life to God – and He wants me to give it away to others – to my family, my children – and His children, both little and big He puts in my path. My dreams are just a shadow of God’s plan for my life.

Just yesterday, I was at the KY State Archery Tournament. I was handed 2 bows, a back pack, a cell phone and an iPod. My life was not my own. Yet – what I was able to give, strengthened my son and gave him the opportunity to try his wings.

Another son brought home a puppy that someone was “selling for free.” My life is even less my own. I so wanted to put up a “No Trespassing” sign. My son walks the dog at 6:30 a.m., 7:15 a.m., multiple times after school and before bed. He wants to go on Spring Break to Florida. I gave him a choice – either use the money to go to the beach or use the money to get the puppy her shots and spade. His life, he is learning, is no longer his own.

Or the little boyin the grocery store who asked me, “Do you think I’m going to Hell?” My life is not my own or he wouldn’t have jumped on my cart and then walked with me, wanting to go home with me. ”You can got to heaven if you want to,” I answered.

 Live. Experience. Learn. Pass it Down.

God created a “Pass it Down” mechanism within each of us, the need for our life, experience and learning to be given away. It is something as necessary to us as water is to life. Laura May felt that need for her life not to be her own, to pass parts of it down.

 God put gifts within us to give, graciously, freely, wantingly. Not hoarding, not guarding, not begrudgingly.

  My life is not my own.

How blessed I have been by people who lived that way! I so want to pass it on to my friends, my family and God’s family . . . .and I so want my sons to pass it on – this beautiful, inside-out concept that My life is not My own.

 “Give and it will come back to you, pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Luke 6:38)

 

 

 

 

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(The little foxes don’t stop tearing at us, do they! I wrote this in 2012 – and they haven’t stopped trying to ruin. It’s God’s Holy Spirit that makes the difference, why the vine of whom I am doesn’t break, doesn’t ruin. Challenges don’t go away, but faith, God and the Holy Spirit – they make the difference in how I live through those challenges. I wanted to remind myself today about letting the Holy Spirit wash over me and through me, cleaning me out and filling me up with things of Him.)

The little foxes had torn at the vines of my heart, nipping, trying to ruin the vines, to break the roots. Those little foxes, I am familiar with them. I recognize them for what they are, and though I know them, am prepared to deter them, they weary me. Yesterday evening found me battle fatigued, bruised, smudged by the dirty tactics, needing a Holy Spirit Rain to wash out these little foxes.

As I stepped outside into the Tennessee heat, the hotness touched me tangibly as though I had slipped on a fine kid merino shrug. My husband joined me to watch the sunset with its pinks, oranges hedged with billowing whiteness. Dark clouds encroached. Sunsets delight us both, drawing us close, this shared sensibility that restores much.

Lightening grew, grumbling bouncing in the North, sliding south. My jaded faith doubted it would dip our way. Usually, our rain was a southerly rain. We walked outside, talking about our crowded hydrangea, dwarfed rose bush, untangling the morning glory from the overgrown butterfly bush. Our garden had changed – and we needed to tackle those changes.

We stopped briefly, looking at the growth behind a burning bush. Surprised, my husband said, “Grape Vine.” His Dad grew grape vines – it was as though he somehow crept into our garden and planted it. But he couldn’t have, though. Another change, a sorrow change for us, during our journey, the loss of my father-in-law. Yet, there was a sweet reminder, wrapped around our bird feeder.

As the lightening bullied its way closer, we retreated inside – and inside, lightning cracked, silencing the katydids and tree frogs.  Lightening is bold where we live.

As bedtime arrived, so did the buckets of rain. “Come and smell it,” I called to the boys, the 2 little guys. The littlest showed up, giving me his 10-year-old incredulous-look followed by the “My-mom-is-nuts” look, but he stood with me sniffing the sweet scent of rain washing the dusty worn air of hotness. He decided to sleep on the floor of his room. “It would be safer,” he reasoned with 10-year-old logic.

I joined my husband on the porch, my pausing place, my favorite place to sit, to knit, to read, to grade essays when I taught, to listen, to watch, to be. . .  and the rain poured, in sheets, wave after wave of sheets.

I thought of an afternoon rain 23 years ago, during a heavy summer drought that stymied my cucumbers for my bread and butter pickles. That afternoon, it rained a downpour – and my first born, freshly 2, danced with me outside, in the rain, faces pressed upward, mouths wide open.

Today, in the darkness, my driveway shimmered like a pond, the water shifting in the breeze, in the pummeling sheets. And the lightening – it wasn’t just jagged bolts. It was like watching God draw in the sky with a thin pen over and over and over.

I thought of the Holy Spirit, the unsung member of the Trinity – and I wanted it to wash through my soul, like rainwater washed the dust, the heat from the air.

“And they waited for me as for the rain; and they opened their mouth wide as for the latter rain” (Job 29:23)

I wanted to be filled, filled like Peter with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, filled so much he never faltered again in his mission.

Sitting in my rocking chair, pushed toward the edge of porch, the rain misted over my legs and arms, cooling, chilling – and I laughed – relishing the moment, the blessing, the washing away.

The rain moved south, and I sighed, wanting more. Like an encore, the clouds backed up, pouring a double portion over our patch of living.

The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:11)

I wanted the Holy Spirit to fill me like that, to fill me with crucifixion courage, overflowing with mountain-moving faith, drawing me closer to the Father, to hear His words to me, His comfort, His power to vanquish the little foxes.

“You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly”
(9a).

I am not alone, Father. You care for me, your creation, sending me living water, The Holy Spirit, to grow me more than I think I am, that I am not what the little foxes taunt; I am precious to you, valuable to you, like land that overflows abundantly.

The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it”
(9b).

You provide nourishment for my spirit, The Word and The Holy Spirit, enabling me to fight off spirit colds, weaknesses and tormenting situations that wear me out like the dusty, hotness of a relentless summer day. Empower my will to seek Your Holy Spirit Provision; let it not be the little foxes nipping and tearing at me that send me running to you. I want to be stronger than that, more faithful than that.

“You drench its furrows
and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers
and bless its crops” (Psalm 65: 9-10).

Holy Spirit, rain on me, filling the hidden places, the high and lows of my soul, softening the soil of my spirit, allowing the gifts my Father planted before I was born to grow, producing abundant fruit, and sharing the seed of that fruit with others – and if that fruit is not taken as given, let it not become a wily fox to my vine.

Let the rain come. Let it come softly or in a downpour – and let me be like an eager child who runs outside, mouth wide open, to receive the living water, a Holy Spirit Rain.

“O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams” (St. Augustine).

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4thjc_edited-1As you prepare for Independence Day, think about the story-telling that needs to be told around the celebration table, the stories of God in our history, God in our country’s founding – and the courageous men and women who crossed over to places like Plymouth Plantation (come by for that history and who grew children who fought for a freedom the world had not seen before, a freedom born out of faith (if you doubt that, read Chapter 2 of Common Sense). The 4th of July is not only about setting off fireworks to celebrate freedom, but about telling the freedom stories.

“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you”(Deuteronomy 32:7 NIV).

If you want to change someone’s life, tell a story.” In this quote, Billy Graham simply states a truth we all know: stories help us comprehend and internalize life lessons in ways that can change our hearts.  Jesus knew he could reach people through stories.  He used parables to teach his followers complex spiritual dynamics through simple illustrations.  Stories play a vital role in many aspects of our culture: Aesop’s fables teach moral lessons; Fairy Tales exalt the virtues of good over evil; legends celebrate nobleness, self-sacrifice, and good deeds, but history tells the story of our past and our future.

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.” (Matthew 13:34 NIV)

The Story of a Nation

“For I will speak to you in a parable. I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders” (Psalm 78: 2-5, NLT)

The stories of our country’s foundation teach us about the courageous men and women who were moved by God to create a country where religious freedom could reign in the hearts of its citizens.  By following the Psalmist’s instructions, we can pass on our history to future generations and encourage them to secure our freedom. When someone asked Benjamin Franklin if we had a republic or a monarchy, he responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” When we tell the stories of our nation and its spiritual heritage, we can, indeed, keep the republic our ancestor’s designed.

 independenceday2Main Characters

“And in the future, your children will ask you, ‘What does all this mean?’ Then you will tell them, ‘With the power of his mighty hand, the LORD brought us out of Egypt, the place of our slavery” (Exodus 13:14).

Dynamic main characters build good stories.  The main characters in the story of our country were men who took risks, envisioned the impossible, and in the face of fear, accomplished their mission. In 1828, the definition of education included the belief that, “a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties” (http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/education). However, in 1828, parents never imagined freedom’s faith foundation would suffer omission or re-construction in its children’s history books. As story keepers of our history, we need to re-acquaint ourselves with the men who preached freedom from churches, the men who formed our Constitution, and the men who fought on the battlefield for the freedom endowed by our Creator.

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.” Thomas Jefferson

“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.”Benjamin Franklin, On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor, November 1766

The Setting

A story’s setting gives the readers both time and place. The setting provides the readers with essential information which allows them to better understand the characters and their motivations. In essence, the Declaration of Independence is the setting for our country’s story.  If we read it one point at a time, not just as a communication to the King of England, but as a complaint written to the three branches of our government, this historical document becomes an empowering document. If we know the legal documentation of our history and freedom, then we can pass on the knowledge to our children, and they can keep the flame of freedom burning brightly. Let’s read the Declaration and re-discover the timelessness of it.

Supporting Characters

independenceday2All good stories contain supporting characters. They help the reader to have a more vivid understanding of the main characters. The beliefs of our Founding Fathers and our historical documents are important, but they have more meaning when we understand where they came from. We can trace back the family tree of ideas in the letters, correspondence, and public record of the debates, sermons, speeches and conversations that led to the creation of the Declaration of Independence, the constitution and inspired the march to freedom. We can read each one separately or read them as a whole, but most importantly, we want to share the stories and talk about what they mean.

 “God well knew what a world of degenerate, ambitious and revengeful creatures this is – as He knew that innocence could not be protected, property and liberty secured, nor the lives of mankind preserved from the lawless hands of ambition, avarice and tyranny without the use of the sword – as He knew this would be the only method to preserve mankind from universal slavery” (Rev. Samuel Davies, 1755).

“Let us then. . .remember with reverential gratitude to our Supreme Benefactor all the wonderful things He has done for us in our miraculous deliverance from a second Egypt—another ‘house of bondage’ and thou shalt show thy son on this day. (Elias Boudinot, July 4th, 1793, member of the Continental Congress)

Story telling is an educational tool as powerful as the sword. Jesus used parables to pierce his followers’ hearts and minds. God instructs us to tell our children the stories of him and his ways. Therefore, when we tell our children about God’s role in our nation’s foundation, we know we are building the future. Only by teaching our children to be our nation’s story keepers can we ensure our freedom and our faith will flourish.

“Tell your children about it in the years to come, and let your children tell their children. Pass the story down from generation to generation” (Joel 1:3, NLT)

 Boudinot, Elias. “Oration.” Celebrate Liberty: Famous Patriotic Speeches and Sermons. Ed.

David Barton. Aledo Texas. 2003. 237. Print.

Davis, Samuel. “Oration”. Celebrate Liberty: Famous Patriotic Speeches and Sermons. Ed.

David Barton. Aledo Texas. 2003. 237. Print.

Ellis Sandoz, editor. Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol 1 (1730-1788) and

     Vol. 2 (1789-1805). The On-line Library of Liberty. 2011 (free-on-line historical sermons that shaped our constitution))

     http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1878

A Treasury of Primary Documents.

http://www.constitution.org/primarysources/primarysources.html (contains sermons that helped shape our Constitution)

Two Treatises of Government. John Locke. The Law’s of Nature and Nature’s God. 2003. 5 June

      2011.  http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/locke/ (this allows you to read Locke’s work free on-line; however, it is readily available at any bookstore or possibly even library.

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