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Posts Tagged ‘Encouragement’

green beansc

I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees” ~ 2 Corinthians 12: 9 The Message

After walking through A Great Challenge, in the middle of an everyday ordinary moment, when rinsing out the upteenth glass of chocolate milk, filling the dog’s water bowl, or clearing away the clutter on the kitchen table –  that is when the courage, strength and resilience dissolve, leaving me nothing with which to hold myself together. Maybe it’s just God’s timing, telling me that it is in the everyday ordinary where it is safe to let go, to let the frayed edges recognize they are frayed so they can then mend, the tiredness rest, the bedraggled soul refresh.

No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12: 9 The Message

Mending time is where I need to give myself space for healing to wholeness. The Everyday Ordinary can be a re-set space, where the hum of routine soothes, even familiar acts of organizing the forks, knives and spoons, of rummaging through the socks for mates. . . of measuring ingredients for the green beans. Routine allows thoughts and emotions to simmer, to steam up and release in the mending space of. . .  the everyday ordinary.

I cook maybe like some men fish. I imagine fishing centers one into an everyday, ordinary hum of a routine, a kind of going home where the right now can be poured through the sieve of memories of those who mentored, teaching things about fishing that were more than fishing, to better process what needs processing – and, by remembering, ennoble the heart to indirectly help face a challenge directly – or the aftermath of a challenge.

Cooking is that kind if processing for me – connecting to the past – to the future and to the right now. Cooking allows a particular kind of busyness that allows the spiritual and emotional effects of challenges to safely bubble to the surface, letting me face issues at first indirectly, then directly.

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My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12: 9 The Message

Sunday I made a pot of green beans, just the way Aunt Joyce showed me not quite 36 years ago when I married. She doesn’t remember anymore, how to make her green beans. Dementia steals the good stuff: the stories, the good conversations, even the recipes. She is 3 1/2 hours away – and I miss our conversations about the nothing going on or about the challenges, the quirky stories and the recipe sharing – and so I make her green beans, the everyday, ordinary, home-cooked but not garden-fresh green beans (I fail at cooking fresh green beans) because in the challenges I miss being with these women who taught me to be resilient enough to overcome the challenge. That Never-Give-Up Spirit is a Pass-It-Down Thing – and it’s something I want to pass down to those God gave me – and to show them how to never-give-up with God beside me! Cooking in the kitchen reminds me of them, which reminds me of the things they taught me, which always leads me to inviting God into whatever has led me to stirring, mixing or whipping up an idea of something that tastes like savory or sweet, feels like a warm hug, conjures joy – whatever the needs in the everyday ordinary.

Cooking Aunty Joyce’s green beans makes me feel less alone in the challenge. Making my mom’s caramel icing or chocolate fudge or creamed spinach, though she’s eight hours away, makes me feel the same way, like she’s right there, encouraging me.  Fry Chicken – well, that’s time with Grandmother – nobody could fry chicken like she could – or make a Charlotte Russe. When I cook, sometimes all the women who poured into me, are there – and, though I’d rather they all be there still, sitting in my kitchen pouring into me, I remember the lessons they taught me, and it encourages me.

Sometimes, the fried chicken is more than fried chicken, the caramel icing is more than caramel icing – and the green beans are more than green beans. Sometimes God uses the recipe to do a healing, shalom kind-of-work within me.

Cooking takes me back to the kitchen where I grew up – filled with Grandmother and Mom, and then later to Aunt Joyce’s kitchen, filled with Grandmother, Mom and Aunt Joyce – and I miss those kitchen moments of long-ago home, and this sadness has indirectly created a release valve of today’s challenges walked through -where the courage, strength and resilience can dissolve making space for mending, resting and refreshing – and it started with those never-ending glasses of chocolate milk that needed cleaning out, followed by the green beans that needed making, my mind a rabbit warren full of memories, and a soul desperately trying to rest in its creator but not quite knowing how to achieve it on my own.

Maybe the kitchen isn’t your refreshing, soul-mending space. I’d love to know 1) what you busy yourself with to ennoble the heart to indirectly help face a challenge directly, and 2) the mentors who poured into you as you grew into your soul-mending space.

Aunt Joyce doesn’t remember the recipe anymore, but I do – and my grandson loves them by the plate full, my husband by the heaping big spoon full.  The boys?  I’m not sure they really care about green beans. Me? They taste best right out of the pot!

 Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12: 10 The Message

Aunt Joyce’s Green Beans
(I’d never measured for green beans before, but I did for this. I’m sure if you love them as much as I do (and my husband and grandson), you’ll soon get into pouring and mixing without needing to measure.)

Green Beans (50 oz can), drain,  rinse and pour them into a pot. Fill the pot with water, turn on medium heat.
Add the following:
1/2 the juice of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon. marjoram
1/2 teaspoon. summer savory
2 tablespoon bacon drippings (or vegetable oil for a healthier choice)
2 bouillon cubes
1/2 a regular onion, quartered (quartered so those who don’t like onions but respect the flavoring they add can easily remove before serving)
salt/pepper to taste

Bring to a boil for 15 minutes, then simmer on low for hours, maybe all day. Some think green beans are best when cooked all day and served the next. I tend to agree. Like a good marriage, the longer some things simmer together, the more they blend into something delightfully more savory.

“What grace is meant to do is to help good people, not to escape their sufferings, but to bear them with a stout heart, with a fortitude that finds its strength in faith.” ~ Saint Augustine

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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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beachbirdccThe world may ruffle your feathers, but the Lord gives peace to your soul.

“And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”
~Philippians 4:7.

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bradfordpearwinterinstac. . . and the bradford pear blossom survived
the bitter winter storm to bloom
more beautifully
than she thought possible. . . .

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Journaling as I progress though The One Year Chronological Bible:

“See, I have refined you, though not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.
How can I let myself be defamed?
I will not yield my glory to another” ~ Isaiah 48: 10-11.

“Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it.
Send it out to the ends of the earth; say, ‘The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob'” ~ Isaiah 48:20b

“Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed” ~ Isaiah 49:23b

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webwormwater

tent worms nest
in apple tree leaves
in limbs raised
reaching skyward
as if to heaven
leaves rustling in the
still quiet
green raiment devoured
without a sound

bagworms dangle from
family fur shrubs landscape
by porch steps, garage doors
under windowsills
leeching nutrients
until pine needles devoured
limbs browned
the high and low siphoned away
peace, joy stripped

how, some ask, in the devouring
and leeching – how can
God be good
or true
– to let us endure
hard times, challenging times
hurting fearful times
that pull and drain
threatening the root and heart
of us

how could there be any good
in a righteous man dying
a hammer and nail driven
death on a cross?

but there was
good
God’s kind of good
in the unfairness of Christ’s death:
salvation for all mankind
The great I am is
the hope message
in the challenge
in the high and low
likely and unlikely places
like tent worms give hope
to a hungry sparrow

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good” (Romans 8:26-28)

(a repost today – because I am savoring this cool autumn weather – and the photo and message warmed me where I am! Shalom, friends)

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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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(Still remembering and celebrating 33 years of marriage)

There’s nothing worse than being young…. and being the last picked.

When you have buck-teeth, wear high-top shoes because you have flat feet- before high top shoes are cool and your dad doesn’t live with you because he got tired of it – you feel like you come in last –every time.

When you can’t find the phonics lesson on the worksheet in second grade and math doesn’t make sense – you feel like you come in last – every time.

When your thesis director in graduate school dumps you because he feels you have no creative ability and you make careless mistakes – you feel like you come in last – every time.

When your kid, who you’ve poured all within you, prayers, squats for discipline, encouragement – everything you always thought a good, loving parent was supposed to do says, “You’ve set me up to be a failure. Deuces” – you feel like you just came in last.

When you gain some weight and can’t fit into your favorite clothes, I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve come in last.

When the publisher says, “We love it. Send us all you have” for your children’s book – and they get bought by a bigger publisher (Random House) who says, “We don’t know how to draw wind” – I went from first place to rock bottom last.

This morning, my 15 year old drove down the mountain. A fresh driver, careening a bit to the right edges – and my struggle with auto-terror won over my desire to be supportive-encouraging mom – and I gasped, “Jesus Help Us.” As my son careened and steadied, I both encouraged and flipped-out – and I felt like I’d come in last.

There’s a lot of last-place moments in my life. Situations that seem to whisper, even shout, “Failure. Loser.” They don’t define me though – those last place moments.

They are just moments that set up God’s greatness.

Jesus told us, “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matt 20:16)

We see that with Rahab, Naomi, David, Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus – so many people in last place, due to their own choices – though maybe those  seemingly bad choices were all that was  available, still they were brought to blessing by God.

Sometimes you can’t get first-place positioning without having last place experience.

Braces got rid of my buck teeth, my feet slipped into a little blue cotton sandal, and in the midst of it all, I found a Father who championed me against the mockers- and I bask in God’s favor.

I couldn’t find the phonics lesson, but I read and read and read (my defense mechanism against people on school buses making fun of the little buck-tooth girl in high-top shoes) – and it wasn’t too long in second grade I was moved to the advanced reading class – and I basked in God’s favor, the little girl who’d found Him in a closet and talked to Him in her back yard.

The Dean of the Graduate school called the English Department, telling them, “Best creative thesis I’ve read,” followed by Honorable Mention in the Sigma Tau Delta English Honor society’s creative publication the same semester. Charles Dickens responded to a man’s request to view his manuscript to determine if he had creative ability. Dickens replied, “For all I know, the land is yours by right” – More than the land being mine by right – I basked in God’s favor.

The book publisher, the irate son of my prayers, the closet full of too-tight clothes – and the inability to always control my terror  – He knows the desires of my heart, the love in my heart. He knows my weaknesses, my failures, my miss-its – He knows my heart’s intent, its integrity – and, though the humanity of myself fails – Jesus intercedes in my behalf – and I bask in God’s favor.

33 years ago, in a field outside the mule-barn at a college social, two young men picked football teams. Two girls remained to be picked – the last picks for each team. I was one of those two – and the red-headed young man picked me – last. Then picked me for a life-time. I bask in God’s favor.

It is an opposite day paradigm – the business of being last.

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harvestbasket1

“And now, God, do it again
bring rains to our drought-stricken lives
so those who planted their crops in despair
will shout hurrahs at the harvest,
so those who went off with heavy hearts
will come home laughing,

with arm loads of blessing”
~Psalm 126: 5-6.

 

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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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I love rain storms. Rain storms are the pause button to my schedule. Maybe it’s baseball or football that keeps you busy – it’s soccer for me. When the rain comes, my schedule comes to a grinding halt.

“I’m bored. What can we do?” the boys always ask.

“Fill the emptiness,” I answer.

“With what?” they persist.

“With big and little thoughts,” I think. “Press in to the quietness. Let its peace be like a soothing balm rubbed into the cracked and worn feet of my soul, soothing my walk, giving me rest.”

“’This is the resting place, let the weary rest’”; and, “’This is the place of repose’”–but they would not listen” (Isaiah 28:12).

“It is important to learn how to handle nothing-ness,” I answer. I go into a great story about back in the day when I was their age, only 3 TV channels existed. On a rainy day we built card houses, watched NASCAR races, played cards or board games. . . read books. On sunny days, porch wall jump-offs, sidewalk roller skating, tree climbing, daisy chain construction, bee catching.

We never uttered the words, “I am bored.” If we gave them a mouth-full of whine, they gave us an afternoon full of chores. We wisely kept our complaints to ourselves.

“Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature” (Albert Einstein).

Where do you go when nothing-ness comes? Where is your Pausing Place? Pausing Places – a place to sit and let nothingness wash through, like clear water in a rushing stream – clearing away the debris of my soul, clearing away for freshness and new growth.

My back porch, during a rain storm – that is one of my pausing places. Sometimes it is my kitchen when no one is home – and I can throw myself into the cooking and think about life without interruptions – while making something wonderful for my boys.

“Solitude is such a potential thing. We hear voices in solitude, we never hear in the hurry and turmoil of life; we receive counsels and comforts, we get under no condition”
(Amelia E. Barr).

Other times, it is wrapping myself in a blanket, curling up with a good book and my knitting. I would read a bit, knit a bit. That happened the other day. My son flung himself across the end of my bed – and just looked at me.

“There’s nothing to do,” he said, baleful eyes woefully wooing me to create “something” for him out of nothing.

“I’m having a great time,” I said. “I’m loving this. I’m sorry there is nothing you want to do – but there is plenty you can do. But – I am not going to let your frustration mar my nothing-to-do-time.

He sighed.

“One of the most important things you need to learn is how to find peace and joy in the nothingness of a day,” I gently coaxed.

He wallowed a bit more, making sure I knew he was frustrated. I wouldn’t be baited. I sent him on his way.

Filling each moment with him-centered activities does not prepare him to live a fully enriched life. If they do not learn to embrace the quiet times, in the stopping times later, they might fill those moments with harmful activities – just to fill the nothingness.

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15)

One of the most important skills in life is to learn how to embrace those pauses. My boys, well, they need to learn how to make something out of nothing. Their day is so chocked full of activities they become bewildered when they face, what they think, is the Great Monster Nothingness – which I have discovered to be a great friend.

Learning to turn nothing into blessing – what a great life-skill. Bring on those rainy days!

 

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Don’t know why, but really missing my grandmother today. She wasn’t a Nanna, Nanny, MeeMaw, Granny – or even a Muddy like her mother and me (my grandmother name), she was a no nonsense, witty repartee-loving Grandmother. She taught me, by standing up to her over the important things, how to stand up to everyone else in the world. She wasn’t a huggy grandmother, but she made me feel beautiful on the inside. Would love to sit at the kitchen table with her right now. So I’m sharing one of my very favorite stories about her with you. Isn’t that what you do when you miss people? What to talk about them?

Grandmother's House

Grandmother’s House

Sunday Morning, Winter – 1981

I sat in my grandmother’s kitchen, Sunday morning sun pouring through the large latticed windows, spilling onto the table – a winter sun that did nothing to warm the chill that always seeped through the old house. Turning pages of print with one hand, I ate the coveted center of the baked pan of Pillsbury cinnamon roles with the other.

Bite by bite, page by page I read through the funnies, the features and paused a few turns into the fashion section – 1981 newspaper fashion pages resembled haute couture fashion magazines.

Skirt from Style Agency at Etsy

Skirt from Style Agency at Etsy

The page turning paused, the cinnamon roll returned to the plate. True love arrested my attention –  a navy, thin-pleated, an inch higher than tea-length soft, durable navy wool, accordion skirt.

The pleats looked sharp enough to cause a paper cut – yet soft enough for grace.

Think 1940s. Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly – elegance personified in this navy blue confection.

Have I mentioned my favorite color was navy blue?

I called my grandmother and mother over to look. It was just too beautiful not to share. My grandmother appreciated beautiful clothes – she had the gift – the ability to go downtown to the department stores, look at dresses for her 4 daughters, come home and re-create them. She appreciated elegance, grace in the silks, the cottons, linens, organzas and wools.

Being poor and not having a lot of money are two different things. Not having a lot of money just meant $200 dollar skirts were things you didn’t buy – at least not full price – not until 70% off.

This pause finally gave way to  the well-oiled machine of Sunday morning routine. We all went out different doors – old houses allow that.

My grandmother disappeared out the kitchen door to the back porch – not a back porch by today’s standards – rather a storage stuck on to a house. Old houses grew rambly like that. It had all started 200 years ago when a French man built 2 rooms separated by a dog trot. Those two rooms, like a married couple, grew into a family of rooms.  The entry hall had once been the dog trot, my brother’s room had once been a porch off one of those rooms . The family room had once been a porch until in the 1950s when grandmother and grandfather added on a dining room and kitchen, tagging on a storage porch off the back. Porches were like quick-change artists of architectural expansion, becoming kitchens, family rooms, bathrooms, even storage closets.

The back porch taught me the meaning of haste – I hurried through – always.  If I didn’t wear shoes, I tip-toed rapidly across its pebbled concrete floor. I guess you could almost compare it to the dark forest full of creepy things in fairy-tales that the princess must walk through in order find happily ever after.

Bags of clothes and moth balls lined one section. Tools, a cedar chest, a lawn mower, my bicycle with its white wicker basket and dusty items filled the other section. Every Fall, we sorted summer cottons into those clothes bags and every spring, we stored away wool and winter. Why? To preserve and protect from hearty moth appetites – and, because the rooms in rambly old houses provided little to no storage.

That Grandmother stepped out there on a Sunday morning wasn’t surprising – she never rushed over the cool floors. She wasn’t fearful of what she would find – she knew what was there. It was cataloged in her mind – and she made use of it.

About 30 minutes before we left for church, we all gathered in the kitchen. Mom, Grandmother, Aunt Joyce – they all sat around the kitchen table waiting. Aunt Joyce drove us to church every week. When I entered the kitchen, my grandmother stepped into the dining room, carrying something blue back to the kitchen.

“Try it on,” she said, holding up a navy, one-inch from tea-length, accordion-pleated, navy wool skirt in mint condition – exactly like the one in the newspaper. The waist – oh, it was tiny – 26 or 28 inches. It had been my aunt’s – sometime after the war and before her marriage in the late 1950s  – and in 1981, I would get to wear it.

It fit me.

I twirled. I laughed. I felt graceful, elegant.  That skirt, with its pleats creased enough for paper cuts moved with grace, no stiffness, no roughness – just soft grace – maybe back then I couldn’t be confident in who I thought I was – but I could wear something that symbolized who I thought I was – on the inside.

Like a fable is to a truism – was that skirt to a soul reveal.  Only 3 articles of clothing ever “spoke” to me –  a dress I wore when I was about 6, the dress I wore to my son’s wedding – and this skirt.

I wore it to a few senior year events. Girls schools are wonderful for providing events for their students – and, when we put winter away, the skirt was zipped back into my grandmother’s moth-ball-filled clothes bag.

The other day, I was thinking about Grandmother’s Magic clothes bag. How I never really knew what was in those bags –even though I was  handed clothes Mom and Grandmother pulled out every spring and fall since I was 6.

I’d never reached into those bags, zipping and unzipping.  A lot of reasons stopped me – even though those bags held my clothes, too – I didn’t think I had a right to it. Fear edged me out. Content ignorance, a soft boundary wall as effective as a prison wall, kept me out. No real curiosity, no recognition of need – maybe, just maybe, the comfortableness of allowing someone else to be in control of it – maybe that was it, too.

gmcoatA few years later, on a way to a Christmas dance with the guy I would marry, Mom, Grandmother and I debated which coat or wrap to wear. Nothing suited – nothing topped it off without looking awkward.

Grandmother never announced. Never said, “HHHHmmmmm – let me think.” This bridge-playing lady always kept the cards close to her vest. As Mom and I stood there debating the issue, Grandmother just took herself off – unbeknownst  to us – once again into the back porch, to reach into the clothes bag.

Minutes later, she walked back in, shaking out  a black tea-length wool coat with gold embroidery.

We had lived with my grandmother for 15 years by then. I was only just beginning to realize the hidden treasures within my grandmother, what really was there, what she stored away for us for when the want or need arrived, stored away in moth balls or in the strength of her soul.

When my grandmother died, I wondered what had happened to that bag of clothes, the hidden things on the back porch. I guess someone emptied them out – and what a loss, that emptying out can be.

That winter day, though, in 1981, when the weak sun spilled over the kitchen table – that day, she pulled something out of a back-porch clothes bag that was the catalyst for a soul reveal.

“That Grandmother stepped out there on a Sunday morning wasn’t surprising – she never rushed over the cool floors. She wasn’t fearful of what she would find – she knew what was there. It was cataloged in her mind – and she made use of it.”

Disclaimer: Grandmother, if she knew I had turned this story into an allegory would probably have admonished me to “Stop that Silly Talk.”

Characters in the allegory of Grandmother’s Clothes Bag
Grandmother – Everyman
Granddaughter – Everyman
Navy, Accordion-Pleated Wool Skirt – A blessing shared
The Clothes Bag – The Bible
The Content of the Clothes Bag – Things of God
Moth Balls – The Holy Spirit

There’s a time when I moved from a child’s relationship to the Father, to an adult’s relationship to the Father. Where, as a child, I loved Him with abandon. Growing up led to self-consciousness, gracelessness from uncomfortable awareness, and learning to take the reigns of spiritual responsibility in hand.Growing up meant sifting through what I had been taught, becoming intentional in what I believed.

That meant I was alone responsible for that relationship. The training wheels were off. I was alone responsible for the reaching.

I didn’t do well early on, when those training wheels were off. My relationship with Him wobbled.

Like I hurried through Grandmother’s back porch, past the clothes bag, so I hurried past Him.

Self-consciousness, lack of confidence in who I was caused me to hurry past things that intimidated me through my ignorance – not just of the things of God but who I was to Him.

Faux gracefully, I enacted the ritual of sorting through winter and spring into the clothes bag – but I didn’t dig into that clothes bag. I stood in the kitchen and handed out.

I didn’t not know Him intimately. I could not truly catalog was what in His word. I needed to spend time with Him, with His word, to see what was there – not just the gospel, but Ruth, Jeremiah, Isaiah – all the one’s I skipped over, ignored.

I needed to spend time with Him, like my grandmother spent time maintaining the clothes bag, lined with those moth balls.

I couldn’t really help anyone. I couldn’t really even help myself – not until I delved into the contents of His word, His Holy Spirit – Him.

The Father wanted me to stop rushing past Him, open up His word and listen, really listen, catalog in my heart its content, wear it, walk it, know it – to continually wrap His word in His Holy Spirit.

“But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29)

One day, sitting in the car outside my husband’s work, waiting – which is something newleyweds still in college with just one car do a lot – the Father met me there. I asked the Father, “I want that relationship I had with you as a child. Teach me how to get there.”

He did. . . it was a journey, though – not an overnight arrival.

I learned to not rush past His word like I rushed over cool, pebbled-concrete floors. I dug into His word, like my grandmother dug into her clothes bag, cataloging, nurturing so that one day I could share what is within His word, within relationship with Him.

When grandmother saw a need – she went to the clothes bag and drew a blessing out – a blessing that caused a soul-reveal. I needed to learn to live that kind of relationship with Him.

I needed to believe what the word said about that relationship, about the hope, the healing, the speaking, the praying, the Holy Spirit, the believing without seeing.

 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”(Hebrews 11:6)

When I dug into His word, when I believed His word – I discovered who I was to Him – his beloved daughter.

I discovered a Father who wanted to become the shade in the glaring, uncomfortable heat of challenges, who wanted to shelter me beneath the feathers of His wing, who wanted to bind my wounds scarless, who wanted to shelter me in the storm – that He saves me when I cry out, like a Knight in Shining Armor:

“He’s riding a winged creature,
swift on wind-wings.
Now he’s wrapped himself
in a trenchcoat of black-cloud darkness.
But his cloud-brightness bursts through,
spraying hailstones and fireballs.
Then GOD thundered out of heaven;
the High God gave a great shout,
spraying hailstones and fireballs.
God shoots his arrows—pandemonium!
He hurls his lightnings—a rout!
The secret sources of ocean are exposed,
the hidden depths of earth lie uncovered
The moment you roar in protest,
let loose your hurricane anger.
But me he caught—reached all the way
from sky to sea; he pulled me out
Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,
the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down,
but GOD stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!”

(Psalm 18: 10-15, The Message)

One day long ago, grandmother pulled a skirt out of her clothes bag. As the years unfolded, that moment became an allegory of faith. Like a fable is to a truism – was that skirt to a soul reveal – and the truism made me a beloved daughter of the King, who willing jumped on His horse and moved heaven and earth to protect shelter . . . . save.

Because I learned not to hasten away from the things of God, I find blessings He leaves me, messages He leaves me in the ordinary of a day:

like the squirrel nest high in the barren oak, sways in the thin-limbed top, twigs, old leaves woven together, how does it protect against the bitter wind? And, I marvel – because it does.
or my mother-in-laws hands, folding laundry, teaching me to slip-stitch quilt binding, making banana pudding, hugging babies and boys

nine sherbet-colored bandanas bought in 2009 quilted, backed, binded and tied with raspberry, lime green, citrus orange, flamingo pink and lemon yellow embroidery thread.

red chili sauce in Thais Gopaw – taste buds delighting after days of illness

robin’s egg blue skies outside my work window

a lunch date with my husband, just the two of us

Italian chamber music diminishing chaos

the story of grace changing lives, redeeming from the law in a Les Miserable story and song

a two hour morning delay from an ice storm that never came, giving me time to love the boys with homemade chocolate chip granola bars and hamburger, elk and deer-meat chili.

(I’m in a tying-up-loose-ends season right now – and will be returning with fresh, new soon. Please stop by as I share some of my very favorite posts through the month of June)

(for a history on my grandmother’s house, you might want to read “if grandmother’s trees could tell stories”)

 

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whitehouse215_edited-1(Today just felt like retelling a story that brings joy to my heart. I’m still here – I’m just in a quiet season right now, where the words are few. It’s like I’m steeping in something new. I can’t put words to it, but I know at the right time, He will give me the words.)

The little years seem like once-upon-a-time ago – but it was once upon a time in the little years, when a little boy wanted to run away. He didn’t like his new room in the new house built in the woods near the creek. He missed his raspberry sorbet room with the blue and white ticking in the suburbs. The joyful little boy had misplaced his joy in the move and wanted to run away, back to the suburbs  – so he did.

His bigger brother still little came running into the kitchen while their mama stirred a pot of something good, holding a littlest on her hip.

“Mama, he’s run away,” said the bigger brother.

“Let me know when he goes past Ms. Judy’s mailbox,” she said, stirring the pot, soothing the baby.

“But, Mama,” he stammered, unbelieving (because, he just knew, that if it was him, he’d go beyond the mailbox).

“Just let me know when he goes past Ms. Judy’s mailbox,” said the mama.

Every 5 minutes, the bigger brother came back, flummoxed why his mama hadn’t flown outside to save his brother.

“Where is he?” she asked.

“At Ms. Judy’s mailbox.”

The little boy who’d misplaced his joy never went beyond the mailbox. His mama knew he wouldn’t. However, she knew the one who so worried about him, she knew that if he took it into his head to run away, he’d be down the road, onto the highway and halfway to where-ever he wanted to go before anybody knew.

That night, when the moon came out, the boys were tucked into their beds all snug, bedtime stories read, songs sung and prayers said – and all the hearts and minds that lived in the new little house in the woods near the creek slept in peace.

A few years later, when the little boys grew long legs that stretched for independence – the bigger one did leave home before he was really ready. The little brother who’d once misplaced his joy cried at his leaving and blamed his mama, not understanding. The bigger brother, he went past the mailbox about 4 times, and 4 times his mama found him, brought him back, knowing he wasn’t ready yet. Until one time, he packed all that was important to him and left, right after graduation.

The mama, she didn’t go get him. She stirred over the pots in the kitchen, matched socks, shook out the rugs. At night, she tucked the littlest ones in bed – because there were more little ones then. She read bedtime stories, sang songs and said bed-time prayers – and all the hearts and minds that lived in the growing older house in the woods tried to sleep in peace.

While the mama stirred those pots, though, she prayed. God knew what her son needed. She asked that God help her. Then she asked that God stand with her. Then she asked that God would help her let go and let Him help her son.

Some time later, her son walked through the back door of the growing older house on the edge of the woods, realizing that where he had been was not where he needed to be. As he grew stronger, he prepared to leave again, this time with a proper packing and a proper farewell, on a journey that took him closer to God and closer to God’s plan for His life.

As all the littles grew, the joyful one misplaced his joy again, misplaced who he was to God and to the family. One day, he packed his treasures, a table and a bed – and moved to a place he didn’t need to be.

The older brother, who’d so worried about him all those many years ago, who’d say, ‘Mama – aren’t you going to fetch him home,” who thought he’d go past Ms Judy’s mailbox, had found his bearings and in the finding made a home near the little house in the woods – he came to his mother, worrying, “Tell him to come home, Mom. He doesn’t need to be there.”

His mother stood in the kitchen, stirring a pot of something good, looked up at him, this boy who towered over her now, gave him a wry smile that contained sadness for the one who’d left and joy for the one who’d returned, saying, “Remember when you left? Telling you that you needed to come home only made you stay longer. The less I say, the sooner he will be home.”

The brother who’d lost his joy for a while, misplaced who he was to God and his family – one day, he remembered, and in the remembering, came home to the growing old house at the edge of the woods with his treasures, his table, and a bed.

In the growing older house in the woods by the creek, he grew stronger, reclaimed a bit of his joy and who He was to God and his family. Refreshed, he started hearing the call of the Father – until one day, he properly packed a bag, received a proper farewell, and set out on a journey past Ms. Judy’s mailbox on a God-designed journey just for him.

The Story after the Story

Some children launch by the book – and other children launch by, well, the other book – the one we don’t want to buy, the story we don’t want to read. It’s the hard story. It’s the story full of heart-aches so deep you know your soul has toes – it’s that deep.  It’s also a faith story, a story of redemption. It’s the dirt, grit and grime of the story that nobody wants to touch. A lot of people might want to talk about it – but they don’t want to touch it – with their hearts, with their prayer, with their faith.

It’s the dirt of rebellion, the grit of selfishness and the grime of sin that Salvation leaned down into, grabbed it by the filthy arms and pulled it up, took it on a journey, journeying along, and in the journeying along, washed the stains, the filth, the grit away. Salvation fixed the brokenness, both deserved and undeserved – until, somewhere in the journey, a new man was born again.

Sometimes, this happens because a mama somewhere loved enough to let go – and let God.

Think of Hannah who took an itty bitty Samuel to the temple, and let go of his hand – and let God.

Think of Manoah’s wife had to let go of a rebellious son – and let God redeem him.

and Jochebed who let go of the bulrush basket holding her son – and let God.

or Rebekah who stirred up a mess and sent Jacob away from home, who let go – and let God.

Today, I want to pray for those mama’s, whose children are taking the hard way. I want to pray that God bring them a peace beyond understanding that He’s got this. This is His job now – what He does best – work His saving grace in places we cannot.

I pray that in the letting go, you don’t feel as if you given up, quit before the job is done, didn’t love enough. I pray that you see that you love enough to let God, that you didn’t quit – just that your task is complete. For now, you’ve done what you’re supposed to do. Now it’s time to let God.

I pray that you realize the greatest love we can give someone is to sometimes let them go – even into uncomfortable situations.  I pray that when you wrestle with trusting God that His determination to save your child is greater than the devil’s determination to destroy your child – I pray that you tell God you’re struggling with this trusting and believing because sometimes the right-now really hurts, really doesn’t look like it can come about right. He won’t get mad or be disappointed. He’ll love on you, comfort you. I pray that you ask Him to stand with you, to hold you close – because He is the kind of God that can save another while holding you, too.

I pray that you have dreams of salvation coming instead of nightmares. I pray that you find God messages in the daily, of God’s sweet encouragement that He has joy planned for you – and for the ones you love. I pray that He give you glimpses of who He created your child to be.

I pray that He surround you with people who believe that God’s got this – and I pray that He will surround you and your child with people who pray faith, pray love, pray hope until both you and your child are stirred in it, simmering in it, suffused with it, like a pot of good things on a loving mama’s stove-top.

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“Jesus said, “You’re holding on to me for dear life!
Don’t be frightened like that.
Go tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee,
and that I’ll meet them there”
(Matthew 28:10)

A little over a month ago, I was hospitalized for bi-lateral pneumonia. I’d been misdiagnosed for over a week. There are only a few times in my life, when I look back, where remembrance is misted in darkness and pain. The first was the week after the crash c-section when my 4th son was born (which caused me to work closely with the doctor when the 5th was born regarding pain management) – and the second was the 6 days before I was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.

Most of those 5 days were spent on the couch. I couldn’t breath without coughing, and, since I couldn’t breath without coughing, I couldn’t talk.

The day before I went into the hospital, my youngest son said, “Just one word, Mom – say just one word, and I’ll snuggle on the couch with you for two minutes. Two Minutes!”

I sat there on the couch, knowing what that one word would cost me physically, not wanting to say that one word, but wanting a hug from my son so much more than the pain and discomfort.

I finally got that one word out. I don’t remember what it was. I just remember my saucy son saying, “Oh, Dude! I didn’t see that coming.”

Then I wanted to laugh. He tried to back out of the agreement. Fortune smiled on him; Because I couldn’t talk, the lecture on the importance of keeping an agreement was left unspoken.

My husband, who has said before that if I’m not talking, I must be in distress, was wanting the sign language to stop. He missed the words, too.

That they missed the words surprised me – warmed me, too.

When I was admitted to the hospital, I had a high fever, 3/4 of my lungs were filled, and my blood pressure was 85/45. My family practitioner said that I would have been in ICU if I’d been admitted 2 days later.

I was only in for 2 days, but it took me two weeks to rebuild strength to walk around the block once. It took me 4 weeks to pull out my camera. It’s taken 6 weeks for the words to come, though there’s so many things I’ve wanted to share and say.

It’s soccer season for my two youngest – and so, instead of writing, I’ve been rebuilding strength, finding home under the mess that accumulated in all this, and stepping fully back into all those roles within my family – but always looking for the blessings – even when I was sick, on the couch. I was looking for those love letters God sends in the daily.

The Easter season was unstructured – and I found my Holy Week starting Easter Weekend – and lasting through the next week. We spent long Easter weekend in a cabin, with 5 out of 4 sons and our newest daughter-in-law. She cooked the most delicious French Toast for breakfast!

I went on a 4 mile hike that day – and the boys – well, they were tag-teaming walking behind me, like they thought they were going to lose me. There’s nothing more irritating than someone who thinks you can’t do something, so I found myself somewhat warmly bemused.

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I had my camera with me – and kept encouraging them to go on, telling them that I enjoyed just taking photos and doing this hike at my own pace – but they had none of that! I felt like I was surrounded by a bunch of collies – and I was the one sheep they were in charge of! I guess this is one way sons hug.

Later we drove to Clingman’s Dome – a 6,643 foot elevation. No sunshine. Just a heavy, wet mist, like the clouds had fallen out of the sky onto the mountain and spilled everywhere. The boys and my husband walked the half a mile to the lookout. I took 5 steps – and felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest – so I stayed back, took photos – and discovered the blessing in the chilled mist. There are the beautiful things in sweet blessings to be vintaged in the overcast moments, even in unlikely things like moss and algae growing on a tree.

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At the cabin, in a swing, I listened to the voices of children playing at other cabins I couldn’t see, listened to the buzz of plump bumblebees looking to bore holes, clouds like smoke on the mountains, the hollow knock knock knock of the wood pecker, cardinal calls, tree frogs emerging to sing their night-time jazz, and steeped myself in the resurrection story.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna (Joanna, wife of Chuza, a steward in Herod’s household, who had been healed by Jesus), Salome (the wife of Zebedee, mother of James and John, possible the sister of Mary) – these women set out early Sunday morning to Christ’s tomb. Instead of finding hopelessness and death, they find resurrection hope.

Jesus tells them,

Jesus said, “You’re holding on to me for dear life!
Don’t be frightened like that.
Go tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee,
and that I’ll meet them there” (Matthew 28:10).

“Meet me in Galilee” was like a song I couldn’t get out of my head.

Meet me in Galilee
those who came to the tomb were told.

Meet me in Galilee
he said – and tell our friends

Meet me in Galilee
Don’t despair – all is not lost – it’s all been won

Meet me in Galilee
there is so much more

Meet me in Galilee
it’s just the beginning.

Meet me in Galilee is where he is,
and anytime I draw close, he is there.

He meets me in the overcast moments, whether I’m bent over coughing my insides out, whether I’m shivering on the side of a soccer field, or too weak to climb higher on a misty mountain.

He meets me in the wait of a prayer sent out, in a good-news moment, in the freeze of a teen grump, even the pile of unmatched socks.

He meets me in my gracelessness, when I’m steeped in a give-up minute, when I’ve lost my direction (not my faith – just the direction).

Not only does he meet me, but he encourages me that there is so much more in this journey – so much more to this living with him in it that will amaze me, humble me, fire me up with his love for me, a love that needs to be shared and given to others.

Meet me in Galilee, he says. Friend, won’t you meet him in Galilee, too.

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winter16234copyright_edited-1When I was about seven years old, a little hand-held mirror of mine broke.  I’d dropped my treasure box, and there it was broken to pieces in the bottom. It was a mishap – an accident. I remember my first thought was a superstitious one – seven years bad luck. I didn’t tell anyone, so I didn’t have anyone tell me that God was bigger than any superstition

Those seven years were hard ones for me. Maybe they are for everyone. Did I believe that superstition? I rolled that thought over in my mind. I didn’t rebuke it. I didn’t toss it out and walk away from it.  I let it follow me and I acknowledged it was there.

When I turned 14, I felt liberated. I felt as though a weight was lifted and I was freed from the curse of the broken mirror.

A cloud lifted, hope like sunshine broke through.

I realize I believed wrongly and let a little cloud that had no business covering my life do just that, like a cloud comes between me and sunshine, a false belief come between me and the plan God designed for me.

Jesus told the centurion, a Roman soldier – someone not an insider, but an outsider – “as you have believed, let it be done” (Matthew 8:13). The centurion came not for his wife or his son or daughter, but came for a servant.

“As you have believed, let it be done”

The Roman soldier believed – and it was done as he believed.

What have you believed for?

I’ve believed for crumbs,
and he gave me a feast

I believed for a good, faithful husband,
and it was done beyond what I understood
the fullness of what to hope

I believed for children,
and it was done beyond my imagination
once I believed for a daughter
and he gave me sons

I believed for a cardinal to nest
near my home,
for God’s saving grace in a hard
challenge,
and it was done

I believed for God to heal an empty place
in my soul,
for protection, comfort, and answers
for God to show me how to love
when there was no feeling for it,
and it was done

I’ve believed for dreams to find their way,
and that he will show me how to
bloom riotously where I am planted
in easy and uncomfortable places
and it was done

I’ve believed that he would show me how
to trust him
for a life time,
how to love
the hand that designed
the world and me,
and he has

There’s a list of things I believe for
that my sons have a heart for God
who seek real relationship in their daily
that grows into an abiding, vibrant, sustaining love
for daughter-in-laws with a heart for
my family
for restoration of broken relationships
for God to show me how to live
the rest of this life joyfully, fully,
gracefully

I believe for snow blankets, hydrangea blossoms,
the crunch of autumn leaves.
I believe for laughter, joy,
forgiveness and comfort
in the fabric of my family,
for making cookies with grandchildren,
time for singing little ones to sleep,
and weaving long tales together
in quiet moments.
I believe
it’s already done
maybe not the way I envisioned or
anticipated, or even hoped

He tells me, as I believe
it will be done

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windows_edited-1c_edited-1To a beautiful friend,
before you can trust God’s plans, you need to understand who you are to the one to whom you belong. Really understand it. Really believe it. . . because when you believe it, you can trust it. Whose you are is the most important part of who you are.

I am the great-granddaughter of a former football player who married Mayme, a farmer and his wife whose faith reaches down to me today.

. . . . the granddaughter of Mary Edna and Theodore who loved through a lifetime
of challenges and made home safe

. . . . the daughter of a father who walked out and a mother who never gave up
on her dreams for us

I am a green-eyed girl married to a brown-eyed boy
mama, mother, memaw to Christian, Ben, Barrett, Cameron and Caleb
. . . . Ava and Norah’s Muddy
. . . . Sadie and Miss Kitty’s opener of the door and filler of the bowl

I am the the family remembrancer
though I misplace my keys, my glasses and my schedule
. . . . a literalist looking at life through faith lenses
. . . . a writer, knitter, cook and gardener by determination not perfectionism

I am a writing instructor
teaching about speech parts, organization and support,
in stories, definitions, reasons, hoping they see
they are more than what they realize

I am a dreamer who believes
all things are possible when God is invited
through the gate of my heart
. . . . a teller of corny jokes with bad timing
living with the after-effects of foot-in-mouth disease
redeemed from miss-it moments by an amazing grace
. . . . sufferer of disappointments, dilemmas, the capricious nature
of man-made plans
. . . . a faith girl learning to live hands-off and hands-up

I am a drinker of wild apple ginger tea with honey
. . . . a collector of back-yard violets in white pottery creamer and summertime zinnias in mason jars
. . . . a reader of love letters tucked in blessings of red cardinals, snowflakes and spring storm rivulets in tree-root paths

I am trying to live an ordinary everyman dream that just might produce radical results in a world that is not God-normal.

I am loved by the one who led me to the water, who washed me
clean in the ankle deep, waist deep, soul deep waters
I am pursued and pulled in to the inner circle of his home
I am given the seat of a valued daughter at his table
I am protected by his angels
I am his beloved daughter

I can live with who I am – and find joy in it –
because of whose I am . . . .

I am designed by the creator
of all that exists
.. . . .the dearness of violets, wild apple ginger tea, the quirky humor, the literalist, these 5 boys, my brown-eyed sweetheart, that my mama didn’t give up – that’s not by chance. That’s by design
. . . . a design to be more than what I see
in the mirror or what you see in me
. . . .designed to belong to Him
I am not my own because I cannot be complete,
graceful, content without Him.

I belong . . . to him.

I am his.

“I know this because an angel from the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood by me last night” (Acts 27:23)

 

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WWWBFAllfurrowcc_edited-1“You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth”
(Psalm 65: 9-11)

 This last year, I’ve had the privilege to speak at schools about my children’s books. Bicycling with Ava provided an opportunity to talk about the gifts we each have: not just gifts of writing or drawing, but the gifts of putting numbers together, theorizing science, fixing things or nurturing people, standing up for others, encouraging or teaching.

I talked about how the writer and illustrator sometimes work together to trick readers into learning by counting cattails on a creek bed and goose feathers for pillows, learning colors through red, yellow, green and blue sheep. They learned new words for fun, too.  As Ava struggles to make a decision on which hat to pick to hide her suddenly orange nose, she purses her lips, furrows her brow, and scowls. Did you know that a lip-purse + a furrowed brow = a scowl? My favorite children’s books are the ones that invite interaction in an unstated way. I wanted my books to me like that, too. LIke life, the details in the illustrations were not their by coincidence. There was a plan and purpose to the detail.

These Kindergarteners through 4th graders and I talked etymology, though they didn’t realize they were learning about word origins and history. For example, we talked about furrows on their grandparents’ farms, nestled next to mounds where seeds are planted. The furrows can be paths or narrow grooves, so big rains don’t wash away seeds or roots. Furrows, though, just aren’t in gardens and fields. Furrows can be on our brows when smiles turn upside down because of sadness, frustration, heavy or unpleasant thoughts. Try it – furrow your brown, making the space between your eyebrows crinkle and wrinkle. Now look at your neighbor and furrow your brow at them. Did you? Kindergarteners through 4th graders did – and had fun being tricked into learning something new.

Furrows are deep places – on our faces and in our hearts. Sometimes without the low places, the storm waters wouldn’t have places to go – and we would find ourselves washed away because of it.

Soil, furrows and hearts are a lot like you and me. When the soil is saturated, the furrow’s deepness provides an outlet, so as not to permanently damage the plant – or maybe the soul of you and me.

There’s been a steady stream of highs and lows this year. I used to think that when I mastered life, a steady, humming-along-the-highway kind-of-living would result.  If I were only good enough, pure enough, Godly enough . . . . I would be able to manage the daily into just humming along. Right?

Sadly – because I wish I’d realized much sooner before I’d invested so much energy and time into a project destined to fail – there’s error in that kind of thinking – error born out of inappropriate expectations.

If I’d never furrowed my brow, I’d never have reached deep to realize my need for God. I wasn’t designed for a self-fueled humming-along-the-highway kind-of-living. I was designed to need God – to be filled up by God.

The inappropriate expectation is being replaced, awkwardly at first, becoming more dexterous day-by-day, to the expectation that, yes, there is joy in the highs, but there something just as valuable in the lows, something souly nurturing in the steady drizzle, sometimes torrential downfall of the challenges in the daily.

I might have been designed for heaven, but without challenges that fall like a soft rain, I don’t know that I would realize that. You see, experience is the best teacher I know.

Maybe I needed a Hannah-unconditionally-loved-by-Elkanah marriage,

or a Jacob-wrestling confrontation in which to surrender,

a Doubting Thomas faith failure humbled and won through Salvation standing before him – hands open, wounds revealed,

a mother-of-the-prodigal revelation waiting in faith for her son’s homeward walk,

a faith-is-the-substance-hoped for woman-with-the-issue-of-blood journey,

a crippled man standing-on-his-faith encounter

Billy Graham said if you want to change someone’s life, tell a story – share the experience of your faith. The experience that changes lives is found in the hard and soft of our challenges.

The soft and hard rains of this year have indeed softened the hard edge of the mound, softening into the dip of the furrow and because of it, I move with more grace from the highs into the lows and back up again.

Through the soft raindrops like challenges, from the mounds to the furrows and the muddy mess of of it all – because challenges just leaves degrees of muddy messes, I have discovered goodness in both – a soul-preserving nutrient that without both, my growth would be limited or stunted. The challenge without him leaves me shivering to the bone in a cold rain. The challenge with him, seeps inside this softened soul or runs off into the furrows, leaving my roots stronger, my growth more than I imagined possible.

A little sweet with the sour.

A little low with the high.

A bit of raindrop to soften the soul

and out of that, the blessings grow.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written, and I’m glad you haven’t forgotten your way here. This has been a year of big changes – leaving a 3-year-old job and launching 4 children’s books, a son marrying a beautiful inside-and-out girl, another son and sweet daughter-in-law’s second baby girl, one son steadying his step, a new high-schooler, a junior who is taking more college classes than high school classes, me teaching again since 2009 and, while loving teaching students how to strengthen their writing – and maybe discover wonderful things about themselves in the process, I am left wondering if God didn’t want me to walk through the classroom just one last time before walking through a door to a different way to fill my daily. All this has been drizzled with big and little challenges, expected and unexpected. To someone who likes a fairly regimented daily with time planned for the unexpected, I’m finding that every hour possibly contains unplanned tasks and adventures – meaning I’ve thrown the schedule out the window and am possibly free-falling into something unplanned and unexpected at any moment. I’m not quite sure I’m managing this with grace yet, but, at least, I’m not screaming (mostly figuratively) in terror at the chaos anymore. Right here at Blue Cotton Memory, it’s one of the places I come to just sit with God, talk over what’s going on, and tighten my grip on his hand, reminding myself that he is right here beside me, right now.

Dear Father,

During this Christmas season, I pray that we feel your Holy Spirit wash over us, mingling with the challenges that fall like rain, settling to softening the hard planes of our soul ridges. I pray that we see these challenges as softeners that make hearts more tender, understanding deeply dimensional, and grow a love taller, with beautiful blooms that re-seed in the mounds and furrows all around us, and that maybe, just maybe, some of those seeds just might be carried in a Holy Spirit rain down the furrowed path into a place that needs your kind of love seed – and that more will be blessed by the growth in us than we ever imagined. Thank you sending us a savior, your son, to show us the amazing grace that can come out of a hard challenge.

Amen

(Illustration by Lynda Farrington Wilson in the January release of Where the Wild Winds Blow Fall and Winter).

 

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“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15)

Mohair is a beautiful yarn – on its own or double stranded. Mohair is gentle, delicate, warm – and thin. I’ve had days lately where I’ve felt like a thin strand of mohair – come upon a knot.

Spinning my own yarn; walking my own story.

Sometimes this yarn I spin is like bulky wool. Knots that happen are easy enough to unravel, to work out.

There’s no undoing a knot in mohair, though.

My story has stretched me thin lately, mohair thin – and the knots, they’re beyond anything I can do.

In myself, I’m mohair thin.

I was designed to be double-stranded with God.

Spinning my own yarn; walking my own story

God can . . . unravel the mohair knots in my story, unravel and leave my heart llama warm – and I can pull my yarn on into the next stitch of this story I’m working.

This last week, God unraveled a nest of knots.

Knot – A car-load of people I love learned that
God makes a way in a traffic jam, even when
there’s no logical way out

Knot – Someone in authority wasn’t willing to open a can of worms
until someone else was
relief and solution spilled out

Knot – Someone saw truth and stood up for it

knit, slip a stitch 
knot, knot, knot 
knit two together, pearl
knot, knot, knot

This week found hands on shoulders in a circle
young and old
praying for God to unravel
the knots
either we make, others make
or just-happen knots

There’s no wrong-side of a knot
when we take it to God

Spinning my yarn; walking my story

the sweet aroma of praise
in a hard moment hallelujah
for the lord God almighty reigns
and his name is like honey on my lips
water to my soul
a lamp unto my feet
the knot unraveler
who can
in a world of cannots

 

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hospitalbed_edited-1For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on,
and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in (Isaiah 28: 20)

We are born with souls too short – too short for refreshing rest, too short to allow for growth. The fibers of our souls initially are too stiff for comfort, too abrasive to wrap around the bones, the mind, the heart where love lives.

How does one live with a soul too short?

This last week was uncomfortable – from Monday through Sunday. My mother had cancer surgery 3 hours away from our house and 5 hours away from her house in the middle of the week. Her surgery could result in a one to three day hospital stay. Add 3 boys still at home, 2 in high school, plus 2 soccer tournaments anywhere from one to three hours in different directions from our home, a golden retriever who recently met the new neighbors – squirrels from the woods who suddenly discovered a new cache of nuts from our Maple trees and frolicking in our Bradford Pear trees. She now has to be leash walked, or, in her euphoria, she finds herself two streets away playing with a family that isn’t hers. I’m also teaching again, twice a week. Did I mention out of town guest?

I imagine my mom felt even more uncomfortable than I did, though.

A soul too short is like a bed too small, like blankets that don’t cover feet on a cold, chill night. How can  peace, joy, love and gentleness be given when the soul isn’t big enough to even comfort itself?

How do you love everyone just right -filling them up with what they need the way they need it – when time and space result in half of everything dangling over the foot of the bed, like an overgrown teenage boy?

How do I “do” everything just right, when I’m just not consistently good at being good – with the right words and the right actions? When my goodness isn’t big enough to wrap around a need like a soft, warm, worn-in quilt?

. . . or when there just aren’t words right enough to cover moments or situations?

In a normal daily, I plan time for moments requiring more – more time, more attention, more me, more patience, more goodness. I try to add time to cover short-sheeted moments. Frustratingly, no matter how much I plan, I fall short.

It’s humbling when my children look at me in a you-missed-it-mom moment, and, all I can think is – “Imagine me without God.” Even when I run short in those moments, I know that because of Him, I am not as short on goodness as I would be without Him.

There was not enough of the good in me to stretch and cover the needs of this week. The soul blanket I was born with? It couldn’t have covered the big toe of my week.

Our soul blankets grow and soften in the outpouring of a Holy Spirit washing. Only then do the fibers of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control and goodness soften for comfort, and in the softening, expand and grow stronger.

Me without God cannot walk well through a week like last week. Me without God cannot love the way I want to love without God. Me without God is no comfort at all.

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely” (Galatians 5: 22-23).

His Holy Spirit stretches me beyond myself. Everything He calls me to be in? The blanket of my soul will be able to cover it – gracefully. Even in the missed-it moments – grace will emerge.

“I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16 – 19)

Last week, my out-of-town guests and I went on a Monday morning photo journey to the Little Creek Farm and its pumpkins where I was strengthened through friendship – and God’s little orange graces – white, green and striped, too!

Tuesday found the car packed, the boys with a schedule and friends to check on them – and my husband and I drove to Atlanta. God surrounded my mom with an incredible support team: her doctor who did the surgery – and my brother, my mother’s friend, my husband and I – and my cousin – 12 hours older than me (our moms – sisters – shared the same hospital room when we were born) – he’s a minister now who was there on business. He prayed with us, stayed with us through the day. There are no coincidences when God is involved.

My mother loves hugs – arms wrapped around tight hugs. Me? I will gladly hug you to death with words – but too tight arm-wrapped-around hugs feel like I’m suffocating. I held her hand, smoothed her brow, held her arm in hospital walk-abouts and cheered her on with wordy hugs (which have the same suffocating effect on others). I think between all of us, we wrapped her in a love blanket that snugged around her just right.

One of God’s beautiful gifts is a family who works as a team – our family worked like that last week.

Mom left the hospital the day of surgery – and was ready to travel home the next day. My brother drove her all the way home which allowed us to cover the schedule that needed covering at home. His time sacrifice blessed us. We returned home earlier than expected to prepare for a weekend full of schedules and the unplanned challenges that come with the everyday in family – regardless, I think, of its size.

No – I was not all grace last week – but I was who I needed to be to those that needed me.

The God-designed blanket of my soul covered it all.

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pinkfl1522_edited-2It is said, a twisting, terrible serpent and a deadly sea dragon roam the world, devouring the cardinals which bring hope along with the mighty oaks with its limbs raised high in praise, drying up refreshing waters, lying in wait for the hare and deer, destroying good and allowing evil to thrive.

It is also said, there lives an old man, older than any storyteller or history book can remember, who’d carved out a garden with his bare hands and imagination, watered it daily from seed-time to harvest, year after year beyond memory and record.

The old man’s garden, it is a pleasant garden filled with sweet fruits that satisfies the soul and brings wholeness to the heart, the hands and feet, the mind – the inside and outside parts of growing life.  The serpent and the dragon dare not go near the old man and his garden, though they blow seeds designed to destroy with every wind, on every dust particle. They plot and connive to destroy it from within and without.

The old man, he attends his garden daily, walking its paths he designed, pulling out weeds with his hands or hoeing, loosening the soil so that the waters go down deep, and, by going down, strengthen the roots – and in the strengthening, loosening weed roots that don’t belong, making them easier to tear out before they grab hold and make greater damage.

Day and night, the old man can be found either kneeling, his hands working through the soil, his hands dark with the healthy, rich soil. He is a hands-on, vigilant guardian over his creation—vigilant of the thorns and battles from without that blow, always seeking to invade, to overtake, to choke out his creation.

Sometimes he stands at the garden’s edge, watching, listening.

Come, make peace with me,” he calls in a still, soft whisper. “Come, make peace with me.”

Sometimes he crosses the garden’s borders, strides into the dark woods and wild fields, returning home with seedlings and shoots, stems with leaf buds to graft into his vineyard trees, by the arm-fulls or solitary, always worn, struggling to live, but totally given over to his healing power. Somehow, he hears their call.

Sometimes, a seedling finds its way into the garden, weakened, worn by those very thorns and briars in the battle outside the old man’s garden. Maybe a shoot, almost dried out of life, lying limp on the old man’s wall – how it got there, who can tell – but it seeks sanctuary in his garden, tended by the old man’s healing ways – and, in the tending, finds new life.

Sometimes, the living things, they come, peer into the garden, unable to believe it is, indeed, better within than without. They don’t stop and talk with the old man in the garden. Maybe they think he won’t understand, but, he does – he understands everything. Maybe they think they’re too intelligent to ask a simple gardener about big things like serpents and dragons. Maybe they think living within an old man’s garden boundaries are restricting, limiting . . . small-minded. Instead of extending their hands in greeting, to just meet and talk, to try and understand the old man, they shove their hands in their pockets and walk away.

Somehow, though, seedlings, shoots and stems for grafting and all other living things, they keep coming, laying hold of the old man’s protection – and they come to make peace with him because there is not peace to be found outside his garden.

“At that time God will unsheathe his sword,
    his merciless, massive, mighty sword.
He’ll punish the serpent Leviathan as it flees,
    the serpent Leviathan thrashing in flight.
He’ll kill that old dragon
    that lives in the sea.

At that same time, a fine vineyard will appear.
    There’s something to sing about!
I, God, tend it.
    I keep it well-watered.
I keep careful watch over it
    so that no one can damage it.
I’m not angry. I care.
    Even if it gives me thistles and thornbushes,
I’ll just pull them out
    and burn them up.
Let that vine cling to me for safety,
    let it find a good and whole life with me,
    let it hold on for a good and whole life” (Isaiah 27:1-5).

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I’m the gate. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved. He’ll come in and go out and find pasture ~ John 10:9

“Jump a Fence

Climb a Tree

Homespun, he is Free”

from Blackberry Roland, by Blue Cotton Memory

From little feet puddle jumping to  muscles and cleats sliding through mud and rain-soaked tackle, these boys of mine don’t always choose the neat, tidy paths and gateways.

God placed within their tiny hearts before they were born – a desire for freedom, a frontier-kind of spirit that would lead them out of bondage, through a parting sea – and into a new land, a land where the banner of Shaddai flies high for all to see, where children are taught with their first steps that Jehovah-Rohi shepherds them through the gate, hand-in-hand with the Savior.

Through the gate – it sounds so simple. Forging new paths, to discover new ideas – like Ford with automobiles or Charles Best who discovered insulin – or Neil Armstrong walking on the moon – fence jumping sure seems a quicker way to get there. Their toes almost itch to jump fences – from the time they learn to walk.

These boys to men seem designed to avoid gates.

I see it in their desire to debate – just for the sake of debate – chewing (sometimes it seems like gnawing) their logical teeth on challenging authority or the status quo.

How many times have I said, “Don’t outsmart your common sense.”

The oldest, he taught them all the longest word in the dictionary: Antidisestablishmentarianism – and, to him, it meant not taking establishment ideas at face value. At first glance, the gate looks like establishment ideas.

Some shun the gate because their parents walked through. The gate seems to have always been there. It seems so ordinary, so every day, so already done. These boys to men don’t just go through the gate because it’s there – it often seems like a life motto they’ve worn emblazoned inside.

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“I am the Gate for the Sheep,” Jesus tells us (John 10:7)

These boys to men – they gotta have Him – there’s no other way – no other way to be delivered from all that life will throw at them – from the liars, cheats, and thieves who aim to steal more than their wallets, identity or cell phones.

The gate isn’t religion. It isn’t rules. It isn’t an activity list of things we do. The gate is relationship. Relationship releases the gate latch – relationship with the one who designed you, the one who died to save you.

Real relationship. You cannot get there by fence jumping (fulfilling the bucket-list of Christian-expected behavior but not relationship) – or digging under it.

I imagine that if you wanted to spend time with Him debating – I imagine He would welcome that as the beginning of relationship. You might not be through the gate – but at least you’re at the gate with Him.

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A few years ago, I hosted a an unofficial small group with some parents of teens, friends of my sons still at home – and we read Sticky Faith together, trying to figure out how to get these boys to men who have walked through that gate when they were little – to continue living through the gate – in His pasture where they live “saved from sin, the dominion of it, the guilt and condemning power of it, and at last from the being of it; and from the law, its curse and condemnation, and from wrath to come, and from every evil, and every enemy”(Gill’s Exposition, Bible Hub).

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Some were frontier parenting – this was their first foray into the teen years. Others, like us, had older children who entered through the gate or were fence jumpers or tried digging under it, trying any way to avoid the actual relationship required to go through the gate.  We needed fresh eyes to break battle-fatigue habits, to re-equip, re-adjust, re-train for the next 6 years.

Sitting across the table, breaking bread – (getting ready for them to start the teen book while we went over the parent’s book) – learning ways to intentionally open the clogged conversational arteries with our children, how our spiritual gifts communicate with each other (not part of the book, but part of what we are doing) – and how to encourage real relationship with the one who created them, who loves them – who died to save them.

One of the things I loved about this group is that it included some of their inner circle of friends. As one teen filled a bowl of soup, a parent asked,”Who influences you most now – your parents or your peers?”

We were not looking for a right answer – We were looking for his answer.

“My peers,” he answered. Another answered, “My parents.” Each gave valid reasons, truthful reasons.

Maybe by pulling them to the table, bowl by bowl – with friend’s parents who they tease includes their “favorite mom” – maybe, just maybe we can mentor faith that sticks: real, life relationship faith.

How can we as parents encourage relationship building of these sons with their Savior? Real relationship building – We asked our sons to define what it meant to be a Christian?

Sometimes there was a disconnect between the logos “right” answer and the rhema (the aliveness) of their answer in their every day. They knew the right answer but their actions weren’t always in tandem with the right answer. Both were still fusing together.

Over the bowls of soup, I also wanted to ask, “Who is influencing your gate relationship with Christ?”

“What does that gate relationship consist of?”

What does it mean to pass through the gate to the pasture?

Or are you just fence jumping?”

Today, about 2 years later, those mentoring relationships are making a positive difference. Other moms and dads interacting, having real conversation – not scared-to-intrude conversation have created peers who reflect that interaction into their peer relationships.

I’ve seen hard decisions made by these young men who prayed first and put self second.

I’ve seen young iron sharpening young iron because of real relationships with other moms and dads showed them how in breaking-bread, over-the-counter real conversation.

They’re pausing at the temptation to fence jump – and instead making the decision to hang out at the gate, take ownership of that relationship found there. In the ownership, they’re discovering it’s not an establishment relationship. It’s a real, personal, one-on-one relationship – a grafting together kind of relationship.

Going through the gate? Or fence jumping?

(updated, September 9, 2015)

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All gate photos except for last were taken at Colonial Williamsburg, Fall 2013

 

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Herron12015_edited-1“If you are not firm in faith,
you will not be firm at all” Isaiah 7:9b

A few weeks ago, my husband and I got up early to hike to the waterfalls. I took my camera – and my sweet husband is so patient with that. My camera makes me slow down and see what God has for me – the blessings He leaves for me in the daily.

I stood across from this herron for a while – well, I literally stalked the herron. When I turned away to take other pictures, he seemed so disappointed to have lost his audience that he flourished his plummage for me. It was as though he wanted to recapture my attention – and he did.

The trip to the falls gave me a twinge of guilt, though. So does coffee with friends. So does the cardinal darting in front of me. How can I enjoy the blessing God leaves for me when the world is set with fires?

I’ve been silent on my blog about what’s going on in the world lately – silent on the shootings going on in communities, silent on the lack of honesty/integrity/God-principles in government, silent on words being redefined – words like marriage and is, and silent on the horror of babies brutally killed and dismembered in what God designed to be the safest place of all – a mother’s womb.

I’ve always wondered how the German people remained silent in a country systematically murdering its Jewish population. Maybe it was the threat that they would be murdered, too – but that doesn’t make silence right – silence for self-preservation at the expense of others.

There’s a lot of judging, a lot of tossing around about privilege – who has it, who doesn’t – and the stench of it – because that is the intent of the label – to make one feel like they stink somehow, that they are tainted, not good-enough, their faith and Jesus in them not good enough.

I’ve wondered what I am to do in the midst of so much going wrong. I vote for those whose who stay they are going to restore – and they don’t. I volunteer.  My husband and I shepherd our family to love all people, pray for those who struggle, to stand up for their beliefs and protect the hurting. I try to Jesus-love those who cross my path – because I realize that those are the ones God gave me to encourage. I even try to expand that path into out of the way places.

I don’t know how to address all this. I don’t know how to fix all this. I’m tempted to try to put all the fires out – running from one fire to another, throwing on debate, ideology and fight like water. Running around in circles trying to put out all the fires is ineffective, though. You know how it is – when you try to do everything, you end up achieving nothing, to a chorus of people telling you that you’re doing it all wrong?

All I can do is all I’m called to do: To love the Lord God with all my heart, mind and soul. To love my neighbor as myself – and to stand firm in faith to the one who created me.

I stand firm in who I am to Him:

I am the daughter to His father.

I am the sister my brother died for.

I am the lost sheep the shepherd left all others to search for.

I am the beloved bride.

With great position comes great responsibilities – this being a daughter of the King is not a cushion-sitting, hand-waving-from-a-balcony kind-of-job. It’s hands-on, heart-to-heart kind-of-job that can be both uncomfortable and liberating.

Go find my sheep, he says – and I go.

Love your neighbor – and I try to find a way, whether it is through words or actions.

To those shaken by the storms, I am to bring them to him, to tuck them beneath the warmth and security of His wing.

Sometimes, I am to just stand with another as they wait for the eagles to lift them out of their battle.

I must always be ready to share the living water, like a glass over-flowing, with I meet on the daily path.

Love makes a feast out of want, sits with the sinners and tells about how much God loves them, cleans out the temple in righteous anger, champions those who cannot fight for themselves.

As He has counted the hairs on my head, so am I to know and care for others, to value them as He values me. – even those living as orphans who don’t realize their father is looking for them.

No – I don’t know how to fix the heart-breaking wrongs going on today. All I can do is to stand firm in faith – of his promises, his commission, and who we both are to him.

Firm faith prevents us from running around like a chicken with its head off. Firm faith gives direction when the world shouts, “Fire.” Firm faith gives peace of who we are to Him in a world that accuses us of being who we aren’t.

As the world, the nation, our communities struggle today with right and wrong, with justice and injustice  – as people argue and point fingers, accusing you of being someone you aren’t, receive the blessings God leaves in the daily – welcome them, rejoice in them and stand firm in who you are – stand firm and love – it’s never wrong. It never fails. It brings hope a world catching fire.

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A butterfly fluttering through where I am can change how I see the landscape around me – and how I feel about me in that landscape. If I let it, it contains the ability to turn any frown inside or out, upside down! Butterflies are joy-personified, God-designed gifts to spark our hearts to joy – whether in a season of refreshing or in the wait of a prayer sent out.

You know how every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings? Maybe butterflies and prayers are kind of like that. Every time a butterfly crosses your landscape, a prayer has been sent to the Father for you.

I’ve seen a lot of butterflies since 2009 when I started my blog – or maybe I started noticing the butterflies, looking for them, recognizing them as God-gifts. These butterflies today remind me of those women I’ve met through blogging and those who I walk with in the daily, who reached out in prayer when I so needed it.Those prayers still resonate today – a God-kind of butterfly effect.

I know we grow from glory to glory, challenge by challenge – but sometimes God lets us savor the goodness of prayers answered, dreams walked out and the sweetness of a good rain or a cool summer breeze. In the savoring, I’ve felt the need to thank those who sent those prayers to God in the middle of hard moments  – because we all have hard. Maybe we experience different kinds of hard, maybe the same – but we all have hard moments, challenges that take us to the end of ourselves – yet, so many of you took the time out of their hard, nursing wounds not yet healed, in the wait of your own prayers sent out, in the midst of your own dream making.

Thank you for each prayer – for me, for my boys – for situations beyond my personal experience.

Not only did you pray, but
you sent notes of encouragement, of hope,
of personal over-coming stories that taught, that reminded
that God is in the business of over-coming
not just for you but me, too.

A friend of a teenager asked me the other day about the hard of raising our children – how not to break into a million pieces or run-away. I was able to answer because of women who took time out of their hard, of their own shattering. I am better able to Jesus-love, to encourage, to help another grab hold of the same hope you helped me hold on to in a hard time. Thank you for being like the butterfly that has the ability to change how I see the hope and faith in the landscape.

You took the time
to encourage another dreamer while seeking out yours
to point the way I hadn’t realized existed.
You were dream guardians in a world of can’ts, shouldn’ts, not-for-you-kind of attitudes.

Because of women who took time in the midst of their own dream-weaving either by skyping with real to-do things (like finding an illustrator), or telling me, “You can do this,” or someone sharing encouragement, “my children loved this story” – or maybe you wrote about this dream-thing God wove into the very fiber of ourselves, or maybe you prayed. Because someone took the time out of their own dream-in-progress to encourage another, thank you for being like the butterfly that has the ability to change how I saw my landscape.

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There’s been a lot of beautiful this summer – a wedding, a family holiday, the 5 stools in my kitchen filled with sitting long and talking much, and a birthday this past week that looked like and felt like celebration and love, and my wedding anniversary (32 years). Someone asked, “How’d you do it. I can only manage the 4-year-kind.”

I think the answer is faith in the prayer, like those butterflies fluttering across my landscape.  Faith that God hears those prayers, understands better than I do how those prayers fit into his design – Faith has the ability to change how I see the landscape – both my prayers and those interceding for me.

Thank you, if you’ve been one of those encouragers, one of those who prayed – for sending those butterflies my way. Each one did, indeed, change the landscape of my life in a butterfly-kind-of-beautiful way!

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babybird_edited-1Three little birds, hungry, waiting, crying out in a voice nothing like a song. Their noise reminds me of the saying, “so hungry my stomach is gnawing my backbone.”

Unforgiveness is much like the hunger of those three little birds. The difference is that unforgiveness induces a deep, unrelenting, insatiable soul hunger. It’s not easily satisfied. Like those baby birds waits, so to waits the soul owner. The soul owner waits for the offender to come fetch their forgiveness.

Much like the hospitable hostess at the front door, a package on the door-side table wrapped and re-wrapped, waiting for the offender to come knock on the door, handing you a dish of I’m-sorries. After studying their I’m-sorries, the gift of forgiveness is then handed out.

Call this exchange a two-way street, or spiritual etiquette dance between two people. Each presents the prerequisite forgiveness requirements (the I’m-sorries and I-forgive).  Relationship is restored – Correct? The hunger caused by unforgiveness-waiting has been satisfied. Right?

That’s what I call the 7X7X7 forgiveness dance. Your brother slights, shows up at your doorstep and asks your forgiveness (Matt 18:22). No matter how many the slights or failings, you really, really forgive – his slight as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Forgiveness-by-the-book. Everyone does what they’re supposed to do.

There’s another forgiveness dance, though. One when everyone doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do. The main partner doesn’t show up to do his part. Your forgiveness gift languishes on the receiving table. You can’t give it unless they show up to receive, so hunger gnaws at your stomach until you feel it scratching at your backbone. Your daily song sounds unsatisfied like the baby birds waiting.

It’s hard – this forgiveness when nobody wants it– big and little wounds made intentionally or unintentionally. A daddy walks out, or maybe it’s a spouse. Bullies in the bathroom. Lapses in the kitchen. Wrongs in the workplace. Breaches in the family room. Unintended slights. Infractions in the neighborhood, school, roadways. Even on a desert island.

Unforgiveness like hunger gnaws, distracting from every goodness. It dams up peace like a stream until there’s nothing but a trickle left, then dryness – and you find yourself parched of it.  It stands between you in a hug, a kind word, a hand reached out for fellowship. It’s creates a haze, diffusing the joy God leaves in your daily.

Forgiveness waiting to be given becomes a parasite to the soul, leaching the nutrients properties of salvation: the burden should be lighter. Forgiveness waiting weakens the soul, burdens it.

This waiting to extend forgiveness, waiting for the right conditions, the 7X7X7 forgiveness dance is starving your soul.

On the cross, in the midst of the greatest betrayal of all, stinging from the thorns and whip lashes, lips bitter from the tainted wine, Jesus forgave even before anyone asked to be forgiven.

His friends, his church, his government walked out on him, denied him, tortured him, killed him.

We need to forgive just like that: pre-emptively, whole-heartedly, still desiring to save each offender, each sinner.

First, we have to winnow the true hurts from the pride hurts. Pride hurts, like someone not treating you as you feel your position deserves. That could be anyone from a mom whose kid didn’t get a starting position on the football team, to not being included in a social event, to not being included in a group lunch invite.

There’s the little offenses, like the man who cut you off on the highway, fast-food getting your order wrong for the umpteenth time, misjudgment of those who don’t know you, unfairness and injustice in the daily. Those really are the easy ones. They’re really the practice ones that help us with the big ones.

The big forgivenesses – sometimes we have to recognize just how deep the hurts are to forgive – to truly understand just what the cost to ourselves was – in order to fully forgive – not nickel and dime forgiveness – but full-cost forgiveness.

I learned about full-cost forgiveness with my dad who had left my mom when I was 4. Sadly, he never benefited from the forgiveness gift I had for him. I forgave him long before he died. It was like a gift he had but never bothered to open.

God helped me through that – from the point where I asked for His help to the giving of forgiveness to also learning how to not take it back.

Forgiveness is an abiding thing. When He abides in us and us in Him, forgiveness becomes easier to give.

An  unforgiving heart hungers for I’m-sorries from the very human, fallible man. It hungers wrongly. A forgiving heart hungers for the ministrations of a very loving Father-God who heals the hurts, fill the soul up with good things that satisfy.

Are you waiting on some I’m-sorries?  Are you tired of the gnawing hunger of waiting for people to collect them? Maybe you should go ahead and forgive right now, just like Jesus did. Forgiveness isn’t given because someone deserves it. It’s given because Jesus forgave us, and we don’t deserve it.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32)

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waves2ccm_edited-3Last year on the beach, as I looked for the God messages, the love letters he sends, I couldn’t take my eyes off the broken seashells, the waves that ran sliding upon the beach only to be pulled back before boundaries placed by God were overrun. The broken shards were broken souls lost without God:

“Each piece represented a broken soul
a broken soul desperate to be saved
though the soul didn’t know
it needed saving
didn’t know it could be made whole” (Like Broken Shells on a Beach)

This year, I looked out at the beach, looking with expectation, just like the crippled man begging at the Gate Beautiful looked in expectation at Peter and John – and received more than he thought possible (Acts 3:5). I looked out at the beach – a different beach, past the waves that didn’t just rush in, but bullied their way into shore, in a dangerous-rip-tide kind of bullying.

I’m learning that when I live in expectation of God, my expectation is an invitation to the one who always loves me – and He never fails. He always comes.

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope [expectation] is from him” (Psalm 62:5)

I waited with confidence; He’s told me I can – wait with confidence (Hebrews 11:1, Psalm 27:14)). Confidence in God isn’t arrogance; Confidence in God is trusting God like a little child trusts in the goodness and provision of his parents.

I waited, and He met me, at the balcony.

“Look to the horizon,” He told me. I wasn’t to focus on the bullying waves. Not on the sparkling, pretty water sprays. Not on the water trying so desperately to climb up the beach, like one imprisoned seeking freedom at all costs, only to be pulled back.

For three days, our group (about 40) rarely went in the ocean, it was so dangerous. Two of my nephews saved a woman caught in the rip-tide. They barely made it out themselves. They remembered when they were spent of all within themselves to lay back a float. It was not a good time for anyone to be immersing themselves in what was right in front of us.

No, it was better to look to the horizon.

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“Look to the horizon,” He’d said – before the Supreme Court rulings, before the Charleston, S.C. shootings.

Look up, look out – fix my eyes on Him, on His ways, on the hope of Him.

Like the focal point of a laboring woman during birth, so, too, must we choose a focal point during the big and little challenges that are like contractions to our souls, contractions designed to give new life.

It’s our choice, determining our own focal point. The pain of the daily can be big enough that I want to close my eyes and block out the focal point – but that’s my choice. I chose my focal point to be El Shaddai who can handle any situation and Jehovah-Shamah –  on the horizon – even if I don’t see Him, I believe He is both on the horizon and with me at the same time – and I am determined to keep my eyes open and focused on Him.

“David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Acts 2:25)

Like the city under siege who receives word that salvation will arrive on the horizon at dawn, with an army of 10,000 come to save, hope burns fiercely in my soul that He saves. The world may fall apart, but He saves those who are His.

My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare” (Psalm 25: 15)

Focusing on the snares in the daily, whether they be in our home towns or in another’s – doesn’t release us from the snares designed to bring us down either individually or as a group. It’s when we take our eyes off the snares and look to Him that we are redeemed from those snares. Even when the snares are thrown off and destroyed, if we keep focused on Him still, the snares will not be remade.

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Look to the horizon with expectation! What do you expect?

“Do not be afraid—I will save you.
I have called you by name—you are mine.
When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you;
your troubles will not overwhelm you.
When you pass through fire, you will not be burned;
the hard trials that come will not hurt you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the holy God of Israel, who saves you. (Psalm 43: 1-3a)

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We were at the beach a few weeks ago. Two of our sons and our new daughter-in-law went parasailing. As I stood there watching, taking photos, God and I had a moment – a heads-leaning together, He understanding my humor when I said, “Parenting looks just like that, especially at the independence-with-training-wheels point and the full-blown independence point.”

Without faith, I couldn’t do it with an iota of grace. Without faith, I’d be scared, hollering at them to come back where it’s safe (like, really, where I am is safer at all?), crying, and asking everyone and their brother to help, to step in, to do something, to make. them. come. back.

I might be saying things like “They could break something. . . . something I cannot fix – you know – those unfixable things that once broken can’t be fixed. . . .They’re going to hell in a handbasket. . . . . Oh, my – they’ve really done it now!” You know – those out of control, only the-negative-outcome-wins kind of thoughts.

I might have even started out this parenting gig 29 years ago with a few moments like that – because I didn’t understand faith and hope – and tied together with God’s mighty, very interested, very hands-on, I-got-the-plan-and-understand-why-this-is-happening kind of love.

I sat there, camera in hand, watching these people I love soar – beyond my control – but under God’s.

How I can feel as a parent and how I can feel as a citizen of American right now have some commonalities. I can feel fear, disappointment, lack of control over a lot of decisions, both in the leadership of our country and on our streets. I can run around trying to fix everything, bemoan the state of everything, speak failure, downfall, going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket kind of faithless prophecy. I could do that. I hear it all the time, as if God isn’t big enough to save America. It would be so easy . . . . or I can do what I’ve done these last 29 years- ask God to handle the plan. . . . believe He is bigger than any challenge.

I can “Cry out”(ask God) like the angel instructed Zechariah – and “Cry out, again”(ask God, again), per the angel’s same instructions – so that God will intercede where man cannot (Zechariah 1:14, 17).

There are many who love our Lord. If the population in America is 318,881,992 (million) and the Christian population is 223,217,394.4 – and God was willing to save Sodom if 50 righteous men – I think we’ve got that, friends. I think out of 223,217, 394.4 Christians – there are many righteous children of God for whom He would save our country. There are many in our country who have not forgotten. We need to take our eyes off those who have no faith in Him, and place our eyes on Him. I believe he is bigger than those who do not believe Him or heed His ways.

He says, “he who touches you touches the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8).

Cry out, – and, then, after we’ve cried out, we need to take a deep breath and trust – and show that trust by praising God, loving on Him with our praises. There’s a lot in our country that needs intercessory prayer – but let’s start first by seeing God’s goodness around us, praising Him in the hard rain of a summer storm, worms from a mother bird whose baby fell out of the nest and scampered to safety, sweet peaches in cream on a summer Sunday morning, the grace in a sit long and talk much opportunity of a relationship restoration, the cool break in a summer hot, 4 stools filled with boys at the kitchen counter talking big and little thing and barbecue, faith that God is bigger than men chipping away at our country’s foundation, kitchen hugs that show love never fails, God’s faithfullness in the seed-time and harvest of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, dill, lavender – and rain trees, how the smell of home-grown Spanish onions never fails to make me close my eyes, inhale deeply and smile – every summer, and that over the course of our beach holiday, one son emerged a new creation, one learned the value of sun screen – and that a parasailing adventure read, to this mother’s heart, like Miracle/Mystery faith play – a God message of encouragement.

No battle has been lost, friends. The battle is God’s – and His victory is assured. Praise Him in faith for it!

I bless GOD every chance I get;
my lungs expand with his praise.
2 I live and breathe GOD;
if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
3 Join me in spreading the news;
together let’s get the word out.
4 GOD met me more than halfway,
he freed me from my anxious fears.
5 Look at him; give him your warmest smile.
Never hide your feelings from him.
6 When I was desperate, I called out,
and GOD got me out of a tight spot.
7 GOD’s angel sets up a circle
of protection around us while we pray.
8 Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—
how good GOD is.
Blessed are you who run to him.
9 Worship GOD if you want the best;
worship opens doors to all his goodness.
10 Young lions on the prowl get hungry,
but GOD-seekers are full of God.
11 Come, children, listen closely;
I’ll give you a lesson in GOD worship.
12 Who out there has a lust for life?
Can’t wait each day to come upon beauty?
13 Guard your tongue from profanity,
and no more lying through your teeth.
14 Turn your back on sin; do something good.
Embrace peace—don’t let it get away!
15 GOD keeps an eye on his friends,
his ears pick up every moan and groan.
16 GOD won’t put up with rebels;
he’ll cull them from the pack.
17 Is anyone crying for help? GOD is listening,
ready to rescue you.
18 If your heart is broken, you’ll find GOD right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.
19 Disciples so often get into trouble;
still, GOD is there every time.
20 He’s your bodyguard, shielding every bone;
not even a finger gets broken.
21 The wicked commit slow suicide;
they waste their lives hating the good.
22 GOD pays for each slave’s freedom;
no one who runs to him loses out.
Psalm 34: 1-22

See To Save a City: Interceding for a Nation

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butterflybushc2ccdd_edited-1“When you work from faith, either you will step forward onto something solid, or you will be given wings” (Carolyn Weber, Surprised by Oxford)

Wordless for about 4 weeks, except for these words: “I’m doing a new thing in you” – waves and waves of new things, pushing me through new door after new door.

I’ve separated spider’s knots, transplanted a peony into a sunnier place, gone deep into Samson’s story, sat long and listened much to my two home-boys and their friends, been Surprised by Oxford – and in the surprise fallen in love with the imprint of our Lord in the classics more than when I was in graduate school.

“The mind is its own place, and can make
a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n” (John Milton, Paradise Lost).

How did I miss what Milton was saying when I was 22/23 years old? – that what you speak and what you think are what you get?

How is it I didn’t recognize how much faith and understanding was in Milton’s heart? Was it that I didn’t really pay attention to what the words were saying – what the words really meant? -or was I so busy being appalled by professors diminishing the faith of classical writers that I missed the faith of what they were really saying?

“‘Many of the Romantics knew  much of Milton by heart – how can you study these writers if you do not know what was in their hearts as they themselves wrote?’ Then he added, thoughtfully, ‘ While you are at it, I also suggest that you memorize the first few chapters of Genesis. So you know what was in Milton’s heart, too'” (Weber).

Some 30 years later, I find myself wanting go back – and learn anew, learn better and deeper.

In between being surprised by this delightful book, I’m still processing Deidre Rigg’s Jumping Tandem retreat, meeting  face-to-face blogging friends who have encouraged me heart-to-heart for the last few years. Attending the retreat was a stretching process in itself – stretching myself to walk outside my comfort zone – through the airport, so many states away from my family where I found warmth, caring and encouragement every step of the way. I remembered the 20-something in me, young, married – traveling with my husband to a glass-class in Holland, the fearlessly confident me who boarded a train for a day-trip to Belgium to visit a Carmelite cloister while my husband learned about glass-making. I remembered visiting historic places – undaunted about traveling to unknown places alone. 28 years of mothering these 5 sons – and two still at home, while it stretched others parts of me, left other parts of me un-worked. That weekend, I was stretched – and it was good.

I went on an afternoon photography walk with Laura Boggess, sat long and talked much with Brandee Shafer, Car-pooled from the airport with Dolly Lee, Amanda Hill, Tammy Belau. Maybe it’s the mothering in me – having carted around so many kids in my car so many years, so many rich conversations – but car-pooling with these women made me feel right at home.

I hung out with Elizabeth Stewart, Marilyn Yocum from my hometown, Linda Gibbs, Diane Bailey – and Christy Mac-Rodriguez, who didn’t really believe my luggage would arrive by 3 a.m., but sat with my on the porch in those awesome rockers and talked to me until mid-night.

I don’t think anyone really believe my luggage would show up any time soon – but after listening to Joel Olsteen on the radio for about 7 to 9 hours worth of driving to Louisville to read my books to elementary school children, visiting with my aunt – and flying out of Louisville because there weren’t any available in Nashville – I was optimistic, hopeful, full of faith – and at 2:55 a.m. that Friday night, after flight cancellations and new flights booked – the luggage arrived!

Lisha Epperson was part of this stretching. I was hesitant to walk through the doors of her dance session at the Jumping Tandem retreat, yet, it was the one session I knew I would deeply regret missing if I did not. Maybe it’s this fearless confidence I’m working on this year – listening to God’s promptings of what He wants me to do – and so I did – even though I hadn’t danced since I was seven. At seven, though, I didn’t realize I could dance for God.

I took my 52-year-old, apple-shaped, out-of-shape self – and reached way down deep inside to pull out the little girl who once loved to dance until someone told her dance classes had stolen her grace, and how someone had once told the girl developing in me “what’s up front” is what really counts – not the brain, not the heart, not the humor, not the me, just the physically endowed, girl-quality of mammary glands – and so I grew bent over, trying to hide the superficial, so wanting to be valued for the inside-stuff because that was where the most important part of me was.

I took my 52-year-old self a few weeks ago – into praise dancing with you Lisha– and danced for God – reaching high, bending low – stretching to awakeness. Lisha led us all in gentle, God-lifting encouragement, creating an environment that allowed me to retrieve something I’d misplaced long ago – and I was able to stretch deep, pull it back to me, and with ballerina hands turning, arms rising, palms outward, giving, reaching to offer whatever I have to offer to a loving Father, Lisha taught me, also, palms turning heart-ward to pull close what He gives . Lisha brought grace to brokenness – and that brokenness became grace – maybe not to the world’s eyes, but to His eyes.

After the last prayer, the last hug, I climbed on a plane to my hometown, then drove about 4 hours to where home is now – and without skipping a beat, stepped right back into a daily I’ve done for almost 29 years.

When I picked up the boys from school, the older of the two immediately had an allergic reaction – either to Mother Nature, a virus – or me. (Am I the only one who sees the humor from the coincidence in that? Surely, that kind of humor is not what finally-over-the-edge looks like?) It took 5 days for him to totally recover. Homecomings are never glitche-free, no matter how love-filled they are.

I am home, living in the regular of the daily – but there’s a thread of something new going on – a thread tangled Gd-intentionally up in this fearless confidence lesson He’s working on with me this year.

I’m not quite the same person who boarded the plane, though I’m living in the daily “same.”

There’s been no radical, immediate transformation. Just something happening breath by breath, as He draws me closer to where He’s leading me, showing me where the stones are, building faith for wings.

I suspect, though, what’s going on is all about the wings – and the faith required to use them!

“When you work from faith, either you will step forward onto something solid, or you will be given wings”(Weber, Surprised by Oxford)

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I drive my boys nuts telling them stories they’ve heard and heard – and I thought, well, I want to tell this story again. I want somebody to hear it – because it meant so much to me to live it. That’s what friends do! Right? Listen to the same story over and over because they know their friend needed to tell it, needed to be reminded. Wrapping you in a big, heart-felt thank you for listening (reading) it again – if you’ve heard (read) it before.

socks45

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done”
(Luke 22:42)

Jesus let go . . . to do His Father’s work

He let go so that the Father, whose arms were open wide, could wrap them around more of His children.

Jesus opened his arms wide on the cross, to suffer a mother’s terrifying, heart-wrenching nightmare, so a world of me’s could find their way into the wide open embrace of His father.

Jesus let go . . . for me

“Love your neighbor as I have loved you,” (John 13:34)

Loving our neighbors somehow seems a little distant. Maybe because neighbors today do not know your mama, your granddaddy, your great-aunt Ruby. There’s no history, no connection . . . no real-time cause to create a love effect.

. . . but it’s a choice – this loving. Chose to live it this way; Love people like you love your children: fiercely, uncompromisingly, self-sacrificingly.

I hold my children, encircled in the love of my heart, wrapping that love around them like hugging arms. Yeah, sometimes that love might feel like a vice-grip to them. Maybe I’ll learn to love more gently, but I need to love them the best I can – and in the loving of them, I need to stretch this heart, to let others inside, wrapping that love around them like God does, like Jesus did, arms wide open, ready, waiting.

Letting go means loving more, like being broken in Him makes us whole.

Are you ready, willing to give that father love or mother love, or even daughter/son love to those outside your home, both those easy and uneasy to love?

5 sons. 1 daughter-in-law. 1 husband. 1 scardy cat. That makes 8 different ways for me to communicate. 8 different schedules. 8 different moods. 8 different needs. 8 different responses.  There are 5 love languages that need mastering and 7 Spiritual Gifts to interpret.

Prayer for 8. Dinner for 6. Clean socks for 5.

I can get absorbed in my family. In my reactions to my family. Into the mysteries of my family. My. My. My. My.

 “If anyone would come after me, they must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Whoever tries to save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24)

Yes, sometimes, I need to let go of my to embrace His . . .His children, His love, His spirit, His word, His Fatherness, His schedule.

Letting Go of my to be His laborer

Today, in the grocery store with my cart  filled with Mama Rosa’s cheese pizzas for my littlest guy, I hummed, focused on feeding the my’s in my life. Shrieking noises wafted over the aisles. My cart and I continued on. High-pitched squeals moved closer, not happy squeals – out-of-control squeals. Chicken to make soup for my biggest teen. Futile mother shouts encroached. Salsa for my Joyful one, mechanical pencils for my fire-and-power son. Running feet closed in, noise moving  passionately invading my reverie. Pelegrino for my thirst.

As I was just reaching for enchilada sauce, a little boy appeared with the shrieking voice. You know the kind of sound – the sound a little 4 year old makes when he thinks he is playing a game of tag and keeps slipping from your touch, evading. At least, I think he was 4.

Racing down the aisle, weaving between customers, he stopped in front of  my cart. Grabbing hold, he stepped to stand on the end, just like my boys did when they were little, wanting to ride. But he was not my boy.

I could just see the headlines, “Boy flips cart, critically injured.” Or maybe, “Woman accused of imminent child-theft” all because he was suddenly wanting to ride my cart.

Treading carefully – because he wasn’t mine to scold, I told him he needed to step off the cart. He did. I kept looking for his mother, expecting her to call him. Nothing. In a quandary, I calmly pushed the cart forward.  He decided to go with me like he was my boy.

“You need to go back to your mom. You shouldn’t be here with me,” I suggested.

“Do you think I’m going to hell?” he asked, making eye contact, stopped still in front of me.

My world stopped. Letting Go of my concerns, I looked at him squarely in the eye. Wanting to say so much, wanting to say it so right, but only having grocery-store aisle time. I finally said, looking back at him straight in the eye, “You can go to heaven if you want to.”

“Can I go home with you?” he asked. If my spirit had arms, which in this case, I think it did, well those spirit arms pulled him into my heart, into the circle of my family. Prayer for 9 now. Still 5 pairs of socks for matching, but prayer for 9.

That little boy, standing in front of my cart, in sudden stillness, revealed his brokenness, revealed a cry to be made whole – at little years old.

“Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me,
and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 19: 13-14)

His mother and grandmother came around the corner then. He took off, lots of noise, lots of energy followed by lots of parental hollering.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24)

Letting go of my thoughts, my reverie, my concerns, my challenges. I prayed. That God would send laborers across this little boy’s path. That his eyes would be opened to the truth – that he is a child of God. That heaven is his for the asking. That angels would encamp about him and protect him. That healthy boundaries would be set for him. No matter how much little boys balk at having healthy boundaries set, they cry out for someone to love them enough to set them.

Letting go of my

To wrap God’s love around His

All because Jesus let go first for me.

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My second granddaughter was born early last week. It’s a time of celebration in our family. I wrote this prayer when her sister was born, this prayer for my granddaughter. I’m praying it – with much rejoicing and cheering again. For Ava and Norah:  “A Seed Bag, Water Bucket and Harvest Basket” was written for my granddaughter to share at a Blessing Shower. I wanted to share it with you in celebration.
Open your heart and hear
Sweet little girl
The voice of the Father
calling to
the Harvest Field
far and near.

Gather you
your water bucket,
seed bags
and harvest basket
gather and carry them
to the field,
Ripe
for harvest,

Little feet walking between
the furrows
Toes digging in,
breaking through the soul
With a laborer’s prayers

Little hands growing,
Working in opened-handed sowing,
releasing
Faith,
Hope,
and Love
seeds


Pouring out God’s
Holy Spirit Water
Sometimes awkward, sometimes grace-filled
sometimes rushing like a river
othertimes like the slow drip off a leaf
your water bucket pouring God
into thirsty seeds

Little feet at home in the field
Sometimes falling
But lifted up
By labor-field companions.
Little girl,
Raise your voice, growing praise
Singing, praying, encouraging
Bringing down a Holy Spirit Rain
To Miracle Grow the Harvest

Fill the Father’s baskets
Fill them to over-flowing
Neglect not a seed planted,
A vine reaching, a soul crying
To be gathered into the Harvest basket.

Little girl
With a bare, open-handed spirit,
Praising a Loving God
Calling your brothers and sisters
To the Harvest Field

Don’t forget to
Sit in the shade
Drinking your fill of living water
Finding refreshment, peace and contentment
At the feet of the Father who
created you,
Fitted you
For carrying your water bucket, seed bag and harvest basket.

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barndoors_edited-1The other day, I did a radio interview for my new book release. It was my second radio interview, but I still had little confidence in my ability to sound coherent.  The only confidence I carried into that booth with me was that I could survive the 10 minute span. It’s the same technique I used to get through 5 labor and deliveries – thinking that in 24 hours it would be over.

Friends and family were so encouraging. When I told them I was shaking in my shoes, one said, “I can’t imagine you being nervous about anything.”

When I first started teaching college students, I wasn’t much older than they were. I had mutiny nightmares for weeks. However, I walked into that classroom acting like I knew what I was doing. Eventually, I did.

Motherhood was like that. I had to persuade a newborn, a 3 month old, a 5-year-old, a pre-teen – eventually a teen that I knew what I was doing. Sadly, once they went to college, I think they saw through me.

Confidence in me? Not an ounce for what I can do – but I am Fearlessly Confident.

Fearless Confidence has nothing to do with the quality of my scones, lemon-curd or chocolate-ganache filled cupcakes or the quality of the photographs I take or words written or stories I tell.

Fearless Confidence has nothing to do with commas, semi-colons, colons, verb tenses, vocabulary or grammar rules, writing structures or transitions.

There’s no Fearless Confidence in how I mother these 5 sons.

Fearless Confidence has nothing to do with sock matching, laundry folding or delivery to the right boy’s room.

Fearless Confidence doesn’t mean I respond to driver’s in the on-coming lane crossing the yellow line any better.

It doesn’t mean I think you’ll love my children’s books, that I always shepherd correctly – or even always love rightly.

Offers to help can turn out all wrong – so no Fearless Confidence there, either.

I can try to share grace-filled words that are heard/received with the opposite intent.

Fearless confidence has nothing to do with how I do anything.

It has everything to do with whose I am.

Through the Fall, up through December, my husband had been encouraging me to show the world the same fearless confidence I show him, my boys or my community.

“Talk to ‘em like you do me,” he’d say.

“But the world isn’t you,” I’d respond. “There’s no place for that kind of confidence there.”

It can be a restricting thing when the “world” says, “Leave who you are at home.”

barnstairs_edited-1Being boxed up can cause self-atrophy of who we are God-designed to be.

Atrophy:

  1. gradually decline in effectiveness or vigor due to under-use or neglect
  2. (of body tissue or an organ) waste away, typically due to the degeneration of cells, or become vestigial during evolution.

Sometimes, the world we walk in is uncomfortable with Fearless Confidence. In the uncomfortableness of Fearless Confidence we hide it, only taking who we are out – every once in a while, in the safe places.

It is not how we were designed to live our God-designed journey. Even if we are believing it inside – in our hearts and minds – we are designed to be who we are  outside, too – on the sidewalks, highways and hallways of this life we walk. If we don’t, who we are designed to be weakens, shrivels up, unable to stretch fully into God’s design.

One day, between Christmas and New Years, I happened upon Elizabeth’s blog, Just following Jesus, about her one word of the year-endurance (she does a beautiful job showing the grace, beauty and faith of endurance – stop by and read her post).

Do not, therefore, fling away your fearless confidence, for it carries a great and glorious compensation of reward. For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance, so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God, and thus receive and carry away, and enjoy to the full, what is promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36)

My soul caught on, not just the words Fearless Confidence – but the admonishment to not fling it away. Fearless Confidence caught like mohair yarn snagged on barn-door wood – it caught at me and wouldn’t let me be.

“That’s your words for the year,” the one who created me whispered quiet.

“Oh, no – not that word – not Fearless Confidence – the world – it doesn’t want that,” I told Him. The world can be mean-spirited when it doesn’t want things. A self-atrophied spirit can fight for others, but rarely feels up for a fight for self.

“This is  going to be hard. It will be really – really uncomfortable,” my heart whispered right back.

. . . . and for a few days, we both just let it sit between us. God knows that sometimes I need time to turn things over. He had faith in me that I’d come around – and come around faster than I used to.

One of the best lessons I’ve learned about God, His directives and His timing – is that when He tells me something – it doesn’t mean I was supposed to have had it done yesterday – that I’m somehow late because I should have known and then I trip all over myself in graceless haste because I believe I’m already behind.

I’ve learned that when He tells me I’m to do something, He prepares me for it, has created a time frame for it to not just get it done but time to also ready for it – and that time frame is before me. I am not late because He is not late.

. . . . and for a few days, the words Fearless Confidence sat between us. He knew I would need time to absorb . . . time for me to take a deep breath . . . .and step into this new year where together He would teach me how to walk, talk and be Fearlessly Confident in a world that wanted none of it.

Fearless Confidence? “Oh, they just think too much of themselves,” some people say.

“They just think they’re better than anybody else.”

Someone else’s Fearless Confidence can be intimidating.

Eleanor Roosevelt, in This is My Story, said, ““No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

But they can try. . .

“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages,” said Virginia Woolf.

. . . . thus encouraging us to walk into their cages and lock ourselves up.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams,” Henry David Thoreau admonished. “Live the life you’ve imagined.”

I have no fearless confidence in the life I imagined – but I do have fearless confidence in the life He designed for me, the dreams He’s placed in me, and the journey He’s given me – because He’s given them. My dreams are just shadows to God’s plans.

barnbudc_edited-1I can have fearless confidence in who I am through Him because He tells me so:

He tells me that He designed me, put all these dreams and things in me, planned every day of my life. I am not who I am by whimsical happenstance. I am who I am because I am God-designed, God-loved. In that, I have fearless confidence.

My stories and words may not be welcomed by everyone – but they are welcomed by those who were designed to receive them.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)

Does this Fearless Confidence mean I’m soul-cleaner, holier, smarter, more worthy of going up to God – ’cause He’s the big cheese, you know – and, well, I hear He hangs with Mother Teresa, Peter, James and John?

No – it just means that I know that He’s my dad – and, he manages to make all of us feel like his favorites. Because He’s my Dad, I know I’m always welcome – even when I get myself into those messes I manage to contrive. He doesn’t tell me to come back when I’m cleaned up.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

God doesn’t create an inner-circle that leaves any of His children out. He makes room at His table for all of us. He always has time for me and you – even when He’s in the middle of something big. . . . even when He’s talking to someone the world thinks is more important than everyday ordinary men and women like you and me.

“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory” (Hebrews 3:6).

The Fearless Confidence in Hebrews 10: 35 – is about fearless confidence in who I am to the great I Am, to Shaddai, to Jehovah-Raah – the Lord is my Shepherd, to Jehovah Rapha – the Lord my healer, to Jehovah Jireh – my provider, to Jehovah Shalom – my peace, to not just carry the banner of Jehovah-Nissi – but to walk with fearless confidence under His banner.

He designed my days before I was born – he is not surprised when I find myself in the middle of a self-designed mess.

He knit me together inside and out – gave me spiritual gifts, love languages – and a skill set designed just for me.

He sent His son to die on the cross, so that I could be called His child, His daughter – a daughter of the King – who can run into His throne room, fling myself into His arms and laugh with joy or cry for mercy – or even just talk.

He loves me beautiful – even when I don’t feel it. He designed each of us to be loved beautiful.

So when I walk into a library and ask if I can come read my books, I’m fearlessly confident – not that they will say, “Yes” – but fearlessly confident I am His beloved daughter.

When I’m invited to read to a classroom of students, I am His beloved daughter. That morning on the radio, I really just had to show up and be who He designed me to be right then and there – not who I am going to be in 10 years or 19 days.

Even after 32 years of marriage, and, yes, fearless confidence in the love my husband has for me and the love I have for him, I don’t have confidence that I do marriage perfect – but I have Fearless Confidence that God and His love works it beautiful right.

No matter who I work for, whether it’s inside the family or outside the family – I am His beloved daughter.

I am not confident in my mothering skills, but I am Fearless Confidence that God has the saving plan – for me, my husband, my boys, my daughter-in-law and DIL-to-be, my granddaughter – and one coming soon.

It has taken me awhile to work through this word – to walk in the world with this Fearless Confidence, to not just live it in the safe places. Let me tell you, it changed everything. It redeemed the challenges. God moved in ways that just had me standing still on the sidelines, watching God move. All I could say was, “Well-played, God! Well-played!”

“Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10).

Be still in the Fearless Confidence of who God is and who you are to God! If you don’t know, don’t feel it – who you are to God, ask Him to show you, to help you understand – and He will. Those dreams you have? He knows all about them and wants to help you with them.

He wants you to be Fearlessly Confident that you are His, designed-beautiful, designed for joy, designed for good things.

Do not, therefore, fling away your fearless confidence, for it carries a great and glorious compensation of reward. For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance, so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God, and thus receive and carry away, and enjoy to the full, what is promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36)

( I realize that my Word for the Year is really 2 words – but that’s what He gave me. My word doesn’t always start in January – usually, just when He gives it to me. It’s like enrolling in a class for whatever duration He designs it to be where we study. My last word was Shalom)

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grass

low bends the frozen reed, like a heart unmoved
by a mother’s plea
faith, let it break not beneath the weight, she cries
bent over the Mercy Seat

thawed and bruised, like a heart wounded to waking
by a mother’s plea
faith, let it break not to loss, she cries
bent over her Father’s feet

thin and reedy it faces the sun, reaching
by its own heart’s plea
break this heart open to love thee well
a mother’s child cries at the Mercy Seat

A bruised reed he will not break, (Isaiah 42:3)

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