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Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

keithsbabybraceletc

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 20th, Christmas  time

. . . a mistake just realized. . . .

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

There’d been a mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The birth and resurrection had never seemed so closely connected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Severe aortic stenosis? “All is well”

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

How are you doing? “All is well”

All is well!

The Passover just collided with Christmas and Easter.

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

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

and All is Well. . . Even Though Devotional)

lakeleafc

 

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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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desertcarcThe engine of progress begins with a soul inspired. A soul inspired begins with a relationship with God. A relationship with God begins with a conversation, a talk and listen, and an “I-believe-Lord.-Help-my-unbelief” kind of growing trust. It’s Monday. Monday is a good day to begin being inspired.

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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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I’m feeling keenly the contrasts lately. Maybe it has something to do with being a “tween” – living life in between aging family with health challenges and raising children still in the nest or encouraging those outside the nest. One day I’m hugging grandlittles who give whole-hearted hugs or big slurpy smiles – and another day, I’m sitting beside a hospital bed, holding hands with someone I love who fell, who doesn’t always remember, who doesn’t always smile and be the person I’ve known since before I can remember – or I’m sitting next to my mom in a doctor’s office, waiting for results – they were good results – her numbers are in a good level – and I marvel at my mom, her get-up-and-go spirit that a brain tumor, carcinoid cancer – or even neck surgery cannot slow down or get down – and I tell her to share with me a thimble-full of that indomitable spirit.

Every season has its contrasts.  I was thinking about those contrasts while I sat on a beach far from home for a soccer tournament (LOL – so tough) – and the gulls, they sounded like they were laughing at me. The next day, I understood why they were laughing as if they knew something I didn’t. The next day it poured rain all morning. The last soccer game was postponed (after the players had already warmed up in the pouring rain). Maybe those seagulls knew – and the contrast was a hysterical joke to them.

While my son’s team played, it snowed in Tennessee – and when we got home later that night, while the snow was long gone – it was snow cold! All these contrasts in so many areas of everyday living – the sunshine and rain helped me organize not just my thoughts but my heart, this sunshine and rain sent me to Ecclesiastes 3 – “To everything there is a season” part . . . and it made me think of my seasonal contrasts.

. . . .there’s a time to sow and reap, a time to scatter stones and pick them up, a time to keep and throw away, a time to tear and mend – part of this time for everything is a time to sit in the sun . . . and a time to stand in the rain,
a time to rise early . . . and a time to sleep in,
a time to hold their fingers while little ones learn to walk . . . and a time to send off to independence
a time to give hugs . . . and a time to be hands off,
a time to match socks . . . and a time to let them sit, untouched,
a time for gentle love . . . and a time for tough love,
a time to bury the zinnia seeds in the soil . . . and a time to pull up the roots for winter,
a time to gather the old stories . . . and a time to let some stories go,
a time to help my children be successful . . . and a time to let them learn how to handle failure,
a time to hurt . . . and a time to forgive,
a time to feast . . . and a time for leftovers,
a time for wild apple ginger tea with honey . . . and a time for plain black coffee,
a time to pray . . . and a time to live in the wait of a prayer sent out,
a time to be alone . . . and a time to sit around a table with friends and family,
a time to take responsibility . . . and a time to give the hard stuff to God
a time to grill cheese sandwiches . . . and a time to bake my Blue Cotton Crunch Cake.

“Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—
how good God is.
Blessed are you who run to him” ~ Psalm 34:8

Recipe for Blue Cotton Crunch Cake

Part 1: The Blueberry Crunch Part
Wash and drain 4 cups blueberries, set aside
Measure and mix the following:
1 cup flour,
1 cup oatmeal,
1 cup brown sugar
1 Stick melted butter
When all 4 ingredients stirred and all ingredients are incorporated,
set aside to prepare Part 2.

Part 2: The Cake Part
Cream 1/2 Cup Butter and 1/2 Cup Butter-flavored Crisco Baking Stick
Add 1 and 1/2 Cup Sugar
Blend two together until creamy
Add the following mixture 1/3 at a time to the creamy mixture: 2 Cups Sifted Flour, 1 tsp. Baking Powder, 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda.
When mixed, add 3 well-beaten eggs (room temperature)
Next, add 1 Cup Sour Cream.

Line an 8-inch tube cake pan with baking wax paper after spraying with a non-stick spray.
1) Fill Bottom of the tube cake pan with half cake mixture
2) Sprinkle 2 cups of the blueberries on top of the cake mixture.
3) Sprinkle half of the oatmeal, flour, brown sugar and butter mixture on top of the blueberries, ensuring the top is completely covered. The crunch part is the top of the cake.
(Recipe makes 2 cakes)
Bake at 350° for one hour.
When cooled, turn cake out of the pan. Turn again so that the crunch part is the top. The difference between the tube cake pan and a bundt pan for this recipe is the tube cake pan creates a flatter top which better holds the lemon curd. With a bundt pan, the lemon curd drips off creating a lemony, sticky mess.

Part Three: The Lemon Curd Part
4 Eggs
Pinch of salt
2 Cups Sugar
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice(fresh squeezed)
1/4 Cup Butter
Zest from one lemon
Mix well. Then put in a double boiler, cooking 30 minutes until thick. Put in jar and refrigerate until ready to use. I make a day ahead so it is good and cool, which makes it more manageable. Spoon on cake top when ready to serve.
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Grandmother’s Christmas Coffee Cake
Blue Cotton Blueberry Crunch
Holiday Living with Mason Jar Summertime Pies

http://www.missionalwomen.com/     Faith-Filled Fridays
http://arabahjoy.com     Grace and Truth
http://www.janiscox.com/ Sunday Stillness
Porch Stories – http://kristinhilltaylor.com/
Trekking Through – http://www.trekkingthru.com/
Woman to Woman – http://www.w2wministries.org/
Searching for Moments http://www.lorischumaker.com/better-wife/
http://www.richfaithrising.com/    Unite the Bloggosphere
http://purposefulfaith.com/     Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://www.messymarriage.com/  Messy Marriage
http://holleygerth.com/     Coffee for Your Heart
http://3dlessons4life.com/     Thought-Provoking Thursday
God-sized Dreams http://www.godsizeddreams.com/
http://donnareidland.com   Mondays @ Soul Survival
https://faithadventures.me/ #TeaAndWord Tuesday
The Modest Mom The Art of Homemaking Musing Mondays
Purposeful Faith Tea & Word Tuesday Talk  
 Blessed But Stressed
 Embracing Everyday Glimpses
Fresh Market Friday:  Fresh Market Friday

Anita Ojeda 

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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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barnhouse

My husband and I were driving to town when we passed a white clapboard house nestled under big shade trees. Standing tall and sturdy next to the house, just the right amount of space to the left was a big, old barn. It reminded me of a knight standing ready to protect his lady.

A For Sale sign was in the yard.

“Your house is for sale,” my husband said. He knows how much I love old houses. This one was a red tin-roofed, two-story with a balcony above the front porch. A house with a porch – a real porch, wide enough for a swing and chairs. It had lots of windows, too. A house with lots of windows looks like a house where its inhabitants chose happiness. It seems like it would be filled with stories of people who loved life fully, both inside and out.

A house with a barn, or a barn with a house, would know of barn owls, chipmunks, barn cats and sparrows, goats, chickens, dogs, and cows. Maybe lambs, too. Wheel barrows, water troughs, muck rakes, forks, hammers and crowbars wouldn’t gather dust or get lost from lack of use. A weather vane, too – on top of the barn, along with a barometer. I wonder if that would be more reliable than television weather forecasters and radar.

Words and phrases like seed-time, reaping a harvest and storehouse would be common place. Plowing, gathering, threshing and winnowing, knowing how to collect wood for and how to build a fire – well, those would be every day living things, every day working out the physical examples of God’s spiritual principles. I think that would help his spiritual message plant somewhere deep in our souls.

About four weeks ago, they  tore down that white clapboard farmhouse that had stood beside its barn for longer than a lifetime – to make way for a new neighborhood. Bulldozers and gravel trucks bellowed freely now between where the house had been and the barn stood, its life companion gone. I pulled in and took a photo of the barn before they tore it down, too. What good is an empty barn in a field replaced with yards and houses? A few days later, it was bulldozed down. They didn’t take it apart to rebuild somewhere else. A heap of brokenness, someone burned it up a few days ago. It saddens me.

It saddens me, just like it saddens me that my great-grandmother and grandfather’s farmhouse burned down after my Uncle Jim died. The milk barn is overgrown with weeds and viney things that wouldn’t have been allowed to grow near either the house or the barn. The barn roof is falling in. Sometimes, I want to go back, to feel the stories, to sit on the porch steps worn with the footprints of those whose story set up mine, whose faith stories have become a storehouse of blessing, a rich spiritual inheritance that point to relationship with God. But the porch, along with the house, are no longer there for sitting and remembering.

The stories are being forgotten – and the buildings aren’t there to retell them. These stories, they’re the love and faith stories, these farmhouses and barns. If the walls could talk, they would tell over-coming stories, forgiveness stories, being born and born again stories, funny stories, loss and crying stories, cat and mouse stories, laughing stories, every day ordinary stories, growing up stories, feast and famine stories.

barnhouse848484dcThe farmhouse remembers the children’s bedtimes and where the jam, apples, butter and potatoes were stored. It knows what Christmas smelled like and what the cooling breeze in summer hotness felt like.  It knows the sound of big and little feet on the floorboards and which steps creak in the stairwell. It knows the goodnight stories and songs, and the sound of little ones breathing in sleep and the bigger ones sawing in sleep. It knows the challenges that spilled over, disrupting its peace, shaking its hope and faith.  It knows how the hard was softened, and that love which never gives up lasts a lifetime. The farmhouse, while a hive of activity, is where the place of refreshing lives, where the broken can be made whole.  It is where God’s word is read and then walked out to the barn, to the neighbors, and into town.

The farmhouse and the barn,
a boy and his girl,
a mom and a dad,
a grandmother and grandfather,
a barn and his farmhouse,
a farmhouse and her barn,

It’s a love story of give and take, provision and comfort,

of small town entrepreneurs in charge of their own destiny

where a full barn allows a house to become a home full of heart.

the barn is like the spirit of a man, the farmhouse the spirit of the woman

a symbiotic kind-of-love

He braves the harsh elements to fill the barn with the stuff comfort and security are made from. From the storehouses of barn he brings – and from the heart of the house, she gives. . . .

He gives her the grain – and she gives back bread.

He gives her the wool – and she gives back scarves, hats, sweaters and socks.

He gives her the cotton – and she stitches together crazy quilts for the bitter cold times.

He tears and she mends.

He gives honor and love; and she gives it right back.

He gives her trust to be who she is, and she gives him respect to be who he is.

He invites God into every dusty corner of the barn of himself,
and she invites God into every corner of the farmhouse of herself.

He gives her children, and she gives him a legacy,
but together they give their children an inheritance of blessing.

Each gives the other purpose; one without the other are incomplete.

Side by side,
storm after storm,
quiet after quiet,
year after year
the farmhouse and her barn
the barn and his farmhouse

They just might fade from memory, may even be exchanged for a different kind of living. The inheritance, though, it runs deep into the very fiber of a God-designed DNA. While the barn might be torn down, along with the farmhouse, and the faith and love stories forgotten, God redeems the faith, hope and love in story – he has the floor plan to rebuild what was forgotten, to redeem those who belong to the story.

The farmhouse and the barn,
a boy and his girl,
a mom and a dad,
a grandmother and grandfather
who built something more
than a barn and a farmhouse

“Listen, dear friends, to God’s truth,
bend your ears to what I tell you.
I’m chewing on the morsel of a proverb;
I’ll let you in on the sweet old truths,
Stories we heard from our fathers,
counsel we learned at our mother’s knee.
We’re not keeping this to ourselves,
we’re passing it along to the next generation—
God’s fame and fortune,
the marvelous things he has done” ~ Psalm 78: 1-6

**None of the farmhouses pictured belong to the barns in the photographs. The first barn above is the one I discuss. The first house is one that was torn down a few years ago.

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A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children,” ~ Proverbs 13:22a

 

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butterfly17acLet me draw a deep breath here! (I love punny things). My boys would think it sounds like a lecture coming – and maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t.

I could say I’m inspired, but semantics just won’t let me. To be inspired is a holy thing:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3: 16-17).

The 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary defines inspiration to “infuse or suggest ideas or monitions supernaturally; to communicate divine instructions to the mind. In this manner, we suppose the prophets to have been inspired, and the Scriptures to have been composed under divine influence or direction.”

The world says inspiration is “to infuse ideas or the poetic spirit.” It’s just like the world to take a holy word and sieve God out of it.

I think I’m going to leave the inspiration thing with God, not a piece of art, a well-worn favorite book, a famous singer, or chocolate cake.

Now, to “spur on” – I am semantically comfortable with “spurring.” Spurred on is something I can dig into.

We all have daily spurs: responsibilities, hunger, relationships.

Maybe a cup  of coffee or the thought of a cup of Tupelo Honey Fig or Vanilla Orchard tea spurs me out of bed. More often, it’s the school morning alarm – and the responsibilities of getting my boys up for school spurs me to get my day started.

My taste buds spur me to make bacon and tomato or fried bologna sandwiches.

Just this week, making my family happy spurred me to make a pot of Tortellini Soup. About two weeks ago, the thought of bringing a smile to my aunt spurred me make the Chocolate Malt Cake she’d wanted. The thought of my brand new grandson spurs me to finish knitting his baby blanket before it gets cold.

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Inspiration seems pristine, coming from a shining place where goodness is. Spurring, though, prompts lessons from hard places, a moral compass, and want.

For example, my parents divorce spurred me to treat relationships carefully and ask God to guide me in relationship decisions.

Watching my mom work hard on minimum wage jobs to raise my brother and I spurred both of us to work hard and study hard because stability and security were something we wanted in our future.

Spurring caused me to seek God. If I seek him, call to him, drawn near to him, let him become my God, he draws near to me, lets me find him, answers me and show me great and might things I do not know,  becomes my strength, my defense – my salvation. His breathes (inspires) into my life, and it changes everything. Mighty and Wise is my God from whom my inspiration comes.

Knowing what life is like without God in it spurs me to teach my boys to live life with God in it. When I bring God into the big and little challenges, he breathes inspiration that comes out as wisdom.

One of my sons doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life.

“Passionately pursue God, and you will find yourselves pursuing something you are passion about,” I say.

Hard truth – what spurs me to God where inspires my decisions, choices, actions and words doesn’t necessarily spur my boys. Those lectures? They don’t feel them on the receiving end like I do on the giving end. They haven’t experienced my hard places. My soul spurs are not theirs.

As a mom, I used to think I could spur my boys into God’s plan for their lives. I can’t. I can show them the way to God. I can provide the tools for every need and success. I can pray for them. However, I cannot spur their soul to seek God.

Another hard truth – until want spurs them – want for a job to provide their daily, want for a solution to a problem they own, want for a forever girl, want for a dream, want for God – until they have experienced a want that stirs up self-motivation, they won’t be spurred to God. If they aren’t spurred to God, they miss out on his inspiration.

These life spurs – yes, they spurred me to God. . . . until I have learned to go to him even when not spurred.

Knowing God leaves blessing for me in the daily spurs me to intentionally look for God – and I find him on the warehouse dock to watch gaggle of geese flying southward, or I find him in the zinnia garden with the butterflies, or rejoicing in the hydrangea blossoms from a bush that by faith, prayer  and attention made it through a hard transplant.

Often, it is the humanness of ourselves that initially spurs – and it is my faith that sends me to him where he breathes hope, wisdom and love into the soul of myself.

Soul spurs – that’s what they are, that spur us to relationship with our divine designer from whom our inspiration comes. What has spurred you to God? What inspiration did he give you?

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After-thought: “If I work to inspire people, then I take my focus off of loving people. However, I think if I do my best to just love those God gives me, then God takes care of the inspiring. That takes a big burden off of me and gives it to the one who can handle it”

 

 

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“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” ~ Galatians 6:9

I was in the garden with my half-hearted tomato plants, the whole-hearted cucumbers, gracefully quiet chard sitting quietly between the two, admiring the turtle-paced eggplant slowly but surely contributing enough – and coming to terms that one may be enough.

The chocolate mint is sneaking its way back in, but, then, it is a good place to be – this back yard garden. The bees and butterflies agree, but they don’t notice the chocolate mint. They’re much more interesting in the zinnias.

The zinnias at each end of the raised beds sway in the breeze, smile up at the sun, burst into yellows, pinks, reds, oranges – and a lot of whites his year. The zinnias despite their raucous petals, rays, discs and stigmas and, seemingly, breezy behavior – they always teach me something. Or maybe it’s really God teaching me through the zinnias.

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I’ve been thinking about this circle of life, this growing older, roles changing as needs change of both my children and older family members. In the process, I’ve been thinking about what 75, 85, 95 will look like on me. Not the petal part of aging, but the seed-planting part and harvest part – how the condition of the soul shows itself – either in waspish and testy ways, cheery and good-humored, bitterness or sweet savory, lost or found.

When my petals have fallen away, and all that remains of me as I sit on my front porch wrapped in a blue sweater are a few soul seeds left to be brushed or blown off, I want those soul seeds to be
joy-of-the-lord seeds
faith-is-the-substance-of-things-hope-for-the-evidence-of-things-not-seen kind of seeds
gentle seeds of God’s amazing love that go
soul deep
encouraging, spirit-lifting,
hands-raised high seeds
helping my neighbor seeds
holistic generosity of spirit seeds
delivered with hands and heart wide-open
so that when all is said and done,
all has been spent that could be spent
but for the crown no one noticed
in the days of petals and youth
the crown of whose I am.

Cultivating a cheerful heart given to smiling and laughing, a hope-and-faith heart, a daughter-of-the-king heart – I need to diligently cultivate that now. So, if you see me driving down the road with a crazy smile on my face, I’m practicing for 90!

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” ~ Psalm 126:5-6

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flowergardenthere’s no lasting comfort in my wild apple ginger tea and honey,
or my Muddy Cakes, chocolate chip pancakes or scones.
none in the seed packets I so determinedly spilled out over my garden in springtime cool dazzle
or the brandywine’s ripening just red right
No lasting comfort the summer gazpacho made with my garden cucumbers and tomatoes and the farmer’s market onions and corn.
No comfort at all,
no lasting comfort, that is
in the hydrangeas that bloom blue
bloom riotously after we’d almost lost the dear beauty
in a hard challenge when we ourselves had been transplanted.
no comfort in the chocolate mint and lavender, the oregano and thyme
no, there’s no lasting comfort in them except for a fleeting pleasure,
a seasonal indulgence to satisfy a flighty temporal
but for the priceless notes and stories my Savior left in them
To remind me he is both seed time and harvest
loss and new beginnings
the potion for my healing
the faith in the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen
the refreshing in the chocolate mint, the soothing in the lavender,
and the savory of the trinity
the trust that the planting will yield
something God-worthwhile
if I but plant and tend to the God in it
no there’s no lasting comfort in these things
by themselves they are vanity
but let God into it,
and each becomes a salvation story
a lasting comfort

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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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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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swing32016c_edited-1One morning, when the sun spilled through the front window’s of my grandmother’s house – something happened between the drinking of hot cocoa at her kitchen table and my sockless feet pushing off the porch floor propelling me high and low on my grandmother’s swing.

My “Can-I-stay-here-forever” wish which every child asks when it’s time to leave their grandparent’s house – and which should always be answered with a gentle, hug-filled, “No” – garnered a yes. My mother said, “Yes” over the phone, in the morning light slipping boldly across the upstairs hallway as Grandmother and I made beds. Yes, because of a broken marriage.

Radical divorce – 1967 radical. Radical divorce giving a yes to askings that should always receive no.

Radical divorce planted a seed dream in my heart – a dream to grow up and have a “normal” family – to become what I perceived was an everyman life – 2 parents loving each other, raising children in security, love and faith who grow with support to reach their dreams, butterfly-kiss families.

Radical meaning “favoring or tending to produce extreme or fundamental changes in political, economic, or social conditions, institutions, habits of mind; someone who demands substantial or extreme changes in the existing system.”

Divorce radicalized family, an extreme fundamental cultural exchange that left me uncomfortable.

As I grew, this everyman dream (born age 5) competed with my writing dream (born age 6).

God was in this everyman dream of mine – conventional, traditional – rooted all the way back to Abraham and Sarah, to Adam and Eve.

Faith inside the Garden of Eden was Normal. Faith outside the Garden of Eden is Radical.

peonybud_edited-1The Soul is always trying to get back to the Father; Only in Him does the soul find rest, recognize the normal state God created him/her for. The soul wants to be found, wants to be at home, wants to be accepted at His family table. The soul yearns for God-normal and God-ordinary.

Yet, we live faith outside Eden. Faith outside Eden is radical.

As I grew in living and grew in faith, I met other children of the Father . One young man had scripture tattooed over his arms, legs, back, chest.  He wanted to capture the attention of the outsider, he said. Radical reaching.

My maid-of-honor’s sister’s family were missionaries in Africa, entering war-torn regions, losing a son to asthma in a place where medical help wasn’t readily available. He’d grown up in Africa, wanted to go back and minister, a washing-feet kind of ministry. Radical reaching.
This everyman dream to love and be loved in marriage until we’re each 100.
This everyman dream to raise children with parenting arms that don’t pull apart.
This everyman dream to raise to wholeness, not brokenness.
This everyman dream to raise sons with a rhema/alive knowledge of the Father’s healing, mercy, strength and love.

I have been struggling with my everyman dream lately – that trying to live God-ordinary is not enough.

Suddenly, faith had become radical, and I was asking God for an ordinary dream.

Had my non-radical dreams been like a balloon weight keeping me from soaring high? Had I dreamed too small, too low? Limited God’s purpose for my life?

And that, my friend, was a deception of a radical snake that entered a normal garden that was Eden at one time. The devil was playing semantic games with my faith.

One noon-time, my oldest son walked up the porch steps, prowled around the kitchen for lunch while I sat in the rocking chair grading college essays. He had popped over from the university.

“Do you know,” he said. “We’re a peculiar family. Not all families are like us.”

“Ummm – yeah – we’re called to be a peculiar people,” I countered, deliberately mis-translating his intent. Apparently, he had just discovered not all families were like ours. I don’t know whether he found out other parents didn’t give their kids Payne’s Common Sense and stockings full of C.S. Lewis before Narnia was made into blockbuster movies. I don’t know if he found out other families didn’t talk about the Senate, the House, the Legislative Branch and decisions affecting our families. Maybe not all families believe in laying on of hands for healing. The conversation never went down that road.

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9)

Maybe we are a peculiar family. If peculiarity meant different, not the status quo defined in the media – well, maybe my everyman dream was more radical then I realized.

If being radical is a son praying for a friend in the school bathroom

If being radical is reaching out hands to hold while praying God’s peace in a hard challenge for a friend or a stranger

If being radical is a son hanging out with atheists to show them the heart of a child of God

If being radical is praying for broken boys when they have no one else that does

If being radical is standing in faith and overcoming instead of hope and joy being destroyed

If being radical shows sons stopping a bully and ministering to the bullied

If being radical is praying for a friend in Wal-Mart’s parking lot

If being radical is raising sons who pray that God show them the bride He intends for them

If being radical is praying for a baby to turn and believing God does

. . . .Maybe an everyman dream produces radical results in a world that is not God-normal.

“How can you stand to come here everyday,” a fellow worker moaned.

“It’s a good job. There are worse jobs. Maybe I don’t use all my gifts, all myself but it’s a good job,” I answered. “I believe in blooming where I’m planted.”

“I don’t want to bloom here,” she laughed.

Yet, even in the hard ground, even the ground we see as uncomfortable, we are to reach for Him, find His blessings and in the reaching and finding, we bloom where we are planted.

 Radical: “Implanted by nature; In botany, proceeding immediately from the root; pertaining to the root or origin; original, fundamental; as a radical truth” (Noah Webster, 1828 dictionary).

Blooming where I am planted is radical living, radical faith when the root is the Father – and that root is where normal lives.

Maybe there is something radical about the ordinary everyman dream – something beautifully radical growing and blooming. Something that shouldn’t be diminished or discounted. Something that maybe doesn’t soar but blooms riotously.

Maybe an everyman dream produces radical results in a world that is not God-normal.

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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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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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(I feel like telling a story again. If you haven’t heard it, grab a cup of just-right coffee, sit a spell and read a bit).

When Hope Grace was born, great expectations were cast forth, hearts leaping in expectation. Much was expected of Hope.

Her sister Faith Grace took to teaching her the facts of their Father and his Kingdom, and her other sister Charity Grace taught her about love.

You could find them in the cottage’s orchard: Hope looking to the goodness of God, grew strong, standing on the shoulders of her sister Faith, hands reaching to grasp hold of her other sister, Charity dangling upside down in the fruit tree.

These 3 Graces, Faith, Hope and Charity were born powerful, beautiful, full of potential, and were never seen one without the other.  They set about their Father’s business, ministering to their people. Their community welcomed them, knew them well, some more intimately than others.

Together, they cared for people who faced big and little challenges. No person was too insignificant, no problem too little for their ministering hands and feet. One reason was because of their Father who provided unlimited resources. The people knew their Father, the King, through the Graces.

But as the days grew in number, and as Faith, Hope and Charity went out into the world, the world snapped and snarled at them, wearing away at them, trying to diminish them, to topple them.

Hope wobbled, on the shoulders of Faith, threatening to let go of Charity.

Year after Year, the community who had relied on the 3 Graces, started taking them for granted, stopped visiting with them, refused welcome in their homes. Some no longer believed in the Father because they couldn’t see Him.

Where Faith had strengthened them with the promises of their Father through hard times, people now wanted evidence. They no longer wanted to believe without seeing first. The words of the Father held nothing for them, and so Faith faded.

As their belief in the Faith waned, so, too, did their Hope wane.

Hope’s belief in the provision and protection of her Father during life’s challenges was discredited by some people who said things like, “I hope the water comes for the green beans, the potatoes and the wheat, but I don’t believe it” they’d say in a hope-isn’t-really-real way, scoffing.

Some would say, “I’d like to hope his fever will break and all will be well – but, well, that isn’t how I believe.”

Sometimes, they would slander Hope saying, “Hope? If you believe in fairies – but that isn’t real life – they have no Father that can help me.”

And, in many hearts, Hope was cast out.

Without Faith and Hope, the spontaneous goodness of Charity’s unconditional love and kindness was no longer trusted – and they stopped inviting her into their homes, tried to put a price on her, to sell her.

Though many cast aside Faith, Hope and Charity – the 3 Graces did not leave them or abandon them.

They continually returned, calling to the people in the streets, knocking on doors, whispering on the night winds.

Faith would call out, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7).

For you see, Faith, Hope and Charity are “not frail and perishable” but live “perennially” (O.E.D., 1 Peter 1:3). Rejection is just a starting place.

Charity’s heart so loved the world, that she could not give up pursuing The Father’s people.

Ever steadfast and determined, many invited them back into the cottage of their hearts, sat with them to know them. Faith taught truth about the Father and what He wanted to do in their lives. Hope focused their minds and hearts on the goodness of God, and Charity showed God’s abundant love and the need to share that love with others.

When the rains didn’t come, or sickness fell, or financial famine came, Faith said, “The Father will take care of you. He said so” reminding them with His words:

 ”The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it”
(Psalm 65: 9b).

And Hope showed them how to trust, to wait with hearts leaping in expectation:

“May the God of your hope so fill you with all joy and peace in believing [through the experience of your faith] that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound and be overflowing (bubbling over) with hope” (Romans 15: 13)

Charity loved them with the Father’s love, showing them how to love during challenges:

“Love[Charity] never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up” (1 Cor. 13:7)

If you look closely into the garden of a neighbor’s cottage, you might just see the 3 Graces: Hope standing on the shoulders of Faith, hands reaching up to grasp Charity’s bounty and pass it down.

Maybe you have discredited Hope, Faith and Charity. Said you don’t believe them about their Father. Maybe you need a heart-to-heart with the 3 Graces. Invite them into the cottage of your heart to live perennially.

Maybe they are already in the cottage garden of your heart, Hope standing on the shoulders of walking Faith. Hope encouraging your Faith to keep on walking, keep on standing, to not give up, Faith keeping hope grounded in truth, while hope reachings toward a comforting, God filled with His kind of loving Charity.

I Believe
I trust
My heart leaps in expectation
of His Great love

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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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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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So many are ready to be done with the snow and ice. Eyes are already set on a Spring that isn’t ready to receive. Yet, the snow comes from the Father, bringing gifts – if we’d but open them, find the grace embed, read the messages designed within them. Set your eyes on what He has brought you now, gifts of extravagant love.

snow2015c_edited-2“He orders the snow, ‘Blanket the earth!’
and the rain, ‘Soak the whole countryside!’

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“No one can escape the weather—it’s there.
And no one can escape from God.
Wild animals take shelter,
crawling into their dens,”

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“When blizzards roar out of the north
and freezing rain crusts the land.
It’s God’s breath that forms the ice,
it’s God’s breath that turns lakes and rivers solid.”

icegrass2c_edited-2
“And yes, it’s God who fills clouds with rainwater
and hurls lightning from them every which way.”

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“He puts them through their paces—first this way, then that—
commands them to do what he says all over the world.”

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“Whether for discipline or grace or extravagant love,
he makes sure they make their mark” (Job 37:6-13).

snow201519c_edited-1(I see a crown here – don’t you? – a leafy crown tipped in snow diamonds)

Maybe you’re praying for Spring to be early. Consider that often, the most important living happens in the wait of a prayer sent out.

God brought it, and I met it, welcomed it (though I’m not comfortable driving in it). I bundled up and set out, camera in hand – and made myself look for what He’d brought me. I inhaled crisp, invigorating air (i.e. gasping cold air). I walked carefully over the white crunchy snow-covered ice to a wooded area (i.e. slippery) and found stories and art: the remnants of a fort made by a band of brothers a few winters past,  a nest at the base of a tree, lined with leaves, broken trees covered in snow blankets. When I bent low, wondering what God had brought me, I found a leafy crown tipped with snow diamonds. God’s designs were everywhere – and ever changing.

If I hadn’t determined to look, I wouldn’t have found them. God’s extravagant love is available, even in the snow and ice, even in the uncomfortable places! Are you determined to find them in all seasons and all weather?

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16th Century Tapestry photographed by Blue Cotton Memory in Turin, Italy

16th Century Tapestry photographed by Blue Cotton Memory in Turin, Italy

I’m in a quiet season right now—which is totally at odds with releasing my children’s books—but that’s where God has me. It’s the quiet before a big change – kind of like the quiet before my children were born. It’s been hard for me to visit my blogging friends this last year – and, in the quiet, that’s one of the things I want to do. I want to read your words and savor your God-messages! During this quiet – I’m re-posting one of my very favorite series I’ve written: Frayed Threads in a Holy Tapestry. Merry Christmas Blessings sweet friends!

“How many of you have parents who make under $10,000 a year. . . because if your parents make under $10,000 a year – that’s poverty! Raise your hands if your parents make under $10,000 a year,” the counselor said in my marriage class my senior year of high school.

This school counselor really wanted students to raise their hands. Some girls in my marriage class did. I didn’t.

I knew we didn’t have a lot of money – but I had never considered myself “poverty.”

My mom, grandmother and I talked about it at dinner that night. Like me, they were a bit shocked. They didn’t consider themselves poverty, either.

Being poor and not having a lot of money are two different things.

I was rich in tradition, family, a hearty work ethic, love – and faith.

My grandmother and mother sewed beautiful, hand-made clothes. My grandmother could go down to the department stores, see a dress, come home and make it.

They made Christmas sparkle – from the family bible in the hallway turned to Luke’s story of Christmas to the hand-made Christmas balls made of pins, ribbon,  beads and old brooches and they tucked them into the backyard greenery slipped onto the mantles to the tree to the dining room table to the candies, cakes and feasting.

Poverty was a state of mind, a condition of the spirit – I learned that my senior year of high school. Crippling poverty is a life walked out without faith, hope and obedience to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

God’s plan for our lives is not limited by the condition of our pocket book. He tells us that over and over in little stories building up to the greatest story of all: the Son of God born a man to save us all.

When God’s plan to redeem us finally manifested itself, it was through a poor Jewish girl, living in the land of her ancestors – a land now owned and occupied by a people who did not recognize the God of her ancestors.

God sent an angel to a poor Jewish girl, rich in faith.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
God sent an angel to a poor girl, rich in faith.
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”(Luke 1:26-34)

Mary, whose ancestors who had been land-rich and powerful: Sarah’s Abraham, Rachel’s Isaac, Leah’s Jacob, Ruth’s Boaz, Rahab’s Joshua, Bathesheba’s David, – Mary whose financial and circumstances were the antithesis of her ancestors financial and power circumstances – a young girl who had less to give God than anyone else on her family tree  could only give herself and her faith.

“And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:35-37).

Poverty? A young girl who believed to the point of obedience to a holy God,– a young girl so obedient to what she believed, so faith-rich that God manifested His saving grace through her.

“And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38).

God sent an angel to a poor girl, rich only in faith – who was willing everything, including her reputation, to face stoning, public rejection in order to be obedient to God.

God doesn’t define us by an annual salary. He doesn’t define us by our failures or insecurities. He defines us by our faith in Him, our reaching for Him, our Hope in Him.

Mary – a frayed thread in a Holy Genealogy, whose life is not defined by her financial circumstance but her faith circumstance – she didn’t live with a poverty mentality, a have-not mentality.

She didn’t give the angel a list of I-can’t-do’s and I-don’t-haves.

Somehow by releasing her autonomy to become a servant of the Lord, she lived a have-mentality.

Her willingness to “let it be to me according to your word” showed she didn’t consider herself a have-not-what-I-need-to-get-through-this-challenge – but an assurance that through Him, she was a have-more-than-enough-to-walk-this-challenge mentality.

Our culture has set a deceptive identification trap – defining each of us by our income, race, sex, even our sin. When we define ourselves by anything other than our relationship to God, our obedience to God – we limit ourselves by taking the focus off of how He sees us, His plans for us, what He can do for us.

For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

That’s the story of this tapestry – isn’t it? That nothing is impossible with God. That out of the frayed threads of ourselves, if we just believe in Him, love Him, seek Him out – the threads of ourselves can weave a redemption story, a hope and faith story.

For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

How do you define yourself?

 

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