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lonesheepblur

The old man, he sat on the front porch in the heat of the day, turning his head right, squinting his eyes in the high noon sun westward down the long dusty road. A hot day in the south can be awfully unforgiving.

After he had assured himself no one was coming down the road, he turned his head left, peering closing down the eastward dusty road. There weren’t many trees along this stretch of the road – until you came to the old man’s yard and the borders of his fields.

Satisfying himself, there wasn’t anyone on the road, he sighed, picked up a glass of sweet ice tea. There’s nothing like a glass of ice-cold tea on a hot afternoon to cool a body from the head, down the throat. . . nothing.

The old man continued sitting . . . and watching. There wasn’t much else to do, not like today. I don’t know what the old man thought about – maybe he talked to God inside himself. Maybe he thought about his regrets, his misdeeds, dreams that never came to life.

Maybe he saw a rabbit hare off through a blueberry bush, trying to get away from the antics of a frolicsome pup – and thought later how he’d tell his wife about it.

What did a man – or woman – do when there wasn’t so much to fill up time with . . . stuff.

The old man, he didn’t sit as though bored, tapping his foot in a hurry-up way or huffing a what-can-I-do-fun attitude. He sat with calm, pregnant anticipation, a hopeful expectation. Maybe his nephew coming to visit? Maybe a neighbor’s children coming to see the new baby lambs? An old friend with which to share the heat of the afternoon? Maybe someone to haggle with over seed, hay, sheep, chickens and cows?

After his long drink, he shut his eyes for a minute, savoring the fluid coolness. With a quiet, drawn-out “AAAhhhhh,” he opened his eyes and began once again his vigil of looking west, then east. As the sun reached its pinnacle, he took another long draught, closed his eyes for a moment, savored the coolness of the tea – and opened his eyes.

Three strangers stood at the gate by the road. “How? . . . Where? . . . What? . . ,” he thought. How did he miss them? Where had they come from? What in the world?

He bound off the porch, joy breaking across his face in a wide smile, welcome outstretched in a hearty handshake.

“Come! Come! Rest a while in the shade,” he said. “Let me get you some cool, sweet tea and something to eat to give you strength. This mid-day heat sure is a scorcher today.”

The men probably hemmed and hawed about how they didn’t want to put him out, but the old man pressed them, “I want to do this for you now that you have journeyed by my place.”

To you and me, the old man might seem desperate, too desperate, for company. It might have been off-putting – and maybe you and I would have not gone beyond the gate, been wary of accepting a glass of water or tea from this old man. To the old man, this was the tradition of his father, his grandfather and his grandfather’s father. Many people had abandoned this tradition of hospitality, but he had not. Possibly many travelers didn’t understand this generous hospitality, maybe mistrusted it.

The three men accepted his invitation, walking through the gate the old man had opened for them and settled into the comfortable porch chairs, the shade giving cool respite.

The old man opened the screen door and disappeared into the depths of the house, returning a short time later with a tray holding glasses and a large pitcher of water. There were three bowls, one for each guest, filled with freshly picked blueberries, blackberries and raspberries to stay their hunger until supper could be brought out. He’d told his wife to make sure she prepared the best steaks, the most golden buttery potatoes spiced just right, savory green beans – and her angel biscuits cooked to perfection. Nothing was to be spared for the weary travelers.

His wife didn’t rail at him, berating him for this last-minute meal with these last minute guests that she didn’t know from Adam. She didn’t begrudge the extra work, sharing the best food they had, or the time spent preparing the meal because it was a way of life for them. She’d gotten used to unexpected guests. She’d been trained as a child for moments like these. She’d been taught that hospitality prepared with a generosity of gift blessed the food and the time. Begrudging was a spice that spoiled the gift. Not all her neighbors continued this tradition of hospitality. It was a tradition started long ago in the long, hot stretch of road – to give travelers a meal and rest in the heat of the day, to refresh them to continue on their journey until evening came.

While the old man’s wife prepared their meal, he brought around from the well two white tin basins filled with water so they could soak their feet. The three men removed their shoes, leaned back and soaked their feet, relaxing as the soreness ebbed.

The old man talked with these strangers who weren’t his daily responsibility as if they were cherished guests. Maybe they talked about the news from the towns they had come through. Maybe they talked about the price of sheep and cows. Maybe the old man talked to them about his God, what a mighty God he was who had provided this home, the farm land for grazing, planting and harvesting.

“No,” he said. “No, I don’t have any children,” he responded probably to the questions about his family, a brief shadow of disappointment crossing his face, giving hint to the sorrow at a dream unfilfilled.

Midday ebbed into mid-afternoon. The great oak tree’s shadow grew longer. Supper was served. A satisfying supper it was, too. Some might consider it a feast. A quiet contentment stirred in those sitting on the porch. The conversations were quieter.

One of the men asked the old man, “Where is your wife?”

“In the kitchen,” the old man answered, suspecting that she was probably now sitting near the window listening to their conversation.

The three men put their shoes on, stood up, readying themselves to continue their journey.

The old man stood with them to walk with them to the gate. One of the men grasped his outstretched  hand, “I will surely return to you about this time next year. Your wife will have a son.”

The traveler’s strong grip kept the old man from falling. Who is this traveler, he thought to himself.

The old man’s wife was listening inside the house. “I’m an old woman,” she thought to herself. “Too old for a young woman’s dreams to come true.” She laughed a bitter-sweet laugh. Old as she was, too late as it was, the idea of the joy of having a baby of her own was a dream that still stirred in her heart. Does a heart ever really give up on dreams? Or does a logical head bury them, hiding the dreams voice from surfacing?

One of the men revealed himself then as the God the old man had told them about, when he heard the old woman’s bittersweet laugh, “Why did you laugh old woman? Why did you say, ‘Will I really have a baby, now that I am old?’ Is anything to hard for me? I will return to you at the appointed time next year. You will have a son.”

The old woman, now standing inside the door, frightened, denied laughing.

The Lord looked straight at her, knowing her heart and her secrets, “Yes, you laughed.”

Would the old man and the old woman have been blessed with a son if they hadn’t hearts of hospitality for those they didn’t know? If the old man, Abraham, hadn’t invited them to eat of the best he had, with a heart free of grudging of time, effort and product, would God have given them their heart’s desire – a son? Would God have made him the father of a nation if Abraham had not extended such gracious, welcoming hospitality? (storyline from Genesis 18:1-16)

Generous, heart-outstretched hospitality in the everyday ordinary – God blesses us when we serve with generous, welcoming, heart-felt kindness like the old man did, like Abraham did.

favherdsheepccGod has a history of blessing those who welcome him unawares with a generosity of spirit. Before Peter was invited to become a fisher of men, he invited Jesus to his house (Luke 4:38). His mother-in-law wasn’t well. No one was prepared for company. Food stock might have even been running low. Yet, Peter invited Jesus anyway. While there, Jesus healed his mother-in-law, and then stayed to eat with them. Imagine that conversation. Peter is known for his bold questions and conversation. Before Jesus called Peter, according to Luke, they sat around the table eating an everyday ordinary meal. Maybe it was kinneret sardines with bread, something as simple as our tuna sandwich. God doesn’t expect us to prepare meals fit for a king. He expects only the best of what we have in our cupboards. He wants willing hearts not grudging giving of the our time, our resources or our energy. If Peter hadn’t been willing to make room for one more at his supper table on a regular everyday night when there was sickness in the house, just maybe the opportunity to be called a fisher of men might not have occurred. Peter did ask Jesus into his home, to sit at his table – and a day or two later, Jesus asked him to become a fisher of men.

Arms-wide-open hospitality is what God calls us to. Unabashed hospitality! No matter your social standing. No matter your financial condition. No matter whether you’re prepared or not! God just wants a heart waiting with expectation to sit down with whoever he sends to your gate, to your door, or to your kitchen.

3sheep cc
God blesses those who love one another as he has loved them. Two men, on the Emmaus Road, deep in conversation, were caught up in their own grief of their savior crucified. If they hadn’t made room for one more, not only in their walk but at their roadside table, what would they have missed? Instead of dismissing a stranger walking near them, dismissing him because they didn’t know him or their story, these two men invited him with hearts wide open into their conversation. Then, like Abraham, they urged the stranger to remain in their company and eat with them. . . . they urged him, meaning they didn’t give up when the stranger expressed, “I don’t want to intrude. You have only enough for your journey – not for a stranger, too.” They urged him, pressed him, tried to get beneath codes of etiquette to establish sincerity in the invitation. This stranger wasn’t part of their community, their intimate group, an insider. Their sincerity, their determination convinced the stranger, who after being urged with a generosity of spirit, acquiesced.

This stranger, “when he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” ~ Luke 23: 30-31

What would they have missed, if they hadn’t welcomed a stranger into their conversation, into their meal, pressing him with a hospitality filled with a generosity of spirit that gave truth to their invitation. They would have missed seeing the newly resurrected Jesus Christ.

Feed my sheep, Jesus tells Peter (John 21:16).

Feed my sheep! Through the breaking of bread, eyes are opened—those of us who believe and those of us who don’t yet.

Feed my sheep! Sons and daughters of the father, live making room for one more in the everyday ordinary

Every day, look to the east and west, the north and south, look with joyful expectation for God to send someone. Invite unashamed God’s sheep and lambs to your table. Sit long and talk much. I imagine in the shade of Abraham’s tent, in Peter’s house, on the Emmaus Road, there was a lot of time to sit or walk long and talk much. Sitting long and talking much is a seed planting and watering time. Sometimes the conversations are directly about things of God. Sometimes the conversations are nothing about God but the spirit of God plants seed from the discussion. Sometimes it is just God seeing if we will welcome his blessing.

feedsheepccc

Feed My Sheep Part I: When Kitchen Living Becomes God-Radical
Feed My Sheep Part II: Living a Lifestyle of Making Room at the Table for One More
Feed My Sheep Part III: Which Sheep are Mine to Feed
Feed My Sheep Part IV: How do I Feed All these Sheep? (When there’s Nothing in the Fridge)
Feed My Sheep Part V: A Heart Looking with Joyful Anticipation

Linking up at the following:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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feedsheepccc

I remember back in the day . . .

. . . when there really was nothing in the fridge. I was just young enough that I didn’t know then how to make something out of nothing. I knew how to bake a prune cake, homemade thousand island dressing, how to wash a chicken but not fry it, how to make creamed tuna on toast, fry bologna, how to prepare boxed Kraft Italian spaghetti and bake Martha White blueberry muffins on Sunday morning. It seemed like a lot, but it didn’t really prepare me for filling my own fridge and planning a weeks worth of meals, even if, in the beginning, it just was for two.

When my husband and I married, we were both still college students. No phone, no t.v., no hot water for three months because the gas company required a $150 deposit. Rent was $185 a month. Our grocery budget was $25 a week. I remember spending $32 one week. I just couldn’t face my team-mate for life. I felt like I’d let him down. I wanted to go home to Mom – but she was about 1 1/2 hours away – and that would have cost even more, so I went home, faced up to my failure – and discovered that love still loves when you bust the budget by $7.

I didn’t know much about feeding any kind of sheep – literally or figuratively.

That first winter was challenging. We lived in the upstairs apartment of an old house. A group of young men rented the first floor of the house. When they went home for Christmas, they turned off the heat to save money. Our water pipes suffered – and so did we. When we got home from class or working at the newspaper, I’d have to boil pots full of water to pour into the toilet to thaw the pipes. Hearts warmed with love don’t make icy water any warmer – but it sure does make living through icy-water-times worth living through!

Thankfully, my mother and father-in-law raised cattle and shared a freezer full of hamburger, cube steaks and chuck roasts. They shared a lot of meals with us, too. They didn’t just open their freezer for us. Their refrigerator was always full, always waiting for us to come make a sandwich, make a piled-high bowl of ice cream – and fill a bowl with chili, soup beans or vegetable soup. I remember my husband making me hot chocolate once at their house – a tumbler full of hot chocolate. I didn’t know hot chocolate could come in tumblers. My new mom and dad never once looked dismayed when we walked through the door near dinner time – or lunch or breakfast time. My husband’s sweet family taught me a lot about the condition of the heart in feeding sheep – both literally and figuratively.

“We’re going to look back at these days as the best days of our lives,” my husband said. Those were sweet days, indeed. I admit – I did hope that hot water in all our pipes would be part of best days to come. A hot bath on a regular any day makes any day a best day – believe me, a newlywed does not have enough pots to fill a tub full of hot water no matter how much determination is behind the effort – especially when when all you’ve got is a one and two quart pan. I hoped, too that best days would come when I could spend over $25 at the grocery store.  After a failed attempt at having friends over for dinner (a one quart pan cannot cook enough spaghetti for 4 at once) – I hoped one day, having people for dinner would look like a best day, not a fail day.

I wanted to grow up and feed the sheep from my herd just like Nanny and Papaw did – and maybe even feed those that God gave me who maybe just weren’t part of my herd – and not have them stop by McDonald’s on the way home because they weren’t filled up.

Thirty-five years down the road of from the First of The Best Days, 5 sons later, 2 granddaughters and one grandson later, one-still-in-high-school-later, I have that full fridge. I have hot water for baths more often than not, though there’s no hot water in my bathroom sink. Sometimes when the gas runs out before we’ve realized it was running low – there’s no hot water – for the tubs, the sinks or the water pipes. Instead of everyone dissembling and falling apart, everyone swallows their disappointment with a pushing-through-the-bitter-cold-for-a-shower perseverance – a stoic, crazy exercise building family unity that we’d rather not experience but do every so often!

Those meal schedules? There’s a bunch of schedules now – not just breakfast, lunch and dinner schedules. There’s all-the-people-in-my-nest schedules. Running-a-business schedule – and, maybe the hardest to learn of all, the no-way-the-schedule-is-going-to-behave-so-go-with-the-flow schedule. As a matter of fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that all these schedules give birth to additional schedules. There are schedules that have  moved out, though, and made their own schedules.

December wore me out. January came like a Monday – I never plan appointments on a Monday. It’s my day to get the week’s schedule organized in my mind. The laundry gets caught up. The kitchen gets put back together, more or less. I make a stew that should last for a few days.  It’s a restart – a new beginning. January does for the year what Monday does for the week.

Mondays typically start out as a Feed-My-Sheep kind of day. The stew will last for two days – unless they don’t care for it. Then it lasts three. It’s the beginning of the work week, but my grocery stock has dwindled down from Friday – and it has to last five more days. The schedules start snowballing – and the fridge empties. It empties itself of milk first (I really need a milk cow). Everything else follows.

The clock runs out of time, all the good energy within me drains dry, and the fridge starts reminding me of its waning stock, until one of the boys opens the door, and announces, “There’s nothing to eat,” when, usually, there really is. It just takes more thought and gumption to make something out of slim pickin’s. Eggs and cheese can make an omelet. Grilled cheese is a feast, if someone’s hungry. Pillsbury biscuits brushed with butter, garlic and salt go straight to the hungry heart.

However, sometimes the fridge just sadly opens to announce in dismay, “I’m empty, too  – No help for you here.”

Sometimes, though, it’s me that’s empty.

How then, when there’s no room in the budget, within myself, or within time constraints, how can I feed these sheep God’s given me – both literally and figuratively.

Some of my boys will try to persuade me that not everything is about God (and that’s for another post), but I tell them . . . it is. . . . it’s all about God. You don’t get 34.5 years of best days without God in all of it. Even out of the brokenness, God can make best days. It’s all about training the mind and heart to remember what God has to say about it, and when I don’t know what He has to say about it, to go looking for what He has to say.

So when there’s no room in the budget, within myself, or within time constraints, how can I feed these sheep God’s given me – both literally and figuratively.

Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep three times. The second time, Jesus asks Peter:

“‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?’

He [Peter] saith unto him, ‘Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.’

He [Jesus] saith unto him, ‘Feed my sheep.'” ~ John 21:16

“Feed my sheep” – not just when it’s easy . . . not just when the bank account and the fridge is full . . . not just when you’re feeling it.

I had a lot of learning ahead of me 34.5 years ago – the cooking, the budgeting, the planning, the sheep feeding – both literally and figuratively. I didn’t know anything about children or loving them. What I knew about marriage probably wouldn’t even fill a thimble. What I knew about who I was to God was even less than that. . . . but that didn’t stop me from trying to learn.

 Feed my sheep, he said.

God takes small to middling hearts, steeps them in his Holy spirit, filling them with his kind of love until something extraordinary happens – one day they have developed the capacity to love more than they ever imagined, as many as they dared to love.

Elisha said to the widow who had nothing, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “’servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.”  Then he said, ‘Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few.  Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.’  So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her.  When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, ‘There is not another.’ Then the oil stopped flowing.” ~ 2 Kings 4: 2-6

I bet if there had been one more vessel, there would have been enough oil to fill it up.

He does that with the time, the energy – and the fridge when there’s his sheep to feed.

He takes the five loaves and two fishes (Mark 6: 37-44) of ourselves – and turns each of us into more than enough  – more than enough to feed God’s sheep, to live the daily always making room for one more or 5,000 more, even if it’s serving just grilled cheese and sweet tea.

Do you want to? Are you ready to make room for at least one more?

Feed My Sheep, Jesus told Peter – and you and me.
2sheepcc

Feed My Sheep Part I: When Kitchen Living Becomes God-Radical
Feed My Sheep Part II: Living a Lifestyle of Making Room at the Table for One More
Feed My Sheep Part III: Which Sheep are Mine to Feed
Feed My Sheep Part IV: How do I Feed All these Sheep? (When there’s Nothing in the Fridge)
Feed My Sheep Part V: When Blessing is Invited to the Table

Linking up at the following:

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

 

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favherdsheepcc

Chocolate Chip cookies, Muddy Cakes, Hamburgers and Hotdogs, chili, chicken soup and beef stews, bacon twists and grilled cheese – and tomatoes and lettuces: Kale, Spinach and Chard, even chocolate mint leaves! Turkey, stuffing, oyster dressing, mashed potatoes with sour cream, cream cheese, parmesan cheese, butter and garlic, homemade salad dressings – Feast Day and Everyday kind of food – mostly the everyday kind of food.

I love cooking for people, making sure they’re filled up, that they don’t leave my house hungry – but I have no efficiency for keeping a pristine kitchen. If you came to my house, you’d find me behind the kitchen counter. I’d ask you to pull up  a stool while I poured you a cup  of coffee or a glass of sweet tea, offered you some honey or creamer, maybe a smackeral of something if I had it – and we’d talk while I tidied up my kitchen. Most likely, my sons who are students and sons who work might pop in, might even pull up a stool for a small bit, weave themselves into the conversation and out again.

A homey diner with one short-order cook? Sometimes it feels like that. By the time you’d leave, you just might notice the kitchen still needed cleaning and organizing, and you might wonder how it wasn’t with the time I was behind that counter – and at the same time understand why it wasn’t.

When you left, I hope you would have found yourself filled up, found comfort and understanding of brokenness in challenges, maybe like you’d found a place to belong – a place that had a stool just for you, an outpost on your journey where you can re-store your soul supplies and that you’d leave a bit merrier, a bit steadier, more ready for the challenges outside the door.

We all have our little soul re-storing “outposts” – the places where we feed the sheep and lambs. But the kitchen isn’t my only outpost. My outpost – your outpost – is wherever we walk in the daily – and by whom our souls pause in the daily.

Our outpost is where the lambs and sheep are that Jesus asks us to feed.

 “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’

He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’

He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.'”  ~ John 21:15

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about these sheep and lambs. Just who are these sheep and lambs he tells us to feed? Aren’t they the ones I was born to? The ones I gave life to? Am I to feed more than these . . . MORE? 

When my youngest was baptized, I wrote, “Joining a bigger brotherhood,” saying the following:

“Today, precious son, you publicly receive a mighty inheritance. You become a Son of the King. You were born into a remarkable brotherhood, the youngest of 5 brothers. Today, you publicly join a bigger family, a bigger brotherhood that includes Peter, James and John, an amazing, miraculous brotherhood. I am so proud of you!”

The day we said, “I do” to Jesus, we joined a bigger family, not blood relatives, but soul relatives with God as the Father of this big, ever-growing family – the lost and found relatives.

Jesus tells Peter, you and me to feed his sheep and lambs – the lost and found relatives of our family, but who are they? How can I recognize them? Do they come with ear tags? Are they good sheep? Easy sheep? Spotless sheep?

All 2,000+ students at my son’s high school? The thousands at our local college? Plus every single person in the borders of my county?

Sometimes we make it so much harder than it really easy. We are to feed those God gave us in our daily. It’s that simple. I sat down to make a list of those God gave me and where I find them in my daily.

  1. My husband
  2. My sons, their wives and my grandchildren
  3. My parents, aunts and uncles, cousins
  4. My husband’s family who became my family, too, when we married – my mother-in-law and father-in-law, my husband’s sisters and brother, my nephews, their wives and children.
  5. My friends, my knitting group, my bible study group
  6. Those to whom I say, “Good morning!”
  7. Maybe even the fellow driver on the road who irritates me (you don’t have to have a conversation to pray for someone).
  8. The grocery store greeter and checker, the product stocker, the deli lady slicing my country ham, the bookstore clerk, the school’s attendance office volunteers and employees, the receptionist at the doctor’s office – where have you been today?
  9. Anyone my boys bring through the door.
  10. The person sitting next to me at church, the soccer fields, at a play, or the ballet.
  11. The disagreeable person in a check-out line. God doesn’t always give us the easy to love. Sometimes he wants us to pursue for him the challenging, the rebels, the ones who think they don’t want him.

“He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ 

He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’

He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.'” ~ John 21:16

isheeponecWho are your lambs and sheep to feed? Look through your FaceBook Friend list. If we accepted Friend requests as if accepting them as someone God gave us, a sheep of his to be fed, a soul in which we are to plant seed and water – would our Friend list be smaller? Are you willing to feed all those sheep you are friends with in Facebook? To love them? To make room for them at your table? At your kitchen counter? In your prayer time are you willing to pray something deeper, more interceding than a “bless his/her heart” kind of prayer – but a warrior prayer sent out to save? Are you willing to lay down your life for every friend on your Facebook Friend list? Shouldn’t you be willing – in a feed-my-sheep kind of way?

 “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ 

Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ 

and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.'” ~ John 21: 17

Maybe you are praying the prayer of Jabez, asking God, “Oh, that you would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me,” (1 Chronicles 4:10a). Maybe you have a heart for missions, a heart for feeding the lambs and sheep in Uganda? Haiti? China? Romania? If you aren’t seed planting and watering seeds either you planted or others have planted in those God gives you in the daily – how can you do it across the world in another country? God will not enlarge our borders to take care of sheep in other places if we neglect the sheep God gives us where we walk every day.

“Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.  And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 19-30).

Has God given you lambs and sheep that you need to make room for at your table? Love is a choice – and love invites both the easy and the hard to our kitchen counters, our tables to share a cup of coffee or a glass of sweet tea – grilled cheese or a feast. As we lay out our plates this week and set the table, think about who is coming, who isn’t – and who your lambs and sheep are?

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You might be thinking, “How can I feed more when I have trouble feeding the ones I have? Stop by Monday for how God prepares and provides for us to feed his sheep.

Feed My Sheep Part I: When Kitchen Living Becomes God-Radical
Feed My Sheep Part II: Living a Lifestyle of Making Room at the Table for One More
Feed My Sheep Part III: Which Sheep are Mine to Feed
Feed My Sheep Part IV: How do I Feed All these Sheep? (When there’s Nothing in the Fridge)
Feed My Sheep Part V: A Heart Looking with Joyful Anticipation

Linking up at Journeysingrace

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Mornings are easier now. I don’t load up a mini-van full of 5, 4, 3, 2 . . . 1 boys for a mad drop-off dash to 1, 2, 3 different schools. Half the mornings, I make a skillet full of sausage and eggs with either toast or biscuits for the ones heading off to work, college or high school. Other mornings, well, there’s chocolate chip granola bars in one of three cookie jars (One has granola bars, another chocolate chips, and the robust, yellow chef cookie jar is full of dog biscuits: know your cookie jar before grabbing and going – LOL).

“Have an exciting day,” a voice says over the phone.

“Exciting is over-rated,” I reply. With five boys, excitement conjures words like commotion (wrestling at the drop of a hat), instigation (“Mom, he touched me), drama (“If I don’t eat now, I’m going to die” drama), adventure (owls, snakes and turtles tales), passions (heart passions, emotional passions, hobby passions, temper passions), humor (note: the chances of five people in a car being in the mood for any kind of humor at the same time? Not often!), goal-tending (and I don’t mean soccer goals), dropping off, picking up and arriving fully equipped (which includes water bottles that often get left behind), finding the car keys, and general hullabaloo.

Excitement overload leaves little time for savoring the good stuff – with family, my husband or God. Surviving is not savoring. Morning grab-and-go-God-moments were standard fare for, well, ever, it seems like. The excitement is thinning out as my nest empties out.

After 32 years of mothering 5 boys, the daily is changing. The idea of getting up at 5 a.m. for an extra hour just about makes me shudder. I’d rather stay up until 1 a.m. to find the good stuff with God. But there’s been a change. One of those changes is an extra hour dropped into my daily. The grab and go is becoming sit and savor.

Not always, but more and more, I am learning how to fit into this more roomy morning hour.

This new, seemingly still hour has been refreshing to my soul.

Whether on my porch, or in a chair by the window, I settle into this quiet that feels like plain woven muslin. One of my sons recently finished the chronological bible in a year – and I thought I’d try it.

. . . . and the chaos of the daily seems held off, if just for 15, 30 or 60 minutes.

The chaos that’s held off? It’s held off by the one I invite into this space – who draws near to me because I draw near to him.

This still space in my daily has become a place of peace where I have room not to just realize contentment, but to allow this contentment to unfurl without it being crowded out.

He wraps this peace that feels like plain woven muslin close about me and gives me time . . . time to vintage the blessings he gives me daily, to sort out what he says to me in those blessings, to let the things of Him redeem my day before I’m in the midst of it, to thank him for all he’s done.

Sitting on the porch as the morning comes along – or by the window where I can see the garden, he wraps me in this peace and offers me a long, refreshing drink of his living water. This peace isn’t binding or restricting. It’s liberating yet protective, comforting yet stretching – like a plain woven muslin blanket.

When I invite him, he brings that peace with him that calms the seas,

that makes me think I can walk on water if he’s beside me,

he brings me the peace that withstands the I-don’t-have-enoughness-to-do-what-needs-doing:

like the wedding host who didn’t have enough wine,

the apostles who had nothing to eat but needed enough to feed 5,000,

or the widow who had only one jar of oil and no means for more –

He generously brings his peace, so much of it, that though I don’t have enough within me to be enough for the day  on my own – He does.  He doesn’t just provide more than enough, either. He has such an ever-lasting supply, that he overfills my soul – overfills it so much that it spills over into the space around me, into the people around me, and the chaos and excitement trying to creep upon me.

Sometimes the only thing separating us from the Spring of Living Water are those doors either we have constructed or doors others have constructed. Either way, we find ourselves separated from what our souls need to survive. The only way to take down those doors separating us from those living waters Christ offers us is to ask him to remove those doors – and he will. Once we have drunk deeply of what he offers so freely, we need to make sure we neither rebuild walls to separate us from him again and that we, ourselves, don’t use doors to God’s Spring House to keep others out ~ Blue Cotton Memory

Oh, yes! There are changes at the blue cotton house, sweet, supposed-to-be changes. It’s a part of my boys growing up. It’s a part of my growing up, too, though I’ve been at it longer than my boys. They would say I was being silly. That I was already grown up. But you and I, we know we are still children to what God knows. Yet, when I invite God into the changes, He brings grace into them and redeems the change.

What changes are you experiencing? How are you sharing those changes with God?

“But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to eternal life.”  ~ John 4: 14

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What if . . . if we treated Facebook as Faithbook.

Billy Graham says, “If  you want to change someone’s life, tell a story.”

Hope would rather I find encouragement to not give up, to give my challenges to God, to believe that God saves from the encouragement of another’s faith story walked out or the blessing redeemed in the daily.

Facebook is full of Faith Stories. Let me tell you what I see on Faithbook:
~ I see mothers of children with health challenges not just asking for prayer for healing but walking in the faith and hope of a healing God.

~ I see friends lifting each other up when they’re down, both in prayer and deeds.

~ I see  people suffer heart-breaking loss choosing to go forward with God rather than without God.

~ I see mothers of prodigals who live daily -in faith, in hope, in a glass not just half full but overflowing attitude – and I see friends not bashing their friend’s children’s waywardness, but believing along side them, trying to see their children as God sees them, too.

~ I see overcoming stories – women overcoming eating disorders, bad relationships, rebuilding the broken in their souls with the help of a Savior who does not let them down.

There are stories of times of laughing and crying, mourning and dancing . We cannot forget the laughing and the dancing, the blessing and overcoming. Faithbook is full of celebration, too.

I see blessings counted – to 1,000 and beyond. Faithbook wouldn’t need to justify giving or receiving blessing. Just as Salvation cannot be earned, neither can blessing. Both come from the gracious, unconditional love of the Father.

I see stories that honor mothers and fathers – and in the honoring, I understand more clearly what kind of father God is.

I see big and little moments in life celebrated. In the midst of a world in turmoil, I see grace given and received, for big and little things.

I read about the enduring love a wife has for her husband, and the enduring love a husband has for his wife.

I see people who define their lives, not by the challenges they face or the size of their savings account, but by the God-redeeming moments, again, both big and little.

There’s a lot of big and little in Faithbook. The Big is just, well – big, like weddings, graduations, births and birthdays and prayers answered. Don’t be deceived by the days and moments of the small things, though. It’s in the small things where the most important part of living takes place. In the wait of prayers sent out, of zinnia seeds being planted, of dishes being cooked up and cleaned, where bedtimes stories are, socks need to be matched and school lessons are worked through,  and where rain falls in a summer hot moment – all this and more happen in the days of small things. The days of the small things are sometimes the sweetest.

What if . . . we treated Facebook like Faithbook – telling our faith stories to encourage one another, to the lost and the found.

“Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” ~Ecc. 7:20.

What if . . . every time we clicked  to “friend” someone, we treated them as someone God gave us to lift up, to encourage, to bring closer to Christ, creating a kind of contract in our hearts that says, “O.K. God, I’ve got them.”

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” (1 Cor 3:6). Could Facebook  as Faithbook be a Holy Spirit watering hole? A seed bag for God’s children to plant God things in others’ lives?

Jesus didn’t come for the righteous; he came for the sinners – for you and me and everyone else out there missing it in big and little ways.  Could Faithbook also be for people who haven’t experienced the crazy-amazing love this Father God has for them? Could Faithbook give them a taste what God is doing in other lives, and by tasting, draw closer to him, until one day, they fall in the the arms of the Father who has loved them since before they were born?

Mark Zuckerberg might think  he’s controlling information with the hopes of shepherding our decisions toward what he supports. Yet, with every FaithBook story, every scripture, every praise for blessing found, every two or three standing in agreement for God to move, the power of God changes lives. Zuckerberg doesn’t realize that when God’s on the loose in something – man is powerless against God’s work.

Instead of relinquishing the field that is Facebook, let us claim it for Christ!

Nobody’s life is perfect. Every day has challenges. There are seasons of refreshing and seasons of just plain hard. Faith would rather I shout about God’s amazing love both in the refreshing and the hard, from both high and low places.

There are no better stories – than the God stories in our lives.

“If anyone speaks, he should speak as one conveying the words of God. If anyone serves, he should serve with the strength God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” ~ I Peter 4:11

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When the words don’t come, it puts me at a loss. That the words don’t come doesn’t necessarily herald a hard season. Sometimes it heralds a season to be savored. A season to just pause and take it all it – the sweet and the sour, the high and low,  the tough and the tender.

It’s been a year! Not a 2017 kind of year. Just a 365 days kind of year. This time last year, walking was terribly painful – after pneumonia and surgery – my muscles thought it was time to curl up and stop. Thanks to yoga, muscle stretching and time, I am myself again – which means I am still not an Olympian, but I can get the job done and then some!

These 365 days have been full of loss, birth and the in-between stuff.  I haven’t known how to write about it. God stayed my hand from writing, so I just watched and soaked. . . soaked up family during the loss of my aunt – the oldest of the sisters –  in September and my mother-in-law in early November . . . soaked up my 4th son’s final soccer season and graduation . . . soaked up a crazy-wonderful holiday full of laughter and adventure . . . still soaking up my first grandson that came over a week ago.

Soaking meant an lot of watching, a lot of listening and a lot of quiet, like watching one son face challenges to gain something more than he imagined – not what he wanted to gain – but something more valuable in the long run.

The daily living in between the mourning and the celebrations was the mortar that bound the bricks and stones of my soul house together during this year of extreme highs and lows.

No, I didn’t journal the tender or write through the tough. I took a lot of photos that helped me process – and I cooked through – and shared the fruits of both with family and friends.

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There were stews, and soups, pasta and chicken, fried chicken and gravy, grilled cheeses, bacon and cheese pastries, and garlic butter biscuits.

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There were scones, chocolate chip cookies, garlic buttered biscuit, and all types of Muddy Cakes: Muddy Cakes for birthdays – friends and family. Muddy Cakes for celebrations. Muddy  Cakes just to love others when I wasn’t sure what else God wanted me to do (Muddy is my grandma name – so I started calling them Muddy Cakes).

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Someone said, “You need to open a bakery.”

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No – they’re not for sale. They’re for love and friendship.

Toward the end of the school year, the boys had had enough cake.  I detected a potential revolution ahead.

The  youngest, he said to me, “You’re slipping, Mom. You used to cook the most amazing breakfasts. Remember those granola bars you used to make with the stuff with the man with the white hair?”

“You mean Quaker Oats?”

“You only have two more years, Mom. You need to push through.”

I pushed through, finishing the school year with granola bars made with the oatmeal that has the man with the white hair. I made eggs and bacon on toast with ketchup. I did it all – and then bought some Lucky Charms to give me a brief rest.

Maybe this pushing through made me remember other recipes from other times – tasty memories. This Spring, in the middle of soccer season, I remembered the Thousand Island dressing I’d made in high school for school lunches. It was a tasty memory that started a craving. Timing was somehow right, too. I found myself rummaging through Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook that I received when I married. It had the recipe for a salad dressing from my grandmother’s Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (not so new I guess) that I’d used in high school. About 35+ years later, I wanted to see if it was good now as it was then.

I modified mine a bit, probably just like I did all those years ago – the spices, pantry items and fridge contents aren’t all that different. I am my grandmother’s granddaughter after all. I mixed and stirred – and tasted.

Thousand Island

I cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup relish and 1/4 cup ketchup (not chili sauce)
2 finely choppped hard-boiled eggs
2 tablespoons each finely chopped: green peppers, celery, and onion (I spun mine in a food processor)
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
If  you think it’s too thick, add 1 tablespoon buttermilk

It was – as good now as it was then.

Then, during our family holiday in France, yes –  France! I’ve always wanted to do a bicycle tour through the Loire Valley! And we didn’t because, well, I said I wasn’t an Olympian. ! We drove – through the Loire Valley, up past William the Conquerors place over to Normandy’s Utah and Omaha beaches and on to Paris. There was still miles and miles of walking a day.  I got the job done and then some!

Three of our sons went with us to France. After 48 hours, they missed my cooking.

“Mom,” they each said.” You could open a restaurant here, and it would be packed every day.” To them, I was the best cook in France. I tried to explain that the French would be just as miserable with my cooking. McDonald’s was greeted by these guys as a long lost friend after three to four days.

The most gorgeous art work was in the patisseries – Delectable! Divine! Delicous! Besides the patisserie offerings – one cafe’s buttermilk dressing on a salad made me want to make a Mason jar of it when I got home.

This newly discovered appreciation of my cooking increased my value in their estimation. When we walked – and we walked a lot, I found myself hedged in before and behind me. Losing me seemed a real possibility. Of course, the time in Chambord Chateau their dad offered them 5 Euros to whoever could find me first might have had something to do with it. They weren’t taking any chances of losing me again.

I found unlooked for treasures in France. Maybe these young men did, too.

I’d tried one of the buttermilk dressing packets months ago, but it just didn’t dazzle me like the recipe at the little French Cafe. I decided to try Martha Stewart’s Buttermilk Dressing. I didn’t veer much from her recipe.

Buttermilk Dressing

3/4 C. Buttermilk (I used whole Buttermilk)
1/2 C. mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot (about 1 shallot)(I used a garlic press)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (I used sea salt)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery salt (I used celery seed)

I made it when I got home – and it was a good thing! Martha’s tasted like the little French cafe’s buttermilk dressing that was so very delightful. I will admit that I just might have possibly fell in love with shallots!

My youngest, he tasted my Buttermilk Dressing – and liked it. “Not for salads,” he said. “Great for dipping. It needs to be thicker or salads – so just pick that up at the grocery story”

However, he’s keeping me busy keeping the mason jar full. I have trouble keeping this one for more than 3 days. It goes fast.

There’s a bit of chard in my little patch of garden. The cucumbers are ready. The tomatoes are taking their time. The grocery provides the broccoli – my youngest’s favorite. Carrots, onions and other items Peter Rabbit would appreciate come from the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. I wouldn’t want to grow everything, I enjoy my Farmer’s Market Saturday mornings too much.

Then there’s Aunt Joyce’s Salad Dressing. I make it year round (you can find the recipe here). Aunt Joyce started making it my freshman year of college.  It reminds me of all those nightly dinners with Grandmother, Mom and Aunt Joyce. I miss a kitchen filled with these women. I guess that’s the price you pay when your husband says “You’re a pioneer woman” when his company wanted him to move to Detroit and he found a different job in this little town in Tennessee about 26 years ago. We both left our families, packed up our red Ford truck, our first little boy and set up house in this sweet town. It’s our boys’ hometown now. All 5 of them. Except they’re not boys anymore. Not really even boys to men. They’re men – even the 16 year old. If you treat them like men, instead of boys, they tend to act like how you treat them.

Good recipes, like these salad dressing recipes, are reminders of the good things from where I came from and where I’ve been.

Someone messaged me wondering how I managed to do everything I do. To be honest, there’s a lot I don’t do – or do well. The dishes get stacked up, the socks left unmatched, this and that piles us. I plan for a Monday stew to last through Wednesday (Is that cheating?). There are dayswhen I feel like I’m being whirled in a lettuce spinner.  It takes me 3 hours to create a spotless kitchen that takes someone else 30 minutes. There are days when I need either to have taken more seriously conversations with my sons – and other days when I need to have been less serious.

“Mom, do I need a sign on my head that says, ‘Sarcasm?” the 4th one, the one with the humor so dry it is self-combustible asked.

“Ummmmm, Yes! Can you take care of that?” I say, really hoping that one day he will have one for me. It isn’t encouraging when your mom laughs at the wrong time or takes jokes seriously resulting in unwanted lectures.

This has been a year where doing what I love for the ones I love has also meant doing something things I love rarely, like writing.

In a soaking year, when the words don’t come, and loved stories ended, other stories wove themselves while all I could do was watch, love, and cheer – cooking was one of the few things I could do.

It feels like a new season is beginning. Something different is in the air. The words finally came. I knew God would send them when He was ready for me to have them.

If you’ve read this far, you deserve a Muddy Cake! It has been an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of post – but it felt right to do it this way.

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“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?” ~ George Eliot, Adam Bede.

The oldest son walked in first, into the hospital room that Saturday in late February. I’d been admitted just long enough to have IVs placed. The antibiotics hadn’t even been started yet. I was septic with double pneumonia. My husband had gone home to bring back what I’d need for a stay. The second son and his wife came with my two youngest about 30 minutes later, followed by the 3rd son. I couldn’t talk; it wasn’t worth the effort, but, like any time all the boys gather, there is more entertainment to be found in the listening than by trying to add my 2 cents worth. It was an unanticipated gathering where love doesn’t need to invite, love just comes.

2016 was a year of unanticipated gatherings. I call them grace gatherings.

Gatherings: fellowship, belonging, inside the circle, storytelling, listening, laughter, tears, highs and lows, memory-making, engaging authentic caring, maybe just a just-holding-hands, sharing, quiet or loud, praying, believing, forgiving, hoping, choosing love, a just-being-there kind of gathering.

You see, there are the on-the-calendar gatherings with cakes and candles and a year added to someone’s count. There are holiday gatherings with feasting, thanksgiving, sparklers and fireworks. There are Soli Deo Gloria gatherings reminding us of God’s love and faithfulness in the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of His son. There are back porch gatherings, kitchen counter gatherings, breaking bread or sharing a cup of tea gatherings. People arrive either through formal invites or the casual, southern-styled, the-door’s-always-open invitation to stop by, sit long and talk much over a glass of sweet tea or lemonade.

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Ben and Katrina’s June, 2015 Wedding

Then there are the big-moment, still-planned gatherings like weddings and graduations with suits, ties and starched shirts. Or planned family gatherings in flip-flops, sand with a dab of beach soccer. Last summer,  35+ members of my husband’s family gathered at the beach. We’ve done this since 2009. This was the first year all my boys (with their family) have been together like this since 2008. It was a memory-making gathering.

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Family, June 2016

. . . and then there are the unwanted gatherings where grace just brings you to stand with others in the hard moments when illness threatens or death comes . . . . unwanted gatherings redeemed by grace.

Grace:
1. 
Favor; good will; kindness; disposition to oblige another; as a grant made as an act of grace
2. Appropriately, the free unmerited love and favor of God, the spring and source of all the benefits men receive from him. ~ 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary

Twice this year, Grace gathered and lined up, gave hugs, shared stories that touched our hearts and brought smiles.

Grace always makes time to love.

Those memories we’d all gathered?  Memory stories overflowed with more than enough grace to pour on aching, loss-sore hearts. Nanny had sowed enough love to bring grace to every one of our hearts when she went home to heaven in November. Those memories we’d gathered? Whether 6 or 66, we each had within us a lifetime of memories gathered to pull out when we miss her, to pull out to comfort in her absence.

It’s hard when a beloved character in your story leaves your story. It’s like when Beth dies in Little Women. The gatherings are never the same kind of sweet as when she was there, and it leaves the reader poignantly homesick for earlier chapters, even though the story continues on, fulfilling the designed hope for each character remaining in the story.

Yes, I would have preferred only the birthday sparkle and back-porch kind of gatherings in 2016. Who wouldn’t? But I find myself humbled by a loving God who instills in the hard gatherings grace that redeems through His unfailing love, a love so big that not only does he seek a one-on-one gathering with each of us, but manages to give each of us what we need in the table-packed, porch-packed, house-packed, beach-packed easy or hard gatherings.

2016 was a Grace-in-the-Gatherings kind of year. I don’t know God’s design for 2017. I do know there will be birthday gatherings with cakes and sparkle. When Spring comes, the back porch will open up again and sweet tea and lemonade will taste mighty fine with those who come to sit long and talk much. My 4th son graduates in May, a new grandchild will come in July. The one thing I can rely on is my reliable  Father-God who always shows up, whether I’m alone or in an easy or hard gathering – and brings His abundant grace to share with all who come.

Praying grace in your gatherings in 2017!

“Remember: He WANTS your fellowship, and He has done everything possible to make it a reality. He has forgiven your sins, at the cost of His own dear Son. He has given you His Word, and the priceless privilege of prayer and worship” ~Billy Graham, Hope for Each Day: Words of Wisdom and Faith.

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