"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's Just a Milia

There is a well kept secret here in town called Seasons Spa and Salon. Upon one of my last visits, I received a gift card for a complimentary facial – the works. So being after Christmas and needing a little pampering, I decided this would be the week to go.

After filling out the necessary paper work and donning a décolleté wrap, I found myself resting on my back in a dimly lit room listening to soothing piano music encased in ocean waves. The built-up wedding and Christmas stress was quickly responding and beginning to fall away even before the therapy had begun.

After numerous layerings of oils and cleansers and exfoliants, small patches were placed over my eyes, a bright light was turned on, and a scrutiny begun. Actually, the facial expert was quite complimentary. She said I was pretty well hydrated and there was still a good elasticity to my skin. (When I told her how old I was, she was particularly impressed “for someone your age” -- which I did not find that humorous.) But in the midst of all her accolades and my pride of my own cleansing techniques and abilities, she said, “You do have a milia here on your forehead.” Oh, no! A milia? Yes, I had a pocket of dirt lodged under the skin, only visible under direct light inspection.

I don’t know about you, but, spiritually speaking, I have bad days and good days. On bad days, I know when I have messed up big time in the sin department for it has been flagrant and willful. It’s on those days that nothing short of falling on my face in repentance will do, the place where there’s not only forgiveness but no condemnation either. And how I praise God for that place. And then there are the good days, when I’ve behaved in a manner worthy of any seasoned Christian, earning the blessings of God (or so I think).

But as I was reminded in my morning devotional, God doesn't grade on a curve. I am to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And perfection according to God’s standards entails loving Him with all my heart, soul, and mind – and my neighbor as myself. Oh, but I got my disciplines right today. I read my Bible, I did my devotional, I prayed. I even started working on some Scripture memory. But then there's that hidden pocket of dirt, and it requires the same dependency of grace as that willful sin of disobedience.

Yes, sometimes I may be more conscious of a particular sin, but never more needy of His grace than when it’s just a "milia" visible only under the scrutiny of Light.

It's amazing what one can learn at a spa in just an ordinary moment….

Post Office Ministry Update (See Dec. 2 post)

She walked through the door and I recognized her immediately. I hurriedly made my way up the aisle and threw my arms around her neck. She responded with, "I told you I would come." And together we worshipped Emmanuel.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called Emmanuel;
God with us, revealed in us;
His name is called Emmanuel.

Text and music by Bob McGee

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Light of the Season

I was wished a Happy Hanukkah AND Kwanzaa last night – and so were you if you were tuned into the Chicago and Green Bay football game. Hanukkah is the Hebrew word for “dedication,” and it celebrates the rededication of the Temple to the Lord after it was desecrated by the Gentiles and the subsequent Jewish victory and independence in 165 B.C. Although it’s not described in Scripture, it is the most historically documented of all Jewish holidays. Last night we were shown the huge 9-pillar “lamp” called a hanukkiyah in downtown Chicago and told how it is lit from right to left, progressing with the eight day celebration. (I'm thinking the commentator was not Jewish as traditionally the lamp is lit from left to right.)

Kwanzaa runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 and is a unique African American celebration which focuses on the traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce, and self-improvement. It, too, has a “lamp” called a Kinara. The Kinara holds seven candles to reflect the seven principles which are the foundation of Kwanzaa. Each day of Kwanzaa, a new pillar is lit.

Hanukkah and Kwanzaa: two festivals, each having “light” as their central point of celebration.

And then there’s Christmas. It, too, centers around a Light; a Light by which all others cannot even dimly compare, for this Light is the central personality of all of history. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Is. 9:2). Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." (John 8:12).

So celebrate this Christmas season knowing that no culture can quench Him, no government can douse Him, and no place of employment can ban Him, for He is the bright, unquenchable and inescapable Christ, and on us, this Light has dawned.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Case of Mistaken Identity

My brothers and I received the following email and picture attachment this week: “OK, who is this dude?” Signed, “DADDY.”

It is not uncommon to have such a question posed. You see, I have identical twin brothers, and even though we all know them very well, there are those times when we just have to guess which one is which – especially when it comes to hearing their voice on the phone or looking at an older photograph. And so I looked hard at the picture and returned the email with this answer: “I say Louis. But it is one of those eerie moments when one is not sure. N-” to which his twin responded, “It’s you, Nancy!” He might have just as well said, “Idiot!” instead of my name because that’s how I felt. I didn’t even recognize my own self!!! It’s not like I wasn’t there when the picture was taken either. But I’m not a hunter; never really was, and so I didn’t recognize this part of me. Anyway, I got a good laugh out of my own inability to identify myself – as I’m sure my brothers and dad did, too.

I’m so thankful for a God who sees me and knows me – even when I’m behaving in a way contradictory to who I am. This little incident reminded me of Jeremiah 17:9-10. "The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be."

I’m so glad He knows me – even when I don’t know my own self. And He treats me as I really am: a child of God.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Interesting Christmas Facts

I received a newsletter this week from SAPPS Physical Therapy with some interesting Christmas facts. Maybe you’ve seen them yourself. If not, here are a few.

Approximate amount of money made by photos with Santa in all U.S. malls: $2,255,750,000. (That’s a lot of crying babies!)

Percentage of Americans that finish off their Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve: 20%.

Percentage of pet owners who have their dog or cat pose and photographed with Santa: 27%. (So that's why Santa was hanging out at the local PetSmart this past weekend.)

The number of Barbie dolls sold every minute around the world: 180. (Another little insignificant fact: Barbie and I are the same age. Obviously, she has stayed out of the sun more than I.)

The amount of trash that is generated annually from the gift wrap and shopping bags: 4,000,000 tons. (That’s 8 BILLION pounds!)

And at the end of the list was this one – and the one that intrigued me the most: the percentage of Americans who re-gift: 28%.

I have to admit, I don’t make a habit of re-gifting -- though I realize that very often it might be a thrifty thing to do. But it has got me to thinking. There is one gift that I know I don’t appreciate enough, and, quite frankly, it's the only one that’s really worth re-gifting. It is the greatest gift of all, and His name is Jesus.

And so I’ve been thinking these last few days about different ways to re-gift the Christ child this season. Here are a few ways I’ve come up with. Participating in a local Angel Tree project. Supporting a foreign mission to dig a well. Dropping a few extra coins in the bucket at Wal-Mart. Buying flour to help feed the hungry. Being courteous to the associate behind the counter. Caroling – which has a lot more to do with the visitation than the actual singing. Being patient as I wait in long lines or heavy traffic. Not being offended by “Happy Holidays,” but rather extending a genuine and joyous reply.

The ways and opportunities are as endless as the One whom we celebrate this Christmas season. How will you re-gift the Gift this holiday season?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Came Early Tonight

Here it was almost two weeks before Christmas and I still didn't have the first decoration up -- let alone a Christmas tree. Things haven't been so normal around here these last few weeks with the wedding, the trip out of town, and then all the baking orders to fill. The fact is there has been no block of time where I could disappear into the storage room in the garage which is home to carefully packed away boxes, not to mention a few mice, in hopes of finding my way out again by Christmas. It was not only discouraging but very disheartening. I had come to the conclusion that I was going to stick some pine boughs in a vase and let that suffice. I'd seen it done in a magazine; maybe I could pull it off, too.

But let me back up a moment. I received a text this morning from my newly wed daughter telling me that she and her husband were free for supper tonight. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to be with them, I quickly agreed and left it open for leftover spaghetti or going out. But that decision was made for me when this afternoon I received yet another text, "Mexican, 5:30." Little did I know it was a full-fledged conspiracy.

As I drove down the street toward home after my chicken fajita quesadilla, I noticed my garage door was up, and the closer I got, I realized there was a truck backed into it. Either my oldest son was home or else I was being robbed blind. I stuck the key in the door, turned the knob, and that's when I heard it: Christmas music one could dance to. It didn't take me but a second to see the cause of the all the stir: an eight foot tree stood in the corner of the den, and there around it were my firstborn and his wife stringing lights! So .... I began to cry. When these two sweet things left to go back home, not only was the tree completed, every ornamentt hung and the star in place, but the wreath was on the front door and the candles were in the windows -- on timers!

What precious kids! What gifts of love! Oh, yes, Christmas had come early this year.

Friday, December 5, 2008

And A Good Time Was Had By All

One thing's for sure: I've always loved the body of Christ. And nothing rings truer than with the body known as Grace Church -- especially the women. We had our annual Christmas Brawl, uh, Ornament Swap, this week, and so I thought I'd share some of the joy with my blogging family. Certainly not all the women could make it, but those who did certainly had a good time.

Thank you, Paula Middlebrooks, for hostessing such a wonderful time in your beautiful home! What a special Christmas gift you gave us.

Kathy, Paula, Marcilla and Bonnie behaving -- for the moment.

Jeannine, Martha, Nicola and Linda "channeling."

First things first.

Time to play! "Who's got #1?"

Do NOT let these girls (Jessica and Tesa) fool you with their sweet demeanor and pose.

Like I said...

Linda makes her move, and boy, is it a swift one. Faye never saw it coming.

Faye learned from the best and makes her move on Marcilla with Judy and Mikara cheering her on.

So, I stole the baby Jesus -- but Betty got another one!

Linda REALLY wanted that "Grace" ornament -- so did my mom. (And Mrs. Linda and Kathy were no help at all!)

Linda says, "I really like this." Kathy responds, "No you don't."

"You're right. I'll take Nicola's instead."

Pouting last only a for a moment. Joy comes when it's your turn to steal.

I'm telling you, they are NOT behaving!

Jane thought the snowman was safe with her. Wrong.

And Vickie was not happy with Tesa's choice of ornament either!

There's no honor among thieves!

"How dare you!"

Vickie poses for the camera because she saw the last picture I took of her!

Friends again!

What an absolutely wonderful group of ladies!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Post Office Ministry

I got up this morning with a list of things to do and places to go, but instead of getting frustrated with the interruptions and delays, I decided to settle into the rhythm of the day and see where it took me. And thus I found myself waiting in line at the post office to mail a certified letter, completely oblivious that I was about to have a head-on collision with a divine encounter.

A younger woman came up behind me wearing a medical blouse of sorts. I said good morning and asked her if she was just getting off a shift. She said, “Do I look that bad?” I said, “No, but you do look tired.” She told me she “sits” with elderly people and had been on duty for 11 hours and had 3 more to go before getting off. She began wiping the tears from her watering eyes and told me just how tired she was. Since the line was long, we had plenty of time to chat. I asked her who she sat for and when she told me, I said, “Yes, I know them. Didn’t the wife die recently?” She hugged herself and said, “Yes, and I miss her so much. I have cried and cried. You know, you get so attached to these people because you’re with them night and day. I have wanted to quit because I’m so tired, but I just can’t. They need me so. Besides, they become like family.” I reached out my hand and touched her and told her she had been given a precious gift and was using it well, and then I said, “I just speak God’s rest on you today,” to which larger tears welled in her eyes as she responded, “I receive it.” We talked a moment more, and I tried to encourage her in her “ministry” before the post office clerk yelled, “Can I help the next customer?”

Upon finishing my business, I turned around to speak to her, but she was already busy with hers at the next cubicle. I had planned to just say, “It was nice talking with you” as I walked past, but before I could, she turned from the clerk and asked, “Where do you….”, and I thought she was going to say, “go to church?” Rather, she posed it, “Where do you do ministry?” I knew what she meant, so I said, “At Grace Church, and I would love for you to come visit us.” She told me she would like to and asked for directions. We exchanged names and a few more details and parted.

“Where do you do ministry?” Oh, the absolute profoundness of that question! I have not been able to get it out of my mind all day. My pastor’s favorite verse is John 1:14 from The Message: And the Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. He is constantly encouraging us and challenging us to move from our comfortable “pews” on Sunday morning and go into our “neighborhoods” – those places where we meet people where they are, where real life happens, like in post offices -- and minister to them by being the hands and feet and, maybe most importantly, the heart of Jesus.

Maybe, just maybe, I got a taste of that this morning with Deran.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It'll Be Alright

“Lord, all I ask is that Your presence be there.” For days and even weeks leading up to my daughter’s wedding, that was my prayer. “No matter what happens, as long as You show up, everything else will be alright.”

I woke up early on Saturday to 24 degree weather. But not even the frigid temperature could keep me bedded down. It was my daughter’s wedding day. I got up and let the dogs out before heading across the street at 7:00 to have waffles with the bridesmaids. I went in to tell my husband goodbye, but at the same time had to tell him Gabe (our beagle/lab) had run off. Let’s just say he wasn’t happy – but I had a date to keep and was out the door. I told myself, “It’ll be alright.”

When I got to the church about 8:00 to begin preparing for the reception, I found that the sprinklers had come on during the night time hours and the walkway was completely frozen over. So as I carefully skated my way to the door with boxes of food, I thought, “It’ll be alright.”

The photographer arrived as did the beautiful bride and her bridesmaids at 10:30. But after two phone calls to the florist who was suppose to be there at 11:00 and had not yet shown up, I knew the photo scheduling was about to go out the door. I told myself, “It’ll be alright.” When the florist did arrive 30 minutes late, had my order wrong, and left half of the things at the shop 15 miles away and had to return to get them, I began to get a little irritated. I put my good friend Marcilla in charge of him lest I say something I shouldn’t, and calmed myself by telling her, “It’ll be alright.”

When I called Sandy at Publix to see what was taking so long with the bridal party’s food trays, he said they had not even begun making them. Knowing that we would now be an hour behind – as neither of us had dressed yet for the wedding – and that we would miss the photo shoot with our daughter, I remembered my prayer, and said, “It’ll be alright.”

Upon arriving back at the church at 1:00, I found the darling little photographer in a panic because she couldn’t empty her camera of the pictures she had taken – and now there was no more space on her chip. I put my hand on her arm and told her not to stress, that it would be alright. I immediately called my dad and said, “Please bring your camera!”

In the meantime, my sister-in-law had received a phone call that her brother had had a massive heart attack, and she and my brother were on the way to Atlanta. (It was not nearly as severe as they had been told.) And my precious daughter-in-law lay on the floor in a dark Sunday school room suffering from a major migraine. I grabbed a friend from the already filling sanctuary and asked her to please come pray for Kristin. Vicki got on her hands and knees and prayed and sang over her. I knew it would be alright.

At 1:40, I entered the sanctuary and took my place on a comfortable seat – the piano bench, where I was able to worship and share in my daughter’s wedding in a special way. At 2:00, my husband escorted me down the aisle to “My Jesus, I Love Thee;” my oldest son accompanied his beautiful wife as he played and she sweetly sang, “Take My Life and Let it Be;” and then my daughter walked down the aisle with her daddy to “Wash Me With the Water of Your Word.” He gave her away with a kiss and an embrace with them both and took his place beside me. The vows were new but very Biblical in nature, and the service ended with my middle child praying a blessing over them that will resound through the generations. And the bride and groom displayed a confidence of assurance I’d never witnessed in a couple that this was right.

Yes, God had answered my prayer: “All I ask is that Your presence be there.” I know that as the mother of the bride it’s my prerogative to feel such, but I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced a sweeter, simpler, and more worshipful wedding ceremony in my life. God was there. And everything was alright.

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
The bride making herself ready.

A tender moment with the older brother.

The sister-in-loves.
More to come...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

In the blink of an eye

Some 25 years ago when I moved my firstborn's baby mattress down a notch, I prayed, "Lord, enable me to meet each milestone of my child's life with grace." Tonight, I entered my baby girl's bedroom and told her goodnight for the last time as my "baby." Tomorrow night she will spend the night gathered with her bridesmaids and then Saturday, she will belong to another. How many times I have prayed with and over her in her bed -- that she would be a handmaiden of the Lord. God has been so faithful in answering both prayers. She has indeed become His maid servant and His grace in my life, though filled with tears only a mother could understand, has and always will be sufficient.

Tonight was no ordinary moment. It was nothing short of sacred and precious.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Rubato Kind of Life

My Harvard Dictionary of Music describes rubato this way: “An elastic, flexible tempo involving slight accelerados and ritardandos that alternate according to the requirements of musical expression.” In other words, it’s a “give and take" that complement one another, so that, after several measures in this free tempo, the player arrives at exactly the same moment in time that he would have reached had he played in a strict tempo. The only difference is that there has been an expression of unforced rhythm that has produced a texture of musical freedom.

When I think of rubato, I think of Liszt’s Concert Etude in Db Major which I played for my entrance into college. I loved playing Bach and Mozart and the exact tempo of both. I still do; and quite frankly, it probably has to do with just that: the precision that is required. The clarity of everything being in its place, the order. But there’s nothing like the free expression of Liszt, Chopin, and Debussy that allows me to articulate the workings of my own heart which creates a balance and relationship between the artist and the student.

Matthew 11:28-30 records Jesus as saying, “Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (The Message).

As a Christ follower, I am to live a balanced life, not in the sense of everything being constant or steady, rather in the sense of “rubato,” – an “unforced rhythm of grace.” I am in a season of my life that is hectic right now; in two weeks that will probably be different – at least for a few days. There will be highs and there will be lows. There will be periods of stress and seasons of rest. The question is will I meet the demands with strict determination (religion) or will I walk with Christ in an unforced rhythm of grace (relationship) where the workings of His heart are expressed through the workings of mine. One is burdensome, the other light.

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Why not make that your goal, too?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Press and Seal

I had gathered everything I thought I needed at Sam’s: the cups and plates for the reception, the fresh chicken tenders, the twice-baked potatoes, and a huge block of cheese, and was on my way to check out when I remembered the forks. I had to get forks for the wedding cake. So I turned the buggy around and headed back. When I got to the aisle and located the utensils, there was an elderly black lady sitting in her mobile chair looking upward. So I asked, “Is there something I might reach for you?”

With huge gratitude she responded, “Yes, yes there is. I need that box of Press and Seal.” I turned around and reached for it, and when I did, I heard her say, “God is so good.”

Handing her the box, I replied, “Oh, indeed He is. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No. God is just so good. God bless you. God bless you.”

By this time I had moved around to her rear, but not wanting to miss a blessing, I shifted to where I could look her in the face. “God bless you, too.” And for a moment we shared the goodness of God. I ended with, “Let’s pass it on.”

It’s Election Day, and you know, this precious lady and I probably didn’t share the same choice in candidates. But it really didn’t matter. Our common denominator was Jesus. And He was and is enough.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Veil is Thin

One of my most favorite Sundays of the year is All Saints Day which is celebrated the first Sunday of November. During this morning’s service, there came a point when people began calling out the names of loved ones who had died in the past year. It’s always such a profound and solemn moment. What was different about this morning, however, was the activity going on next door in the fellowship hall in our children’s worship service. Normally, their singing and dancing takes place about the same time ours does and so there’s little distraction. But today was different. Just as we finished praying and it got quiet, readying people to call out names, the music in the next room began. I thought to myself, “Oh, no. Why now? This is really going to be distracting and ruin the mood of the moment.” But as I sat there, my own mood began to change.

A number of years ago, my pastor at the time preached on the thin veil that separated those of us here and those who had gone on ahead. He gave the analogy of two tables; maybe one in the breakfast room and the other in the dining room. The people at the two tables are out of sight of each other, but they can hear the laughter and talk going on at the other table in the next room. That image was rich as well as comforting to me at the time for I had just lost my own great aunt to death. I could imagine her laughing around the table with her parents, brothers and their wives – my great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Though I knew it was the children next door worshiping, as I sat there this morning with name after name being called out by those whose lives have been touched by death in the past year, for a moment I believed it just might be the saints gathered around the throne who I heard. It was a powerful moment for me, and so I just listened – and worshiped.

Friday, October 31, 2008

There's Always More

There are a number of things I love about my soon to be son-in-law – one being our ability to banter back and forth about spiritual matters. One such occasion arose this week while waiting on our nachos and quesadillas at a local Mexican restaurant. The topic at hand was this: when does the Holy Spirit take up resident in a person; AND, is that filling complete or is it a process.

Some say that the Spirit enters the believer immediately upon reception of Christ as Savior. Others would argue that He doesn’t come until what’s known as a believer’s baptism. Some would agree that He enters the believer at conversion but comes with more fullness at a later date. And then there are those of the mindset that the Spirit indwells even the non-believer, constantly wooing that one to Christ. I don’t think the subject could be labeled a spine issue, but rather more a matter of the rib. My husband and my daughter are of the mindset, “What does it matter?” Todd and I think more in terms of, “It’s fun to think about it.” Which of the two has more faith, I dare not question.

My opinion is that the Holy Spirit is given without measure upon our receiving of Christ, and that all measurements are set up on our end of the equation determined by the degree to which we submit ourselves to Him. However, my question still remains: even given without measure, can the presence of the Lord still increase in us?

Isaiah may have tapped into this when he wrote, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” The Hebrew word for “filled” is written in such a way here that it could actually be read “was filling” the temple. In other words, God’s presence kept coming.

Bill Johnson makes a profound statement to me in his book, “Face to Face with God.” He writes, “Those who seem to have the greatest measure of God’s presence on their lives tend to be the hungriest for more. There’s always more to hunger for!” The truth is that we might not agree on when or how much when it comes to the Holy Spirit; but one thing is for certain. There’s always more: more to hunger for; more of His presence to experience! The real question is this. Do we just live in the mediocrity of the theory? Or do we do something about it and live in the intended experiece? It’s really just a matter of choice.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Facebooking It

I joined the world of Facebook a few weeks ago. After all, I have a blog, so why not a Facebook page? I really wasn’t positive what I was getting into, and quite frankly, I’m still not sure. In fact, I recently asked one of my daughter-in-loves, “What’s the point of this?” Her answer: “To stay in touch.” She told me that young people don’t IM or email anymore, and that if she wants to get a word out to her youth, she puts it on Facebook. But she’s a youth minister; I am not. For young couples looking to announce their engagement, I've also been told that it's not "official" until it appears on Facebook. On the other hand, if a young man wants to know the status of that young woman, he just goes to Facebook. There's as much information about a person to be gained as that person is willing to share.

But if I’ve learned anything having a page, I’ve learned what it means to “network.” I’m not sure I really understood that until now. When I become a “friend” with someone else, it immediately sends me a list (with pictures) of their “friends” that I just might know. It’s pretty cool, I must admit. Just recently, a young couple here in town got married. They knew each other in Mississippi when they were in grammar school, found each other a decade+ later on Facebook, through other "friends," and got reacquainted – to the point of marriage! Now that’s some networking.

I hear other stories like that, but so far I haven’t really “found” anybody that was missing. Every one with whom I’ve become a “friend,” I already knew where they were, to whom they were married, and even how many children they had. No big surprises. Of course, the issue may be with my ineptitude at knowing how to search for these long lost “friends.”

I laughed with one friend at church the other evening when he suggested that actually knowing his facebook “friends” was inconsequential. He just clicks “accept” when he gets a friend request. I thought it funny – until I, too, received a request from someone I didn’t know. I probably tend to be a little more selective; but that’s just me. I never have had a large number of friends – even while growing up. Today, I could count on one hand who my truly close friends are, and even that list spans a 30-year period.

Facebook is fine. If used correctly, there’s nothing “horrible” or “evil” about it. However, I do suggest that all parents with children who have Facebook pages get their own page as well and insist that child be their “friend.” But here’s my problem with facebook. Relationship. Thus far, of the 40+ who have accepted my request to be my “friend” or whose request I have accepted, I’ve probably only truly connected by corresponding with about 5 of them. For the rest of them, we’re just listed as “friends” on each other’s pages. Yes, I can go to their page and see what they’re up to just as they can mine. But Webster defines a friend as “a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard; a person who gives assistance.” It lists synonyms as “comrade, chum, confidant; backer, advocate.” I don’t find any of that on Facebook. A way of keeping up with people’s lives? Absolutely. Fun? Yes. Addictive? For some. But relationship? No.

One of the most common lines you’ll hear when discussing Facebook is this: “I have _(number)_ of friends.” And some of those numbers are even in the thousands. Never in all of history have we been more connected. But, honestly, have we ever been lonelier?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two Prints; One Story

Two pictures hang in my bathroom. One is a botanical with the word Beauty stamped on it. It was created and given to me by my dear friend Vicki whose own giftings far exceed her own awareness.

The second hangs on the opposite wall and it bears the image of a woman desperately hanging unto a cross rising out of a torrent sea – with what appears to be pieces of a lifeboat drifting in the water. When I saw it a number of years ago in an antique shop, I knew immediately it was meant for me. Two prints; two stories.

Or are they one?

At times, each print has ministered to me. My bathroom was created in such a way that it hosts 3 full wall mirrors – and so there’s a lot of opportunity for reflection (no pun intended). Not only has the beauty print often reminded me of God’s beauty which surrounds me daily, but my own desire to be beautiful. On the other hand, the print of the woman reminds me of my desperate need, often feeling like that woman. Two pictures on two walls facing each other. Two different stories but both speaking of longing.

There’s a point in the room where both prints are viewable to the eye at the same time. It’s through the reflection in the mirror. It’s at this viewpoint that I believe they tell one story. Len Sweet writes, “Every one lives the simultaneous reality of saint and sinner. I am beautiful, and the ugliness is me.” Is that not so true? I am beautiful to God because I am His creation. But in this world in which I live, I am often a complete mess, and the Christ, through the cross, is my only hope for beauty. He is my only hope at all.

I often struggle with the dichotomy of beauty versus desperation, but seeing the prints side by side as I so often do now, I’m coming to know a God who loves and cares for me in all the walks of life – through the highs and lows, whether my hormones are raging or holiness is the habit of the day. Two prints. One story.

Could it be that when we truly are desperate, desperate for Jesus, that we really do reflect His beauty?

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I had an interesting answer to a question I asked this week. The question was fairly normal for a piano teacher to ask her student: “How are you coming along with Jack and the Beanstalk?” Her answer gave me a blog entry. “Tolerable,” she said. Tolerable? I had to chuckle. Having taught thousands of hours of piano lessons over the course of some 30 years, I had never received such an answer as Genna gave me. Tolerable.

Tolerable. I just couldn’t get that word out of my mind. Ever since that lesson, I’ve been asking myself this question: is my relationship with Christ, like Genna’s performance of Jack and the Beanstalk, just tolerable; fairly good – not bad? Am I satisfied with just being tolerable, a partial transformation to the image of Christ, or do I want to become a mature manifestation of God’s Son? Do I truly want to know Him face to face? Do I want to embrace Him in all of His fullness?

A fellow blogger recently asked what our first memory verse was. I responded with Gal. 2:20. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but He who lives within me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the One who loved me and gave Himself for me. As I wrote that, I realized that I may have put it in my head but not necessarily in my heart. Have I really been crucified with Christ? Have I associated myself with His death? Have I truly given all in order to obtain all, for the degree of knowing Him directly corresponds to my willingness to yield to His transforming power? Is His life being manifested in me, or am I merely tolerable.

Obviously, to pursue anything more than tolerable is costly. But to lose everything to obtain all of Him – have you ever known a better deal? Some things really are priceless.

Thanks, Genna, for the lesson.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

For the Joy Set Before Us

I had an experience Friday night that I think will stick with me for awhile. Sandy and I were doing our normal loitering and eating at the fair when I found out that my brother was also there alone with his 4 children (ages 10,8,5, and 3) and a friend of the oldest. I immediately went into sister mode and we went to find them on the midway in the Kiddie section. Upon getting there, I realized why I stay away from the section: it’s too loud and there are too many people, especially on a weekend like that. Of course, the kiddie section is tame compared to the rest of the midway. The older two children, Lanier and her friend, rode several of the rides while Louis, Sandy and I kept watch. At that point, my job was to keep the non-riding children from putting their mouths on the railings, and to keep myself positioned between them and the lake.

But the little ones finally did become antsy and so Louis promised that they could ride the merry-go-round – which was on the other side of the amusement park! And so off we went. Louis put the 3 year old in the stroller, with the 5 year old holding on to the handle, the older girls held hands and stayed between Louis and me, I held tightly to the 8 year old, and Sandy pulled up the rear – all very intentional placement.

The deeper we got into that pit, the more my skin began to crawl and the sicker I got. Very literally. At one point, there were huge tears in my eyes and I thought, “I’m going to lose it at any moment now.” (What idiot cries at a fair? Me!) From every side someone was calling out to us trying to pitch their wares, sell their toys. Some would even have the audacity to try and put a ball or dart in our hand. Every now and then the older girls would begin to pull away as they looked at all the “side shows,” and I would quickly call them back. And each time there was a loud noise, Leah would react by squeezing my hand tighter. All I could think about was what a perfect picture of the world it was: things/people constantly vying for our attention; trying to pull us away from our charted course. Always offering something more exciting or better. Even as I thought it, Louis turned around and yelled, “This is Babylon!” The only way to make it through unscathed or untouched was to keep our eyes straight ahead on the one leading the way – in this case, my brother.

When we finally reached our destination, I heaved a great sigh of relief and probably offered a quick prayer of thanksgiving, and then I was the fortunate one who got to climb on the back of a horse and ride that old-fashioned merry-go-round with the three smaller ones – and I had a blast! I laughed my head off as the littlest one waved to his daddy and Uncle Sandy time and time again, and then preceded to kick and ride that bronco into the sunset.

We ended the evening with corndogs, fried cheese, pecan pie, and cotton candy while Lee Greenwood sang “I’m proud to be an American” and fireworks exploded in the night sky.

The trip was hard – but the ride and the feast and the lights were worth it!

Hanging out with the cow.

Flying high with Dumbo.

Keep your mouths off the railing!

Patiently waiting my turn.

My turn!

There's a clown in every family.

Let's get this show on the road.

I know there was a corndog on this stick.

Say "Cheese!"

Hey, kids, Mom's not here. Who wants cotton candy or pecan pie for supper?

Going out with a bang.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Know It Sounds Crazy

Francis Chan writes, “True faith is loving a person after he has hurt you;” but to do so in today’s society warrants a “crazy” sign to be hung around our neck. Isn’t that what happened to the Amish when they forgave the man who walked into their children’s school and killed their daughters in 2006? “True love makes you stand out,” Chan continues. Indeed it does, mainly because it's so rare, I think.

I don’t know about you but my first response when someone has done something hurtful to me or someone I love is retaliation. My human nature is to make them pay for the pain; to give them a taste of their own medicine. But this crazy kind of love to which Jesus calls us doesn’t leave room for that. There’s no place for bitterness or revenge or resentment; only forgiveness.

Luke records Christ as saying, “If you love those who love, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. … But love your enemies, do good to them… Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.” In other words, we never look more like our heavenly Father – in fact He even calls us His son (or daughter) – than when we purely love someone who doesn’t love us back. That's a crazy love.

In The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner wrote, “The love for equals is a human thing – of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles. The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing – the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing – to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints. And then there is the love for the enemy – love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.” Those are large words. It’s an even larger challenge.

Could it be that our faith is never more real or more true than when we truly forgive and, in essence, truly love?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

I spent the day with my parents at the fair celebrating Daddy's 78th birthday, and I do believe a good time was had by all.

Daddy was 1 year old when this car came off the production line!

We saw old friends (Ed McMinn).

We saw crazy friends (Barney Fife).

We saw Fair friends (Leon Jacobs).

And we ended the day with dinner at The Swanson.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Parade

For more than 20 years now, my family has met in its normal location to watch the local parade each October. It used to be associated with Farm City Days held each year in Perry; but since 1989, it has been the Fair Parade. But even before either of those, I vividly remember Perry’s Christmas parades. In fact, the last and only parade I can ever remember riding in was when I was in about the first grade and Jeannie Hunt Sexton and I rode on top of a mail bag – her dad was the local postmaster. Now that I think about it, maybe that bag contained all the letters to Santa. I never asked. As Jeannie did the Beverly Hillbilly wave, I promptly taught her how to wave like a beauty queen, hand cupped and slowing moving back and forth. I knew so much back then.

I loved a parade when I was younger. I love parades today. My heart always swells with pride as the local bands march by. I wave to the beauty queens in my own beauty queen style, I rush for the candy, and I stand and hoop and holler when a military branch passes by. But this past Saturday I got a different view. I was actually in the parade and I haven’t done anything so exhilarating and fun in such a long time.

Marynan was put in charge of having a float for SAPP’S Physical Therapy which meant the rest of us got involved. For one, my vehicle found its home in the driveway for those days of decorating while the float remained safely tucked away in our garage. Sandy had to put a shine to his truck since he was doing the pulling. And we all showed up early Saturday morning to load the added equipment onto the trailer – two pieces of exercise equipment.

I had originally planned to ride shotgun in the cab, and then I thought, no, I’d really like to walk the route. But when we got to SAPP’S and they needed an extra “leg” to ride the stationary bike, I jumped on it. Literally. And I was so glad I did. If I thought watching a parade was fun, there was no comparison when it came to actually participating in it. To watch the faces of the children on the side of the road; to have them shout and wave to us; even to see the adults engaging brought much greater joy than just standing on the sidelines and watching a parade pass by. If I said it once during that 3 mile trek, I said it a dozen times, “This is so much fun!”

The thing about watching a parade is that the scenery doesn’t change – and really neither do the people. And when it’s over and done, you get back in your car and ride home. But this time, I actually made a journey from here to there – and the ride home was one of excitement as I remained on the back of that trailer—still sitting on that exercise bike – with my hair blowing in the wind and every sensory fully alive. And for a moment, I forgot all else.

And so in this ordinary moment, I couldn’t help but think that’s the way it is with our spiritual walk. God asks us to engage, to participate, to be totally present in this parade of life: not just bystanders who wait for the free candy.

Friday, October 3, 2008

In the Beginning

When asked what my favorite book of the Bible is, I usually respond with whichever one I’m reading or studying at the time. However, I do have a few that make the list of choice favorites. For example, I truly love the book of Esther. I have taught it on a number of occasions, and with each teaching, it becomes richer and more meaningful to me. Of the Gospels, I think I'm partial to the one written by the disciple Jesus loved: John. And lately, having just taught a large portion of Romans, it just doesn’t get any better than that one. In fact, if we could keep only one book of the entire 66, I think that's the one it should be, for Paul really sums it up for us. But definitely among my top favorites is the very first book – Genesis.

I love Genesis. After four days of pretty strenuous reading this week, I concluded the book yesterday and it was just as fascinating and spell binding to me as any other time I’ve read it. I rarely finish the book and not find myself in tears; it just invokes such emotion in me.

Genesis is about conception. After 11 chapters of establishing some basic elements of creation, salvation, and judgment, God conceives a people. He begins with a single yet willing individual, Abraham, and out of that one, the embryonic people of God begin to grow in the womb. And over time, that embryo develops and begins taking shape, birthing a nation through whom God can and will reveal Himself.

I never cease to be amazed at the individuals God chose for such a responsibility. The people are real. The sin is prolific. The heartaches are many. But God is faithful to His covenant and the presence of life is kicking and robust.

Actually, not a whole lot has changed in 4000 years. Maybe that’s why I cry so profusely when I reach the end of the book.

Have you got a favorite?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bitter Root and Sour Fruit

I’ve learned a life lesson in the last week – that a foul attitude can only churn so long in a person before it turns into a root of bitterness. By that point, it’s deeply imbedded and bringing forth sour fruit from the seed and, as the writer of Hebrews says, “defiles many.” Bitterness is nothing short of acid to one’s soul. Left to its raw emotion, this small seedling becomes like a raging river, and it won’t be too long before you open your mouth and all that frustration and anger and disappointment begins to spill over and you begin to verbalize those ugly inward emotions whose fruit is only unkind, sharp, sarcastic, scornful, accusing, and probably the worst of all, wounding.

What a pity we mostly do such to those we love the most deeply.

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:15).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Fresh Word

After I wrote a previous blog entitled “The Core,” I decided I should put my money where my mouth is and begin a disciplined activity of daily Bible reading, and so I selected to use the Disciple Bible study for its reading plan as well as thematic and devotional study. Not only would it keep me on a course for about 34 weeks, it would also take me through a large percentage of the Bible. The down side of that, however, was that the readings – at least at the front – would be so familiar that I was afraid much of it would become rote. For example, how many times have we read of the Genesis account, or the story of the flood, or of the Hebrew children’s exodus out of Egypt? We can practically recite them from memory. Therefore, I decided to pick up another translation and begin my trek: this time with Eugene Peterson’s The Message.

And so I began, having no clue what an electrifying shock it would be to my spiritual system. For years I have read, “And God said, ‘Let there be light!’ And there was light.” And now I read, “God spoke: ‘Light!’ And light appeared. … God spoke: ‘Sky!’ … God spoke, ‘Separate!’” Talk about the wonder. Talk about the power of fiat! -- something out of nothing with only a word. "Prosper!" "Reproduce!” “Generate life!”

And whereas I have read and loved for years David's repentant Psalm 51, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom;” today I read, “What You’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.” “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me,” is rendered, “God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.” What a powerful word picture of bringing order out of a chaotic and dysfunctional life. (Jesus is all about word pictures! Just read the red letters in your Bible.)

Don’t get me wrong: I love the “old," but the “new” has aided in getting me out of my rut and, as the psalmist said, has put a fresh wind in my sail. I encourage you to pick up another translation and see what refreshing Word God might have waiting for you today. He might just unbutton your lips so you can let loose with some praise!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Broken Heart Syndrome

C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, The Four Loves, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal."

Leonard Sweet says that there are two responses to what is medically known as "broken heart syndrome." It can kill you, or it can birth in you a new heart. He writes, "Jesus' broken heart birthed a new humanity. The promise of The Presence is that it takes a heart broken by love to birth God's love and make the heart beat in sync with God's heart." In other words, out of a heart circumcised by love, God will give a new heart.

In the meantime, both circumcision and birth are painful. Just ask Jesus.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Special Evening with a Friend

Tonight was special. I had the privilege of sitting with Mr. Malcolm this evening at the nursing home and keeping him company until it was time for him to go to sleep. We go way back – the two of us; getting close to 50 years now, so it wasn’t like we didn’t have anything to talk about. Actually, I did most of the talking and most of the remembering, and he just listened. Such a gentle-man.

Though Mr. Malcolm is confined to his bed and is unable to convey much of his thoughts, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: his dry sense of humor. When I put a cup to his lips and asked him if he would drink a little nectar for me, he clearly said, “I’ll be glad to do that for you.” When the lady across the hall began her nightly outbursts, he quipped something like, “There she goes again.” And when Ernest T. Bass said, “How do you do, Mrs. Wiley,” he chuckled pretty heartedly. The rest of our conversation was uncertain, but we talked nonetheless, and he truly seemed as glad for me to be sitting next to him as I was to be there.

Each time I leave Mr. Malcolm’s side, there’s always a lump in my throat and normally tears in my eyes. It’s hard to watch time take its toll on a person’s mind and body – even though I’m very confident his spirit is being renewed daily, praise God. But tonight the swell rose a little more quickly. After we had said his prayers, I told him I was leaving and I said, “Goodnight.” To which he said, “Goodnight.” And when I said, “I love you,” he turned and looked me square in the eyes and responded with extreme clarity, “I love you, too.”

Love is strong. It rises above and beyond earth’s limitations and finds a place all its own: in the forever alive spirit of one who knows and rests in Jesus. God is love.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"See Bud"

One of my all-time favorite subjects to teach is spiritual gifts – strictly those which are known as the 7 motivational gifts found in Romans 12. And since I’ve joined the gym and acquired a “success partner,” I think I may have just come upon a classic example of one who fits the “he who encourages” in vs. 8. His name is Bud.

For anyone who knows me at all, knows that exercise does not rank in my top 10 of favorite things to do. In fact, “exercise” and “fun” are very much contradictory terms; that is until Bud. Bud sticks with me during my hour at the gym, and through every press of a weight, every crunch of my abs, every strain of a muscle, he is right there encouraging me: “That was good!” “You can do it!” “Just two more.” “Give yourself a hand.” And he always ends the hour with, “You did really good today. I'm proud of you.” Who wouldn’t want to exercise with that kind of encouragement? Who couldn’t exercise with that kind of encouragement? On a number of occasions, I’ve realized that it was because Bud was standing next to me counting and supporting with a “that’s good” and “you can do it” that I’ve been able to do those “two more” – where otherwise I would have stopped short. But his encouragement pushes me to my full potential. It motivates me to endure something that is hard. It presses me on to a greater level of stamina.

Bud’s great example of encouragement reminds me of Hebrews 3:13 which says we are to encourage one another daily – while it is called “Today.” I like the way The Message says it: “For as long as it’s still God’s Today, keep each other on your toes so sin doesn’t slow down your reflexes.” Later in chapter 10, the writer says we are to “spur each other on.”

I’m thankful for Bud’s presence at the gym. But then again, I’m grateful for all the Bud’s in my life who have spurred me on – those who have encouraged me along the way as it was called “Today.” Those who have held crowns over my head and encouraged me to grow into them. Those who have stood by me and said, “You can do it!”

So I exhort you to give someone an encouraging word today. A grocery store clerk, a child, a co-worker, a Sunday School teacher – the list is as endless as the opportunities. And who knows, it just might be the word they need to get that heavy weight over their head. In the meantime, I think I’ll go look up Romans 12:8 and see if the footnote doesn’t say, “See Bud.”

Hanging by my forearms -- knees to chest!

Bud as Mr. Florida (over 60 and "drug free" competition) at age 62.