Waking Up and Awakening to Listening

Early this morning in our tree-shaded, ivy-covered, peacefully nestled home, I awoke to —

HAMMERING!

BANGING!

SA-A-A-WWWING!

It sounded like it was right in our backyard! I got out of bed, stared with my blurry, nearsighted eyes into the back yard from our upstairs window, and deemed nothing out of place.

Once dressed and downstairs, our dog and I explored the neighborhood. Sure, there were sounds, but they weren’t coming from our backyard at all. In fact, they were coming from a house that was being renovated down the street from the FRONT of our house! Activity hammered, banged, and sawed on every side of that house!

Sound is a funny thing, isn’t it? It can echo seamlessly around corners, under branches, up hillsides and behind bushes. Sometimes it takes a time to reach our ears. Determining exactly where it originates is sometimes a mystery.

Listening to the voice of God can be like that, I think. Sometimes I hear Him loud and clear and there is no question in my mind of his heart-piercing message. Other times, I’m not so sure, not so certain…

I was once in a wonderful class on prayer and the Psalms taught by a minister-friend of ours. Among the points I remember from that class is one insight he shared:

Sometimes awakening in the night isn’t just awakening in the night; it’s a time to meet with God.

What if we looked at all interruptions, all detours,

all misdirections like that?

If God is with us all the time, which–in Christ–He is, according to Matthew 28:20,

And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,

and if He plans our way, orders our days, determines our steps, as He does according to Psalm 37:23,

The steps of a man are ordered by the LORD, when he delights in His way

as well as in Psalm 31:14 and 15:

You are my God; my times are in your hand

and in Psalm 23:4:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me,

Then He does seek communion with us at all times.

So, let’s see that red light during our commute as a call to stop whatever keeps us from peaceful trust in His sovereignty in our lives. Let’s just lay it down like the painted lane divider right on the asphalt. May we answer the baby’s midnight cry as a time to comfort that little one and be comforted over our deepest fears by our heavenly Father. Let’s watch the clear water in the sink pour over sudsy, dirty dishes or in the driveway over a sudsy, dirty car and may it remind us of God’s full washing away of our sins in Christ. Let’s thank Him and praise Him as that water runs clear.

Remember our Savior has a purpose for us, and He even has a purpose for the pauses of our day:

May our days and nights be communion with Christ.

 

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3 Ways to Not Miss Out

This photo of our trusty dog and an open Bible shows the usual way my morning starts. A walk up and around our street together follows. But sometimes it’s raining  (like today) and we don’t go on a walk. Even more disruptive to my outlook and thinking is the reality that sometimes my morning doesn’t start that way at all. It’s like I jumpstart the day–diving right into the whitewater rush of activities. I let other details and pressing To-Do’s crowd out that most important time.

It seems we all have long lists of To-Do’s that clamor for our attention and time. Grocery shopping, doctors’ appointments, meals to prepare, opportunities to volunteer, car pool lines to wait in, bills to pay, dogs to wash, bathrooms to clean, unending piles of laundry… Whew! It’s exhausting to even think about sometimes, isn’t it–or at least it seems that way to me!

I’m a dedicated list maker and have succumbed some times to even putting the most mundane item–like “Get Mail”–on the list so I’ll be able to cross at least something out. That’s pretty pitiful, isn’t it?!

Many years ago, I read a little pamphlet entitled “Tyranny of the Urgent.” I don’t know who wrote it, but its wisdom has stayed with me. The pamphlet spoke about how we pay attention to the urgent things in life and sorrowfully neglect the important things in life. That’s a personal challenge to this list-maker. I’m usually reminded of that on my way up the driveway with the mail! I really miss uninterrupted time with God, reading His Word, and prayer.

In the mornings this month(or at least on most mornings), I’m reading through the Psalms in groups of 4 or 5 day in a book that brings them together with thoughts to ponder at the close of each group. (It’s Psalms by the Day by Alec Motyer and available at Christianbook.com.) Yesterday I had that time. The Psalms were wonderful and the thoughts were challenging, but what kept coming into my mind was our older neighbor next door, and I determined to go see her that morning.

And I did. And without our dog, so I could actually go in and visit a while.

I knocked on her door and she quickly answered. She was smiling and was dressed in cleaning clothes all spotted with paint.  She welcomed me inside and we sat in her living room. The vacuum sat still, tied up by its cord under the dining table behind us. She said she had just completed vacuuming and was expecting company the next day. As it turned out, a dear friend of hers from college days had unexpectedly died, and she had opened her home to several mutual friends to come and stay and all attend the funeral together. We remarked on the blessings of hospitality and friendship. Then she admitted that, as her friend had died suddenly, there were things she never had the opportunity to say to her. That was the true source of her sadness and the underlying reason for her hospitality. She wanted to tell those friends how much she treasured them and even how much more Jesus treasured them.

That is an important To-Do.

Suddenly, a beep went off in the hall. She laughed and confessed that the beeping had been going on all morning–and was at a loss to stop it. I determined it was a smoke detector in the hall whose battery was depleted. She produced a step stool and a new battery–and borrowing her reading glasses–I climbed up, replaced the battery, and the beeping stopped. She was so appreciative and remarked how I must have come for that very reason. Only God knows.

The funny thing is that I was given so much more than I gave. It caused me to ask myself what have I left unsaid, undone, or unheeded?

That brings me back to the faithful friend at the top of the page. We are in his last days now. Our long walks have become short but sweet ones. Playtime has become more infrequent. But he still loves to rest beside me as I read the Bible and pray and write at my desk (where he currently is, as in the photo below), at the kitchen table, or outside on the deck.

So that will be an important To-Do. Not a grand thing in the scale of things, but a comfort to him. And it will also spur me on to a consistent and beautiful time with God.

Likewise, and even more so, remembering to check on my neighbors will be an important To-Do: building community and looking for ways to serve, weeds to pull, and lives to impact for Christ.

So here is the list I’ve made: the “3 Ways to Not Miss Out” on the important things in life:

  1. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33
  2. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37
  3. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:38

And that sums up everything.

 

 

The Weather, Reality, and Life

How’s your weather today? It’s bright and sunny here. Birds chirp. Bees buzz. Sounds like a warm day, right? It is now, but early this morning it called for long pants, long sleeves, and a light jacket!

Appearance isn’t always reality.

Aren’t we like that sometimes? We smile and laugh–all blue skies and golden sunshine. But our reality? It’s a downpour of fear, worry, and anger that only washes away our trust and peace.

Hmmm… Should that really be our reality as followers of Christ?

Let’s consider Paul’s reality as given in his 2nd Corinthians 11:23-28 “resume”:


PAUL

~ Servant of Christ Jesus ~

Experience:

  • Imprisoned repeatedly
  • Shipwrecked 3 times
  • Adrift in the sea 1 day/night
  • Flogged numerous times
  • Lashed 39 times on 5 occassions
  • Beaten with rods 3 times
  • Stoned 1 time
  • In danger from robbers, countrymen, and unfaithful friends

Characteristics:

  • Exhausted
  • In pain and without sleep
  • Hungry and thirsty
  • Cold and in rags
  • Given a “thorn in the flesh” to foster humility

Aim:

  • Concern for the church
  • Concern for the sake of Christ

As close as I come to Paul’s trials is being seasick once on a cruise ship. Lord, have mercy! My trials are nothing compared to Paul’s, so you’d think it would be easy for me to maintain his aim. Yet, am I continually concerned about the spiritual health of the church and my fellow Christians? Am I content in my circumstances and more concerned about others and the glory of Christ?

Paul wanted something, too. He wanted that thorn in the flesh, thought an eye problem, to be removed. He asked God for its removal three times and all three times God said no. In 2nd Corinthians 12, Paul records God’s words as,

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Paul submits to God, saying,

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s trust in Christ gave him a perspective that focused beyond his present circumstances. He realized when he had nothing, he had everything–he had Christ.

As we face our trials, may we also trust in Christ and be strong in Him. That will bring real peace, and–in the midst of storms–a bright, sunny day in our souls.

March Begins with Madness

Yesterday was only the 2nd day of March, but it looked like I’m in for a crazy month! Here’s the skinny (which is not to be applied to my waist, as you will see!):

The weather has alternated unseasonably from a warm–then chilled-to-the-bone day. I sit here wearing a spring floral shirt–and a wool cardigan, which I keep pulling closer together.

As we haven’t been to the local grocery in a few weeks, pantry supplies are a little low and only make for odd combinations. This morning, I searched through the pantry to find items to make a dinner for two with one solitary chicken breast. Righting a toppled bag of dried cranberries, my hand unearthed something forgotten and unexpected: a bag of Rolo’s! Never mind that they were Fourth of July Rolo’s! (Could they really expire?) In a world where chocolate has long been forgotten (cue the melodramatic music!) this was GOLD.

To be honest, we’ve only been out of cookies, Hershey bars, or chocolate chips for the last week. It just seemed longer. Still, it’s with sad repentance that I confess my behavior over the last 24 hours.

  • Breakfast? Have a couple Rolo’s.
  • Waiting for the tea kettle water to boil? Have a couple Rolo’s.
  • Making the grocery list? Have a couple Rolo’s.
  • Waiting for our dog, Teddy, to come back inside? Have a couple Rolo’s.
  • Finished folding the laundry? Have a couple Rolo’s.
  • Working on a blog post? Have the last four Rolo’s.

YES! The LAST four Rolo’s!!!!

Now normally, I love the taste of chocolate, but those last four were NOT appealing. In fact, I found myself cringing while I unwrapped the last one. The thought of more of that mild, now blah chocolate–did not fill me with joy and delight, not to mention that the combined amount of sugar was undoubtedly enough to trigger a sugar coma.

Excess is not a blessing.

I know that in other areas. I actually enjoy routinely weeding through my closet, our bookshelves, the kitchen drawers. . .

. . .but excess of sugar is different. With food I’m not as diligent as I am with closets, bookshelves, and drawers. May I remember this lesson learned! God did send along a visual aid for this slow learner.

Sitting at this desk, I often watch an energetic, bushy-tailed squirrel in our back yard. His (or her) whole life, it seems, revolves around finding, burying, and digging up nuts. But even this squirrel appears smarter than I am; he doesn’t pull all of his precious nuts into just one of my deck plant containers. He spreads them around and disrupts the soil in all six of them! So, he’s not just hiding nuts in parsley; he’s hiding nuts in parsley and mint and thyme and rosemary and pansies and ornamental cabbage!

Now, if I consider each of those pots as a symbolic food group, could God have sent this little squirrel on a mission to revamp my idea of a meal? Well, as He is sovereign, it certainly clicked in my crazy, sugar-overloaded, “squirrely” self.

Taking care of my body–taking care of your body–is a godly thing. We are blessed with the body God has given us–our hair, our eyes, those special mannerisms, even the aches and pains that remind of us to be humble, patient, and look forward to the joy of heaven. How we treat our bodies is under God’s authority.

Consider 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:

“. . . do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Now Paul was specifically addressing sexual immorality to the Corinthians, and it’s is a chaste warning to us, too. Our body is a temple–God put the Holy Spirit within us. Now look at the “Whys” of that reality.

The first “Why” is “You are NOT YOUR OWN”.

Consider the prophet Nehemiah’s summation (Nehemiah 9:6):

“You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.”

David gives us another glimpse of God’s creative power in Psalm 139:13:

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

The second “Why” is “You were BOUGHT with a PRICE”.

This concept is prophesied in Isaiah 53:5:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

and remembered in 1 Peter 3:18:

“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm.”

Two great “Whys” to remember the next time I encounter a full bag of Rolo’s or any less than healthy food. I need to daily remember that I am not my own–I am God’s–and that I was “bought with a price”–Jesus’s sacrifice–and I am commanded to glorify God in my body:

with modest clothing and behavior

with the exercise of service

with the rest of prayer and scripture

with healthy food.

And now I’ll start anew. It’s still the first week of March.

Join us for a healthy dinner of chicken, carrots, peas, onions, and rice?

 

Chocolate Oatmeal No-Bake Cookies (Deconstructed, and So Much More)

This morning I was supposed to get a lot done.

My plan was:

  1. Get up early!
  2. Make Chocolate-Oatmeal-Peanut Butter No Bake cookies (!!)
  3. Get started AND FINISH a languishing manuscript submission.

That’s not how the morning went.

I got up about an hour late but was downstairs in 30 minutes. Awaiting me were a couple last-minute dirty dishes from last night, which I quickly washed, albeit with a grumble.

Then I started to combine the ingredients for the cookie bars in the saucepan. At the same time, I decided to feed our dog, Teddy. And to let him out. And to throw a few things down to the washer. And…

Well, you get the idea, right?

When I got back to the stove, the butter was definitely melted, so I added the cocoa, and sugar.

It’s VERY IMPORTANT to know that at this point, the mixture is to boil a precise 2 minutes. That is very critical to the outcome.

Hmmm… That would be a problem.

Right at that moment, our sweet very senior dog had finished eating and wanted to go outside. I let him out and started to measure the peanut butter.

I was finishing up two jars of peanut butter. One was a natural peanut butter and all of the oil had been incorporated into the peanut butter used earlier, as it was a very hard, sticky, glob. Even so, I pressed on. Next, I measured the oatmeal.

Sigh…

My kind husband, who loves his morning oatmeal, had mistakenly bought the 1-minute Quick Cook version. Finely milled. Powdery. Bleh.

Oh well… I measured 2-1/2 cups of the oatmeal and added the peanut butter and oatmeal to the mixture. Then a real interruption occurred.

BARKING!

We may have a friendly furry terrier mix old dog, but he still has a very intimidating bark. And there he was–at the very edge of our upper yard, poised and ready to strike, and barking at our NEIGHBOR who was out early fertilizing her holly trees.

I called Teddy, but his hearing being a bit impaired, he didn’t flinch.

Bark–Bark–Bark!

As I ran up the little hill, my neighbor came into view, and she smiled. Then she admitted she was afraid he might run over and bite her. I calmed her fears and he came over, wagging his tail. I said he just takes neighborhood security very seriously but, overall, is very friendly.

She laughed and we discussed fertilizing, early jonquils, and the mischievous ways of chipmunks. Then Teddy and I slowly made our way back inside.

That’s when I realized I’d left the cookie bar mixture on the stove–ON MEDIUM HIGH–AND HAD NEVER STIRRED IT.

Trust me, this is NOT something you want a picture of.

Stiff, dry, clumpy do not begin to describe it. Individual drop cookies were out of the question. Instead, I “turned” it into the 9″ x 13″ pan. Thud. I “spread” it out (AKA attempting to flatten it and gingerly piecing it together).

What a stubborn, broken mess~when it should’ve been glistening and soft and warm and wonderful.

Sadly, how just like me!

My plans. My agenda. My desires. Had I missed out on the most beautiful time in my highly ordered morning? How many times have I pushed ahead on my own? How many times have I looked critically at something or someone? What an ungodly and broken sinner, I am.

Then I tasted it. What a surprise!

It was sweet! It was CHOCOLATEY! It had texture! Sure, it wasn’t the smooth, soft texture of the correctly made version, but it was what it was–and it was still good.

God does that with my life (and I hope He you recognize Him doing that in your life, too.) He uses convictions to bring me to my knees with tears to make me understand more deeply the reality of Christ’s sacrifice for me. He shows me breaking sunlight through heavy grey clouds to remind me of the resurrection.

When I think about God–about the holy and awesome and unchanging God who cares for me and for you–I am undone. I cannot begin to fully understand the magnitude of His character. How He makes stars and explodes them. How He orders planets, times the jonquils, and designs the perfect whorl of petals on the dahlia. Like David in Psalm 8, I ask,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him?”

We serve a God who is LOVE. In a month overawed with love, remember that.

Our God makes beauty out of ashes. (Isaiah 61:3)

…to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

Our God makes good out of trouble. (Romans 8:28)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Our God grants peace in distress. (John 14:27)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.Our God does all He can to bring us to make us more like Jesus.

Our God brings purpose to hopelessness. (Ephesians 2:10)

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Our God brings life from death. (2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 6:11)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Because He loves us. (John 3:16, Romans 8:35-39)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because HE LOVES us.

 

 

Bible Study

img_3182What comes to mind when you hear the words

BIBLE  STUDY ?

Do you get a little antsy? Do you think of all the other things you have to do? Do you suddenly have to check something in the oven or get the ironing done or rake the leaves or…You get the idea, right? But are you up for a challenge? (more…)

First Things First

How are things at your house? Here, some of the kids have already gone back to college, decorations are coming down, and leftovers have been mostly eaten. Yes, the tree is still up and fully decorated (and I think it’s still really lovely, see?)img_3333 but I’m hoping, with my husband’s help, the ornaments will be nestled in their bin by evening.

In the midst of putting away our collection of “snow”-covered houses,img_3334 I received a text from a dear friend. I’d received a few other texts earlier in the day–one from our local Juice Bar, another an address I’d requested–but this text was different. (more…)

In Hot Water?

Have you ever felt like you’re about to be in hot water? You know that feeling: Your name’s about to be called or all eyes are on you or you’re plunging headfirst into img_3174uncharted territory. There’s a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Your breathing repetitions increase. A seemingly logical dread swamps your thinking.

And then nothing bad happens.

Or maybe something bad does happen.

Whichever outcome, there’s hope in Psalm 51, verses 11 and 12.

In this deeply repentant song, we see David’s heart–repentant, sorrowful, honest. And talk about deep water. David’s deep water incident had just become known to the prophet, Nathan, and Nathan had just confronted David with his sin with Bathsheba. David felt very humbled and very convicted that he had sinned against God. Click on the blue link and you can read the whole tragic story narrated in 2 Samuel 11 and 12.

Now let’s look back at Psalm 51. In verse 1, David opens with a searing cry for mercy based on the steadfast love of God.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin!”

Have you ever cried out for mercy in the middle of that hot water moment? I certainly have. Sometimes it’s been through tears. Sometimes it’s been with eyes wide open. Mercy. Lord, have mercy on me.

Now let’s look further down the chapter at verse 12.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”

Isn’t our greatest plea for mercy answered most wholly with restoration? And the most wonderful restoration of all, which is the restoration of the joy from God’s salvation. We see that joy of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. Acts 4:12 and numerous other  New Testament verses attest to that. The latter half of the verse asks God to grant us a willing spirit to bolster us on. How can we be assured of that?

We just have to read verse 17. Here, David illustrates the sacrifice that pleases God, and shows his heart of hope:

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

When we have those moments  when we’re about to fall into that pot of boiling water, so to speak, or even trials of more temperate natures, a broken and contrite heart and a sincere prayer to be upheld and given a willing spirit, is heard by the God of lovingkindness and steadfast love. Our broken spirit, our broken and contrite, sorrowful heart is the evidence of and the reason for our cry for mercy. And it is answered in the restoration of forgiveness and the assurance of joy that comes from knowing Christ, our salvation.

Then, we might just realize anew that God can bring something good even out of boiling water trials. (img_3175Remember James 1 and Romans 8:28?) Sure, our dinner was tasty, but I mean something more. Deeper faith. Wisdom. Remembering God is good and faithful even in hot water times. Remembering Jesus Christ is our deepest, truest joy in all times.

 

It’s Bee Sting Time Here!

You’d think taking the clothes out of the dryer would be a simple and stress-free activity, wouldn’t you? Imagine this…you pull the clothes (or sheets, in this instance) out of the dryer. Although the basement is cool, they are warm and cozy. You pull them to you, in one soft armful.

And then something else comes out of the dryer and falls on the small rug in front of the washer and dryer. What could it be? You bend over to get a closer look… (more…)