Family Reunions

What is summer without a family reunion or a family get-together sprinkled with lively children, frisky dogs, and ice cream? In my book, that’s part of the quintessential definition of summer. My childhood summers always included the mandatory grandparent/aunt/uncle/cousin get-together, a dining table ladened with tender roast beef, fried corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, and garden-fresh sliced tomatoes. (The cousins were relegated to the “children’s table” in the kitchen where we could talk, laugh, and play with our food to our hearts’ content.) After meals, we’d play in the attic and parade about wearing dresses from our aunt’s college days and then tumble outside to run here and there to the tune of twittering birds and droning cicadas amidst glittering lightening bugs. Happy times.

Just the other weekend, we enjoyed a small semblance of those times. There were aunts and an uncle. There were cousins. Little children were missing, but a frisky puppy made his appearance. The dining table was full with food and family faces once again and although the roast beef gave way to sweet potato burritos and guacamole, there were still garden-fresh sliced tomatoes. (And this time, all the cousins were grown, so we were all at the dining table!) We enjoyed walks through our shady neighborhood, stopping here and there when the puppy decided to sit down or tangled his leash around a bush. And in the evening, we relaxed in our small screened-in porch, once again lulled by twittering birds and droning cicadas, and reveling in the wonder of God’s creative handiwork of each glittering lightening bug we spotted.

After we all attended worship the next morning, we went to lunch together. Leaving the restaurant, my cousin whispered in my ear, “What a great family,” and I couldn’t help but agree with a thankful, wiser heart.

Looking back, it’s funny, how you view things when you’re very young. My daughter, at age 5, used to think that whatever was playing on our car stereo was playing in all the other cars around us. She’d see someone smiling in another car and attribute that to the fact that we were playing John Lithgow’s uproarious “Singin’ in the Bathtub”. Then she’d see someone looking serious and attribute that to the classical music we were playing! Growing up myself, I thought every family was the same as mine: lots of stories, lots of laughter, playing games, and worshipping together.

Now in her early twenties, our daughter laughs over that instance of a young, self-absorbed world view. And now, since knowing many more families myself, I’ve realized my perspective was a bit naive, as well. Yes, we have a great family and now I realize it’s a great blessing as well, but many people–people I love and care for and people I don’t even know–have families with lots of contention, lots of disappointment, playing around, and discounting God. And some families have a mixed bag, a little of both worlds.

In the end, however, it really doesn’t matter what your family here on earth was or is like. Whether it’s out of a storybook or a nightmare–or somewhere in between–that doesn’t matter at all. Because, even if Aunt Ruby said that we were “the sweetest thing ever” for as long as we can remember, we are all broken sinners, in need of a savior.

Which brings me to a different kind of family. It’s the family spoken of in John 1:12:

“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

We read in that first chapter of John that God has given us the “right to become children of God.” It’s not automatic. It’s an opportunity, a choice we are capable of making. We have the opportunity, the invitation. And if you realize (along with Aunt Ruby) that,

you are a broken sinner in need of a savior, and

you believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, and

that He died for your sins on the cross

was buried in a tomb,

rose to life after 3 days,

and will come again to call you home,

guess what?

God has called you into a new family:

And you’re in God’s family!

“See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are!” 1 John 3:1, 2

You’re a child of God! Isn’t that wonderful news, dear sister and brother?!

Now let’s fast-forward to another family reunion.

When our time on earth has reached the fullness God has ordained for each of us, He will call us home. And what a family reunion that will be, complete with the wedding feast of the Lamb, of Christ!

Will we hear stories from our favorite Bible characters? Will Noah share a funny story about the peacocks and the crocodiles? Will Paul recount his shipwrecks? Will we be in awe, gazing at the reunion of the disciples, at unexpected surprises, at sights too beautiful for words and sounds of angels too glorious for recognition, and at the face of our Savior? Yes!

That’s going to be a family reunion like no other. I’m eager to be there; aren’t you?

Remember, Christ is ever with us, ordering our steps (Psalm 31:15), numbering our days, and–when time reaches fullness–we will all be truly home. What a joy it will be to see you there, my brother and sister, and what a reunion time we will have!

Until then, grace and peace and joy!

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Daily Doxology

How’s your day been today?

This morning, I was going on day 2 of washing dishes in the bathroom sink due to a stubborn clog somewhere in the deep recesses of an unseen line.

But that’s only this week. Earlier in this month, we’ve faced the clearing out of my childhood home, a daughter battling a bad concussion, and the end of our beloved dog’s 14 year life.

All that sometimes seems like a mighty weight of sadness and worry, and yet today I was overwhelmed to praise my Savior.

No, I didn’t get any overwhelming good news (well, apart from getting the sink running again by the hands of some skillful plumbers).

No, the skies weren’t full of sunshine, bluebirds, and puffy white clouds.

And no, we didn’t get a new puppy.

My morning started out with the Olympic event of clothes changing–5 times and still not me, but wearable. Rain drizzled. Quiet reigned. I sat at our kitchen table, folded my arms on the wooden surface, and lay my head down upon them–and prayed.

And as I was praying for light on the path, for leading through the storm, my heart broke and tears flowed.

I realized, how selfish I was.

  • Surrounded in clean clothes within the walls of a house with running water and air conditioning.
  • Supported by faithful family and friends who speak truth and love when I need it most.
  • Stayed firm and steadfast by the work of Christ on the cross and the empty tomb that holds His full measure of love.

Who was I to pray FOR something.

I could do nothing but praise the one who gave and did everything for me.

And how that lifted away all those worries and concerns! Death had no sting. Trials had no snare. Concerns had no importance. Suddenly, nothing mattered more than praising Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Doesn’t the Bible call us to praise Him through prayer and song? Consider Psalm 148, verses 11 and 12:

Praise him, kings and all peoples,
    princes and all other rulers;
     young women and young men,
    old people and children, too.

and Psalm 100, verses 1 through 4:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

I quickly found versions of the Doxology hymn on my music system, and as I sang those simple words, God blessed me with peace.

I so encourage you ~ give it a try!

And if you’re curious about the Doxology hymn (as I was)…

 Thomas Ken, was an Anglican priest in England, in the 17th century. The Doxology is actually the chorus to two hymns he wrote for his students at Winchester College–one for the morning (“Awake, my soul, and with the sun”) and one for the evening (“Glory to thee, my God, this night). The full story of his most interesting life (and the full evening song) can be found at Hymn History

If you’re eager to hear the Doxology sung in beautiful new ways, open these links:

Here is the chorus ~ let it be the chorus of our lives, come trials and concerns or clogged drains and rain.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Praise Him all creatures here below

Praise Him above ye heavenly host

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

Amen and Alleluia

 

Gardening in the Soil and in the Soul

Do you have questions for God? I seem to always have.

Simple young ones like, why didn’t I have any brothers or sisters?

Later, why didn’t So-&-So ask me out?

And, of late, are you hearing all my prayers?

So many times we know the answers to those questions, don’t we? We can read the Bible and know for certain that God loves us and is faithful. He moves according to His divine time and sovereignty. No one is wiser than God. No one loves us more, and He is patient with us because of that love. And where His love and mercy meet, is Christ.

Even so, we still have questions sometimes.

Yesterday, I went to a local garden center with a good friend who also loves gardening, so it started out on a high note even before setting off. I woke early, startled by happy anticipation. It was a cool, bright spring day and we were soon off, armed with jackets and our pruned lists of “must-haves.”

We made our way up a winding drive to the garden center. There, stretched out before us at the top, were row upon row of hoop houses, each brimming with plants. The garden center supervisor told us the layout and we quickly located some  oakleaf hydrangeas. We milled about in the “Shade Tolerant” section and “oohed and ahhed” over each bleeding heart blossom, the kaleidoscope colors of columbine, and the delicate, airy blossoms of several varieties of coral bells. A hoop house or two over, sun-loving bright flowers shouted, “Why can’t you take us home?”

Shade, shade, shade…

I have questions when I garden beyond the dividing line between “part shade” and “full shade” and where to plant a new hosta. Am I learning contentment? I wonder sometimes, just why must there be so many rocks in my soil? Is it partly to teach me patience? And, God, why did you create cockroaches and wasps? To give a job and income to our monthly exterminator?

I dig deeper…

Lord, root out those sinful weeds creeping into my heart:

Impatience

Discontent

I overturn another rock and pick it up, turning it over in the palm of my hand. It’s oddly shaped, roundish but with cuts and abrupt edges here and there. It’s color is mostly gray but, amid the mundane gray are little glints of black here and there. It really is beautiful. Ordinary yet unique. There is art even in my soil.

Patience

And the hosta and bleeding heart? They look beautiful, nestled into the cool, shady soil. They are in their perfect spot, what they’ve been made for, and where they should be.

Contentment

God is the artist and master-gardener. Shades and shades of color, flowers with perfectly whorled petals, leaves of a thousand shapes, design, and textures. He makes each little bit of green push through soil, drawn by warmth, to reach toward sunlight, to become what He has designed it to be. What a God!

And that same God who’s watching lilies in the field (and hostas and bleeding hearts in the shade), loves and watches over you and me! We have been made for Him. He longs for us, for our hearts. We’re drawn by the love of Christ and we reach toward Him–and when we find Him, that’s just where we should be. Not conformed, but transformed.

Psalm 139:1-16

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

For you formed my inward parts;

you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

God,

All praise and glory!

We thank You for rocks in our soil and shade in our yard.

We thank you for patience and contentment.

We thank you for drawing us to you, questions and sins and all.

We thank You for Your love, for Your mercy, for Your forgiveness, and for Christ!

Amen

Home

I have a home.

It’s not made of brick or wood.

It’s not in town or in the country.

It’s in heaven, and this life is but a gentle journey toward that home.

As I write this entry, it was three weeks ago that my 94 year old mother took her last breath. Especially over the last year, she had been besieged with terrible pain and mental confusion, yet her last breath was gentle, slow, and soft. We loved her dearly, but it was a bittersweet blessing to know she was no longer in pain and was with Christ.

Since then, my husband and I have sifted through countless reams of paper in her home and made numerous decisions on her behalf. We’ve approached it with a One-Thing-at-a-Time mentality. And, when that One Thing became too daunting, I allowed myself to say, “That’s enough for now” and went outside to plant some perennials.

My mother always loved her yard. However, in recent years, the areas not visible from her windows had declined. So now there were several beds that required a “sprucing up” of sorts. And it was to one of those flower beds that I went.

The first order of work was to remove the weeds that had crept into the empty flower bed. I shoveled and shoveled, turning the soil and drawing out each weed along with its snarled roots. Then I selected a spot, watered the plant, dug a hole, and lifted the plant from the plastic container. There were its young roots, eager and waiting to nimbly stretch and grow. I placed the plant in the hole, moved the soil around it and gently patted the surface around the stems.

And then I stood up and OUCH! All that shovel activity (mainly from removing the weeds) used some muscles I’d forgotten about and–unlike those young plant roots–these muscles were neither nimble or eager!

An apt scripture came into my mind:

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Yes, for certain, this outer man is wasting away! It’s not the cancer that was riddling my mother’s body, but I am subject to sore muscles, weak eyes, and sunburn. Even so, that’s not the part of me that really matters. All that pain and soreness is not The Real Me. I agree we need to be physically fit, to eat healthy food, and such–after all, our bodies are to be living sacrifices and are members of Christ. (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 6:15) But The Real Me is the second half of 2 Corinthians 4:16–“our inner self”.

Going even farther down that road, the GREATEST need of our lives is NOT in the outer area of our lives; it’s that we are strengthened, rooted, and grounded and that we are able to comprehend the love of Christ and thereby be filled with the fullness of God. Paul puts it perfectly in Ephesians 3:14-19, saying

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Now let’s dig into that verse. First, just what is Paul doing? Well, he’s praying–he’s bowing his knees “before the Father”. Wouldn’t we all love for someone to pray that prayer over us? What if we prayed that prayer over someone else?!

And what confidence does he have that he’ll be answered or even heard? Well, he makes this prayer, he asks for this granting, because he’s confident he can depend upon the riches of God’s glory–God’s vast, eternal, unending, infinite glory. That is a solid, foundational thing to depend upon!

And what does he pray?

Paul’s prayer is that we be strengthened.

Strengthening is good, right? Like strength-training maybe? We’ll be strengthened physically and all our physical ailments will disappear and we’ll have optimal health and never get sore doing yard work or even running triathlons…

Well, it’s not that kind of strengthening at all. It’s not about the outside self. Let’s consider the how, where, and why:

How are we strengthened: with power through His Spirit

Where are we strengthened: in our inner being

Why are we strengthened: SO THAT CHRIST MAY DWELL IN OUR HEARTS through faith

And that faith is evident in the “being rooted and grounded in love” and having “strength to comprehend…what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ”…and being “filled with all the fullness of God.”

WOW!

That’s not the strength of self that crows, “I can do it!” or even “I did it!” It’s a deeper, truer strength. It’s the strength I need to keep myself steady whether sadness or blessings come: the on-going strengthening and enabling power of the Holy Spirit leading me to an ever-deepening response to God.

Let’s let Paul finish out his prayer in verses 20 and 21:

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Amen!

Let’s crave renewal.

Let’s crave strengthening.

Let’s crave Jesus.

And let’s pray to keep that focus on our journey Home.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

I like chocolate chip cookies. (In fact, I tried to add a photo for you, but–enjoy a laugh–the computer somehow “ate” it!) I also like chocolate chip cookie dough. I even like chocolate chips straight out of the bag! Funny thing, though–after eating too many (or too much of the dough or too many warm just-out-of-the-oven cookies), I don’t feel too good.

Sound familiar?

Yes, there can be too much of a good thing–at least, when we’re talking about cookies and sugar.

But too much prayer?

Too much time in scripture?

Too much Bible study?

Too much Jesus?

Oh, that’s even sweeter, and I don’t think a day full of all that would be too much! Which makes me wonder…

…How might that look–to want more God, more Jesus, more Holy Spirit?

Well, for starters we could begin our morning with prayer–just open those eyes and praise God for His wonderful creations–our eyes, that sunbeam or raindrop, this day! “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it!” (Psalm 118:24)

Then we could shower with a sense of the flood of forgiveness secured in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

Are others in your day as in mine? We can greet family members and co-workers with the joy of the Lord and an appreciation for the gifts that they are in our lives. “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at His coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20)

Hungry for more than cookies? We could eat our meals with the simple yet profound grace of “Thanks be to the LORD God who brings forth grain from the earth and living bread from heaven.” “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes out of the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:3b)

You get the idea, don’t you? It’s a 24-hour opportunity! Hear the birds sing His praises. Watch the clouds paint the sky for His glory. Connect the stars he has numbered. All day, “taste and see that the LORD is good.” (Psalm 34:8) What a bountiful, full day.

Here’s how this all played out recently at our house…

Appreciating and desiring “more Jesus,” I mulled over an idea in my mind and started looking into pursuing a master’s degree in Biblical Theology.

Ouch!

As AWESOME as that would be, it had an understandably HIGH price tag! My husband and I talked it over and agreed that our walls had enough diplomas and that any money allotted for education would be better spent going toward our son, who’s currently working toward his first diploma.

That said, there was still that hunger to know more, to go deeper in God’s Word. So…

(here’s where the wanna-be-student gets creative…)

I looked at several seminaries online and wrote down the class topics included in their Biblical Theology degrees. Then, I assigned each of the top 12 topics to a month on my calendar and added an accompanying list of books, (a.k.a. ‘MUST READS”).

The result?

My husband (such a sport–and a voracious reader to boot!) and I have started a year long study in scripture and theological books to dive deeper into the wonder and glory of God! I know we won’t come close to the depth and breadth of a full seminary degree by miles, but won’t we have a bountiful year all the same, exploring scripture and drawing closer to God?!

And so, in late January, we made a gentle start with a number of definitions, fleshing out 15 or so words like “justification,” “sanctification,”, “Trinity,” “fellowship,” etc. In my head, I allocated it all to 20-30 minutes, but I didn’t take into account another person’s input–especially if that person is a deep Christian thinker and a lawyer!

AN HOUR AND A HALF LATER,

we finished ~

and we both were blessed with a really good beginning understanding.

Now it’s on to February and a month contemplating and reading about God! That’s what I’ll be doing a lot of this month, and that should be amazing!

(If you want to join along, I’m reading Knowing God by J. I. Packer right now! You may not want to take on a year long plan, but let me encourage you to read more scripture this year. Maybe read a Psalm at the day’s beginning and then read it again at the day’s end. Or consider reading those “little books”–1st and 2nd Peter; 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John; Jude; Titus–and really come to know each one. Do you like action? Try Acts! Whatever you decide, I do thank you for reading ChristBesideMe and pray it points you to Christ.)

Now let’s grab a couple chocolate chip cookies (two–not too many!) and get reading and get to know our God even better!

Could Do-It-Yourself HGTV Be Good For Me, Too?

Now, to be as honest as I aim to be, let me begin by saying that I started this post several weeks ago and, lo in this Christmas season, it got buried on my desk and in my mind by a hundred little tasks (and some big ones, too). But now, with renewed focus (as I hope you’ll read about in the paragraphs below), I will finish it! Come and sit in the library with me ~

As I sit in our library, my kind husband is in the adjacent room and has just finished watching two hours straight of do-it-yourself house flipping, house renovation shows! The overwhelming ideas always seem to be

“We’ll Take Out This Wall” and

“That Will Open Things Up”.

There’s no chance we’re removing any lath and plaster walls in our old house, but it made me think:

What would a re-do look like in my life and inside my heart?

What can I take out to open things up for more of God?

Hmmm… let’s think…

  • That used-to-be time spent exploring online could become typing out a letter that (hopefully) will encourage someone (like I pray this will be).
  • Grumpy, heavy sighs at red lights could become a “go” to admiration of God’s handiwork around me and praise.
  • Rather than wiping up the latest kitchen spill with exasperation, it could be done with thanksgiving for that floor, that counter, that stove, the food that made the spill.
  • The dreaded expression, “I have to wash the sap off the car,” could translate into, “I’m thankful for running water to wash the car that I’m blessed to have sitting beneath God’s beautiful handiwork of a maple tree in our back yard.”
  • Letting our dog, Teddy, outside yet again could remind me of his desire to do what is right as I applaud that and am encouraged.
  • And sorting and folding laundry or wrapping those Christmas gifts? Quiet moments for prayer for the owners and recipients.

It’s pretty humbling really. For two weeks (no, it’s three now!) I’ve intended to write a letter, but still it’s only a good intention. For two-become-three weeks I’ve been meaning to invite a couple over for dinner, but still haven’t picked up the telephone. How I am so apt to squander God’s generous gift of moments and time, days and nights? I have let the frantic pace of working in the holiday season become the ruling order rather than elevating the minutes open to praise and service and joy.

In Psalm 139, David sings a beautiful song of total submission to God.  In verse 16, he says,

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written,

every one of them, the days that were formed for me,

when as yet there was none of them.”

HE KNEW THSE DAYS! (Every one of them!)

HE WROTE AND PLANNED THESE DAYS! (This day!)

And now that I’ve recognized that, I’ve no call but to submit to His will and go with prudence and faith through this day, however it falls.

So, here’s a letter of encouragement (I hope) finally completed and I’m off to make that telephone call (and will let our dog out again) before heading into work. Ahhh…life and lessons through the lens of serving Christ and glorifying God: a kaleidoscope of praise, service, perseverance, sanctification, and joy.

Enjoy the gift of this day ~ “in joy!”

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.

 

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?