Sunday, January 30, 2011

Guest Posting at Lea's

My sweet friend Lea who writes wise and witty letters to Emily (or me, or you, if you'd like to read them) asked me to write a little something for her on raising teens. I'm not sure if I'm at all qualified for this task, but the verdict will be in in about ten more years if you'd prefer to wait for evidence. If you're not that patient, you could just go on over to Lea's to see what I've learned so far. You can get there by clicking here.

It all began with this little picture....

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Meeting Mr. Skiff

I'd planned on reading the last 40 pages, but it didn't happen. The cell phone rang, too loud for the waiting room. Tammy asked about Mom, and I had little to tell her, with still hours of surgery to go. We talked briefly about her mom, Auntie Lynn, and the absurd diabetes diagnosis ladled over the seven years of cancer treatment, the gravy of chronic disease trying to smother a cancer diagnosis. But my library hush apparently was not enough.

There was an elderly man tethered by plastic tubing to oxygen on wheels propping up a sofa pillow between his head and the wall. He looked like an old pro at the waiting room gig. I didn't remember him from earlier, but he awoke, overhearing my phone call.

He knew Mom had gone back just before his wife. I had gone out to grab some lunch, and he had gone to the corner for a nap. And now, not at all deterred by the open book on my lap, he began a conversation, and decency forced me to oblige him.

"We raised four boys. I don't know how to raise girls. They're all married now, and we've got five granddaughters, five grandsons, and even a great-grandson, Keenan. They're even all still married. Family is everything, and God is good."

He did most of the talking, making it easy on me. He spoke of his faith, of becoming care-giver for his wife, who's going blind. She, too, suffers COPD, because smoking was "Joe Cool," and they were cool for forty-five years.

They married at eighteen and had their first son seven months later. High school sweethearts, now seventy-four, they were never supposed to make it. Do the math. But nobody had factored in God.

"My life's been better than if I had written it myself. The Lord gave me a gift when he gave me her. We were kids when we got married, but we got to grow up together. And growing old together is even better. I'm a romantic, and she gets on to me about it."

It bubbled all forth. A life, the joy, the effervescence of so much living and blessing.

He talked about how life turns out just the way it does for God's reasons. They had a baby girl after three boys. She died five days later with a hole in her heart. "It put a hole in ours," he said.

But if it wasn't for her, they wouldn't have had a fifth child, their fourth boy, and the four grandchildren that followed. "One heartbreak can produce whole lifetimes of joy," he said, thinking back.

We passed stories and two hours of mutual waiting. He recited his poetry to me, and advised that we never stop enjoying our kids.

"The good far outweighs the bad when you have faith. Dinnertimes and conversations, working together, memories and stories: that's what's important when you look back at life from here."

While our two women, his wife and my mother, were behind a closed door having their vision restored and preserved by surgeons, we two in the waiting room, opened a door to each other, and saw with sharper focus the good in life and the grace to be found in a stranger.

When I left him alone still waiting, I squeezed his hand and was now the one to be forward. "May I take a picture with you?"

And this time, he obliged me. "Goodbye, sister," he said, his smile punctuating all his wonderful words.

"Goodbye, brother," it was my honor to say.

Goodbye, Mr. Skiff. Thank you for interrupting my book. I can only imagine I won't see you again until heaven, when I'd be delighted to have you interrupt me again. We will all see fully then, and we'll have escaped the waiting room, but it won't be poor vision that brings us together. It will again be the Lord.


Wedding Clothes, by G. W. Skiff

The bridegroom is calling,
And He is inviting you and me,
But you can't go without your wedding clothes;
He will show you what they should be.

Love is the garment that you wear,
Kindness is a moment you spare.
Patience is listening to your heart.
These are the wedding clothes, a window to your heart.

There's also a wedding feast,
and we're all invited to attend.
The Holy Spirit will teach us
What clothes we must mend.
Joy is the opening of your eyes,
Peace is having nothing to disguise,
And faithfulness is the grace that's in your heart.
These are your wedding clothes,
A window to your heart.

PS. When things like this happen to me, I think they're Jeff kind of things. If you knew Jeff, you know what that means. If not, I'll never be able to explain it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Secrets to Success: Tales from the Belly

Five months of seeking and not finding, more than sixty job applications, a dozen interviews paired with rejection letters, and I'm feeling cold and wet.

Last summer, God spoke to me about a life raft and grace, and unlike Jonah, I jumped in and volunteered for the belly of the whale. Confident it was God's will, and in my enthusiasm, I believed surrender would be easy, pleasant.

But it wasn't and isn't.

How does one sell herself? Puff herself up above others to beat them out for the coveted job in such a competitive market? How does a Christian look for a job?

I'm searching out answers over at (in)courage today. It turns out there's more to the tale God started in my heart last May about Jonah and a job. Join me there, won't you?

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Return to Good Things

343 ~ husband-polished kitchen cabinets after I've gone to bed
344 ~ finding his hand and feet the next morning before we find our voices, and me my surprise in the kitchen
345 ~ a complaint from him when we are two ships that pass in the night — it's not marriage acceptable
346 ~ a son's offer of help cooking dinner when I'm short on time
347 ~ returning to the counting since it's been too long crowded out
348 ~ another list that spurs my conviction to continue counting and see His hand move
349 ~ a line in the sand kind of decision made, the relief–fear that follows
350 ~ God–orchestrated possibilities
351 ~ growing from fear to worry to waiting anxiously to just waiting to real trust in Him
352 ~ that He is completing the work he started in me, a gargantuan task
353 ~ when Adrian makes music
354 ~ a coming of age
355 ~ continuing after the novelty of newness is gone
356 ~ getting stronger
357 ~ when God collides two men in an airport and knits ministries together
358 ~ sunshine to warm just a bit the day cold with wind
359 ~ new make–up that makes me feel pretty
360 ~ the surprise of having to cut down on the sugar in my coffee (because it's too sweet now) after cutting back on so much sugar in my diet — Yea!
361 ~ Mom's surgery on the second eye, saving what sight she has left
362 ~ learning a Christian worldview
363 ~ Arturo's happy homecoming, a return to Nueva Esperanza Hogar de Niños in Guatemala

Counting in community with countless others.

Friday, January 21, 2011

People Watching: Puppy Love

Strange thing this puppy love. He cleans the house with a vengeance, yelling at his sisters to help. It's a countdown until she walks in. Eager to impress, he tidies, then posts before and after photos on Facebook, undoing his own good impressions.

She enters, his stomach does flips. I imagine hers does too, eager to make her own first impression a strong one. She smiles sweetly, fifteen year old skinny. She talks and looks me in the eye. I like that about a teenager. She accompanies us to church, Adrian steals glances at her through the corner of his eye from behind his guitar. Distracted.

Life all askew. Puppy love, a race to move forward, wanting to be there already when they are only here for now. How they don't realize it will all fly by soon enough, and they will work to grasp the time and hold it, slow it.

Fifteen and young, wanting to be older, surer, validated. But they are both right where God wants them, in the now, seeking Him, trusting the future to the One who makes it.

I pray they would. Temptation can be a deal-breaker. Life cannot be taken out of sequence and still end up in the right place at the right time. He is a God of order, and design. An artist who paints love into the  blooming hearts of kids.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wreaths and Rings

I've mentioned before my affinity for this place near my home. It's a piece of rural and cultural Americana right there on the corner between suburbia and the concrete jungle. It provides me equilibrium as I race past it daily in both directions. And right now, it still looks like this:

What's not to love about this? It's Norman Rockwell come back to life. The wreath delights me, even in late January. Lingering Christmas decorations are usually a pet peeve. They smack of laziness and a lack of cooperation with Grandfather Clock. But I'm sad every year when they take it down, because the sight is irresistible.

And speaking of irresistible ... those earrings were, so she faced her fear and did it.


And both the barn and the girl look beautiful in their adornments, and both make me smile.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Big Decision

Noelle enters the teen years this week. She's asked for stuffed manicotti for her birthday dinner and Reagan's homemade chocolate cake to uphold her candles.

The time has come: she's of age to make the adult decision to have her ears pierced. She has awaited this day with equal parts anticipation and fear for the better part of her life. But she wasn't expecting the chemical reaction that takes place when anticipation and fear finally combine: hesitation.

I wasn't expecting it either, and I don't have a Plan B. Pierced ears has been slated as her thirteenth birthday present since she was about four years old and began asking for it.

She really wants those earrings, and now they're within her grasp, but she must travel a road of pain to get them. It's not the Garden of Gethsemane, mind you, but it is a childlike hint of His great struggle. In order to be adorned by trophies of his grace in the train of his robe, Jesus had to be willing to be pierced.

So, what will she decide? I can tell her the pain is minimal and a lifetime of earring–wearing is worth it; I know because I've already done it. She doesn't believe me because her fear of pain speaks louder than I, and it's hard to see past pain. She'll have to want the reward more than pain–free comfort, or trust me, or both. So here she stands on the precipice of adulthood and her first choice is between a reward gotten by a bit of pain or a painless nothing. What will she choose?

What do you choose? He's been there and knows it's worth it. He tells us to trust him, to choose the reward and not the fear. Choose wisely; there is no Plan B.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. ~Romans 8:18

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sunday Morning Choking Hazard

When Mike and I bed and breakfasted last Fall, we really were Bread and breakfasting because we were there to train for the Truth Project. Mike took it to Guatemala shortly thereafter, and crammed thirteen weeks of teaching into a week of days to Guatemalan pastors. It's the first time they didn't get our leftovers, and I was a bit jealous not to be the one going first.

But now we are one week into the Truth Project ourselves. It has taken the place of Sunday morning sermons and even crowded out a bit of worship time, but it's worth accommodating. Even my teenage son came home wanting to watch and hear more.

The first teaching was called Veritology. Ology - the study of. Verit - Truth. Isn't that what we do already? We know this. We have the Word, several copies actually, bookshelves full in our house.

Dr. Del Tackett's a compelling teacher, and from a stunning college classroom he's talking about how Jesus came to this world to (among other reasons) testify to the truth.

Truth's that important. Why? Because all sin is based on lies and deception and is born from not honoring the truth.

I know all this, too. I've taught it to a Sunday school class, studied it with fellow Precept students, with Beth Moore groupies, and have the marked up bible to prove it.

But I'm game, because Del's a fresh face, and it never hurts to hear it again. And then, while I'm admiring the scenery on this road I'd traveled before, a most unexpected question comes.

 Do you really believe what you really believe is really real?

I promise it's not Dr. Seuss, but the Holy Spirit who appears in my house as unannounced as the Cat In the Hat. He's doing about as much damage, too. 
  • If I really believed God hears my prayers, shouldn't it be harder to stop praying rather than start?
  • If I really believed these leather-bound pages were Truth and Life, shouldn't more of them be memorized?
  • If I really believed every act of service was unto the Lord, why would I wash another sink full - kitchen full - of dishes while lecturing my kids (too loudly) about helping me by cleaning up after themselves?
  • If He's provider, why do I worry?
For days I choke on these questions, and I come to realize there is nothing wrong with my faith.

But there's a whole lot wrong with my walk. I do believe all these things in my head, in my heart, and in my spirit. I actually manage to somehow put them into practice when I'm in a pinch, too.

But so often I don't; or I do, but it falls short of blind-walking, you-must-be-crazy, I'm-scared-and-this-hurts kind of faith. Because real faith is not comfortable, and my American body is well acquainted with comfort and not at all happy to give it up.

Paul buffeted his body so as not be disqualified. I can't remember the last time I buffeted my body, unless chaperoning a youth lock-in counts, and even that was at least a decade ago. Paul was imprisoned in dank, dark dungeons, was left for dead, given 39 lashes, was shipwrecked, unpopular, and had a day job to go to after he planted churches, took two long missionary journeys, played spiritual fathers to many cities, hosted peace summits between Jewish and Greek Christians, and wrote much of the New Testament.

This is the Paul who proposed that perhaps his sinful nature and his flesh might fail him and disqualify him for the prize. He needed more discipline to be on the safe side.

I like my sleep, central heat, my car, my godly conversations within the safe confines of the Body of Christ. I like a full stomach and being safe, secure, and dry when it rains. I like my shoes to fit, my hair color, and taking Tylenol when I get a headache.

My body craves comfort. My Savior demands surrender. And between those two sentences is a Grand Canyon gap.  I am soft and satisfied, full of faith and Word, but choking on the choice.

Being a Christian in America is hard, but I must learn this resurrection life.

Being a Christian in Guatemala is hard, and they, too, must learn resurrection life.

It's not about what we have or don't have. It's about where we turn for comfort.

Truth be told, the life that is dead to self is the only life that leads us home to the real Comforter. These earthly creature comforts are just part of the lies.

I do so love my creature comforts, but I will let them go if called upon to do so (and I've probably been called upon more than I think), in order to lay hold of Truth and become a new creature. And this is where I am, after thirty years of faith, still choking on milk like a newborn.

Maybe that's why God speaks to me in Dr. Seussian questions and destroys my house like the Cat In the Hat, then stays to clean me up without lecturing loudly that I didn't help.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Yellow Dress, Snowflakes, and Dead Weight

There's a yellow dress on my bedroom wall, a fitness video in my DVD player, and Snowflake Chocolates on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinet. I think they're all laughing at me, but there's one week of success under my belt, so I smirk back, but with only a small measure of arrogance.

I can't brag yet. This one week comes on the heels of eleven years of stop/start, succeed/fail, lose ten/gain ten. Can it still be considered baby fat when said baby is now in the adolescent stage of life?

The dress is size four, the chocolates are minus two (that I thoroughly enjoyed last night), and the time frame is forever, because it's really not about the numbers on the scale or the ones on the label of my dress. It's about being strong and fit and disciplined for life — and not eating the entire box of chocolate in one sitting.

So when the alarm goes off at much–too–early o'clock, I reluctantly exchange warm pjs for T–shirt and sneakers and tiptoe past dark, quiet bedrooms harboring sleep–cocooned children and descend the stairs into the dark and quiet of the also–sleeping living room. I must be crazy.

Before I'm fully awake, I'm sweating and breathing heavy. The weights move in tandem, up then down. The muscles, still weak with sleep, are jolted into service, and the oxygen flying to my brain is tapping out Morse code on my artery walls the message, "She's up and in overdrive already, Fellas! Looks like we'll be firing on all pistons today!"

Thirty minutes. That's all. Everyday. No thinking about it or giving it a chance to talk me out of it.

When it's over and I shower, victory washes over me, and I decide it pairs well with hot water and soap. I think I want to never shower without it again.

Fully dressed and fully invigorated now, I hop down the stairs this time. The knowing grin is because I see my kids dragging themselves from the clutches of sleep and fighting for consciousness as if they were allergic to morning. I remember the fog well and feel glad to be outgrowing my own allergic reaction.

Ahead of everyone else, I enter the kitchen in search of water and grounds and sugar and milk. Only with a mug of steaming cafe con leche in hand, do I sit at the breakfast bar, bible open, ready for real communion. The house is still quiet and undisturbed. As I linger over final thoughts and the last of my prayers, the kids filter in foraging for something to break their fast. I can't help but smile again because I'm filled, my fast already broken.

I kiss three groggy children and Mike. The clock says 7:30, and I walk out the door for work. I'm wearing discipline and a new morning routine. They fit perfectly and I feel like a million bucks dressed this way. They may not be size four, but they shrink to fit, and will be by the time I am. With my briefcase strapped over one shoulder and confidence, lean and strong, thrown over the other, I'm beginning to feel sure that the dress hanging on the bedroom wall waiting for Easter won't get the last laugh.

On In Around button

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What Made Them So Wise

When the Christmas hubbub is past, and people are getting comfortable in their old routines, embracing again the mundane after too much of a good thing, January sixth comes quietyly, and Latin-American children reach under their beds to see if the wise men left them a gift.

There were indeed magi, wise men who sought the Christ. Men who mapped out a journey and traveled far, long, hard. They were probably tired and smelled like their animals they way my kids used to smell like dog when they played outside. But they bowed in worship anyway. They were filled with rejoicing anyway. They let no earthly journey keep them from a holy destination. And they gifted the baby the best of earthly goods. Gold, the gift for royalty. frankinsence, a gift due a priest, and myrrh, an embalming spice for preparation of death. Much has been made of the gifts, their possible meanings, forebodings, and symbolisms.

But today, I think of gold becasue I can relate to that one. Let's face it, frankinsence and myrrh are really a thing of the past, ancient unfamiliar things I had to look up in the dictionary to make sure I spelled properly.

Gold. We diversify our retirement accounts with it, accessorize ourselves with it, and now run to it when our faith in the stock market wavers. It belongs to the wealthy, so we wear it as a status symbol and save it for a rainy day.  In Wall Street jargon it's a commodity, something physical with intrinsic value for trade or commerce. It's not a service, a stock or a bond, and it's not insured by our federal government. It no longer backs our money because at one time U.S. currency was as good as gold. There's even a phrase "as good as gold."

It's the standard by which all other things are valued, even in modern times. And it was laid at the feet of an infant-eternal King, because a brand new standard for measuring worth had been born.

So how are those New Year's Resolutions coming along? Did you make them comparing yourself to magazine covers, your best friend, your cubicle mate? Have you already broken them?

Could it be because you're scale is weighted with the wrong counter balance? Go ahead, I dare you. Lay your life, your expectations, your short-comings, all your earthly goods at Jesus' feet. Be a wise man. Your life will indeed balance out, because He's the new Gold Standard.

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Barefoot and Fearful

I keep thinking about Ina. You know, the Barefoot Contessa. The one with the cooking show on the Food Network, and a whole shelf of cookbooks in Borders.

She was on my TV while I was ironing about two months ago. I'm pretty sure I was thinking of blog posts and things to write about and how all this writing again after all these years of silence has revived something in me I thought was long dead. These thoughts are never far from front and center of my brain anymore. And Ina was making scones.

I was somewhere else until Ina started telling a Barefoot Contessa story. I love stories. People's stories. So I half paid attention while the hot iron flattened something cotton.

When she answered the phone it was someone from the Wall Street Journal who had somehow gotten a hold of one of her scones. The journalist probed like a pro:  Do you make other scones? What kink? Do you ship?

And Ina lied like Pinocchio: Why, certainly. We make Maple Walnut Scones, we have Cranberry Orange Scones, Pumpkin Scones, Blueberry, Lemon Ginger... . She assured the man the Barefoot Contessa was the place to find all things scones.

The truth was they only made one kind of scone — plain.  Amazingly good — but plain. And Ina was not about to blow her exposure through the Wall Street Journal with the truth. Only then, did Ina spent the next three days perfecting the recipes she made up over the phone with the Wall Street Journal guy.

I laughed. The Barefoot Contessa used the oldest trick in the book. Ina, the Industry Standard, faking it until she made it.

Which brings me back to writing and a few other issues in my life. I am fearless. I got a plan with details. I know exactly what I want to say and what to do. I don't feel vulnerable. When God calls, I step right up to the plate with confidence and say, "God, I'm your girl," and my knees don't knock and my voice doesn't crack. And I am perfectly capable. Are you listening, Mr. Wall Street Journalist?

Emily Freeman wrote some provoking thoughts about fear here today that I will most likely revisit. Fear has long paralyzed me in many areas of my life.  Emily and Ina are helping me to see fear as something else entirely. A propelling agent.

Plain scones didn't stand in Ina's way. Why should fear stand in mine?

Now, who has a recipe for Fear Glazed Courage I can perfect?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Trust and Obey, There's No Other Way

Because I'm a Christian, not many things in scripture scare me. But there are a few verses that give me the hives. One is Matthew 7:21–23. Did you know that there will be many who are told by Jesus, "I never knew you," and will not be granted entrance to Heaven? He's going to say this to many ... who claim that they knew him and did good deeds in his name.

I fit this description! So do many of my friends and family. Who could these many possibly be? Am I among them?

Does He know me? Do I know Him?

Really know him?

How can I know?

1 John 2:3 says that if we know Him, we obey His commands, and Psalm 9:10 says those who know his name will put their trust in him.

Two litmus tests right there in black and white holy writ: obedience and trust.

I'm feeling only slightly better now.

Certainly David knew Him; he's the man after God's own heart. What light can he shed on knowing God?

In Psalm 63:1-2 David says that:
  • all besides Him must be dry and weary land.
  • my flesh must yearn for only Him.
  • His lovingkindness is better than life.
Better than life! Did you hear that? That's quite the exchange right there: His lovingkindness for my life. I'm pretty sure that means I (the old sinful nature) die and God gets Himself another brand new throne. And my response is supposed to be that I praise Him, and bless Him, and lift my hands to His name. (vs. 3–4)

I'm feeling much worse again, itching all over — hives.

Honestly? I have more information than true relation. I have a head full of knowledge and a heart afraid of being fully engaged. I have righteous words without quick obedience and complete trust. Sure, I have a measure of trust and obedience, but I'd characterize them as guarded and hesitant.

Is it enough?

God is enthroned in heaven but not near enough in my heart. I know this because I tremble to answer these questions:
  • Do I love what He loves?
  • Hate what He hates?
  • Does my life reflect His desires or mine?

Often I feel that the Flesh (the old sinful nature) is not dead at all, but dragging around the new creature like a ball and chain as it goes about its old (only slightly modified) life. It's supposed to be the other way around. In fact, the old nature's supposed to be dead and buried. Gone for good. Decomposing. Stinking up the past, not the present and future. 

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? ~Galatians 4:8–9
No wonder there will be so many. And how I want to be among the few.

It begs the question, "Do you know Him?" (Do I?)

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