Friday, October 26, 2012

When Pipe Dreams Come True

I've always been a follower. A middle child, I became a people pleaser early in life, content to walk in the wake of another. But right here where the dawning happens, this blog that I began on a whim, this is where I have found my voice and courage and who I really am all by myself when I'm not in the wake of someone else, someone bigger, better.  This space is just me here, thinking things out, figuring life out, learning how to not be afraid and how to have something to say.

It has led me into things I never thought would happen. Oh, they were dreams alright, but they were held prisoner by insecurity and low hopes and an inconspicuous lack of confidence. What I had were pipe dreams.

Ann Voskamp once said, "Sometimes you don't know when you're taking the first step through a door until you're already inside."  I find that to be true in this blog that I've been writing for almost three years now, because here I am with the cover story for a local Christian magazine for the second month in a row.

This is God's doing and not at all what I had set out to do myself when I began this blog. God gave my captive dream feet with His plan. He built my courage and gave me a voice right here, post by blog post. I just needed the legs to stand and the heart to step into what apparently was a door.

And of course, if I can do it, you can do it.

What is it you've always wanted to do? Why not start now, on a whim. God will take it from there.

Reach Out Columbia's November Cover: Mark Hall — Just Making Disciples

This is a 5 Minute Writing on Friday.
Today's prompt: Voice
Five Minute Friday

Monday, October 22, 2012

Revelation and Not Being Afraid

John's my favorite of the disciples. He's thoughtful, tender and sweet, rare traits in manly men, but endearing nonetheless. He's humble, too. Wouldn't name himself in his biography of Jesus considering it bad form to brag blatantly. There was a beloved disciple for Christ, John just didn't say it was himself.

He was there for Jesus after the others had left him alone on the cross. No doubt he honored Jesus' request that he care for Jesus' mother.

Was it that he was the only disciple there to charge with this duty?

Or could it could be that Jesus knew even from the cross that John would be the last disciple standing?

Perhaps it was by design that John be the last so that he might be available when the time came for Jesus' coming Revelation? 

Jesus seems to have hand-picked his beloved disciple for the big reveal about the future.

Just the sight of a heavenly Jesus in his full radiance and majesty was enough to overcome Jesus' most intimate friend, causing John to fall at his feet as though dead. John may not have recognized his old friend. Eternity had treated Him well, after all.

Perhaps a less acquainted companion would actually die of fright before Jesus could explain Himself.

Yes, I think He chose John purposefully.

This heavenly Jesus must have barely resembled the earthly Jesus, although I'm sure it was hard for John to see much of anything discernible with all that blazing, golden, white, fiery, glowing Light shining in his eyes. Perhaps if John hadn't fainted from fright, he might have felt the nail scars on those burnishing bronze feet at which he fell and recognized Him then.

But I doubt John ever recognized his old friend because this risen Jesus has to identify Himself. Again.

The risen Jesus always had to identify himself.

Apparently the earthly no longer recognizes the heavenly. And holiness now scares us so much we don't want to see Him.

But if Jesus chose John specifically, then their history together bleeds all over this scene in my mind's eye.

Jesus touches him and says, "Do not be afraid." (It's me — Jesus. This is just like when I walked on water and the Mount of Transfiguration. Remember? You were afraid then, too.)

"I am the first..." (It's me, — Jesus. Remember the fishing boat so full it was sinking and how it changed your life forever?)

"...and the last," (It's me. Really. Remember my post-resurrection visits? Our last times together? Surely you recognize at least some of that version of Me?)

"...and the living One;" (Which reminds me. The Resurrection!)

"I was dead," (You alone were there. Calvary. Golgotha. In all the most important times, it was always you and me, John.)

"...and behold, I am alive forevermore." (And the tomb? You entered it, but I wasn't there. That tomb held forevermore in it, not death. It's me, John; look a little closer.)

"I have the keys to death and to Hades." (And John? Look what I have. It's important that you don't  lose sight of my victory in all that I am about to show you. You're going to find it a very comforting truth.)


Much of Revelation 1 is devoted to reminders of who Jesus is: v.4-6, v.8, and finally the very personal words spoken straight to John in real time, v.17-18.

These words are hope, reassurance and a comfort. Not just to John, but to me, another disciple that has a history with Jesus. A history that involves my being afraid in light of his power or his holiness. I've wrestled publicly with my fear of God here, herehere, and here just to name a few.

But Revelation is convincing me not to be afraid of Him.

Now that's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

Friday, October 12, 2012

World View Teaching With World Class Views


From Mike: One of the benefits of traveling throughout Guatemala training and teaching pastors is that I get to see beautiful places. Though I don't have much time at my hotel because we train intensively all day, I was able to take pictures in the evening. This is the only safe and secure hotel we are able to stay in in Puerto Barrios, since this is an area of high crime, prostitution, drunkenness, and theft.

I pray that as God moves on these pastors, they and their churches will become the vehicles of God's outpouring of grace to transform this city.

From Eugenia, our pastor's wife and director of our Children's Home in Coban, Guatemala: We have a beutiful country, with mountains, hills, valleys, beaches, lakes and rivers. We enjoy our two seasons each year:  summer and winter. We have a variety of flowers, trees, birds, and beutiful places like this.

God has been good to our precious nation.

The biggest problem is that for many years we were indifferent to some very important things like education, in every sense of the word. When you teach the word of God, when you teach others how to work their lands, when you teach people to respect others no matter their social status, you will see a difference. 

But now, we are saying, "Why are so many girls having babies? Why so much crime? Why so much poverty?" And they keep asking why, why, why, And I ask, "Why has there been no concern until now?" 

Please, pray for our beautiful country and for the ones who are trying to make a difference by teaching the truth with the guidance of our dear Lord.

And from me: a scripture verse and a dedication song.

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things]through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tammy, Books, Life and Death

I'm reading The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. I'm not sure there's ever a good time to read this book, and now is certainly not a good time for me. My husband is a cancer survivor. I lived it—I don't need to read the book. My aunt has one of those types of cancer that, as Schwalbe's mother says, "is treatable but not curable." Auntie Lynne has done eight years of "treatable" and recently progressed to "not curable."

My best friend will kill me when she finds out I'm reading it. She—Tammy—is Auntie Lynne's daughter, my cousin. She will want to kill me again when I tell her she needs to read it, too. I know she will love it. But she won't. Read it, that is. At least not now.

That's because Tammy's a normal person who can only take so much sadness at once. I, on the other hand, am not a normal person at all. I am the kind of person who grabs Angela's Ashes off the nightstand to take to the hospital when her two year old is running 105.5 fever for five days without being able to detect the cause. Yes, I read it at Noelle's hospital bedside, as depressing as it is. I cried for poor little Frank McCourt, my sick Noelle, and the beauty of them both in their respective diminished states. They both would rise.

I've done this on many occasions, heaped sadness upon sadness, with books to my life. I read Walking Taylor Home, a father's account of losing his young son to bone cancer mere weeks after my husband's bone marrow transplant. I have never been good at looking away from pain. I cried mourning for Taylor's loss and cried relief for Mike's victory in the same tears, and they healed me.

It's funny how an honest story can do that.

Maybe that's why I do this to myself and read through grief and joy and pain and promise. Books dot my life: John Jakes on my honeymoon,  Billy Graham's autobiography Just As I Am while Mike's chemo dripped slowly, The Other Bolyn Girl jockeyed for position in King Henry VIII's court while my children found their own pecking order wrestling each other in the pool that hot summer. A skyped bible study over Beth Moore's To Live is Christ laid on top of Auntie Lynne's hospice care.

The End of Your Life Book Club is a son's story of his mother's cancer and the books that wove their lives together tightly through all the years and her last battle.

The son is a book publisher and knows good writing.

He describes a close family friend, thusly:
He [Bob] was the smartest and best-read person any of us had ever know, but he wore his learning so lightly and had the ability to make everyone around him feel smart and well-read.

Having lost my brother too soon, and now watching from afar Tammy let go of her mother, I embraced this passage wanting it to never to leave me:

No one in the family has ever really gotten over Bob's death. We talk of him daily, recounting stories and imagining what his reaction would be to new books and recent events. He remains for my family the perfect model of how you can be gone but ever present in the lives of people who loved you, in the same way that your favorite books stay with you for your entire life, no matter how long it's been since you turned the last page. When I talked with Mom about Bob, I wondered if I would be able to talk about her the same way when she was no longer here.

And this:

[Books] help us talk. But they also give us something we all can talk about when we don't want to talk about ourselves.

Books can make us brave enough to stare back at life. They complement our lives and interrupt them. They soften the blow and twist the knife. Both books and life are bitter and better when shared with someone you love.

Tammy and I have been reading books together and swapping reading recommendations since Nancy Drew on Girl Scout stationery, our whole lives just like this mother and son. We are the book club with the dying mother.

Schwalbe says:

Hospitals are interruption factories. ... Mom didn't like being interrupted. ... I don't like being interrupted either—but I interrupt other people. I often forget that other people's stories aren't simply introductions to my own more engaging, more dramatic, more relevant, or better-told tales, but rather ends in themselves, tales I can learn from or repeat or dissect or savor.

So, Tammy, if you're still reading (which I'm sure you're not—only I would do such a peculiar thing), I'm here for the interrupting. If you don't want to talk about life, we can talk about the books.  Both life and books, even when ridiculously in sync with one another, will bring us tales we will learn from, repeat, dissect and savor.

Life: Unmasked

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Day In the Life

He arrived home yesterday with two band aids covering the gash in his shin that probably should have stitches. He has a few bruises on his right shoulder from her boxed belongings being hefted high from the U-Haul to his sister's new house four states away. He hates moving, but he loves his sister.

When he gets home four days later, it's Saturday afternoon and he still had a Pulpit Freedom Sunday sermon to prepare, so I started a pot of coffee. I did the dinner dishes, started a load of laundry Mike would finish for me, and went to bed.

I stirred when he came up, and the clock tells me he's been at it more than a few hours: 1:51. He drops softly in the bed beside me, exhausted. I hear him breathe, "Thank you, Jesus," as he wriggles his head into his pillow. I count the days since last Tuesday, his last full night's sleep, count them like sheep, think my prayer Let him rest Lord, and am fast asleep again.

From the shower on Sunday morning, he tells me he still isn't quite finished preparing his sermon, and I tell him I am putting "Do Not Disturb" signs on his office doors this morning. He usually has an open door policy, but he lets me hang the signs. He knows his limits, and I love him for this wisdom and that he lets me be protective sometimes.

We worship with leaders like this: a father and daughter, singing "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord." There's harmony and symmetry and one accord, and it leads us right into His presence.

When Mike stands behind the pulpit, he is tired and sore and makes a joke about moving furniture being invented by demons to torture the men of the earth. Chuckling, he quickly moves into his passage of study from Romans and expounds on why ours is a nation in crisis. It was the only comic relief in the whole hour and a half long sermon.

Our website gives an explanation regarding his lengthy sermons. Yes, he tells people up front that the sermons are long and academic, and why that is. We are biblically illiterate as a people, and it's important, so Sunday lunch just has to wait until we've eaten spiritually first. Just one more little thing to remind us that the Christian life is inconvenient and an afront to the flesh.


Alas, God is a gentleman Who forces Himself on no one, and Romans 1 tells us what happens when He leaves a man to have his own way in his sin—complete depravity.

This is not a feel good sermon.

In fact, it's a little terrifying to consider man's end when he knows God but does not honor him as God. He becomes futile in his speculations and his foolish heart is darkened. Could this be what is happening in our nation?

People need the Lord. Our situation is bleak and we are desperate without Him.

This is what He rescues us all from: depravity. This is why we need rescue: we are sinful and wicked without Him. It's an uncomfortable message, but Mike has never been one to mince words or back down.

He outlines for us the positions of both parties and both candidates on a number of issues. He enumerates the civic duties of Christians nationwide from scripture. We spend some time in prayer for our nation, our leaders, both spiritual and political, and for our citizens to educate ourselves on the issues and the scriptures so we can vote biblically.

We leave knowing God is the only answer, and it's never too late to fall on His grace. Not even for a nation that has wandered far off.

We snap a shot of the twins who wear the same shirt to church and the same godly countenance.

The girls stay all afternoon to paint one of the childrens' classrooms and the new youth room. Adrian leaves for Atlanta to play his guitar in concert tonight. This is how our children's ministry continues even after our long Sunday service is over.

His sermon behind us and in us, Mike and I go home alone, after having lunch with Mom, to pack.

He leaves for Guatemala in just over 30 hours. There are 35 pastors there waiting for training. He still has not rested. His next shot at a decent night sleep is 11 days from now when he has returned.

Late that night, with Adrian still not yet home, we fall again in the bed. Mike breathes, "Thank you, Jesus," and I think my prayer again: Let him rest, Lord.

October is Pastor Appreciation month. Have you appreciated yours lately?

Photos courtesy of Lindsay Bolton. Thank you, Lindsay.

Friday, October 5, 2012

It's a Mystery

I'm over at Laced With Grace today talking about marriage. I guess it's because the gift of these 10 years have been beautiful, this beautiful:

Weren't expecting pictures of a cathedral, were you? Well, your marriage (if you are part of one, that is) is actually a mystery.
Here's the secret.... Well, it's over at Laced With Grace, so follow me over there.
Laced With Grace

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

One October Afternoon

I tiptoe into the room and gently wake my napping girl. She's smiles the pudgy, dimpled waking from glorious, toddler slumber. She reaches her arms to me as she does each day at 2:05. We load her half-sleeping body in her car seat to pick up her brother from second grade. Noelle is with us, too. She's four now and wakes more earthly than angelic, unlike her younger sister.

We sing Sesame Street songs all the way there, and talk of recess and the new concept Mr. Cook had cooking in his oven that day in Adrian's class on the way home. They bounce and bound into the house, hungry for a snack, where Mike has been perched on the couch under a blanket for the past three weeks, each day getting weaker, thinner, grayer.

When I have the kids anchored to the kitchen table by milk and crackers, Mike takes me outside to the front stoop. We sit on hard, cold brick steps, and he breaks the hard, cold, ugly news.

It's cancer.

A doctor sits at his desk, file open, and dials, changing a patient's life forever. How many calls did he have to make that day I was in the carpool line? Mike was home alone when our phone rang.

Are there scarier words in the English language?

Inside, it's Friday afternoon, and our children are catching their second wind.

Here on the steps, it's a precipice into a dark unknown and we catch our breath and each other's hand.

We linger quietly with our thoughts rattling inside. We smile wan smiles as if to bolster each other, and slip back through the front door hoping for the life we'd always known.

It's been ten years since that beautiful October afternoon when Mike was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Six months of chemo. Two months of re staging, and then a bone marrow transplant. A full year of treatment. A scare or two since, that turned out to be a glorious nothing.

Never has a decade been such gift.

I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.   ~Anne of Green Gables

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