Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Christmas to Remember

Photo by SuperL
All through the years, Mary collected her memories of Jesus...and pondered them in her heart...

"I had ridden the donkey into Bethlehem," Mary recalls. "I was so tired, so thirsty. Oh, Joseph, how you struggled to settle me into that stable before the baby came. You were so gentle, so full of love." 

Joseph laughs. "I was so young, you mean. And nervous and scared."

Mary shakes her head, remembering it all. She laughs and adds, "That crazy hungry donkey braying, drowning out my cries of pain. And the star so very bright, as if it were the sun shining at midnight." 

Joseph nods, remembering with her and adds, "I was so concerned about getting the manure brushed off the manger. I couldn't lay Jesus down anywhere and I needed to help you clean yourself. And we were trying so hard to do everything just right."

Mary smiles and whispers, "The dawn of redeeming grace, the long expected Messiah."

"Immanuel," Joseph says tenderly. "God on earth in our little baby boy. And you kissed His face and counted His toes and fingers. And you sang. I remember how you sang."

"We both sang. And then you cried. Remember, Joseph? I can still see the tears streaming down your dusty cheeks." She reaches over and takes his hand. 

And he swallows the lump forming in his throat as he remembers the joy, the complete joy, of holding the Messiah, his little Jesus, in awkward, calloused hands. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Messy Day Blues

Photo by Kate Ware
My merry maids, Miss Crock Pot and Miss Bread Machine, are fed and at work by 7:00. The house cleaning is done by 8:00. I am dancing to Christmas music as I pull a steaming gingerbread from the oven.

I start sorting extra laundry from my house guests until several piles lay across my laundry room floor. As Miss Washer begins sloshing dirty clothes, I scoop up my stack of study notes and spread them across the desk.

The computer is frozen. I need to get my lesson prepared to teach at the prison Christmas Eve. The phone beeps with texts, some important. I read them as I grab note pad and pen to study the old fashioned way. The washer stops and I go to the laundry room to process loads of clothes.  The clothes dryer will not work. I begin hanging soggy clothes around the room and start another load in the washer.

The to-do list is extra long today because of chores neglected while making chicken soup and sick calls during the last week. I know when to say "no" quite easily, but sometimes, life gets busy anyway.

A glance at the clock on the piano reminds me that my piano students will start arriving early afternoon. I probably shouldn't still smell like Lysol. The phone rings and I take a deep breath. A friend needs some encouragement.

My flesh woman (I call her Mabel) begins to wilt with fatigue, starts playing around with pride.  It's been only a few hours since I enjoyed reading Philippians and got my day started with a run that cleared my head and centered me on prayerful purpose. My life is good. But prideful, selfish Mabel rises again and has to be denied. The truth is, I don't like messy. I hate messy.  Messy makes me cranky.

I pour a cup of French  Roast, pick up my Bible and sit down by the fire. I think about Jesus and how He loves me. Away from the fray, I immediately calm and begin to refresh.  Messy makes me cranky, but loving messy people who live messy lives brings contentment.

In her blog post, "Her Row Was the Messiest", Lindsey McGuire writes, "When we love people, their mess becomes our mess. Their broken heart becomes our broken heart...Jesus loved like that.  He was often interrupted for healing, stopped on His way with questions, kept overnight with unexpected dinner invitations, and criticized for spending time with messy people like us."

I can't wash the clothes and bedding for Jesus so He begins the day refreshed.  I can't make Him chicken soup and rolls when He is sick. I can't encourage Jesus on Christmas Eve, but when I do it for the least of those in the prison, I do it for Him.  I do it with Him.

I am smiling again as I finish my coffee. Gratitude trumps discontentment every time. I am called to love people to Jesus, to love people with Jesus. As I head back to the laundry room, I hear a knock on the door.

Katherynn, a little girl I love more than life itself, bangs the door open and calls, "Good Morning! Can I help you work? And can we read some books first?"

I laugh when I look at her, little face smeared with apple butter, pants on backwards, shoes on the wrong feet and tangled hair in her eyes.

"Let's clean you up a bit first. You're a mess," I tell her. "I love that about you."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Spread Hope

Mommy put the dirty clothes in the oven instead of the washing machine. Mommy said it didn't matter that the clothes burned up. Mommy said she never cooked anyway.

Connie wore her pajamas to the first grade Christmas party. Mommy said the other kids wouldn't laugh at her, not if she wore eye make up and lipstick. Mommy said they would be jealous.

"I can still feel the tears burning in my eyes because of the mascara smearing," a grown up Connie confides. "Having a mother with mental illness that bad changes you. I still fight bitterness. I want my life to be healthy. I want Christmas to be happy. Will you teach me how to make a Christmas?"

How have happy Christmas memories changed you?  Who taught you how to make a Christmas?

I sat silently drinking my tea, pondering on life without Christmas. Trusting people is hard if you have known betrayal. Loving people is hard if you have known ridicule.

Connie laughed. "You don't know where to even start with the likes of me, do you?"

I stood up and smiled. "First we're going to toss together soup in the crock pot and put the bread machine to work making rolls. Then we are going to decorate cookies, make some ornaments and talk about traditions you can start today."

She jumped up and pulled me into a hug. Like a child, I realized, full of hope and excitement.

A child... A child who just wanted a Christmas.

Who do you know that is mentally unstable? Who do you know that is sick, angry, confused, hurting?

Change your world. Notice people. Spread hope.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Just Around the Corner

I greeted a stranger on my jog this morning. She had been walking her dog, Samuel Louise.

Focusing on my speed rather than location, I had made a mistake and turned the wrong corner. The stranger was standing in her yard, simply staring up at the blue sky. When I got closer I could see she was heartbroken, crying, talking to God...yelling at God.

Her kitchen was a cheerful place with sun streaming through yellow checked curtains.  Samuel Louise rested quietly in his big green bed the size of an inner tube. The woman's face was exhausted, ravished with emotion. Her Bible and a devotional guide were laying on the table.  She served chocolate-hazelnut tea and homemade cinnamon bread with trembling hands while I waited to listen, to love. 

"I think I've made a mistake," she explained. "My marriage. And becoming a mother and my career. My whole life feels like one giant mistake. It's not like I didn't pray about my decisions. I did. I do. But God seems to have disappeared on the scene, you know? And I am mad at Him. He could have stopped me, you see.  He could have stopped me from making the mistakes. I asked Him for wisdom."

Isn't it easy when things are going badly to conclude you've made a mistake? You buy a car that has to have more work done on it than expected. You marry someone who doesn't keep the promise to become their best self. Your child is the worst kid in the class and has no friends. And on and on it goes. A mistake. But is it?

"I don't know what I did wrong," my neighbor said. "What did I do wrong? And where do I go from here if I can't trust God to answer my prayers?"

It is right to make prayerful decisions, to know the Word of God, to acknowledge Him so He will direct our paths. But, through no fault of your own, you can find yourself in a big fat pit of a mess. 

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He spent a whole night in prayer before He chose His followers...and then He chose Judas. Things could not have turned out worse for him or for Jesus. Did Jesus make a mistake? No. Judas was a man and he was free to sin. But the end result was a change of epic proportion, the opportunity for Jesus to offer redemption.

Behind every door is a mystery. Behind every face is a story. Behind every mistake is an opportunity.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Motherhood and Messy Moments

"I have spent years trying to study and grow and change.  It's hard to keep going.  I'm just so tired," Maggie said.

I sat down beside her and she took my hand. "Please pray for me. Sometimes I don't think I can keep going another day. It's not just being in prison. It's being a mother and a grandmother and knowing my family is not okay. No matter how much I know about God it's too late to change the past."

"She's depressed," added Rachel, her life partner. "I don't know how to encourage her. And we sure don't know what to do to help the kids."

I prayed with these women, so very dear to me. I was proud of the changes I had seen in each of them. Out of the ashes of two completely shattered lives had come healing and deep repentance. I had seen treasured photographs of their 3 adult children and 2 teenagers. Their grand-daughter was only 2 and would be 7 by the time either of them was out of prison and able to meet her. Their family was devastated by the past, broken in dozens of ways in the present.

Motherhood isn't something that just happens to you. It's a choice you make every day to put someone else's happiness and well being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, trying to do the right thing even when you're not sure what the right thing is. Motherhood is forgiving yourself, over and over again for not having everything figured out.

But what if your mother sold you into prostitution and drugs before you were 8 years old?  What if your mother had never known any other life besides cruelty? What if every man you had ever known had violently hurt you? Where do you go to learn motherhood?

Maggie sighed so deeply that we all three laughed. She shook her head as if to shake away her discouragement, then sighed again. "You always say God will meet us exactly where we are in a messy moment and love us toward truth," she repeated back to me. "When you said that I wrote it down."

Rachel grinned at me. "It's on her mirror and on my lamp."

Maggie continued, "All we can do is meet the kids exactly where they are in a messy moment and love them every day until things get figured out and cleaned up."

I smiled and squeezed her hand. "It's what all the best mothers and grand-mothers do. The rest of it can be washed clean by grace."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Anneliese Meets The King

Photo by Thom Watson,
Anneliese considers the brightly colored ornaments on the Christmas tree with wide-eyed amazement. Her heart is filled with hope and joy. Her eyes long to hold this treasure in her hands, to explore it. She reaches out to touch, causing a single ornament to tremble, but the little tree in the corner stands silent, waiting.

Long ago in Bethlehem, a King was born. He was called Immanuel, the with-us-God. He came to earth to seek and save the lost. He came to find His beloved Annaliese.

An old rugged tree stood on a hill, waiting. The King went silently to the tree to die so He could one day rescue His beloved Anneliese.

She smiles at me. And I smile back. Oh, how I smile because I have a secret to share with her. I make a decision and in an instant the Christmas tree in the corner lights up from the inside out.

Someday Anneliese will consider the old rugged tree that stood on a hill.  She will listen to the true story of The King who was born and died so He could save her. She will be wide-eyed with amazement. Her heart will be filled with hope and joy.  Her eyes will long to grasp such a treasure in her hands, to explore it.  Her hands will reach out to touch, causing her soul to tremble.

Anneliese will smile at The King.  And He will smile back. Oh, how He will smile because He has a secret to share with her. He is alive! She will make a decision to love Him and in an instant the King will light her up from the inside out.

And they will live happily ever after, Anneliese and her King, Immanuel, the with-Anneliese-God.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The God of Stillness

Photo by Michael W May (
Anger wells up inside me then subsides to an empty place where it wallows, waits. It ebbs high again, washes over me strong.

I fill the sink with hot soapy water and put away the toaster.  I try to sing anger away, but my voice trembles weak. Anger rises again with sharp pelting stings.

Morning routine comforts me. Folded quilts on made beds. Water sloshing over dirty laundry. I pick up the broom to sweep clean my kitchen, my heavy spirit.

Curtains open and day spills into my home, into my heart. I smile as The Creator reveals His sunrise. His sun flashes, makes even greater light, ruling the day. A good morning.

But the world outside my window is cold, icy, barren. And I remember. The Christian who is not generously bearing fruit.  The broken woman who hides away bitterness toward her abuser. The child who shivers, hungry in the darkness. Injustices in my world. In your world. In Father's world.

My anger has nowhere to go. I open my heart, my hands, so Father can lift it away.  Tears flow from frustrated eyes because He is the God who is able, but the God who sometimes says no. And my heart pounds grief.

Be still, He whispers. He means it.

I try. Swallow hard. But I speak out of disappointment. Confusion. Rebellion.

Great is My faithfulness, He reminds. I am the God who sees. My ways are not your ways. I am loving toward all that I have made. Trust Me.

My soul stills. I can not force my heart to understand His. I cannot will myself strong and wise. He alone is God. He alone is good. He alone is faithful.

Grace washes over me. Always more grace to soothe the wounds, heal the confusion, soften the harshness. Gratitude replaces discontentment. I watch quietly, awestruck with wonder, as a wellspring of joy splashes up where anger left me dry and thirsty.

And I smile. Oh, how I smile! I am fully awake now to life pulsing around me. To my world where I can make a difference. To my God who is there and is not silent.

He smiles back. He knows I do not understand. Still, I love Him. Still, I trust Him.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hup for the Drinky Soul

Photo by Nicholas Vigier
Maisy pushes at my knee to get my attention.  "Hup," she says. "Hup." I set my Bible and coffee cup aside and help her up. She settles peacefully into my love to rest. She needs an escape from the frustration and confusion of older children who think they know what is best for her. For a toddler learning to speak, "hup" is a handy word. It means either "help" or "up".

Ben snuggles his tired little body into his mother. Playing with the older children has worn him out and he needs a refuge. He has come to the center of his universe for the help that he trusts most. "I'm drinky," he says in a small, pitiful voice. Someone hands Elizabeth a glass of water for her son and Ben drains it dry, quenching his thirst.

Don't you sometimes feel small, too? Tired. Vulnerable. Overwhelmed.

When Nathanael was small he would leave the noise and fray of his little boy world to silently stand beside my chair.  He would take my hand in his and hold it. Not a word, just stand quietly, holding my hand before returning to his play.

Most of the time we can live joy and courage even in tough moments.  But, sometimes, we need a  hand to hold or a refuge. We need the Center of the universe to help us out of our frustration and confusion. We need to take a break and quench our thirst in a dry weary day.

Eli gave his daddy a hug as Steve left for work. "Bye, Daddy! You're my strongest!" he yelled.

That's the kind of hup we need for our drinky souls, a God who is able, a God who is our Strongest.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Miss Mildred and the President

Photo by Courtney Chintermeyer
"I'm not smart enough to understand politics much," Miss Mildred commented, "But it's a right dandy thing we be havin' a black president for a time, sweet potata girl."

I picked up my tea cup and grinned.  "I'm not sure I'm smart enough to understand politics much either, but I sure would like for you to tell me what you know."

"My roots go all the way back to slave trade, sweet potata girl. I heard stories from my Granny that was told to her when she was a little snip of a girl. Slave days was awful dark times for the blacks.  Folks could come take your babies right outa your arms and sell 'em off.  Might never knowed what happen to 'em."  

As she sipped her tea, her dark eyes went far away in thought. She laughed suddenly, "Oh, sweet potato girl. I 'bout forgot what I was sayin', didn't I?  All people's gotta have rights and that's what politics is to me. Givin' folks they rights."  

I nodded in agreement, thinking it was a pretty good definition. "And you think having a black president for a time will help make that happen, Miss Mildred?"

"I do indeed, sweet potata girl.  It's gotta be a good thing to one day be a country where little black children get ripped from they granny's arms and another day a little black child grows up to be president!"

"I absolutely agree," I said. 

"And a country where not only that, but where instead of ripping away little children from they Granny, we give food stamps to help a granny get by.  Now I know people go different in how that oughta happen.  I've seen many a people who aren't glad I have food stamps and think I oughta not even have all these children to raise. But sometimes life is just how it is and you gotta do the best you can with what God gives you for your portion. But having a black president for a time is a hopeful thing whether you agree with him or not. It says we're a country that's a gonna keep tryin' til we get ever'thing figured out. We set to changin' bad ways as best we know. And that's an awful good thing, ain't it?"

"It's a wonderful thing.  And I like him. A lot. And I really respect him and his family."

"Me too, sweet potata girl. Me too." And the wise old woman took a bite of her cookie, toasted me with it and whispered, "And he's kindy cute, ain't he?" 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sweet Potata Girl

Photo by Wally Hartshorn

"My roots go back all the way to slave trade," she said softly. "I don't be knowin' all 'bout what that was like, but I knowed 'bout hard times in my days. I learned 'bout makin' it through 'gainst all odds."

Swollen crippled feet had propelled her through the market. Her arthritic hands dropped a 2 page shopping list as she struggled to move a box of produce.

I picked her list up from the floor and moved the box.  "Could I fill your list for you? I'd be glad to do that," I offered.

"Oh, my, no, sweet potata girl," she laughed. "The good Lord gave me 8 kids and more grandkids than I can be countin' any more so I guess He'll just keep me spinnin' on forward. It's a long line of hungry folks I need to be feedin' and you got your own work. God will get me through."

She was collapsed with exhaustion on a bench, her cart piled high with food bags when I left the store. Rubbing stiffness from her hands, eyes closed, her silent tears trailed down wrinkled brown cheeks.

"I care about you," I told her, sitting down on the bench beside her. I handed her a handkerchief.

"Oh my, sweet potata girl! That's a lovely old hanky! Now I'm just fine. I'm too tuckered out today is all."

As she wiped her eyes she shared her life. Divorces, custody battles, drug addictions, prison heartbreak and little children with no place to go but to their old broken-down granny. She told me how grateful she was for a country that helped with food stamps, prisons that helped folks get straight, teachers that hugged learnin' right into kids and for all the blessings found in loving people.

I helped her into my car, loaded the piles of groceries into my back seat and phoned her neighbor who had not yet shown up to give her a ride home.

"Why do you call me sweet potata girl?" I asked, once she was settled into her house.  She rested at the table taking some medicine while I put away the groceries in her kitchen and created an impromptu tea party.

"Been a lot of times with nothin' to eat but a sweet potata. It was a blessin' from the Lord on them days. You can live a right long spell on a sweet potata.  Lotta people don't see the blessin' in hard times. I learned from my own granny that hard times is blessin' just like good times. You been a blessin' to me, sweet potata girl. I was plumb done in and set to frettin', but God sends help ever' time to me. Ever' time. Ever' time. Ever' time. Ever' time. Now you be rememberin' that from an old woman, sweet potata girl. Ever' time."

Monday, December 3, 2012

State of the Union

Katherynn, with hands on her hips, marches regally to the top of my stairs and turns to face her royal subjects, John and Ben.  "I'm the girl so I'm the queen," she explains. "And I'm the boss."

John puzzles thoughtfully over this ruling before he speaks.  "Okay. You're the queen." He moves down a few steps, then adds, "I'm not as high up as the queen, but I can tell the queen what to do."

Katherynn adjusts her invisible crown and smooths her ruffled feathers.  "Hmmm, " she considers.  "Okay.  That will work! Now, what should we tell Prince Ben to do?"

In my office some of the children are playing "Lord of the Rings".  Jesse is explaining to younger Liam, Ethan and Eli the importance of choosing a strong army and using strategy in battle. "We are going to fight hard but we aren't going to really be mean."

In my bedroom, Nathanael and Caleb are doubled over, laughing about their game, "Stratego". A secret plot has been devised to fight to the finish.  I'm not sure who won, but I'm sure that they're playing peacefully.

I smile. Partly because having a house filled with a dozen children is so much fun and partly because the grownups in my living room are discussing peace, wisdom and being brave...and concerns over parenting.

"The children are doing okay, don't you think, Father?" I pray silently. "Make them peacemakers who are wise and strong and brave."

As I wind my way downstairs through the land of five year olds, I hear Ben announce, "I am Prince Ben and I am in charge."

Katherynn and John agree that this is a sensible solution and John tells me, "Katherynn and me are the bosses but Ben is in charge of everything."

The State of the Union is in pretty good shape.

The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."   ~James 3:17

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Where the Heart Howls

"I don't think I love God," Ally confessed softly, drawing me aside in the prison chapel.  "He has forgiven me, but now what? I'm such a mess. My heart is black inside."

Regrets linger to taunt us. Heart howls still echo in the forgiven chambers. Forgiveness does not erase memory. It gives it value, but it does not erase it.

Be honest. Sort through heart rubble with an eye for lessons to learn, restitution to be made, sins to tackle with elbow grease.  When you seek Him you will find Him. When you draw near to Him, He draws near to you.

Be brave. You may have to endure consequences. You may need new activities and habits. Our hearts are daunting, scary places. Ask someone who is familiar with God's Word to help you clear through your wilderness. 

Be gentle.  It takes a lifetime to gain a strong, healthy, godly heart.  God is not in a hurry.  He meets you where you are in this moment.  He has a plan for your welfare and not your calamity. He knows the plans He has for you to give you a future and a hope.  Baby steps matter. Learn to love Him one day at a time, one lesson at a time. 

Be still.  In the habit of stillness, in the quiet place, continue to pour out your thoughts and hurts to Him. It is God who removes the rubble as far as the east is from the west.  It is God who inwardly renews and refreshes your heart day by day. He is the Father who sings over you. Let Him quiet your heart howls with His love.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What Did You Say?

You're living your dream. Maybe you're working to make a new dream come true. You might be cleaning up a broken dream.  Then your words get in the way.

"I hate Mondays."  "I hate this cold weather."  "People are so stupid." "My house is such a disaster." "My boss is a jerk." "Never gonna happen." "My children fight constantly."

In grade school my friend Micky did not like Sloppy Joe sandwiches. I could count on dramatic whining from her every Friday. Decades later that's the only solid memory of her that remains. I no longer remember her face, but I remember her words, "I absolutely hate Sloppy Joes. I hate them."  She liked every ingredient in that sandwich.  She simply chose to be negative.

God is the giver of every good and perfect gift.  He offers a clear vision for His people.  He has a plan for our welfare and not our calamity, plans to give us a future and a hope.

Examine your words. You're building a dream and what you speak over your life, your home, your boss, your children, will become reality. Choosing to be negative will make the burdens heavier.  Praise will lighten your load.

Living an excellent life requires speaking intentionally. Let your speech be seasoned with salt and full of grace. We set the tone of our day by our words.  We write our lifesong by our words, our thoughts, our choices.

What if every irritant, every hardship, every change were considered a gift? What if we faced each day with courage, diligence and faith? Nothing is wasted if it contributes to the person you are becoming.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hide and Seek

"Hi, Nana," a little voice whispers from the back of my closet.

"Hey, buddy. How's Nana's boy?"

"I hiding," Ben answers.

"We've been looking for you," I say, picking up the three year old. "Why are you hiding?"

"So I know where I am," he tells me.

Is there a woman alive who hasn't wanted to hide away in the closet just to know where she is?

"And early in the morning, Jesus went away to a quiet place..." Did He, too, need to escape tiresome crowds and bickering voices? Was He overwhelmed by the endless demands of His disciples?

Instead of declaring quiet time impossible, women get creative. Bible Words get posted in the car, on the mirrors, over the sinks. Children get rocked to sleep listening to sermons and the Bible read aloud.  Overwhelmed women read the Word at each meal or recite scripture aloud to encourage and calm through a crisis. They sing songs that keep their minds stayed on the Father's love and care.

Oh, what a wise and compassionate Father He is! He calls moments of prayer and reading His Words our daily bread. Time alone with Him to know where you are, to remember you are grasped tightly in the palm of His hand where no one can snatch you away.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Uncle Paul's Barn

Beyond the Sunset
Uncle Paul's barn was a big place. When a farmer has a trail of little girls and a dog running alongside to help him, he needs a big place.

I thought I knew a lot about farming back then. I knew how to milk a cow by hand or by machine. How to turn milk into butter. How to bathe a cow. And I knew how to coax Princess out of the barn when we all became too much help at sunset. There are a lot of rules on a farm and life taught most of them.

Decades later, I stood in the old barn with my cousin, both of us grandmothers now.  In our memories the farm is forever alive. Freshly mowed clover hay filling the senses. Wet tongue tickles as newborn calf sucks little girl fingers. Rich, dark soil sliding over palms and under finger nails.

"It used to be bigger, didn't it?"

Did Laura say it first? Did I? We shared the thought, the moment, the memories. We had grown, changed, lived ourselves out of the farm and into the city.

I love getting older and seeing my life unfold. We are here on earth for such a short moment. But someday, beyond the sunset, I will view my life more clearly. I will smile and remember when I thought I knew so much, understood the rules of life here.

"It used to be bigger, didn't it?"

I don't know if Laura will say it first or if I will, but we will both know it. We will have lived ourselves out of the world and into The City.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Live Courage

Andrea timidly raises a small hand to share her darkness. Soft blond curls frame her stark blue eyes. Her voice is soft, feminine, tired.

 "I did so many drugs.  I was afraid of everything. I thought every car coming down the street was going to run me over. There were always hidden things in the dark. I would sit curled up on the blankets, so afraid that there was someone under my bed."

A life not yet 20. A blur of no hope. An abyss of fear.

I touch her and she stiffens, sighs, tries to form a weak smile. Her eyes apologize for lack of trust, cautious hesitation. My heart breaks for this woman-child who is so terrified of life, of people, yet so eager to learn how to live courage.

"I'm proud of you for coming," I whisper to her in the prison chapel. "Coming was difficult for you. It's easier to give up, to hide under the covers."

She nods. Like the other prisoners, she knows about hard things, about giving up. "God took away a lot of the fear," she tells me. "I know He's there."

"The fear of the Lord leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil."  It is truth from Proverbs 19:23 that she is learning.  It is truth she has needed to know for a long time.

A long line of others wait to talk to me. I want to hold my breath, to hold on to this moment. To say something just for her, something to provide courage for the week, for the lifetime.

Another woman-child takes my hand. I know Janie. Have loved her in these prison walls. Monday after Monday, I walk alongside on hard days. Her husband has married another and taken her children far away. Janie is broken, facing serious surgery alone. Her mother is dying of the same cancer that is killing her young son. Tears trail down her face. She squeezes my hand, soaks up strength from my faith to keep walking strong.

Janie smiles at Andrea. Understands howling heart pain. Chokes back self tears to live courage, to be Jesus in a dark place. "Can I walk with you?" she asks the newcomer.  "We're all so glad you came. My name is Janie. You're not alone."

Monday, November 12, 2012

When God Says No

Little fingers pull at my bracelet, trying to remove it from my arm.  "No, Maisy," I say, "Not right now."

Maisy, who frequently plays with my bracelets, tries again. "No," I repeat gently, "No, please."

Maisy places her right fist in the palm of her left hand and lifts it to sign "help". When I repeat my answer the third time, she signs "help" more urgently. This is repeated again and again before her interest moves from the bracelet.

Sometimes we think it works the same way with God.  If I ask often enough, urgently enough, He will grant my request. Maybe if I use the right words.  Maybe if I have enough people agreeing with me.  Maybe if I ask louder or with more tears.

I seldom tell Maisy "no".  I love her. I enjoy blessing her and meeting her needs. Sometimes, as on this day, the timing is simply wrong. Because I know what is best for her, my love determines my answer.

I place my hands over Maisy's fingers to stop her from signing "help" again. "I know you want me to help you, "I explain. "I understand. And I am saying no."

God sees my helplessness and frustration, my disappointment.  He says no from a heart of love, eyes full of compassion. It's not that He doesn't listen, not that He doesn't care. He understands there is a greater good, a greater blessing, a protecting action. His love determines His answer.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Five Dollar Lesson

Mary Englebreit, Artist
The sealed envelope, long ago forgotten in a stack of unsorted papers and magazines, was still there this morning.  I picked it up quickly, intent on finishing my closet cleaning chores.

My name had been written on that envelope by a hand long since left dormant in the grave when she went to live with Jesus. Just the sight of my name, so often written on envelopes by my husband's mother, brought a smile. She was a faithful letter writer and card sender.

I opened the envelope to discover a birthday card and in it a five dollar bill. 

More precious to me this morning than the card or money is the reminder of a valuable lesson.  We have the opportunity to leave a legacy to those we love long after we have left this earth. We begin the habits that create that legacy today.  

When I live a well-ordered life, I leave a legacy of hope, strength and purpose. When I live by God's Word I leave a legacy of grace, love and wisdom. Countless young mothers, bless them so dearly, are easily sidetracked into frustration by the yet-again full sink of dishes, the pile of yet-again dirty clothes and the obstacle course of life scattered across their living room. 

That moment you spend reading a book to your three year old, changing the diaper of your toddler and listening to your 10 year old tell yet-again a funny joke. That moment is your holy habit that will leave a legacy. 

And it matters. It matters so much more than you take time to realize. That song you sing, that smile you wear, that soft answer turning away anger. Eternal legacies, every one.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Collecting Happy Moments

"I like it when we work together," Katherynn said.  "It makes it fun.  Like a sunshiney day dancing in the breezes.  Like eating a candy cane on a Friday."

I laughed. "You're a silly little five year old woman."

"I feel happy," she said. "Do you feel happy?"

I nodded, stepping back with her to view our work. "No streaks on this window. Good job, Katie Kat."

"Good job to both of us," she agreed. "Let's read a book to celebrate. But first let's finish making our soup. I'll carry the cleaner and you carry the rags."

Life moments. How many will I get with Katherynn?  Moments to lick grape popsicles. Moments with chubby fingers dipped in frosting.  Moments of tying blue ribbons into long golden strands of hair. Moments painting tiny pink fingernails. A limited number of moments.

Katherynn tucked bare toes against me and snuggled beneath the old blue quilt. "I like it best when it's just you and me and books."

I smiled into blue eyes, twinkling with the wonder of love and so fully awake to life.

"I like every moment when it's just you and me, Kat," I told her. "Every moment."

"Yes," she sighed, cuddling close. "Yes. Every moment. Now read."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Mean Old Man

I expected him to be gentle and kind. I expected him to be wise. After all, he had been alive nearly 10 decades. 

I was six. My Aunt Evelyn had taken me on my first nursing home visit to pass out bananas and magazines. I was wearing my favorite little sailor dress and I had new blue ribbons in my hair.

I liked elderly people. My grandparents and great-grandparents as well as the older people in my neighborhood and church were familiar, trustworthy, beloved.

I can still see his face in my mind a half century later. He jerked my arm and he pinched me. Hard. I shrieked, horrified. And then he laughed. And pinched me again, bruising not only my skin, but my heart. 

Years later I felt a similar confusion looking at pictures of Nazi war criminals discovered and captured during their old age. A grandfather holding a child. A neighbor walking a dog. An old man in the market.

Not everyone gets character lines as they age. Some people just get wrinkled...and meaner. Roots of bitterness dig deep and we reap what we have sown. 

I expect to be gentle and kind. I expect to be wise. But as I age, I can already see the struggle it is to hold my tongue, to control my spirit, to become God's best version of me. Just expecting it is not enough. It's not nearly enough.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Bowl of Oatmeal

"Who taught you how to make oatmeal?" Katherynn asks. "Are we going to have walnuts and raisins in it? I like brown sugar in mine. I don't think I want apples in it today. Is that cinnamon? Because I like cinnamon. Do you like stirring oatmeal? It looks fun."

For Katherynn life is standing still for this moment, this learning time.  I stir oatmeal as she snuggles close, watching, memorizing my motions as if I were creating a symphony rather than making breakfast.

It is only this moment that exists for her, the moment to be savored, remembered. This five year old is a sponge, soaking in love and life one moment at a time.

When did oatmeal become a forgotten wonder? When did life and love become forgotten wonders?

I smile and hug Katherynn close. "I do like stirring oatmeal. Making breakfast for a little girl is one of the most fun things I get to do."

She grins and I let her spoon hot oatmeal into green bowls. "It's pretty, isn't it? And we can decorate it now!"

We can see the beauty in a simple bowl of oatmeal. A simple moment shared. A moment of life noticed, treasured, recorded in the memory of a little girl.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Walking Like Maisy

In January I set aside this year for an evaluation of my life so far. What should I change physically, spiritually and mentally? What needs to be done as I get older to ensure a strong finish to my life?

I am entering the second half of my life while Maisy is walking into her first half of life. As I learn to walk strong spiritually, she is learning to walk strong physically.

A few months ago she needed to grasp my hand before walking a few steps. Later she dared to walk alone, confident as long as she could see me within her reach. She toddled slowly, carefully. There were so many obstacles to knock her off balance. She still stumbles and falls down every day.

Sometimes I release my grip on the hand of God and take a few steps on my own. I do pretty well as long as I keep Him in sight. I know how to walk. It's just that there are so many obstacles to knock me off balance. I still stumble and fall down every day.

Maisy is not distracted by the stumbles, puzzled perhaps, even frustrated, but her determination never wavers. She knows where she wants to go and she intends to get there, even if a hard tumble brings pain and disappointment.

She walks with confidence. She walks with courage. I want be just like her when I grow up.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pumpkin Latte

2 cups of milk - I use 2% milk, but choose whatever you like, even soy or almond milk.
3-4 Tablespoons canned pumpkin - Choose more or less to adjust flavor.
2 teaspoons vanilla - You may also want to add other flavorings such as almond or maple.
1-2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice

Heat in a pan and serve as a hot drink.

Add to coffee at whatever ratio you prefer.  I like mine with a lot of coffee and a few splashes of latte. Others like it mostly latte with a few splashes of coffee.

Whipped Cream on top is optional, but looks quite charming sprinkled with pumpkin pie spice. Children especially enjoy stirring with a cinnamon stick or melting chocolate sprinkles on top.

Refrigerate and drink cold or reheat for a breakfast treat next morning.

Nathanael's favorite way to drink this is with "a big ol' pumpkin chocolate chip muffin". I like it with my morning toast covered with pumpkin butter.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Let Faith Arise

Even with a joyful heart and a mind set on things above, you can find yourself in the midst of a life storm. 

Tossed about in disappointments  you scramble for balance. Circumstances overwhelm. Fear takes a hold. Suddenly you begin to sink into the dark waves that are pulling you down.

It is when we are bruised by failure and loss that the good stuff happens. We look upward for wisdom and help. We cannot save ourselves. To overcome disappointing loss, we have to fight for a faith that overcomes our circumstances.

Peter was new to a relationship with the God who walked on earth, the God who walked on water. The Bible tells us that God called him out of the safety of a boat and into the storm to walk alongside Him on the water. God called and Peter courageously followed Him into a wild world where storms rage high and darkness overwhelms. 

"The secret to surviving the storm is Christ in me, " Elisabeth Eliot writes, "not me in a different set of circumstances."  

When Peter glanced at his circumstances, he began to sink. When He grabbed on to the hand of God, he was able to rise above the dark raging waters. Joy and opportunity waited for Peter if only he would grasp the hand of God, rise above his circumstances and walk by faith not by sight. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Courageous Faith

"I think I have a problem," Sarah confided this morning. "I was so sure God wanted me to teach this Sunday School class.  I was excited about doing it, but this week it seemed like too much. I don't like teaching children sometimes. Maybe I'm just tired, but maybe I should quit."

It's okay if you struggle with your calling sometimes. The task may be the most wonderful opportunity you imagined.  It may be perfectly suited to your delightfully quirky differences and talents. It may have started out with a hopeful vision, but the labor of seeing it through is more than you expected.

Sometimes, even though we enjoy our ministry, we don't feel like going to the prison, visiting the sick, counseling the exhausted, encouraging the weak or teaching young children.  By being faithful regardless of human emotion and struggles, courage grows.  Faithfulness stirs hope and increases joy.

Probably at age 70 when God called Abraham to leave his country, there were some self-doubts and disappointments. Paul and Silas sang in the prison in spite of the severity of their suffering, but this doesn't mean they didn't struggle. Jesus wrestled with His calling in Gethsemane enough to sweat blood.

Learn with Peter as he walked on water. Courage is staying out of the boat even when you are confused and sinking.  Courage is kicking fear and disappointment in the teeth even when you are risking everything you hold dear.  Don't grow weary and don't be sidetracked from your calling.  Stay out of the boat.  Just stay out of the boat and be faithful. Like the great crowd of witnesses who have gone before you, do not quit.

When you are sinking into the raging waters, keep trusting the God who is walking alongside you in the dark, raging storm. He didn't quit in Gethsemane.  He says, "Peace. Be still." And even the winds and the waves obey Him.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Toward Jerusalem

Thou art the Lord who slept upon the pillow.
Thou art the Lord who soothed the furious sea.
What matter beating wind and tossing billow
If only we are in the boat with Thee?

Hold us in quiet through the age-long minute
While Thou art silent, and the wind is shrill:
Can the boat sink while Thou, dear Lord, art in it?
Can the heart faint that waiteth on Thy will?

~Amy Carmichael

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Wide Open Spaces

We sat side by side on the old wooden bridge, my little one and me.  Long days of allergies had turned  Mr. Happy Boy into Mr. Grumpy Pants. Breathing in fresh morning air and gazing across the creek to rolling hills created a balance in my perspective.

"It makes me feel taller," he said quietly.

Something in us doesn't love a wall.  Wide open spaces beckon us, make us feel bigger on the inside. We feel liberated, free to explore.  Our creativity is fueled and our hearts open up to new possibilities and dreams. We feel lively, bold, generous, contented. The quiet chases away the noise and the fray leaving us comforted and soothed.

Our lives need quiet outdoor time to soak in truths, to collect thoughts.  Walking in the quiet produces fruitful understanding that does not blossom in the typical routines of life maintenance and work.  It takes away the issues of money and the fights for our rights.

Without the quiet even young children and babies become confused and irritable. There is something so delicious about walking in the fresh air and sunshine, sitting quietly before the grandness of open spaces.

Capture the depths of joy found in widened horizons.  Don't lose it.  Don't merely look at it and turn away. Let it call you toward a better you, a you that has embraced the wide open world.  When you return home you will be eager to take that fresh view inside. You'll be motivated to clear away the clutter that drains your energy. You can get rid of the messes that destroy the simple gift of calm that is available to everyone.

God must be a cowboy at heart.
He made wide open spaces from the start.
He made grass and trees and mountains
And a horse to be a friend...
And trails to lead old cowboys home again.
          ~Dan Seals

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Walking with Granny

When my Great-Granny Sutton was 89 I asked her when she first realized that she was old. Her eyes crinkled a million wise wrinkles as she squinted at me, reading my innermost thoughts. With the experience that raised 8 farm children, buried most of them and survived a dozen lifetimes in one, she snorted. Then she burst into laughter.

She shook her head at me and said, "I never did. Truth is sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror and nearly scare myself to death a wonderin' why in the world is there some old woman in my bathroom! I still see a young girl when I look at myself." She took my hand. "We live forever. It takes a forever to get old. I'll get there. Then you will."

Though Granny left me a hundred memories and a thousand words when she died at 102 1/2 (a half year matters, don't you know?) it is her outlook on aging that has woven itself into the fiber of my being and continued to bounce around in my heart. 

I am me. I am gonna be me...forever. 

Put me in a group of people and I immediately start to notice all the ways I am not like them. Life can be a challenge because I am not a joiner and I am spastically self-conscious.  I ramble on much too generously yet crave the words of others to soothe and bolster me. The young girl inside me is still desperately struggling to become the best version of herself.

I hit the pause button on that thought in January to study it. By September I am beginning to understand. There just might be unseen value in something as eternal and unique as me. 

It's a forever road I'm traveling. God knit me together in my mother's womb and decades later He is still working on me. My God always finishes what He starts. I am the apple of His eye and, while some of the refining and knitting may hurt a little bit, what He creates is always good. It just takes a little time sometimes. But, He's a forever God and we aren't pressed for time.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Impossible Happens

Ever wish you could just start over? Take a different life road, be a better you. Such an adventure requires cleaning house and tossing the garbage first, doesn't it?  That handful of high school regrets, the bucket of rebellion from college, the heap of broken dreams from your 20s and while you're at it, the extra 10 pounds of junk food you gained eating comfort food with your toddlers.

You will, of course, remember to pack hard earned wisdom, favorite hobbies, tried and true friends, your Starbucks card, favorite hoodie and your laptop. Suitcase getting full? Don't forget your marked-up Bible, fresh journal and Ipod.

It may not feel like this has been your day, your month or even your year. It doesn't take much to feel that way. Our eyes are trained to see failures and our hearts to see burdens. It's why Monday is my favorite day. I get to start over and seek simplicity, good choices, the refreshing gratitude that comes with a new week.

God is already working behind the scenes in your life.  He is transforming you into the person He knows you can be. He is the God who is never overwhelmed by our failures, never surprised by our circumstances.  He knows all about that different life road to a better you. He is the God who is able to do more than all you could imagine. Every day He is available as Guide to help us make decisions that determine the rest of our story.

You won't find the adventure by accident.  The choice has to be deliberate.  Courage to be different must overcome resentment and discouragement. Each choice leads to more choices.  Each change leads to greater change.The momentum will build until you find yourself living whole and free, living that dream you thought was impossible. My God specializes in the Impossible.

So, come on! Stick your phone in your pocket, grab your keys and let's go!

"This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year." Exodus 12:2

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Running Uphill

To run far and fast, you start out fully fueled, trained and toned.   I was running my life race at a strong and steady pace, working toward peak performance, running to win. At a blind curve the road became a rocky incline. I adjusted my stride, weaving around potholes, more alert to obstacles and dangers.

Spiritually I have spent my summer running my race in my most difficult terrain ever. As the hill incline increased I called on a reservoir of strength I hadn't realized was even available.  Years of training in spiritual disciplines proved worth the struggle.

Then heart muscles began to strain. Attitude began to waver. Focus began to drift.  Determination for running to win changed to desire to finish the race.  Disappointment followed disappointment. Crisis followed crisis. Running uphill in the desert wasteland of enemy territory was lonely.  My usual kindred spirits, encouragers and prayer warriors had scattered, concentrating on their own races. I was being crowded off the trail by enemy critics taunting my grief with envy, shame and discouragement.

"Resistance", said my running buddy, Lindsey, "may reduce speed for awhile, but eventually it makes me faster.  It hurts the worst at the very end, right before reaching the goal.  But when it's all said and done, the most incredible joy overwhelms. Every bit of pain is worth it."

My steady confident stride slowed to survival speed.  Running slowed to walking as I continued to keep in step with the Spirit, believing His promises.  Man of Sorrows and Lord of Joy never once left my side.  Crawling, battered by the enemy, I recently reached the top of the hill.

Out of enemy territory I sit by the side of the road resting in the green pastures of a new plateau.  An article in Runner's World Magazine tells me "It is not only doing the work required in a race that makes you stronger. It's during recovery that muscles can rebuild and adapt to the challenge."

Sounds good! I definitely need rest and recovery, but I didn't quit and the victory is sweet~

Monday, August 20, 2012

Live Love.

Love them to Jesus. 
Johnathan panics when he gets tired. Weary of exploring his world, his baby eyes focus on my face. Four months of life have taught him to recognize me, to search me out in a group of people, to whimper when he wants me. He trusts me. In time, he will love me.

A man in my neighborhood is sad. Bitterness, betrayal and a lifetime of disappointments have hardened him. He believes he has never been loved. Old age has been teaching him that he will die unloved. 

Frequently I encourage people to love others, to be patient and kind and good to others. How are they supposed to do this unless I first tell them they are loved? Max Lucado has written that it is like asking them to write a check before a deposit has been made. 

Unlike Johnathan, a few months has not been enough time for my neighbor to trust me. But I tell him I love him through my actions and my words. He thinks I'm a little strange at times and laughs at me, but then, I'm sure Johnathan wonders about me sometimes, too. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

There's no use in weeping,
Though we are condemned to part.
There's such a thing as keeping
A remembrance in one's heart.

There's such a thing as dwelling
On the thought ourselves have nurs'd
And with scorn and courage telling
The world to do its  worst.

We'll not let its follies grieve us,
We'll just take them as they come;
And then every day will leave us
A merry laugh for home.

When we've left each friend and brother,
When we're parted wide and far,
We will think of one another,
As even better than we are.

Every glorious sight above us,
Every pleasant sight beneath,
We'll connect with those that love us,
Whom we truly love til death!

In the evening, when we're sitting
By the fire perchance alone,
Then shall heart with warm heart meeting,
Give responsive tone for tone.

We can burst the bonds which chain us,
Which cold human hands have wrought,
And where none shall dare restrain us
We can meet again, in thought.

So there's no use in weeping,
Bear a cheerful spirit still.
Never doubt that God is keeping
Future good for present ill!

~Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Being Comfortable

"I like to be comfortable," Stacy shared, "I just like to be comfortable." We all do, don't we?

My accountability girlfriends and I were discussing the importance of going outside our comfort zones. Abraham was 70 when God called him to leave his country and all he knew. He went. The rich young ruler unwilling to give up all he had to feed the poor, did not go because he was very rich. He stayed comfortable. Only one of the healed lepers returned from celebration to thank Jesus. The others were too comfortable to bother with gratitude.

What is the one thing you cling to rather than giving up everything to follow hard after Him? We are called to share the Good News. Are you called, like Abraham, to leave your country? Are you called, like the rich young ruler, to stay, but to go to the poor?

What hinders you today? Too busy? Too tired? Your kids wouldn't behave? Maybe your house is too messy or your dog too quick to jump on company. Or maybe, you simply don't believe life could be better outside your comfort zone.

The one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Sowing to my own flesh is easy. Killing flesh woman takes practice. I must choose to deny myself daily, pick up my cross and follow my Lord. That's harder. I like to be comfortable. Taking the joyride into the unknown makes me a little hesitant sometimes.

Still, I choose the harder road, the better road. I am daring to dream bigger and climb higher than I think I can. Leave my comfort zone? I'm saying yes, Lord.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Take a Leap

Whether you want to become a musician or clean your house, taking baby steps is excellent advice. One step at a time we can change our habits and see our dreams come true.

Sometimes, though, instead of making progress, every step forward is followed by two steps backward. Around and around we go, like a hamster in a cage, making the effort but not getting anywhere. We see failure instead of success and the disappointment is overwhelming.

Take a giant leap on the path toward success. Put your goal on project status. Set a time limit of a few days, a week or a month. After this initial outpouring of effort your dream will seem more obtainable. Choose a time frame that works for you. Finishing the project through intensity and overdoing to the point of exhaustion is usually not a good idea. Concentrating diligent effort for a short period of time, however, can be extremely productive.

Kyle, one of my adult piano students, scheduled four hours each day at the keyboard. After a month of this effort he scheduled a more sustainable daily hour of practice. Melissa was determined to declutter her home. She and her husband removed several truckloads of their clutter during a 3 day weekend. By clearing some space in the beginning, Melissa had established the confidence she needed to finish her project during the following months.

Sustaining the determination and effort necessary for long term change requires a return to smaller steps. Lasting change happens slowly.  Many dreams take a lifetime to achieve. Establish hope. Set yourself up for success. Get some discipline. Take a leap of faith. Before you know it you will be living your dream.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer your self any direction you choose!
 ~Dr. Seuss

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hope for Holly

Brown eyes twinkle with mischief when she looks at you with that impish grin. Under the tomboy exterior beats a heart of sweetness, brimming with joy and wonder. Cowboy boots pile beside party shoes. More often the Stetson gets tossed aside for silk and satin.

I have walked alongside Holly and her family for years. You have your own Holly. She lives in your world and is being raised in a family that you love. You see her in church laughing, growing, serving, changing. You pray for her and melt into her hugs.

Was she in your Sunday School class? Your carpool? Did you buy her Girl Scout cookies?

Satan waits patiently, dreaming up plans to welcome Holly when she arrives on the college campus. He is spending his summer arranging tanks with military precision. The evil one has a plan for Holly's life. He has a plan for lies and distractions that will destroy her future.

Most church youth expect to get involved in a church near campus. Statistics show that most of them will get sidetracked and lose their faith. Living vulnerable in enemy territory is dangerous. Satan is a big success on the college campus. He wants to welcome each freshman into his circle of friends.

Holly has an advantage. She has grown up in a church that supports our local campus ministry with prayer, service and money. She knows the campus ministers and some of the older students and alumni.  Holly knows what opportunities there are for her to continue growing in her faith and developing servant-leadership. She is not going into enemy territory this fall alone.

Did you know you can call a campus ministry and tell them about incoming freshmen? They welcome the opportunity to be a home away from home, a soft place to fall for college students, a training ground for adulthood. A campus ministry is a light in a place that can be dreary, dark and unfamiliar. You have been more important in the life of the young people in your church than you know. Go the extra mile for them. Make one more phone call.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Girlfriend Grace

"We're learning to be so much more transparent and honest with one another, " Kerri observed.  "We all make mistakes. We all get frustrated. But it's so great to know we aren't alone. It really helps when we open up and share the hard stuff."

Girl's Night starts with candles and chocolate and craziness.  It ends with talking and tissues and transparency. We are discovering that being honest and open teaches us to be brave and bold. It encourages consistent prayer on a deep level. Dark secrets we once would have kept hidden are becoming bonds that unite us and spur us on to love and good works.

Someday all we have done, both good and bad, will be called into judgment. Because we are learning to be transparent now, future judgment no longer holds fear. For every sin, every loss in life, we long to hear someone say, "Yes. That happened. She told me about it. Let me share how her sin and loss was a teaching tool in my life."

The evil one wants to use sin to cause shame, death, despair.  He wants my sin to break intimacy with God, block my prayers for others and weigh me down with worry.  He does not like for my prayer life to stay active in changing the world. He wants me isolated and alone.

God uses my very worst self to bring glory to His purposes, to bless my marriage, friendships and His church. Not only is God made strong in my weakness, but so am I!  Everyone who learns from me shares in my triumph over sin and death.

Nothing need be hidden.  All of my heart, even the ugly parts, can be available for counseling, teaching and encouraging.  My sinful choices used for good. Now that's proof positive of wondrous grace. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pumpkin Muffins...and Formula?

"How can your house possibly be clean at 9:00 in the morning?" Melissa laughed, dividing a muffin between her two little ones. "I so want to be you. What time did you start?"

As I poured mugs of coffee and child-size cups of milk to go with the pumpkin muffins, I smiled. "30 years ago," I confessed. "I started 30 years ago. Today, yes, I  got up at 5:00. I cleaned the downstairs, finished laundry and yard work. I enjoyed my walk and prayer. But it took me years to become who I am and to learn to do what I do."

"Progress not perfection," she chuckled. "That's what you always say!"

"I'm not sure we ever completely learn diligence. It's a process. I'm a long way from the woman I want to become, who I hoped I would be, but thank God, I'm not who I was! I'm making progress."

"But what does it look like?" she pressed, seeking details. "Even if you're not the woman you hoped to be, how do I at least get to where you are? Does that make sense?"

"You want the formula for getting to where I am now even though I'm still learning? You want to still be making progress when you become an older woman. Is that about it?"

"Oh, my goodness, IS THERE a formula?" she asked, wide-eyed, coffee cup stilled mid-air. "That would be  so completely GREAT!"

A formula? Uncharted waters, I thought. A formula? I plunged into Bible waters where I knew everything needed for life and godliness could be found.

"Well, each day we train ourselves to run the life race. We walk by faith not sight. One step at a time, one day at a time."

What was it she needed? Help me, Lord. "Bible words train us to run our race with excellence. Train your children in the way they should go. Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. Love God and your neighbors. Pursue peace. Be kind to one another. Look after widows. Heal the brokenhearted."

She laughed. "You make it sound...not easy, but, well, not impossible either."

"With God all things are possible. He makes art from junk, you know.  He recycles trash. Every day you wake up and love your husband. You love your children. You create beauty and order where once there was chaos and confusion. While you build something beautiful out of your day, God builds something beautiful out of your life. He lights up your pathway. Every step gets you closer to where you want to be, right?"

"Change my world and God will change my life," she said, nodding her head with understanding. "It's like you always say to just do the next right thing, isn't it? And if that's clearing off my kitchen island or reading my Bible or taking a nap, then that's what God wants me to do and He will bless it. And when you practice over a lifetime you become a person who has become more like Jesus. You have the formula for Christian success."

I smiled. "Kinda sounds like a formula, doesn't it?"

"Kinda sounds like I need to keep memorizing my Bible verses!" she laughed. "I love this! Every day I will become more of a person who makes good choices. God is just, so thorough! It's amazing!"

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path."  ~Proverbs 3

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Steadfast Light


Mighty in power. Tender in mercy. 

You are my Strong Tower. You are the Giver of my life and strength.

My yoke is easy and my burden is light. Come away with Me. I will sing over you and quiet you with My love. 

Today is hard, Father. The pain is deep. It's distracting. Today there is good, but it's hard to notice. My joy is slipping away. Help me hold on to it. Show me Your ways. Teach me to stand firm, to be strong when it's hard.

Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. Tune your heart to sing My praise. 

You are my Shield in weakness. My Comforter in disappointment. My Joyride in trouble.Would you make my life song sing today? In my weakness, will You be strong? I want to be filled with praises and to have a thankful heart.

From glory to glory I am changing you. What I am now doing you do not know, but My promises are true every morning. I am the God who sees even in the dark. There is always enough light for the step you're on. Keep walking by faith.

This little light of mine. You're gonna make it shine, right?

I made the sun shine.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Treasure Trove

Graphic from
"I wish I wore glasses instead of braces," Kaelyn grumbled with a sigh, fingering her silver wires and sore lip. "I really miss chewing gum and I do not want to go to the dentist Monday morning."

"I know it, Peanut," I agreed. "I know you're afraid because it's going to hurt. We all have to do things when we're afraid. That's what courage is. I know you feel miserable about it, but your teeth are correcting much faster and more beautifully than we ever expected."

"I would still rather be chewing gum," she laughed, giving me a tight hug.

Seven families, including nearly 20 children, would be coming soon for our weekly life group gathering. The children would rush in hungry and thirsty from playing outside long into the warm evening.  The adults would be lounging about my living room and kitchen soaking up laughter and well-being. It would be a night to refresh and refuel. I wanted to go the extra mile in my hospitality to encourage and love them all.

Old familiar pitchers of  lemonade and  mint iced tea sat beside the fruit bowl. Oatmeal cookies full of  whole grains, walnuts and raisins were piled on a cheery plate. Nathanael, who isn't sure why God made raisins, had suggested a platter of assorted muffins which I pulled from the freezer to begin thawing. I walked into the spring sunshine to revive myself and to snip some fresh flowers for young Hannah to notice and Baby Maisy to sniff.

Few things charm me more than the anticipation of friendly visits. It's not my skills, all of which get sorely challenged, or my ideals, so frequently crushed, that make me swell with appreciation and happiness. The energy, skill and experience of my friends, my partners in the journey of life, are my largest asset. They are tenacious in their faith walks and determined in their commitments. Their lives inspire me and their enthusiasm swirls around me every day, lifting my head up and getting my blood moving as I push forward to get results in my life race.

As I patiently waited for the coffee to kick in this morning, my eyes still hazy from sleep, I began recalling conversations, struggles, solutions and prayer requests from our gathering.  I prayed first for Kaelyn, already in route to the dreaded dental appointment.

Yes, she would rather be chewing gum than wearing braces. None of us like discomfort and fear even when it's best for us. Friendships, though, offer us a less fearful lens to view the world. And a world that we can see clearly is a world we can change by our courage and tenacity.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Bride and the Missouri Boy

After growing up in Germany, Inga met her beau, an American soldier. She describes life as "traveling the world together with love and the Air Force". He calls their life "decades of delight and duty". Now in their last years, she and her Missouri boy have "settled in to homing" in my neighborhood. She grows flowers, watches turtles on the lake and stretches her mind. She laughed, then added, "And it takes a lot of time and work keeping my Missouri boy out of trouble! He's a rascal."

Blue eyes in his tan face sparkle with zest for life as she talks. A mischievous grin is partially hidden underneath his white mustache."My bride's a wild thing," he tells me, adding to their story. "But she keeps up with me ever' where I go. She always has. I s'pect she will for the whole way."

They were laughing together over some shared secret as I watched them climb into their car and drive away.  Two hours later, I am still smiling. Without a word of advice, they reminded me of the happiness that living with someone for a lifetime can bring.

It's harder than you think it will be. Most things are harder than you expect them to be. It takes longer than you think it will to build a strong enduring friendship. Most things take longer than you expect. It costs more than you expect in time and effort as well as dollars and that also is true of most things. 

"Growing old together" is still a good way to travel through the world. Walking alongside someone, working through the hard stuff and being a witness to someone's life is still a valid, valuable choice.

"I like being with him," Inga told me simply. "He's a handful and so am I, but we've made a difference in the world. And we did life better because we had one another to hang on to through thick and through thin."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

An Excellent Life

"You told me to live an excellent life." she reminded me. "I'm trying, but I've lost my joy again. We sent truck loads of stuff to the dump and Goodwill. Housework is much easier now that I'm organized. I don't hide any more when the doorbell rings."

I laughed. "You've come a long way. I'm proud of you."

"The kids are doing better. Homeschooling done with a more professional attitude and schedule has helped us accomplish much more. It's lots of fun now. We're even planning some summer school."

"So where's the problem? Why is your peace all rumpled?" I asked. "How's your prayer life? Your Bible reading? Memorizing?"

"I'm only doing baby steps, but it's going really well. I love my quiet times.  It's just...I don't know."

She looked up at me and spoke quietly, "It's my heart. It feels broken.  My heart is tired of listening, working, teaching. I know it makes me a bad mom, but I'm so tired of little voices. Even happy ones." The tears began to flow and she sobbed, "I hate it that I'm a bad mom."

I explained all the ways that she is an excellent mother, all the ways that she is changing the world and doing good. Melissa is a woman after God's own heart. She has one of the most teachable, loving hearts I know. I watched her drinking a glass of lemonade from a pretty glass and eating a cinnamon scone from a china plate, the frown in her pretty face relaxing.

When she felt stronger, I went on to explain. "An excellent life includes some down time. How long has it been since you sat in the shade and drank a glass of lemonade? You need time, space and quiet to refresh. Your family will see it as a withdrawal from them. It is! But  it's necessary. You become depressed, harsh, exhausted, a cornered animal snarling and ready to attack without some time to do nothing. Kids need it. Husbands need it. You need it. Take a step back and relax. You're doing fine."

"YES!" she laughed. "Now what will that look like? Relaxing. I'm going to need to trade some babysitting. Or the kids can have rest time and I'll sit in the shade and drink lemonade. I could sit in the shade and drink a glass of lemonade from a pretty glass every day! All by myself! Or in the sun! I could get some color and fresh air! I can have the leftover scones, too, right? Oh, please say yes!"