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!"

Monday, May 14, 2012

Prison Dreams

Every Monday night my husband and I  worship with prisoners. It takes the evening to drive an hour and a half there, spend an hour and a half inside the prison, then drive the hour and a half home. Usually we go alone. It's very difficult to find people willing to go to a prison.

Often I don't want to go either. I quote the Bible to myself: "I was in prison and you visited me. If you do it for the least of these you have done it for Me."

Sometimes, I don't want to be a person who does it for Him. We could go once a month and still be going more often than most people we know, I tell myself.  Come on, Lord, can't I have time off for good behavior? When I am so tired tears flow from a rebellious heart, I get a bad attitude. After a day crammed full of interruptions and the needs of others, I have self-absorbed "stinking thinking".

On those days I simply go because of what's in it for me. Seriously. When I am weak, running completely on empty, down in the dumps and losing my grip, that's when God has to do it all. His words come alive in my head, His love opens wide my heart and I become the feet and hands of Jesus. And that feels more amazing than anything else in my life.

The things you wish you had a camera for: Empty eyes lighting up with jaw dropping, heart stopping awestruck wonder. Hands held high, praising the God who has required complete sacrifice. Bitter meth-aged faces turned youthful and hopeful. Grace like rain falling down on captives making them free.

It's not like the movies of prison you watch from your easy chair. Indescribable amazing joy drips off the walls of heaven into the prison. Prisoners are people God is wooing to Him. When there is nothing left in me, I get to see the everything of what is Him. I want that for me. I want the insight, the strength, the wonder and the joy for me. It's a dream come true. A big dream.

 Being with Jesus in a broken place gets messy. It takes consistency and determination. It takes planning ahead. And I want that for you. No, most people don't want to go to the prison. But you could. You really could.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Roses Through the Window

A soft trail of rain dripping down the window pane this morning causes my bush to look distorted. The view from my window looks like an Impressionist has painted the bush. New growth is accented with a bold stroke of intense red.  Bright bold roses have faded into the background with a touch of pale pink. Though I daily examine this bush to enjoy the changes from bud to flower, I have seldom noticed the new growth until now.

The tiny leaves have been budding, multiplying, bringing nutrients and life every day. An incredible amount of work has gone unnoticed, unappreciated. Clear sunny skies and dark stormy nights have continued to take turns prodding the bush toward new growth, building strength, character and beauty. From the seedling first planted, the rose bush is becoming more beautiful and abundant season after season.

My life is full of roses. They are so charming, so encouraging, so much fun that they easily catch my eye. Peyton painted me a picture. Kerri wrote me a note. Hannah played Fur Elise. Steve gave me a song. Elizabeth fixed my computer. God and others tuck surprises and gifts into the corners of every day. Even during difficult times He is turning everything bad into good. I'm learning to enjoy my gifts, to live a more grateful life, to notice even the small buds and blossoms.

Like leaves on a plant spiritual disciplines are making me strong and creating character and beauty.  Steadfast prayer, memorization of Bible verses, ministering to the needs of others, fasting, loving the Word of God, faithfulness in meeting with other Christians train me to grow more beautiful and abundant season after season. God is doing an incredible amount of work in me whether I notice and appreciate it or not.  He is faithful even when I do not see it.

His delight is in the law of the Lord.  He meditates on it day and night. He will be like a tree, firmly planted by streams of water, which yields fruit and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. ~Psalm 1:2, 3  

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sunshine Through the Door

"We never have people over," Sheila said, surprising me because her house is much bigger and fancier than my own. "I'm too tired and busy and it's too expensive anyway. There's never enough babysitting and I get so completely bored listening to people whine and complain about life. Or just drinking and talking about stupid stuff."

Sunbeams stream through the open door. Simple but nutritious gingerbread steams on the counter alongside the fruit bowl. The full teapot is steeping. Coffee is brewing. Letters to be delivered by hand lay waiting on the table.  Flowers picked in the yard by children offer a cheery welcome. Guitars are tuning up, Legos are being dumped, games are being carted upstairs. My heart leaps with joy. It's Sunday night.

Weekly the friends who are my deepest relationships, my first line of defense in times of trouble stream into my house bringing sunshine and delight into my life.We choose to stay accountable to one another, to walk alongside one another as life witnesses, to enjoy one another and hurt with one another. Being tired and busy makes me want them more not less. It's not expensive and babysitting is not necessary. Sometimes we get out the good china and the cloth napkins. Once in awhile someone makes a fancy dessert. Usually we drink out of mason jars or coffee mugs and sprawl around the living room.

I thought about Sheila last night as I snuggled newborn Johnathan, blessed and cuddled a parade of small children stopping by my recliner to memorize his face, to love memorize my face, to love me. For an evening we shut out the fast paced world. Conversation moseyed a trail through deep and spiritual to silly and whimsical to peaceful contentment. Out of nothingness God weekly creates energy, strength, fortitude, joy and abundance in my home, in our hearts.

 Does your church have life groups? If not, you could start one easily. It's light years away from boring.