Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Gift of Change

Eight years ago I began choosing one yearly resolution. The first one took a full year of focus and practice, but was worth every effort. "Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life." Life is nothing without challenge, right? It became a life resolution and spurred me on toward love and good works in following years.

I tried an easier resolution the next year. "Learn to make excellent cookies." It turned into a year of opportunitites to meet children, elderly people, strangers and neighbors as I sought taste-testers for my cookies. I don't know when I've had so much fun learning in the kitchen as I did that year!

"Have more tea parties." This resolution was successful in a way I never could have expected. It was the catalyst for this blog and subsequently for Tuesday night Titus 2 Tea parties in my home. God took my resolve for change and with it opened the door of my heart and my home to people around the world.

Lights twinkle on the tree by our front window and stockings are hung by the chimney with care. Recipes are scattered across the counter and "White Christmas" is playing in the background. It's the season of ThanksGiving and Celebration, endings and beginnings.

I am learning, by focusing on one thing at a time, that there is always enough grace for even me. When I awaken every morning, I know God is not disappointed to discover the need for more refining in my life. From glory to glory He's changing me  - just as He promised.

 The opportunity to change one thing at a time is one of God's greatest gifts.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cardboard Boxes

Johnathan battled with the empty cardboard boxes in the garage, laboriously moving them into the kitchen.

Grasp. Lift. Carry. Drop. Groan. Repeat.

More than I wanted to move the boxes for him, I wanted the toddler to complete the process from start to finish, to follow through his goal to create. Through the frustrations. Through the disappointments.

Forming the boxes in a line, he created a train. He lifted his pumpkin into one train car, his puzzle into another box car, then climbed into the front box. He cheered, raising little arms in victory, "Come see, Nana! Made it.Train!"

While Johnathan played with the boxes, I returned to composing at my piano where I had been struggling to arrange a medley of old hymns. Slowly, battling the frustrations and disappointments of creating, the music began to fall into place. I was delighted, energized by my success, spurred on to finish my work. Creating the music became a complete joy and I loved refining it until it was finished. I wanted to lift my arms in victory, too!

I am loved by the Author of my faith.  He pushes my frustrations and disappointments aside as he continues to work diligently in my life. He doesn't give up on me because He expects there to be more work to do in my life every day. He is drawn to my flaws and weaknesses, a Potter molding clay with complete joy and everlasting love.

One day Jesus will call my name.  The Author and Finisher of my faith will grasp me safely in His hands, lift the death veil, and carry me the last steps home. His creating process will be done and, maybe, just maybe, angels will cheer in victory and He will say, "Come see. Look what I've made. Well done."

Create in me a clean heart, oh, God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Deep Fried Prison Ministry

They came every year to our church camp. A green pick up truck pulled up to the mess hall, giant black iron kettles were unloaded and men donned white aprons. Every Thursday of camp, year after year, they deep fried chicken under the hot summer skies all morning. That fried chicken was a highlight in the summer of every kid and volunteer at camp. Their presence changed our world, but I don't even know their names.

Lucille Chamberlain is remembered for her years of work in a school kitchen, but I remember her for being our cook at church camp. She could have had her summers free, but instead she worked hard in the hot summer camp kitchen. The scent of freshly baked melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon rolls filled the air welcoming us to a new day of learning about God's love.

Every Sunday, nestled in the back corner of our church, you will find Mary and Shirley and Cynthia and Peggy. They are our cookie ladies.  Every year at Vacation Bible School they show up to pass out little cups of Kool-aid and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. For decades, they have greeted little children and for some of those children, they have been not only a highlight of VBS, but the only grandmotherly women some of the children know.

The contributions these Christians, and people just like them, have given to children change the world every day. Love seeds and deed seeds scattered on rocky soil sometimes take root and begin to grow long after they have been forgotten.

What you do for Jesus matters. It matters very much. Just ask any group of prisoners in our weekly services at the prison chapel. Most of them visited a church camp, a Vacation Bible School or a Sunday School at least once. Someone gave them an oatmeal cookie, a piece of fried chicken or a cinnamon roll along with a hug or a kind word.

In the prison, Lila looked at me and smiled, remembering a kind lady who once taught her in Sunday School. "I was so naughty and she was so patient with me. I wish I could thank her. It's so horrible being pushed to the ground and hand cuffed. I felt like my life was over when I came to prison. Then I remembered that lady teaching me the song, "This little light of mine", and I kept thinking about it. And I came to chapel because I wondered if maybe I still have some light in me somewhere. Maybe she could see it. Do you think so?"

I assured her the teacher did see a spark of light in her as a child. Every Monday at the prison I continue to fan into flames the hope a Sunday School teacher planted in Lila's heart. Lila will spend many years in prison, but her chains are gone. She's been set free.

Every time you love a child you participate in prison ministry. The child you love today will need hope on a dark, ugly day when they're pushed to the ground by sin and shackled by a heavy burden. Tuck a spark of hope in the pocket of their jacket to light their way.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Preacher's Peppermints

When the children tired of playing in the church yard, Leo Norton, our preacher, always had a big pocketful of peppermints for us. Week after week, he teased and laughed with us as we scrambled around him for candy.

If there's a new product with the word peppermint on the wrapper, I'm sold. Maybe it represents love, maybe it represents my childhood, or maybe I just like peppermint, but this year when I lit a new candle scented like peppermint, I laughed. Happy, grateful tears were soaking my face.

That feeling of splashing up out of the waters of baptism and being welcomed by his big tight hug.  His quiet, patient voice as he weekly buried treasures of truth in my little girl mind. The pleasure in his eyes as he handed me an award for camper of the week and said, "Well done, kiddo." The sight of his big hands sliding into giant pockets and pulling out a handful of peppermints.

Many years later, long after his death, I realized it was no accident that every Sunday his pockets were full of peppermints. It took preparation and forethought. As he jotted the word peppermints on a grocery list or as he emptied the bag of candy into his pockets, he smiled and prayed for us. He knew far better than we did the importance of a tiny peppermint candy when God's love is behind it.

By training us to trust him for peppermints, he taught us to trust God's people when we had a need. By training us to see church as a place of fun and wonder, he taught us to be steadfast in our faith. By training us to love and respect him, he taught us to love and respect others.

That pocketful of peppermints was God's love made visible and a preacher's prayers made tangible.

Then Jesus said, "Love one another as I have loved you." 

Monday, December 1, 2014

My Mother's Home

After many years of living and traveling in a motor home, my parents have moved into a home made for solid ground. It's easier for them while my father is traveling through a battle with cancer. 

"Your mom must be so glad to finally have a home," a friend shared. I laughed.

This friend does not know my parents. My mother's home is wherever my father is. Being together is home. Camping out, staying in a motel, visiting children or grandchildren, or in the snowbird park where they winter, they always feel right at home.

Together my parents built a home out on the farm and changed their world one person at a time, one day at a time, for over fifty years. Long after the house and land were sold, their life of adventure, serving God's purposes, has continued.

A bag of grapes and some homemade cookies in the cooler, shared memories, old family sayings and routines combine to set up a temporary home wherever they have traveled. The familiar keeps them comfortable, peaceful, ready for different circumstances and enjoying people. They like to be together on a new adventure.

A homeless man in our city frequents a corner on the route to my house.  If no cars are behind me, I usually talk to him for a few minutes. He always grins and waves at me. He plans to be traveling on soon, but for a little while, this is his home. He makes a fairly good living here, but he hopes to go where it's warmer.

I know a lady who never slept in a bed until in her thirties when she went to prison. She travels in and out of the prison system and I'm always glad to see her. I welcome the opportunity to remind her she is loved, to caution her about taking her medicines, to guide her feet back to solid ground. "I'm home," she will say as she walks into the prison chapel. She likes to be where it's safe, where she's loved.

"This world is not my home. I'm just a passin' through." My family used to sing the old gospel song on stage after stage as we traveled around during my childhood. The song is engraved on my heart and when life gets troublesome, the words are a reminder that wherever my heavenly Father is, that is home. He is my strong tower, my refuge, my solid ground.

"Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me. See on the portals, He's waiting and watching, watching for you and for me. Come home. Come home. Ye who are weary, come home."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Kitchen Refrigerator


Karen Ware, Flicker
When my husband's mother moved to heaven, we moved her large refrigerator into our kitchen. One door opens to a freezer section and ice water dispenser. The other side is full of roomy shelves and drawers for food storage.

To the delight of the children, cold refreshing water is a button away and there's always room for artwork and photos. I frequently discover handmade gifts, hung by smudgy little fingers, on my fridge.

God must have a refrigerator. Wouldn't a wedding feast require a kitchen? Surely there is room for His children to have their creations and special moments displayed. What have I done this week that merited His pleased smile? Does He say with love and pride, "Look at this. Look what she did!"

Johnathan runs into my kitchen, opens wide the refrigerator and announces his need with complete confidence that it will be met.
I need water. I need milk. I need food. I need...something.
He reaches for his sippy cup of milk and whatever fruit is in his reach.

When I am hungry, I can go to God's refrigerator with that same confidence. He has cold living water to refresh me, pure spiritual milk to nourish me and an endless supply of Spirit fruit.

A jar of joy, a platter of peace, with a layer of love. Maybe a kettle of kindness when my heart is running on empty. He's always thinking ahead of me, always ready to meet my needs.  I just have to open the door.

"I have loved you with an everlasting love", the Lord said to me.  "For I satisfy the weary ones and refresh everyone who languishes.  Hearing this, I began to awaken, and I looked, and my life was pleasant to me."  Jeremiah 31:25

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mushrooms, Onions and Peppers

I would love to be a great cook, but I'm not yet. I've been an excellent country cook, but now I'm learning to cook with healthier, better choices. It takes quite a bit of time experimenting in my kitchen.

I choose onions from the basket and grab a few cloves of garlic off the counter. Beside my wooden cutting board I line up colorful sweet peppers, red, yellow, orange and green. Lastly I wipe clean a pile of mushrooms then begin to chop.

I fill my old iron skillet with the colorful, healthy jumble of vegetables and it's ready to cook in a splash of olive oil. This mixture will be ready to add to breakfast eggs, meatloaf, soups, fish and chicken through the week.

Beautiful old hymns fill my kitchen with music and my heart fills with joy.  I love my kitchen and I'm thankful that this now familiar habit has become easy. I love experimenting, but this task is a reward, not experimentation. It is a habit, welcome and established.

I would love to be a great Christian, but I'm not yet. I'm learning to be more faithful, to make healthier, better choices. It takes quite a lot of time in my life experimenting. Every year I choose a new habit to experiment with in my life, one thing to focus on while God is daily refining me from the inside out. Gradually, habits are being welcomed and established, rewards for experimentation.

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."  Hebrews 12:10b-11

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Coffee With Cream

The sun is rising, a new day breaking through the darkness. While the kitchen fills with the warm, familiar aroma of my coffee, I read a Message from my Father on the window sill:
If your heart is broken, you'll find Me right there;  if you're kicked in the gut, I'll help you catch your breath. A soldier-princess so often gets into trouble; still, I'm there every time. See you at 7, Father
Today will bring concerns. Trouble is never far away. Holding on to joy can be a challenge. A friend's cancer, depression, a painful divorce, mental illness, abused children...on and on it goes.

But for now, I set aside the challenges and disappointments, taking every thought captive to celebrate this moment, this opportunity to be fully awake and in God's presence.

Rich dark coffee, drip by drip, little bit by little bit, fills my coffee mug, but I always leave enough room for cream.  As the cream stirs in, streaking the dark, gradually my coffee lightens, becomes richer, sweeter, more flavorful.

In the same way, moments of thanks giving, little bit by little bit, fill my cup of joy. The warm, familiar aroma of my prayers lifts me into the throne room of the King, where God, my Father, will be waiting for me.

Like coffee with cream, my burdens become lighter and my cup of joy becomes richer, fuller, more flavorful. I am my His and He is mine. In His presence is the fullness of joy.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Saddle Up

"Please pray for me," Andie said softly. "I'm not okay. I'm so scared. I hurt so bad."

Recently released from suicide watch for the second time, desperate for someone to walk alongside her, this sweet wounded soldier came to me for counsel in the state prison.

Medical attention in the prison can be slow moving, overcrowded. Enduring pain in the wait can become excruciating, terrifying. Death seems preferable when fear overwhelms a broken heart and a body wracked with suffering.

Life hasn't always been this rough for Andie. But when comfort is hard to find, when a person is wounded and broken, a future and a hope grows dim. I heard her silently begging for help as she limped her way toward me, her arms reaching, her hands trembling.

Come for me. I've lost my way. I'm wounded and bleeding, come for me.

"I feel like I'm going down for the count," Andie shared. "Like I will never be happy again. I can deal with my stomach pain, but the pain in my gut, this fear...I'm a mess. I can't fight it any more."

Crisis in a dying world has become commonplace. Reports of bad things happening to good people is a mere tweet away. We turn from the brokenness and pain, escaping into our own interests, into that which is easier to endure. But, our Savior came to seek and save the lost. We need to consider the interests of others, the needs of others, before our own.

My mission as a soldier is not complicated. It's not gray. It's black and white. Good versus evil. The God of angel armies gave His marching orders. He designed the rescue mission and sent us to bind up the brokenhearted, the wounded who lay dying alone, face down, bleeding out on the battlefield.

Storms of life are raging, blinding us to one another. This is enemy territory. Do you hear the faint whimper on the wind?

Come for me. I've lost my way. I'm wounded and bleeding, come for me.

Choose a side and saddle up. Ride deep into the battlefield or ride away.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Whatsoever Things Are Pretty

Of all the picture books in my antique wooden bread bowl, Maisy was paging through my dear, one-of-a-kind nature journal.

"I like this," Maisy declared, pointing to a painting of a tree. "It's pretty."

I live in a house full of antiques, flowers, china and pretty one-of-a-kind things. I also live in the atmosphere of rough and tumble children. It's a good mix.

Children need to play among lovely things, to be educated about wonders. As we walk alongside children, we can teach them lessons that point the way through the brokenness and confusion they encounter.

Guests for dinner, whether for Thanksgiving or a regular Sunday dinner, gather around a table set with china and crystal, cloth napkins and candles.

"Oh, my," a new guest will comment to me, "What if a child breaks something?" But we don't worry over what might be lost or broken. Children are eternal, things are not.

Very few precious things have ever been broken in my home, and almost always the brokenness has been at my own hands. Children learn to control their strength and handle things gently. They want the privilege of touching my lovely treasures.

Hundreds of broken people of all ages have eaten from my china and crystal. I want my guests to be among the pretty things, to enjoy things from my history, to hear the stories that surface from my life. We all need to live life noticing whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, to ponder what is excellent or praiseworthy.

The china and crystal that I use is what my mother used before me. There is a handle missing on the serving bowl. I broke it putting it into the china cabinet when I was a little girl. My mother glued it back together, but it has never been quite as pretty or serviceable.  I still use it, though. It's my favorite piece of china.

The china was important to my mother because my father gave it to her during the war years when they were apart. It was important to me, as a little girl, because it was pretty, delicately painted with beautiful pink roses. It is important to me now because it represents a mother who encouraged me to live among pretty things even in a house full of rough and tumble children. Broken does not mean useless or without value.

A china pot full of tea, a stack of fragile books, a tattered Raggedy Ann that might so easily tear....all pretty things from my childhood. I could store them away out of sight, out of reach. People often choose to put away their pretty things until the children are older.

I did, too. And then I realized one day that I never want my home to be an empty nest. I want my life to always be full of curious, rough and tumble children. If I put away my "pretties", they will never know my treasures, never learn to rein in their strength to be gentle, never know that broken doesn't mean useless or without value.

As I am writing, two year old Johnathan jumps from the sofa (inherited from my grandmother) to the rocking chair (inherited from my husband's grandmother). All the way he carries with him my precious one-of-a-kind nature journal which he is now pondering, gently tracing my simple sketch of a squirrel.

He looks over at me, "Skirl. Pretty. C'mon, Nana. See?"

Maybe I'll wait to scold him for jumping on the furniture. I'd rather ponder squirrels with him.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Train in the Trenches

The pitcher slid from my hands splashing a tidal wave of tea across the floor. Grabbing a towel with one hand and my ringing phone with the other, I glanced at the caller name and answered, "Hey, girl."

Melissa greeted me. "You sound, um...busy? I need to ask a question."

"Spilled tea. I'm not-so-peacefully mopping the kitchen," I explained. "I'm okay. Go for it."

She laughed at the timing of her question. "If the joy of the Lord is my strength, why am I so beaten down today?There is no joy and strength in Melissa-ville."

It's a humid 90 degrees before sunrise and the air conditioner stops working. The toddler drenches the crib, but has helpfully taken off his diaper to wash the walls. Your husband says the bills must be paid immediately. Once you juggle the budget, find the bills and prioritize them.

The kitchen is a soured mess because the older children didn't do their chores. The clean folded clothes from yesterday have been strung over the chairs by the preschooler who decided to play laundry woman... and all you really want is a shower so you don't smell worse than the crib...Was that the doorbell?

You glance at the clock, aware of your looming check-up appointment with the doctor, promising yourself to be on time for the half hour you will sit in the waiting room. The doctor will say you are fine. But, you don't feel fine. You feel tired of battling.

When the prophet Elijah was overwrought by battle fatigue, God's answer was simplistic: Eat some stew. Take a nap.

Sounds terrific, God, but I need groceries to make stew and taking a nap isn't on my schedule today.

The joy of the Lord is our strength. Even without the stew or nap.

In the trenches, we cannot discern who is winning a battle. The Commander holds the battle plans and gives marching orders. Success can look like failure. What seems hopeless can be a catapult to higher ground. Peace can rule even in the heat of battle.

A soldier-princess is not surprised to find herself in the midst of battle. She never gives up, never quits. Most of our training happens in the trenches, the shield of faith raised against Satan's artillery.

Raise your standards high. Gird your armor on. Stand firm, soldier-princess. We will win the war.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Soldier-Princess: Marching Orders

To my fellow soldier princesses, wherever you are, near or far:

Live an excellent life wherever God leads you.

Focus on your callinggoing into the world to share the good news. Develop your special gifts, talents and character so you will change the world as you go where He sends you. Shine like the stars of the universe as God unfolds the way before you.

Whether we are an ocean apart or together in my kitchen does not dictate whether we are together in spirit. We are one body, one hope, one calling, one mind, one purpose. We are soldier-princesses chosen and united in this generation by the God who is able to do more than we ask or even imagine He can do.

We have been given favor, blessing and princess privileges not merely by believing, but by suffering for His sake, living excellently in every circumstance, the good and the bad, the easy and the difficult.

He will do what He says He will do through us, in us, for us and with us. He will give us the will, the power and the maturity to achieve His purposes. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith, the Commander who never fails, who always finishes what He starts, always creates excellence, always is mighty to save.

A grace-saturated life carries us even into enemy territory with Spirit power and competence.  A soldier-princess is never surprised to find herself in a battle with the enemy who seeks to devour her. Stay awake in the presence of God, alert and trained for battle.

This is the battle I fought and still fight as a soldier-princess - to walk alongside of Him always trusting, always bold and confident, always joyful. The battle is the Lord's and we are connected directly to the Commander of angel armies and to one another.

A soldier-princess never quits, never gives up, no matter where her marching orders take her.

The encouragement and reassuring love, the friendly company and compassion of Jesus makes my joy complete and will make your joy complete, too.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The God Who Whispers

"It's impossible to know for sure if there's a God, and even if there is, I'd be a fool to think I could figure out what he wanted me to do or to be," Kristin tells me.

She is serious, this dear friend. Dead wrong and dead serious.

People who doubt God's presence tend to be ones who want a shout of proof from God, bold evidence of his presence and purpose.

Living life in a whirlwind of activity and fray will produce weariness, even desperation, but not assurance of God's presence and will. God does not shout over the whirlwind. He whispers in the silence.

It's tempting to ask God to speak loudly from the heavens and make Himself known to doubters. Perhaps open up the sky and show the throne room or say again: This is My Beloved Son and I am pleased with Him. Or maybe send down a fireball to light up a water-logged altar. Shake people in their boots a bit.

Until the final day when the trumpets sound, the clouds part and Jesus returns victorious, there is nothing left to prove, nothing left for God to shout.

He has much that He wants to whisper.
Come, I will give you rest.  
My yoke is easy and My burdens are light.  
I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a future and a hope.
He has much that He wants to say to us.
Call to Me. 
I will tell you wonderful things that you do not know.
He has much that He wants to sing.
My everlasting love is deeper than the sea.
God is not going to shout over the whirlwind so that Kristin believes that He is real and has a plan for her. He is whispering to her, though.
Be still and know that I am God.
I ache in prayer for Kristin. God is there and He is not silent.

A lost lamb does not hear the voice of the shepherd over the noise of the storm, but in the devastating aftermath, exhausted and wounded, comforting words whisper into the silence

When all else fails we are more likely to look up, to see clearly, to listen. I pray it doesn't take a calamity for Kristin to be still and listen to the God who waits to rescue her.
I know My sheep and My sheep hear My voice and they follow Me.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ben Sits Still

Ben scampers across the church aisle and scoots in next to me during the quiet communion time at church. With swinging legs, bouncing arms and alert eyes, he is trying his best to be quiet and still.

Like dozens of Sundays before, I put my arms around him, hug him close and kiss the top of his head.

"Nana loves you," I whisper. Since his newborn days, rubbing his back and cuddling him close has helped quiet him.

He knows the church routine and he's not a difficult child, but he's a little boy. Learning to be quiet and still, to know God, takes a lifetime of training.

Ben wants to play. He wants to run. He wants to talk. He wants to giggle.

Clasping his hands, bowing his head, Ben tries his best to be quiet and still. He wants to make good decisions. He wants to please God. He wants to delight in obedience.

He reaches for my hand and squeezes each of my fingers before resting our hands in my lap. He traces the veins on the top of my hand and draws numbers in my palm. Then he remembers. Once again he folds his hands and bows his head, squeezing his eyes closed.

Leaning back against me, he rests his head on my shoulder, trying his best to be quiet and still. With a weary sigh, his eyes pop back open and he examines each of my fingernails.

Be still and know that I am God, the Psalmist tells us. Be like a weaned child resting in a mother's arms. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

"Sit still!" a frustrated mother behind us urges her little one. Ben grins up at me and I lift him into my lap as his giggles escape.

"I love you, Nana," he tells me when I remind him to be still.

On the inside of my wiggly little bundle of joy, deep in the heart of him, the training has begun. The God who knit him together in his mother's womb, is still at work, answering our prayers for him, keeping his heart tender, peaceful and safe.
All discipline seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful, at times;yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11)
Every morning I discipline myself to sit still, to be quiet, to know God. I seek to have a tender, peaceful and childlike heart.

I lose focus and find myself playing. Sometimes I find myself running from the discipline. I want to make good decisions. I want to please God. I want to delight in obedience.

"I love you," He tells me as I lean into Him, squeezing my eyes shut, folding my hands and bowing my head. I am, once again, for awhile anyway, focused and still, quieted by His love.

Learning to be quiet and still, to know God, takes a lifetime of training. We will reap a harvest of peaceful fruit, if we do not give up.

I love you, Father. Remind me to sit still.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Before the Close of Day

"He's having horrible nightmares," Jamie told me, concerned about her 6 year old. "We've taken away all of his dragons and soldiers, all his play guns, and all the movies that might be scary. The doctor thought it might help., but so far it hasn't. Then one night, John's daddy lay face down on the floor and prayed, sobbing like I've never heard him do before. John was wide-eyed, but hasn't had a bad dream since then."

Lorraine, an elderly friend in the nursing home, hadn't been sleeping much lately because of bad dreams. She was sure there was an unforgiven sin she had missed in her prayers. "I'm near worn out over it, but I just can't remember anything that ought to keep me from my bed. I've decided to just take that time and pray for other people and, you know, it's been a great help to me. It's relaxing."

"I'm really tired, just exhausted," a piano student explained to me. "I didn't sleep much last night and then I had an exam this morning at school. I fell asleep worried and tossed and turned all night long. I decided I would ask you to pray with me so I sleep better tonight."

"I'm not sure I've had a good night of sleep since I've been here," laughed Carol, one of the prisoners, after our weekly Bible study at the correctional center. "I sleep best when you've been here and prayed over us. You always pray for our hearts to be so close to God that even our dreams our peaceful."

Late one night when my son couldn't relax and sleep, I began to sing a simple, made up lullaby that has now soothed countless children. "Watch over my soul. It's little, You know. Oh, keep my heart tender toward Thee."

When my childhood friend, Sherry, and I had sleepovers we talked until one of us fell asleep. The other of us would be interrupted by the soft, regular breathing of our sleeping friend.

I pray myself to sleep each night. Others have questioned the wisdom of this, declaring it a disrespect for God, but I don't agree. God is never going to be the first one to go to sleep. As His child, He quiets me with His love, sings over me with joy, and I fall asleep, leaving Him to watch over me.

"Oh, what peace we often forfeit," the old hymn says, "Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer." (What a Friend We Have in Jesus, words by Jospeh Scrivener, Music by Charles Converse, 1868)

We all suffer from fears, aches, worries, disease and brokenness. Sleepless nights and bad dreams can attack anyone. Prayer can be our familiar resting place. Prayer keeps our hearts tenderly tuned in to the Father's song, His quieting love.

To Thee before the close of day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That, with Thy wonted favor,Thou
Wouldst be our Guard and Keeper now.

From all ill dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Withhold from us our ghostly foe,
That spot of sin we may not know.

O Father, that we ask be done,
Through Jesus Christ, Thine only Son,
Who, with the Holy Ghost and Thee,
Doth live and reign eternally.

(Unknown Author, 7th Century; 
translated from Latin, John M. Neale, 1852;
Music by William B. Bradbury, 1843)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Words to Live By

Not quite 3 years outside of 60 it surprises me, this joy in getting older. I feel not so much a survivor of life as a person who is on her way.

My granny said that would happen. She was 98 at the time, with nearly a half-decade yet to walk by faith.

"Loving flowers and gardens and children does that," Granny said."Don't just watch, really see what is growing." She was giving me words to live by, watching me grow.

A picture of Granny, my great-grandmother, is etched into my heart. She is standing in her garden out on the farm, her blue bonnet blowing in the morning breeze. Leaning on a hoe, resting, I'm certain she is watching her garden grow.

Cup of coffee in hand, just before sunrise, I visit my rose bushes, columbine, irises and daisies. I walk through the garden and notice significant changes in the vegetables growing.

A rabbit has bruised a flower in full bloom. A deer has chomped a vine. Soil has grown weary and parched. Blooms appear from buds never noticed. Soft, sage green Lamb's Ear sprouts in an impossible to grow area. Cilantro has sprouted among the garden rocks.

My grandma and I left the porch swing where we had been snapping green beans, and stretched in the sunshine. As we picked favorite zinnias for a bouquet, she talked about the boldness of colors, the varied petals. Wiping dust off tiny yellow tomatoes we popped them in our mouths one after the other. She talked about life.

She was teaching me to see what was growing around me. She was giving me words to live  by, watching me grow.

"Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?" my mother would chant in our garden. We would laugh and quote nursery rhymes and poems over and over again. Often she would point to our Guernsey cattle on the hillside. "Aren't they pretty?" she would say. We would sit on the front step drinking iced tea, deciding whether we wanted a bouquet of roses or peonies on the table.

She was teaching me to see what was growing around me. She was giving me words to live by, watching me grow.
Set up signposts to mark your trip home.
Get a good map.
Study the road conditions.
The road out is the road back.
Come back, dear virgin Israel,
come back to your hometowns.
How long will you flit here and there, indecisive?
How long before you make up your fickle mind?
God will create a new thing in this land:
A transformed woman will embrace the transforming God!

A Message from Israel’s God-of-the-Angel-Armies:
'When I’ve turned everything around and brought my people back,
the old expressions will be heard on the streets:
‘God bless you!’ . . . ‘O True Home!’ . . . ‘O Holy Mountain!’
All Judah’s people, whether in town or country,
will get along just fine with each other.

I’ll refresh tired bodies;
I’ll restore tired souls.

Just then I woke up and looked around—
what a pleasant and satisfying sleep! 
The Message, Jeremiah 31:21-26
God is teaching me to see what is growing around me. He is giving me words to live by, watching me grow.

I know the sun is not really waking up, stretching itself into view as I watch the sun rise. Mrs. Lee, my third grade teacher, explained the science of rotating planets around a stationary sun. I'm just not sure I ever believed her. Nearly every morning I watch the spring sun peep over the horizon and touch each flower head bringing it to full glory.

Time is coming. Time is not going.

Follow the old ways. Look around.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Pie for Lynette

One of my earliest memories is making pies alongside my mother. I stood on a chair rolling dough to fit two little aluminum pans, one for my brother, Larry, and one for me. My pies were lopsided, unlike the excellent pies my mother could make.

My pies are still lopsided. My sisters, Kathy and Nancy, both make beautiful pies. I could eat a piece of Nancy's raspberry pie every day. Heaven on a plate.

It isn't the recipe. I have been given four no-fail pie crust recipes. What makes a blue ribbon pie for someone else is always lopsided for me.

My cousin Laura, like my mom, says the secret of pie excellence is using lard. She laughed at my frown, knowing I didn't want to put lard in my clean arteries. "But pie is a special treat," Laura explained. "How often does a person eat pie?"

So I tried. But it's not the ingredients. I've tried them all.

I called my aging friend Lynette on the phone one morning to encourage her during her long terminal illness. I offered to deliver dinner, clean her house, do some laundry or bake cookies.

"Oh, I can't think of anything you need to do," Lynette assured me.

"Is there something I could cook for you that sounds good? Maybe one of those favorite recipes you've cooked a thousand times," I suggested, wanting to make anything that would give comfort and cheer.

"A piece of pie would taste good. Any kind of pie," she admitted softly.

I laughed, lifted my eyes to heaven, shaking my head. "Sure," I told Lynette. "I'd love to make you a pie! What kind sounds good?"

"Butterscotch pie?"

Butterscotch pie. Butterscotch pie?

After she ate my pie,  Lynette asked, "How in the world do you make your pie crust? What's your secret? It was excellent, so flaky! Best butterscotch pie I ever ate. It tasted wonderful!"

My secret? Pillsbury pie crust. I knew how to make meringue so I put it together as best I could. Turns out meringue evens out a lopsided pie quite well.

It's not the gift we place in a weary soul's hands that matters so much. It's the love we place in a heart that changes the world. We offer a little bit of who we are and what we can do.  Out of our little, God creates much.

I didn't get a chance to bake a pie for Jesus when He was weary and worn, but I made a lopsided one for Lynette and God blessed it.

During my last conversation with her she squeezed my hand and whispered weakly, "You keep on making pie. Doesn't matter how it turns out. Matters that you made it."

One of Lynette's favorite verses was Psalm 121:1
I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help. My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. 
To make a pie alongside God is to have the greatest of all Makers helping me.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Big Spring

The Big Spring, we called it. Without it our cistern would be empty.

A large tank was loaded into the back of Daddy's pick up truck out on the farm. All we had to do was drive to the Big Spring and connect to the pipe running out of the hillside. Cold, sweet water began from an unknown source, high on the hilltops.  It poured down through the pipe, there at the side of a gravel road, and splashed into our tank, filling it up. In a week or two my family would return for more life-giving water and I would once again be amazed at the miracle of the Big Spring.

After we grew up and moved to the city, we filled containers to take the water back to the city with us so we could enjoy it as long as possible. Our Charles, my sister's husband, once said it was the best water he ever had. Fresh spring water can be bought for a price in the market now, but back then, we had to find the wellspring source ourselves.

For of his fullness, we all have received, and grace upon grace.  John 1:16

One of my favorite running trails circles a clear, sparkling lake. I sometimes rest at a graceful waterfall splashing over the large rocks.  Something about water restores body and soul, washes clear our minds and soothes our hearts. Water gives life and a thirsty runner is grateful for a few moments to drain a water bottle and catch her breath.

The water that splashes down is ever replenishing. It's always the same waterfall, but not the same water. It flows from a secret place, water upon water. Continually providing new water instead of the old, sweet instead of stale flows the spring of abundant, life-giving power.

For of his fullness, we all have received, and grace upon grace.

Water upon water. Grace upon grace. Grace instead of grace. Grace for grace. A perpetual hour by hour, year by year, replenishing of new for the old, fresh for the stagnant.

Grace-full water splashes down from a secret place in my life, a wellspring that never runs dry. It replenishes me continually. Living water upon Living Water. Grace upon grace. It's the same spring, the same waterfall, but not the same water. The water that flowed through me a few minutes ago has been replaced, replenished by a new in-pouring of Living Water. Water instead of water. Grace instead of grace. 

"For of his fullness, we all have received." We all can enjoy, depend on, be restored by his fullness. It's not a secret source, but a known source, this sweet, Living Water. Charles would tell you it's the best water you will ever taste. Like the lady at the well, you will never thirst again.

"Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." It flows with a continual sweet spring that splashes down from heaven. Living Water upon Living Water. Grace upon grace. Love upon love. Joy upon joy.

For of his fullness, we all have received, and grace upon grace. 

His grace is sufficient for me. His love is everlasting. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Make Learning a Joy

Nine year old Soren groaned. "Do I have to learn this song? I don't want to do it. I don't like it."

This is not an infrequent question for a piano teacher. I smile into his big brown eyes that snap playfully with hope.

"Please?" he begs.

He is surprised to hear me answer that no, he doesn't have to learn it.  I am more than willing to let him learn the same skills in a song he enjoys.

Wise old Solomon tells us in Proverbs that a wise teacher makes learning a joy. When learning is fun, students develop skills more quickly. When learning comes easily, motivation soars with confidence.

The opposite is also true. When we don't like what we are learning, we become frustrated and more easily disappointed..

Perseverance through troubles produces endurance  Disciplined practice during challenging music creates well trained musicians. If every time Soren complained about what he didn't like, I gave in and let him skip the song, it wouldn't be long before laziness and rebellion slowed progress to a stop

Soren is tackling a challenging song for an upcoming recital. More work and perseverance at the piano are necessary. He likes the music and wants to play it, but the preparation and discipline can weigh heavy on his active little boy spirit. He isn't always fond of slowing down to work on details, but he is learning that sometimes struggle must be accepted and endured to reach a goal.

Because most of the time learning piano is enjoyable and comes easily, he has discovered  laziness and rebellion aren't worth the trouble. Periodic struggle and challenge can be accepted and endured. If he slows down to work on the details in the challenge, success will come.

I'm learning that, too. When I work on one thing at a time, focus on the details of one goal, I discover that most of my learning is a joy. Change happens more quickly and motivation soars with confidence that will move me forward to my next step. I know that victory will be mine if I don't quit.

New habits bring disappointment and struggle, but joy comes in the challenges if I discipline myself and persevere.

Recently Soren found a song he is determined to play even though it is far beyond his ability. I suggested that he try it, breaking the challenge into small sections so he doesn't give up. Every small success is increasing his joy at the piano.

Make your lifesong sing, one measure at a time. Keep walking by faith, not by sight and joy will come. Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness, one thing at a time. You will reap a harvest if you do not lose heart and give up.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sleeping with the Enemy

"I'm starting to believe God doesn't care about me. I pray and pray, beg and beg and my prayers just aren't getting through, Why would he keep saying 'no' over and over to me when I'm so miserable?" a friend asked me.

"You aren't miserable all the time," I said gently. "Sometimes you're enjoying your life.  This new guy friend, for example."

"True. He's so mature and caring. I really do like him. But I mean the big things in my life. Any attention from God would be better than this...nothing."

I paused to talk silently with the God who is there, but sometimes turns away from his children.

"Just say it," she urged, shaking her head. "You obviously know something I don't."

"You're sleeping with the enemy," I answered. "Everywhere you go, the Holy Spirit goes with you. Every minute you spend sleeping with a man who is not your husband, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, is with you in that bed. Perhaps He isn't enjoying it as much as you are."

"Gross! Don't say that!" she argued, covering her face, but I continued.

"Take My yoke upon you. That's what Jesus offered. Come to Me if you are weary and I will give you rest. My burden is light. I am gentle, humble of heart. It's truth, but it doesn't mean His love is blind."

"My burden isn't so light these days," she said. "But I really like this guy. I don't want to give him up. Besides, maybe he'll become a Christian and maybe the future will work out okay."

"You are choosing an unequal yoke with an unbeliever, a yoke of slavery to the evil one, even though Jesus set you free. Could it be that God has grown weary of sleeping with the enemy? He is faithful even when you are faithless, but you can't blame Him for turning His face away, for not wanting to watch.

It's tempting to play around with the enemy, my darling. I play around with the enemy, too. I sometimes eat foods that are bad for me, hurting my body and making me miserable. Picnicking with the enemy.

I play with the enemy, nursing my grudges and disappointments even though it hardens my heart. Chatting with the enemy.

The evil one offers a yoke of slavery. You can weigh yourself down with more than one yoke at a time, tied to Jesus with one arm and hooked up to the evil one at the same time."

Know the truth. It will set you free. The rich young ruler turned away from Jesus because of his riches, that one thing that he would not give up. It may be fun to sleep with the enemy. It may even be a delicious escape from temporary troubles.

Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. Whatever you sow, that you will also reap. You cannot serve both God and the evil one. Do not be unequally yoked.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Johnathan's Marvelous Miracle

"Wook!" Johnathan shouted in the middle of our walk around the block, "Oh, otay! Wain!"

"It's not raining. That's the flower petals blowing from the tree," I laughed.

His pudgy toddler hands raised toward the sky as he blinked in wonderment at the hundreds of tiny white petals raining down and the thousands more piled at his feet.

"There shall be showers of blessings," I sang to him. "Showers of blessings we need. Mercy drops 'round us are falling! But for the showers we plead." (D.W. Whittle, 1883)

Johnathan began to laugh at this event too marvelous for words as we twirled and danced in the shower of soft petals.

He was delighted at the prospect of rain showers and mud puddles on our walk. He was prepared, dressed in rain boots and a jacket. But, this miracle of flowers in what looked like rain was too marvelous for words.

What if His mercy comes through raindrops? What if His blessings come through tears? What if our greatest disappointments are his blessings in disguise? ("Blessings", by Laura Story)

Perhaps the secret to seeing our disappointments as blessings lies in being prepared to splash in the mud, to having tucked into our jacket a faith in the God whose ways are too marvelous for words.

We danced through the flower shower then ran to the top of the hill laughing. Looking back down the street, knowing what we knew now, the petals falling were pretty, but not nearly as wondrous as when we were dancing and singing in the middle of it, watching the petals falling around us.

Some moments you cannot do over. You only get one chance to see the marvelous miracle unfolding around you. It may look like rain or it may look like flowers, but you have to be prepared for both, eyes wide awake to the possibilities on your walk with the God who makes all things glorious.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Living With Impossible

"He's too little," the nurse told me. "Life looks pretty impossible. I hope he makes it, but he's got a big battle ahead.."

I reached through the incubator wall to touch his tiny arm. I was ready to fight for this newborn baby boy, to battle alongside of him. It would be weeks before I could take him home from the hospital, but in that moment all I could think about was how much grace it took for God to send this precious, valuable child into my world.

The hardest day for a foster mother is not the first day, though those are indeed memorable. The child so lost and afraid, the newborn failing to thrive, the teenager angry and rebellious. We rescue our child from those problems through consistent sacrifice and diligent love.

The hardest day is the day you watch them walk into their life journey without you.

Life can be impossible. You look at your life and whatever it is going to take to get through a particular hardship, you're empty. There's not enough energy, not enough endurance, not enough hope, not enough fight.

Sometimes the apostle Paul faced circumstances too impossible for him, too.
"We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, The Message)
Are you lost and afraid? Like a newborn that is failing to thrive, are you dying on the inside? Are you using your last ounces of strength to rebel in anger at the God who is able, but seems to have left you without hope?

That little newborn and I battled through the pneumonia, the drug withdrawal, the pessimists and severe eating difficulties. With hands painfully cramped from feeding him slowly through a tube, arms and back aching from rocking him and a voice gone from singing to him we battled forward. I faithfully prayed and waited. I worked alongside angel armies when only the God who is able could rescue this life.

God is faithful. Even when we are not faithful, God is faithful. He sent his own precious, valuable son, Jesus, into the world to rescue you. He is the God who sees, the God who loves, the God who is able to do more than you ask or imagine he can do in the impossible.

Stand back and see what he will do for you this day. Don't walk into your life journey without him

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Katherynn and the Tangled Mess

"Why do you sort all of your hangers into colors?" Katherynn asked me. "All the blue. All the black. All the pink. All the green. All the white."

"I like knowing where to find things I need," I answered, tossing her some clothes to put in the washing machine.

"Most people don't do that," the six year old explained to me as she worked. "They just dump them in a big tangled mess."

"That's true," I agreed, searching my brain for a life lesson that surely was in the laundry room with us.

"Which way works better? If you need to grab a hanger quickly, is it better to be already organized or to sort through an overwhelming tangled heap of hangers?"

"Well. If I want a pink hanger today, I know where to get one!"

"Being organized helps me to be ready for a problem, like needing a hanger right away. If I'm in the habit of doing something, like putting the hangers in order, then that habit is very important when I am in a hurry."

"So you aren't supposed to hurry when you do the laundry, right?" Katherynn agreed, trying to grasp yet another life lesson I was trying to tuck into her mind.

"Sometimes you have to hurry," I told her. "Life gets busy. Problems just happen. But good habits train us to be ready even when there's no time to think about it. Quick, hand me a green hanger!"

Katherynn raced to pull it out and hand it to me. She was laughing, but she understood. If the hangers had been tangled it would not have been an easy task.

I don't care that much about the habit of sorting hangers by their colors.  But I do care about nurturing the habit of looking for life lessons in little things to teach the children.

Because of that habit, I gave Katherynn the gift of fun and laughter in a laundry room. I planted hope that she can find answers to problems if she plans ahead.

And I helped God to build a little woman.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Prisoners of War

"I only have 2 more weeks to go," Jill told me. "Prison has been the best thing that ever happened to me, but I can't wait to go home."

We pray to be spared hardships and trouble. We want abundance and freedom, not brokenness and prison.

I have an imaginary prison cell in my mind. Jesus paid my ransom and opened wide the steel door. I am free to leave my prison cell.

I can remember what it was like to be in bondage to the evil one, to believe his lies and accusations. My chains are gone and I am free, but it doesn't mean I'll never face pain and brokenness again. My freedom does not spare me from hardship or being taken captive by the evil one.

Job didn't sit in a prison of grief and loss because he was sinful or because God was harsh.

Prisoners of war suffer even though they are trained, courageous soldiers.

"I just want to go home," Jill continued. "I'm so tired of living with joy in the storm, being free inside these prison walls."

In a prison, locked into the ugliness, the weakness, pain and brokenness can be overwhelming. Held captive, the taunts and accusations of the evil one shatter hope and manipulate thoughts.

We all find ourselves beaten down, in prisons of our own. Maybe you are in a prison of financial hardships or terminal illness. Perhaps you're locked in a difficult marriage or have a life that is harsh and unfair.

Some prisons we enter because of a bad choice and some are prisons we enter through no fault of our own.

Prison is a dark, ugly place to be, regardless of the reason you're there. Even freed from guilt, living each day with joy, the dark night of the soul is exhausting. It takes everything you've got to endure. You just want to go home.

But being in prison is the best thing that ever happens to us. It is in our brokenness that we are healed, in our weakness that God becomes strong. No one is as grateful for water as he who is thirsty.

Jesus came to set the captive free.

It's not true that time heals all wounds, but it is true that there is a God who sees and is able to bring you out of your prison. He knows and meets you where you are in your brokenness. It doesn't matter to him how you got there, only that you need to be rescued.

Monday, April 7, 2014

All About with Blaine

"It would be a good idea for us to write a song together," I suggested to my five year old student as we finished up his piano lesson books for the day. "What could you write about?"

Blaine puckered his lips and frowned as he considered my suggestion. "Well, I think I could write a song about black and white because I'm all about black and white."

"That's a really creative and fun idea! Tell me about black and white."

"Penguins are black and white...and a panda. Oh! And piano keys are black and white!"

"Let's do this," he said, beginning to put his song into words and music. "All about black and white."

What are you all about?

When Jesus was twelve his parents, Mary and Joseph, discovered he had gone missing from the group of people traveling together. They back tracked until they found young Jesus in the temple talking to the elders and teachers.

When asked what he was doing, he replied, "Did you not know, I must be about my father's business?"

The phrase literally means, "Did you not know I must be all about my father?"

What are you all about? When people spend time with you, do they find that you are all about your job? Your worries and complaints? Maybe you're all about knitting, reading or football.

When people describe you, what would they say you're all about?

Blaine sighed with contentment as he played his finished composition. "It's wonderful. Can I play it at the recital? Nobody has ever heard it before. They don't know that I'm all about black and white yet. I'm the only one who is going to tell them."

You are unique and there will never be another life just like yours. The lifesong you choose is your legacy. Are you all about the Father?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Hailey, Chris and the Penny

During church Sunday morning Hailey learned to count to five with her grandma. She held hands with her daddy, memorizing his smile and each of his fingers. She sang like her mom who was on stage helping to lead our worship songs.

With a pile of pennies tucked into her chubby little fist, Hailey patiently waited to give them to God. As she was dropping them in the offering plate one at a time, a single penny went wayward across her chair, rolling to the floor and out of reach.

Chris, an elder who was passing the offering plate, loves Hailey. He has been watching her grow and praying for her heart to be tender toward God since she was born. Hailey is growing up in the church.

My husband and I spend our Monday nights in a state women's prison loving people to Jesus. Frequently we ask the group of women if they went to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School or church camp. I get a rush of joy every time I see all the hands going up.

"My grandma took me to church every Sunday. We always sat on the second row. I still know those songs."

"We had a neighbor that took us to Vacation Bible School. It was the only time all summer I would get cookies and Kool-aid. I loved the crafts we made."

"I never went to church on Sundays, but I always went to church camp with my best friend. Every year."

Chris got on his knees and chased the penny under the chair. He picked it up and gave it to Hailey so that she could put it into the offering plate. Hailey beamed up at him with delight and pride in getting to be a part of the worship of giving.

Chris won't remember that he did that for Hailey. Hailey won't remember giving God that penny. None of us will remember that particular Sunday.

But such moments have eternal value, even though forgotten.

Hailey has been loved in our church. She has not only love, but faith tucked into her jacket as she journeys into life. Her heart is tender toward God, ready for him to mold someday when hope is illusive and peace gets shattered.

Look around you for the little ones. Who might like a ride to church this Sunday if only you would ask?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Johnathan Said No

Johnathan wanted to stay up with his older siblings. It wasn't that he cared about their games and books, he just didn't want to be left out.  He didn't want to miss anything. First he begged me, then he argued with me. After that, the child ran away from me.

"No, Johnathan. Come, please," I encouraged the toddler, moving toward the stairs. "Come to me."

"NO! No. No. No. Nana. NO!" He yelled as I lifted him into my arms. Legs kicking, arms pushing me away, I carried him toward the bedroom as he continued to rebel.

In the darkened room, next to the crib, he softened his crying as he realized he was helpless to change his lot.

As I cuddled him close and rubbed his back I talked gently, patiently. "Night Night Stars. Night Night Moon. Night Night Bear. Night Night God."

As I comforted him, he put his head on my shoulder, and I began to sing. Though still disappointed, he began to tune in to my words, quieted by my love.

"No, Nana, " he whined softly. "No. No. No. No."

My heart rebels, too. At first, maybe I'm only disappointed, but my frustration can quickly grow into anger and resentment. I want to do what God wants me to do, but there is hesitation, fear or rebellion against his plan.

I know he wants what is best for me, but must it take sacrifice? What if I miss out on something everyone else is getting to do? I beg him, argue with him. Sometimes I even run away from him.  "No, God. No. No. No."

"I love you, Johnathan," I said, "It's time for night night."

"No. No. Nana....Okay. Yes," my little one agrees.

What opportunity is God putting in front of you today? Will you trust him even in the sacrifice?

Not my will but yours be done. Okay. Yes.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Maisy in the Hubbub

Only a few people were in the church building when I arrived on Sunday. Maisy was sitting quietly on a chair munching some dry cereal, watching her father practicing music with the worship team. She smiled up at me from her peaceful reverie as I sat down beside her.

I hadn't seen her for a day or two so there was much news to tell me. She had thought of me in my absence and I had thought of her. Indeed, she is one of my little favorites and always in my heart and mind.

My husband and I always sit near the front of our church. Some of the parents of our favorite little ones teach Sunday School and lead worship. Being easy to see as the children return to the worship service after Sunday School helps them to find us when their parents are on stage or ministering in other rooms.

Yesterday four little boys and Maisy were sitting beside us as the worship service came to a close. People began moving about after church in the hubbub of happy visiting and cleaning tasks. I gave permission for the boys to go play and continued talking with a friend.

Maisy laughed at the boys silliness as they disappeared into the small crowd. Suddenly seeing only unfamiliar people, she covered her eyes and put her head down on a chair.

"I'm right here, Maisy," I reminded her. She sat on my lap and snuggled into my hug.

"You're not alone. We would never leave you alone. Daddy is putting away his guitar. Mommy is somewhere around here cleaning up or something."

"Don't leave yet," Maisy said, her peace quickly restored. "I feeled like I mighted panic."

"I won't leave," I promised, lifting her up. "Let's go see what Mommy's doing."

Outside of the hubbub of life, peace comes easily. Familiar pleasures fill us with joy. Peace is the absence of fear and turmoil, but it's not always the absence of pain or disappointment. We can be full of peace and full of sadness at the same time. We can be full of joy and full of disappointment at the same time.

I am the disciple whom Jesus loves. As a child of my heavenly Father, I am the apple of His eye and one of His little favorites, always in His heart and in His mind.

Do you feel like you might panic and fall apart in the noise and the fray, beloved one? Does the way look unfamiliar, even dangerous?

 Fear not. The Lord is near. Panic not. He has a plan for your well being, not your calamity. He would never leave you alone in the hubbub.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Devil in the Toilet

"I don't get angry at people," Steve shared, "I get angry at things when they don't work. Like the car. Or the computer, or the toilet. And then other people suffer because I'm angry."

"The devil inhabits the toilet," my husband replied.

We laughed, but it's true, isn't it? The devil uses whatever circumstance he can as a tool for spiritual warfare.

The computer swallows an hour of work. The vacuum spreads dust everywhere. The car won't start. The toilet backs up.

"STUPID TOILET!"  The children scatter. A plunger hits the wall. A foot begins to throb from a well deserved, though unwise, kick against porcelain.

It's not true that the devil makes us do it, but he is always there, waiting for his opportunity.  He's not just concerned about where you spend your Sundays, or about how much time you spend on your knees.  He knows we are weakest when we think we're doing "non-spiritual" things.

Because in our minds we divide the spiritual from the physical, we allow him a foot in the door. We give him time and opportunity to set up his tanks on the battlefield of our lives.

To those who declare they are Jesus followers, the enemy is ruthless, tenacious, cruel and heartless. He sets up his heavy artillery aimed directly at our vulnerable spots. Waiting for a moment of exhaustion, disappointment or overstuffed schedule, he attacks with his unyielding force. Disappointment leads to discouragement.  Fears crash into depression.

We know he is a liar. We know he sits back and laughs at us.  But we get busy, direct our attentions elsewhere, become soldiers unaware. We forget that there is an unseen world that is active with the rage of demons. We set aside our mighty weapons of warfare. We cast off our spiritual armor.

We can choose instead to train ourselves to stay awake to the unseen world, even in the humdrum and ordinary parts of our lives.  By constantly walking alongside the Holy Spirit, we remain alert, prepared-for-action soldiers.

We call out to God for help and he helps - he's a good Father that way.  But don't forget, he's also a responsible Father, and won't let us get by with sloppy living.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Whole Grain Scones

This recipe is the one I use for my every day scones. I keep them handy for the children because they are low in sugar and high in protein, fiber and nutrients. One of Johnathan's first sentences was, "Cone. Peas." (Scone, please.) Maisy has weekly tea parties with a child's tea cup of milk and a favorite "goan". As for me, I'm most likely to eat one after a workout or with an evening cup of soothing tea.


2 cups white whole wheat flour (up to 1/4-1/2 cup of this can be wheat germ replacing flour)
2-3 Tablespoons flax seed
Scant 1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Cinnamon or other spices if desired.

Cut in: 

1/2 cup butter (or Smart Balance, whatever butter choice you choose for your family)


1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla, orange or other extract  (optional)

Stir gently into flour/butter mixture.

If mixture is too dry to stick together, adding fruit juice or water can be helpful. Applesauce, pumpkin or banana (up to 1/2 cup) can also add moisture and flavor. (Whole wheat flour takes longer to absorb moisture than white flour so recipe can vary some.)

Adding nuts, chopped apples, cup of raisins, blueberries, or cranberries support nutrition.

Press dough into 1 inch high circle.

Cut into 8 scones. 

 I usually cut them smaller to make 16 or more scones.

Bake 15 minutes or just until brown in a 375 degree oven.

They will have a different texture than a white flour product, but the nutritional value makes up for it.

I'm not educated in the science of cooking, but judging from the regularity that the children ask for scones, I can't be too far off the mark!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Work at Hand

Michael looked up at me with widening blue eyes as I continued to tumble wooden blocks from the crate to the floor. To a three year old, it must have seemed like an endless supply.

"Oh, wow!" he breathed, tossing his red curls as he shook his head. With a soft groan of confusion, even dismay, he sat down beside the blocks, took a big breath and slowly released it, simply sitting there looking at the mountain of blocks.

As he acquainted himself with the various shapes and sizes, he began to sort piles of blue squares, red rectangles and yellow triangles. Every few minutes he would bring me tall cylinders, dowel rods and half circles.

He began to build with sure fingers and focused brow. This boy had a definite plan in mind and was working diligently to bring his vision to reality. When his project would crash, Michael would focus on the problem and rebuild.

Sometimes life can look like a mountain with it's seemingly endless supply of challenges and hard knocks.

I'm glad for my paycheck, but I don't know if I can keep working at this pace. I'm grateful for my children, but I don't know how to get through the clutter in my kitchen. The wow moments are often groan moments.

"Michael," I said, drawing away his focus. "What do you want me to do with the blocks you brought to me?"

He grinned. "You can have them. I don't know what to do with those. They're too big."

Michael evaluated what he had, considered what he knew how to do. The blocks he wasn't ready for or didn't know how to use were placed out of sight, out of mind. Through failures and successes, he intentionally continued to build and rebuild, to learn from the problems and make changes.

What do you want to create in your life? A healthier body? A happier work place? An uncluttered home?

We need a definite plan, a vision for building our best life. We need to focus and work diligently until our project is done. The overwhelm and chaos leave our minds when we focus on the work at hand.

Michael stood up, placed his hands on his hips and viewed the finished project. My smile drew him to me and he sat silently, peacefully in my lap. I rocked the chair back and forth as we viewed his completed project.

"Well," Michael said, "I did it. I created the best castle ever in this whole city."

"Well done, my good and faithful servant, you have been approved to receive the keys to the city," I told him. "Diligent work shall be rewarded. I decree cookies and milk with the king. What say you?"

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Schemes or Dreams

"Is it okay to live together before we get married? You know, just for awhile to see if we're compatible and to share expenses."

"Why is it good for some to marry and not others? I don't want to land in a divorce with a broken heart. The odds are stacked against me."

"I'm scared to get married. Especially to the wrong guy. How can I ever find someone to trust?"

As dating online, gender confusion, active sexuality and divorce statistics rise, questions and fears are increasing in every age group from preteens to senior citizens.

A thousand years from now what legacy will you leave behind to the generations that follow? Will peace rule your heart if you seek after selfish gains? Are you serious about dying to self and living God's best dream for your life?

Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. Run this life race keeping in step with the Spirit, training for the calling God has given you. Then look beside you to see who is running alongside, encouraging you, challenging you, prodding you toward faithfulness in finishing your race.

The only reason to marry or to stay single is because you are able to more efficiently and passionately take heed of your calling from God, to complete it.

So what is it you are called to do? What is the legacy you want to leave? Stop scheming to achieve self focused goals. You can begin today to achieve the adventure, freedom and God-focused calling given uniquely to you!