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.