Living the Scriptures


10.13.2017

“Stealing” Pansies

Last week, a friend summed up the reason for Las Vegas (and pretty much every other awful thing). “These things happen,” she said, “because the world is evil. And until people recognize that–until they realize that the only answer is Jesus–they will never know peace.”

I had to agree. I was less worked up than my friend (we’d been running, and she was pretty sweaty about it), but I realized that she was completely and totally right. Nobody is good. “We all,” Isaiah 53:6 says, “have gone astray.” And we’d all be doomed, except for the second part of that verse: “…and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Which brings me, in a roundabout sort of way, to Garden Club.

Which is, I realize, an unusual, and possibly inappropriate, segue. But I promised to tell you about the Pansy Sale. And I think it kind of fits, here.

If you’ve ever been in a garden club, you know it’s the sort of group that attracts Very Capable women. Women who get things done. Women who, had they been aboard the Titanic, would have had duct tape stashed in their purse.

The Virginia Beach Garden Club has about 60 of these gals. And every year, we put on our aprons and get together to raise a boatload of money for veterans’ gardens, children’s hospital spaces, environmental education and conservation efforts, and all manner of community beautification projects.

It’s pretty good stuff. And, generally speaking, people are happy.

Except when they aren’t.

Which happens, sometimes. Like when a customer orders Delta True Blue pansies and decides, when she comes to pick them up, that she really wants Delta Blue with Blotch. (We let her switch.)

Or when someone who is not “authorized” tries to put her hands in the order form box. That’s not cool.

Or (and honestly, this is the stuff of garden club nightmares) when we run out of flowers.

Which is what happened this year.

Due to an accounting error (which would, ah, be mine), we came up ten flats short. Of Delta Pure Orange. Which, in case you don’t know, is a great-looking pansy:

We had customers waiting to pick up their orders – their orders of Delta Pure Orange – but we had run out. There was not an orange blossom in sight. Fortunately, I remembered seeing ten flats of the coveted flower outside of the sale, in the place where we’d stashed 115 flats for the City to plant.

(And if you think you are bored right now, please. I lived this.)

“Come on,” I said to my co-chair, Latané. “Let’s grab those orange pansies outside.”

And we did. We grabbed a giant metal rack, dashed out to the parking lot, and loaded ‘er up. We thought we were safe. But no. Somebody’s husband was watching. It was just like I used to tell my kids, when I’d quote Numbers 32:23. “You may be sure your sin will find you out.”

The guy texted his wife:

 

(It’s true. Garden club is a dirty business.)

The thing is, though, I was not, technically, stealing the pansies. I had a plan to replace them. And I was just about to get on the phone to our supplier to order up ten more flats of Delta Pure Orange when I heard a commotion on the other side of the pansy cart. I poked my head around the flowers just in time to see the guy from the City rip into my friend Dee (who, in addition to being a long-time member of the Garden Club, also happens to be the subject of our book The Undertaker’s Wife).

Dee, having spent half her life in the funeral business and all, ain’t scared of much. Normally, she has an answer for everything. But as she stood there, getting positively clobbered by a very big man who’d been robbed of his pansies, I could see she was shaken.

“I–” she began. “I don’t know anything about your missing pansies.”

Dee’s profession of innocence did nothing to curb the man’s ire. He went on. “I want my pansies! I want the pansies I ordered! None of this funny business, okay?”

(He actually said that. He actually said “funny business.”)

Now, at this point you are probably wondering why I did not step in to rescue my friend. I was about to, but you know how sometimes things unfold in slow motion? Yeah. All I could think, as I watched the assault, was how much Dee was looking like Jesus. She had done nothing wrong (and she is, in fact, a garden club member in very good standing) and yet here she was, paying the price for my sin.

It was like watching the entire gospel message unfold in less than 30 seconds. I was smitten.

You’ll be glad to know that I finally stepped in, calmed the guy down, and got his flowers replaced. Pansy crisis, averted.

But the whole thing got me thinking. Nobody stepped in for Jesus. He absorbed all of our sin, every last bit, so that we could be free. And he did it so that our hearts (which are so naturally bad) would have the chance to be good.

And in that act, he gave us the answer for evil. The only answer. And every single time somebody turns toward him, the darkness gets pushed a little more back.

Evil will lose, eventually. “No longer,” it says in Revelation 22:3, “will there be any curse.” And in the meantime, we can take heart. As in, literally.

As in, we can take God up on his offer to get rid of our old yucky heart (the one that leads us astray) and replace it with the heart he designed. Cuz that’s been his plan, from the start: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

Swapping True Blue pansies for Blue with Blotch won’t change anyone’s life. It won’t push back the darkness, or deliver us from evil.

But swapping your heart out for God’s most certainly will.


Living the Scriptures


09.29.2017

Would You Rather Be an Ear or a Hand?

Would you rather be an ear or a hand?

That’s the title of the talk I did at Galilee Church yesterday. We are studying Spiritual Gifts this semester, and my job was to cover the seven gifts that the Apostle Paul outlines in Romans 12. Paul makes a case for the fact that we all have different gifts, and that these things should all be honored and celebrated since “just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body.”

Laura, the gal who runs the Instagram account for our study, came up with a fabulous graphic:

Because seriously. Who better than Mr. Potato Head (or, in this case, Ms. “Wonder Woman” Potato Head) to ask whether you need an ear or a hand? Clearly, this is a gal who values all of her body parts.

As I prepared to teach, I remembered a game that our family used to play on car trips, or at other times when we wanted to talk about deep and life-shaping things. It’s called “Would You Rather?” and, basically, it’s a conversation starter where anything goes: Would you rather be somewhat annoying or totally dull? Would you rather have good hair or good legs? Would you rather (and this is the question that actually got our family game started) suck an old man’s toes, or have an old man suck your toes?

(Yeah. I’m not proud of that one.)

(But I did write a blog about it, a couple years back. Click here here if you want.)

Anyhow.

As I mulled the Romans 12 list (prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, and showing mercy), and considered some of the other passages we’ll study (like 1 Corinthians 12, which talks about gifts like healing, or having a word of knowledge, or speaking in tongues), I realized that I sometimes approach God’s gifts the way I do vegetables: I like broccoli, but I’d rather pass on the beets. I was fine if God wanted to give me the spiritual gift of teaching, encouragement, or even hospitality (because apparently if it’s a spiritual gift and not a Martha Stewart thing, the linens don’t all have to match). But when it came to the more mystical stuff – stuff like the gift of interpretation (which is where somebody speaks in tongues and you understand what they are saying, and you translate for everyone) I balked. To me, that was way out on a limb. Way too much margin for error.

I mean, I barely made it through French.

But then, as I worked on the teaching, I kept coming around to something Paul said:  All these (that is, all of the gifts) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 

Ahhh. There was the rub. Did I think it was up to me to tell God which gifts I would “rather” have? Or was I willing to let him do the picking?

Like pretty much everything in this Christian life that I don’t always understand, I knew there was only one answer. I had to put myself in God’s hands. I had to let him decide how to “grace” me, even if he nudged me out onto a limb. Because honestly? He knows how I am formed (Psalm 139), and he’s got a plan for the part I should play in the body of Christ.

And that’s actually the crazy part. The spiritual gifts aren’t even about me. They are meant for the body of Christ. They are meant to build others up – to strengthen the church, to meet people’s needs, to point folks to Christ – and to bring glory to God. Who cares if God makes me an ear or a hand? It’s not about me!

Phew. Okay. That’s enough deep thought for today. It’s Friday. It’s time for me to start asking myself: Would you rather have pizza or wine? (Um…I’ll take both.)

But if Spiritual Gifts is a topic that interests you and you want to follow along with our study, you can watch the videos here (scroll all the way down to the bottom; I think my friend Lisa’s captivating message on 1 Peter 4 is up there this week).

And if you find yourself where I was, not really sure if you’d rather let God gift you or not, can I just encourage you with this one little prayer? It’s something I’ve prayed any number of times, as I’ve sensed God prompting me to do something that didn’t come naturally, or that I did not understand. It’s a good one, and it’s one that I know God will answer:

Lord, make me willing.

I want to receive all that you have; I want to follow you with all of my heart. But I am going to need help.

So please show me your truth. Open my heart.

Make me willing to go where you lead.

Amen.

 


Living the Scriptures


09.22.2017

Hope for the “Not Yet Found”

Okay Y’all. You know that September is book giveaway month — and congratulations to Sharon G. and Beth P., who won last week’s copies of Sara Hagerty’s new release, Unseen (which my pal Jeannie Cunnion and I are super excited about!):

Today I want to share insights from another beloved author friend, Hannah Whitall Smith. And BTW, Hannah has no idea that we are friends, but I know we will be, in heaven. She looks like someone you could confide in:

The reason I want to tell you about Hannah today is because of something she wrote about the “mother-heart of God.” And if you’re praying for a child who has made some bad choices (or who has maybe even walked away from the Lord or from your family), listen up. Because Hannah said (and I know you mamas will get this) that her experience as a mother did more than anything else to shape her ideas about God’s goodness and love.

“Who,” she wrote, “can imagine a mother with a lost child ever having a ray of comfort until the child is found, and who can imagine God being more indifferent than a mother?”

(In other words, take the love you have for your child, times it by about a zillion, and realize that God will never stop loving — and pursuing — your child.)

Not only that, but I love what Hannah said about the whole idea of being “lost”:

“Are we not,” she wrote, “distinctly told that the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety and nine good sheep in order to find the one naughty sheep that is lost, and that He looks for it until He finds it? And, viewed in the light of motherhood, has not that word ‘lost’ a most comforting meaning, since nothing can be lost that is not owned by somebody, and to be lost means only, not yet found?”

Nothing can be lost that is not owned by somebody, and to be lost means only, not yet found.

Isn’t that just the best? As a mom, I love knowing that my children belong to God. I love knowing that he is loving enough to go after them, and powerful enough to do more in their lives than anything I could ask for or imagine.

And if you’re praying for a prodigal today, can I just encourage you with a couple of thoughts? This is something I talk more about in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, but that book doesn’t come out until December, and maybe some of you need this right now:

First, God knows our pain. He knows exactly what it’s like to love a child, to teach him to walk, to feed him and kiss his cheek—and then to have that child grow up and walk away, choosing a world marked by bondage, rebellion, dishonesty, and destruction. He knows what it’s like to be angry with a child or devastated by his choices…and yet still be utterly, overwhelmingly consumed by love. (If you don’t believe me, check out Hosea 1:1-11.)

Second, God’s love for our children is not contingent on their faithfulness (or on ours). God’s love is higher than the heavens, his faithfulness reaches to the skies, and even if we are faithless, he remains faithful. He can’t help it; that’s just who he is. (Psalm 108:4, 2 Timothy 2:13)

And finally, God gives us a wealth of promises that we can use to pray for our children. Jesus told his disciples that no one could come to him “unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44), so let’s pray that. Let’s ask our gracious Father – the God who is infinitely tender, and infinitely strong – to draw our kids to Christ, and bring them home.

Heavenly Father,

Give _____ a heart to know you, that you are the Lord. Count  ______ among your people. Be their God. And draw them to return to you with all their heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)

Amen.

(The quotations from Hannah Smith are from the original edition of her spiritual autobiography, The Unselfishness of God. I can’t find that book in print, and more recent versions omit several chapters. But Catherine Marshall talks about Hannah and the mother-heart of God in her book Beyond Our Selves – you can find the relevant stuff in chapter 2.)


Living the Scriptures


08.25.2017

What I Learned from Being a Tree Frog

My plate was already too full. I didn’t have the energy, or the time. Plus, I barely even knew any of the 150 kids who’d signed up.

Why would I want to help out at Vacation Bible School?

I didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I like VBS. When my children were young, I volunteered every year. I saw the job as a great way to get to know my kids’ friends, strengthen their faith, and maybe even introduce a few newcomers to Jesus. And if doing those things meant dressing up in fake lederhosen to show the kids how to climb Mt. Everest (which, I am sure, had a Very Spiritual Point that I am temporarily forgetting right now), then so be it.

That was then. This is now. And now, when the call went out for volunteers, I said no. Nothing good, I thought, could come out of having me as a helper.

At best, I’d be marked as a fraud. Today’s kids are savvier than they were 20 years ago, and I knew my plastic “snowshoe” tennis racquets wouldn’t cut it. I’d be Googled – and outed – in no time.

And at worst, I’d get hurt. I am too old to climb mountains. When I get up in the morning, my knees sometimes creak. Even my computer knows things are slipping; when I clicked over to BibleGateway just now, look what popped up:

(I don’t know what’s worse: The thought that you might get mistakenly flagged as a terrorist, or that the NSA spies will just brand you as “old.”)

Where was I?

Oh yeah. I did not want to help.

Still, though, it was my church, and I figured I had a duty to serve. So I did what came naturally.

I donated the paper products.

And for about 20 minutes, I felt pretty good. Duty done. But then, early one morning as I was thinking about my Super Important to-do list (I had to get a hair cut, pick up the dry cleaning, alphabetize the pansy orders for the annual Garden Club sale), I read this:

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. (Psalm 84:10)

I was like, Seriously God?

And he was like, Yes.

So I said okay. I will do it. I will spend one day as a VBS volunteer.

But, as it happened, they didn’t really need people in God’s courts for one day. They needed people all week. So could I please be a leader for one of the Animal Family tribes at Noah’s Ark?

Sigh. Okay. Make me a lion. Or a tiger. Or even a zebra. Something grand and majestic, something worthy of the “family cheer” that, according to the Leader Handbook, each tribe would GET TO CREATE!

They made me a Tree Frog.

I didn’t even know what a “tree frog” was when I showed up and they gave me my visor. But I put it on and studied my list. I had 10 seven year olds.

Day One began well. One kid showed up, looked at me, and immediately requested a transfer to another tribe. Three children were sick. My ten had been whittled to six. Things were looking up.

“Tree frogs have only four fingers!” announced one little guy, demonstrating the fact by hiding his thumbs and clinging to my arm.

“We’re small, but we’re mighty!” crowed another (which, actually, became the basis for our family cheer).

I liked these kids. They seemed smart. And enthusiastic. And active. No sooner had we finished our first aerobic session of singing when it was time to head outside for rain-and-flood-themed games.

Games like “Line the Leaders Up Against a Brick Wall and Try to Hit Them with Water-Soaked Sponges.”

I couldn’t believe it. A few of the kids had incredible arms, and had I been a middle school baseball coach, I would have been early recruiting. As it was, I stood there, ducking and dodging and trying not to get beaned. And all I could think about was (inappropriately, I know) that scene in The Hangover where the kid tazes Alan and the delighted cop keeps yelling, “In the face!”

(Yet another reason why I should not be a Bible School helper.)

By Day Three, I was exhausted. As in, more than what a glass of wine and a nap had the power to fix. I could not remember any workout that had left me so tired or so sore, not even the ones I used to do in my leg warmers, with Jane Fonda. (See? Old.)

I was also – and unexpectedly – inspired. And refreshed. And encouraged.

Because I thought I knew Noah. Who doesn’t? He was the guy who built the ark and saved himself, his family, and the tree frogs. He was the guy with the dove. And the rainbow.

He was all those things, sure. But he was also the guy who obeyed God when, honestly, he probably didn’t even know what he was doing, or why. Back then, nobody had ever even seen rain, much less the “floodwaters” that God said were coming. It’s not hard to picture the neighbors talking about Noah behind his back, or even mocking him to his face.

(I mean, let’s be honest. We’ve had neighbors drop hints when our grass got too long. How much more would they squawk if Robbie went out there and started building a boat that was as big as a football stadium?)

And yet…Noah did everything just as God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22)

VBS gave us an up-close look at the guy:

Day after day, we watched Noah’s progress. And to see him there, putting fake tar on his fake ark while all the fake villagers (teenagers whose costumes were definitely more authentic than my mountaineer kit) stood around scoffing, it kind of broke my heart. And I wondered: Did the real Noah ever get discouraged or tired? Did he question whether he had heard God right? Did he ever look up and say, “Hey God. I’m too old.”

He could have. He was (and I’d forgotten this little detail) 600 when the rain started to fall. Six hundred.

And, in that little nugget, God spoke. I don’t know what he said to the rest of the tree frogs, but what he said to me was this:  You are never too old to bear fruit. You are never too old to obey. And you are never too old to be mine.

And these tree frogs of yours? They belong to me, too.

And I love them.

Well that was all I needed to hear. Hang on my back and hit me again with a water sponge; I don’t care. Because you know what? Better is one day in God’s courts than a thousand elsewhere.

And so here’s the thing: I don’t know if maybe God has asked you to do something hard – something that takes a long time, something you don’t really understand, or even something that (to other people, at least) looks a little bit crazy. I don’t know if maybe you are wondering whether you heard God right, or if he will actually do what he promised. I don’t know if maybe you’re where I was, and you’d say yes to God’s nudge if you weren’t just so darn busy. Or old.

I don’t know. But I do know this (because it was our VBS memory verse, and we jumped up and sang it every day): Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. That’s Genesis 6:8, and it’s the same grace that God gives us today, even when we don’t feel up to whatever it is that he’s called us to do. His grace is sufficient; his power is made perfect in weakness.

So…say yes to God. He’ll make it all worth it.

(And if you don’t, who knows what you’ll miss?)

 

 

 


Living the Scriptures


08.03.2017

Lessons from a Lollipop

I am one of those people who still loves to get the mail. Never mind that the daily haul is almost always a depressingly bland mix of bills, advertisements, and unwanted catalogs. Call me Charlie Brown, but every time I walk out to the curb, I can’t shake the sense that today will be different – that surely somebody will have sent me something I like.

Last week, my hope was rewarded. I opened a fat brown envelope and found this:

There was no note, or even a return address, but I knew who the lolli was from. We’d just gotten back from helping Virginia move into her new apartment in New York City, and we’d heard a fabulous lollipop-based sermon at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The talk wasn’t really about candy; it was about Psalm 23 and how we, like sheep, are lost, loved, and led. But somewhere in between describing God’s love and his leading, the minister shared a story about the time he overheard a father talking to his three-year-old daughter, who was enjoying a lollipop.

“What do you love more,” the dad asked, “the lollipop or this dollar?”

“The lollipop,” the girl said.

The dad waited a moment. “What do you love more, the lollipop or our dog?”

No hesitation. “The lollipop.”

“Tell me,” the dad finally said, “What do you love more, the lollipop or Mommy?”

You can guess what the little girl said. Hilarious.

Now, we know she didn’t really love her lollipop more than she loved her mother. But the illustration helped drive home a good point: Whatever is most real to us is the thing that we love. Or fear. Or find ourselves consumed by. It is the biggest thing in our vision, and so it colors our world.

With the lollipop image fixed in our minds, the minister looped us back to Psalm 23 and talked about David and Goliath. Goliath was huge; his presence intimidated the Israelite warriors. And he would have filled David’s vision, too, except for one thing. To David, God was more real. God’s unseen presence in David’s life (whether he was fighting lions and bears or lying down in green pastures) was bigger than any visible threat. Instead of seeing a big scary giant, David beheld the power of God.

There were all sorts of good takeaways (click here if you want to download the whole sermon for yourself), but for Virginia and me, the main one was this: God is bigger than anything in our lives. And as we practice his presence – as we dig into the Bible, obey God’s commands, rely on his power, and love and serve other believers – he will become more and more real. And we will become more and more willing to follow him (even when we don’t know what he is doing, or when it hurts and it feels like we are walking through the “darkest valley”).

To Redeemer’s David Bisgrove: Thank you for an encouraging sermon. Please forgive me for stealing your lollipop story, but it (like your whole message) was too good not to share.

And speaking of sharing y’all…

I WISH I had a pic of Robbie carrying Virginia’s dresser up ten flights of non-air-conditioned stairs. He is an amazing dad, but even the best guys don’t always appreciate their wives’ photojournalism, so I snapped Virginia instead. But don’t be fooled by what looks like happiness; at this point, we were all slightly bonkers. The only thing keeping us going, I think, was the promise of a glass of wine with dinner…and the knowledge that God was bigger and more real than our sore, sweaty selves.


Living the Scriptures


07.28.2017

Where’s the Joy? (Three Keys to Finding It)

I took a walk with a new friend a few days ago.

We talked about our lives (as women do), and the conversation quickly turned to areas where we were trying to trust God in the midst of uncertainty, frustration, and even pain. We covered pretty much everything: jobs and marriages, children and parents, housing and health, you name it. And as we walked along, sharing our concerns, I finally (and probably inappropriately) laughed out loud.

“Do you realize,” I said, “that if a non-believer happened to overhear us, that they would NOT want to sign up for our team? I mean, who wants to be a Christian if all you do is slog through life, trying to obey God and hoping you get it right? Where’s the joy?”

“I know!” my new friend agreed, with a bittersweet smile. “We are not a very good advertisement for the abundant life, are we?”

That conversation has stayed with me this week. Where, indeed, is the joy? All of us have problems, sure, but do those things really have power to keep us from experiencing God’s goodness – and rejoicing in that? How do we move from the slogging life to the abundant one?

I wrote about the abundant life a couple of years ago, after our daughter jumped out of an airplane with a stranger named Ollie (an adventure we learned about after the fact, via Instagram):

The gist of that earlier post was that trusting God can be scary, but it’s the thing that opens the door to the good stuff. I still think that trust is the key…but if we are struggling with how, exactly, we get there, it might help to take a good look at Jesus.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows. He was despised, rejected, and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3, KJV). Put another way, it’s not like any of the stuff my friend and I talked about (challenging marriages, jobs, kids, whatever) was any worse or more painful than what he went through.

And yet Jesus had joy. Not just the “one day this will all be over and I’ll go to heaven” kind of joy. Jesus also had here-and-now joy, and it made people want to be around him. Granted, he was God, but he was also 100% human…and so how, given all the ick he went through, did that work? How did Jesus have joy?

Obviously, there is more to be said, but three keys come to mind:

First, Jesus knew that God loved him. His sense of identity and purpose didn’t come from what anyone else thought, said, or did. His worth came from God – and as God’s beloved, he knew he belonged.

Second, he knew God’s promises. It didn’t matter what sort of obstacle, hardship, or insult he faced, Jesus knew God was bigger. And stronger. And more real.

And finally, he didn’t live for himself. Everything Jesus said or did was others-focused. And, in loving and serving other people, he experienced the fullness of joy.

Again, I’m sure there is MUCH more we could say about joy, but chew on this one, for now: All of these joy-keys are already ours. 

Seriously.

We have what he had. And, like Jesus, we can face the worst of life’s muck and have here-and-now joy. He wants us to have that (in fact, he prayed that we would), so let’s follow his lead. Let’s turn God’s promises into our prayer. Let’s ask God to fill us with joy:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for lavishing your love on us and calling us your children (1 John 3:1). When I feel rejected or alone, remind me that I belong to you. (1 Peter 2:9). When life seems overwhelming and I can’t see a way forward, help me put my trust in your mighty power and unlimited understanding (Psalm 147:5). Show me how to follow your example so that I can love and serve other people; fill me with your joy and make my joy complete. (John 15:10-12).

Amen.


Living the Scriptures


07.18.2017

“Don’t Cry Because It’s Over”

Robbie and I spent last week at a lake in Ontario, Canada. It’s a place he went every year as a child, as did his father before him. And it’s where we used to take our kids in the summer, before they grew up and got stuff like husbands and jobs and apartments in far-away cities.

This time, it was just the two of us. We’d been looking forward to cooler temps, water sports, and endless hours to read and relax. But then we pulled up to the boathouse, and I knew I was in trouble. Because here’s how I remember it looking, back in 2007:

And here’s how it looked last week:

Same thing for the dock. It’s where we used to hang out and fish, or have early morning quiet times:

Now, not so much:

Everywhere I looked, there were reminders of days gone by, family memories that we’d never make again. I was becoming positively morose. It was not attractive.

I know what Dr. Seuss says – Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. – but honestly? I’ve never really liked that line. I want to do both.

Anyhow.

This was the first time I’d been back to the lake in 10 years, and I just wanted to camp out for a bit and boo-hoo.

I knew, though, that being gloomy wouldn’t solve anything. (It certainly wouldn’t make things better for Robbie.) And it wasn’t like my whole life was over; it was just one season. Plus, my children are basically happy. And healthy. And I am pretty sure they’re all tracking with Jesus. What did I have to complain about?

Nothing.

And so I tried to smile (because it happened). Still, though, I couldn’t shake the sense of loss. I decided to take my case up with God.

“God,” I said, “I know you don’t mean for anybody to wallow, or get stuck in the past. I know you have plans and purposes and good things in store. And it’s not like you’re going to leave me hanging for the next 40 years, right?”

And God is so sweet. He did two things at once.

First, he reminded me of that verse where he talks about turning the page and starting a fresh, new chapter instead of dwelling on the past. I didn’t remember the reference so I looked it up: See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. That’s Isaiah 43:19. I think it’s a great promise for an empty nester – or for anyone facing a time of transition, whether it’s a student headed off to college, a family making a cross-country move, or a loved one taking on a new job. If that’s where you are, go ahead and look that one up for yourself. Consider it yours.

The second thing God did came via email. Two years ago, my friend Annesley wrote a column for Theological Horizons, an organization that serves students at U.Va. I missed the article back then, but for some reason they ran it again, and I got to read it last week. It’s a great piece about transition – not because it solves the sadness issue but because 1) if you cry at Kindergarten Graduation, it lets you know you’re not alone, and 2) it ends with a wonderful prayer for our kids as they move on (or, for that matter, for anyone facing a season of change). If you want to read Annesley’s piece, click here.

So here’s what I did (and what you can do, too):

First, I asked God to help me perceive his work and get on board with whatever way he might be making – in the wilderness, the wasteland, or wherever. If God’s on the move (and he pretty much always is), I don’t want to get left behind!

Next, I thanked him for Annesley’s writing, and for the comfort that comes when you realize that you’re not alone in the boat. (And if you’re facing your own season of newness right now, whatever it is, I want you to know that I’m praying for you and your family as I write…cuz I get it!)

And finally (and this was a critical step for me, but one you could probably skip), I took my cue from the Grinch. Remember how he wanted a reindeer but, since “reindeer are scarce,” he had to grab his dog, Max? Yeah, well. I wanted a kid so I could snap their pic on the dock, like I did with Robbie Jr., 20 years ago…

…but since my kids, like reindeer, are generally scarce, I got the dog to stand in. And, like his namesake (we got him on Christmas), Max did a mighty fine job:

 


Living the Scriptures


06.28.2017

Anadiplosis and the Hike to Hope

Last week, I told you about Mark Forsyth’s book, The Elements of Eloquencein which he maintains that Shakespeare’s brilliance was rooted more in his ability to use literary tricks and techniques than in any sort of innate genius. One such technique is anadiplosis.

Anadiplosis won’t pass your computer’s spell check (I tried), and I doubt it’s something you’ll want to break out at a cocktail party, but it’s a good trick to know, particularly if you want to sound logical, progressive, or just well-balanced. Anadiplosis happens when you take the last word of a sentence or phrase and then use it to begin the next one:  A man takes a drink. The drink takes a drink. The drink takes the man.

Or consider this example, from Paul:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

I wasn’t thinking about anadiplosis when I went hiking recently. I was, however, thinking about suffering. I’m not much of a woods-and-squirrels girl, and I hadn’t intended to hike Sewanee’s 20-mile Perimeter Trail (or any part of it) when I started. My plan was to walk to a nearby overlook and…look over.

Which I did:

But then I noticed a trail map, conveniently posted next to the overlook. I had some time and I figured I could do a little bit of the trail. Like a mile, maybe. I could always come back later for the other 19.

Not being an experienced hiker (not being any sort of hiker), I didn’t bother to read the fine print. I saw the jagged emblem that meant “Difficult”…but how difficult could “Difficult” be? It was only a mile, for crying out loud. I’d be in and out in 15 minutes.

At first, I was captivated. To my left was a giant rock face. To my right was a 50-foot drop, just daunting enough to make you pay attention.

Everything was quiet (unless you count the sound of scurrying, which I tried not to). Peaceful. I felt like I was alone in the world.

Which, after about ten minutes, started to be less fun.

Nobody knew where I was, I hadn’t brought along any hiker stuff like water, and I didn’t need my Garden Club membership to help me identify the horticulture that grew, with unmitigated vigor, all over the trail:

I was just starting to think about mountain lions (I knew they’d found the bones of a prehistoric saber-toothed tiger nearby; might he or she have left any grandchildren?) when I rounded a bend and saw this:

A hole in the trail. Through a rock. Which was high.

Going up seemed out of the question. The opening was a good 15 feet above the trail (closer to 30, if you count the dirt part), and it was pretty much straight up, with no hand- or foot-holds I could detect. (You would think someone might put in a rope.)

I tried going around, but there was no trail to the right. Just a sheer, poison-ivy-coated drop into nothing but treetops.

And I thought about turning back. But honestly? That felt like quitting. Plus, I knew other moms who had done this part of the hike. (Or so they said.)

To put my predicament in perspective, I’ve marked up the photo for you. The red arrow is where I needed to get. The red person is me. And I look a lot taller (and more athletic) in the drawing than I am in real life:

And here’s the thing. I am not afraid of heights, but I am not big on falling. And I had no idea what was on the other side of the hole. Was it an even steeper drop?

I started to turn around. But then this thought came:

Suffering produces perseverance. 

Seriously. Out of nowhere. I didn’t know about anadiplosis, but I did know that verse and where it went. I knew that if I started at suffering and got through the whole thing (not to mention the hole thing), I’d wind up at hope.

I decided that since I had already experienced some pain (and on a happy note, the very real presence of snakes and mosquitoes took my mind off of the unseen lions and tigers), I could go ahead and move into the perseverance phase. Which felt good, since it meant that I had accomplished something. Or God had, in me. And if he would grant me the courage I needed to climb up to the hole, I was ready to count that as character.

I sent a text to Robbie (which I didn’t think would go through) and a prayer to God (which I was pretty sure would), wanting them both to know where I was, in case things went bad. And then I started climbing.

I made it. (Obviously.) And when I crawled out of the hole on the other side of the rock, I had three rewards.

The first was a nice, flat path:

The second was beautiful waterfall:

And the third was the end of that part of the trail, which literally dumps you out at the foot of the cross:

Talk about hope!

I can’t remember when my heart felt so full, or so grateful. And, I realized, I would not have appreciated the cross (or the hope it delivered) had I not spent that time on the trail. Walking through fear – and coming to the place where my own strength wasn’t enough, where my only two options were to turn back or go forward with a God I couldn’t see instead of a rope that I could – is what brought me to hope.

All of which is to say…

If you are in a season of suffering (even if it’s just a mile’s worth of scary stuff), keep going. Don’t turn back. Just put one foot in front of the other because that’s what kindles perseverance, a “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose…especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”

And remember, you’re not alone. Count on God to strengthen your character. He gave me courage; he will supply what you lack. He will lead you to hope.

I wish I had a clever way to use anadiplosis to wrap up this post, but I don’t. All I can do is repeat what Paul said – that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope – and then point to the conclusion Paul draws: And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

I don’t know what the literary term is for that last sentence; if I ever meet Mr. Forsyth, I’ll ask him. For now, though, maybe we can just call it a “happy ending.”


Living the Scriptures


05.31.2017

The Answer for Life’s Scary Stuff

Our dog Max (you know him as the rock eater) is an anxious dog. There are a lot of things that scare him. Sudden movements. The bathroom floor. His food bowl.

And, perhaps most of all, other dogs.

We went on a walk the other day and came upon a big black lab. As if his size and color were not threatening enough, this guy was sporting a pirate scarf where his collar should have been. Max stopped in his tracks.

I tried coaxing and commanding, tempting and tugging, but Max wasn’t having it. He did not want to pass that dog. Given the whole pirate vibe, I might have understood his trepidation…except for one thing.

The dog was fake.

Not, like, taxidermy fake. This one was, like, fake fake. It couldn’t bite or growl, and it certainly didn’t smell. It just sat there, day after day, fake-guarding the “Outer Barks” shop in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

I had to laugh. I tried to see things from Max’s viewpoint, but I just couldn’t. The whole thing was ridiculous – and his neurosis was hurting our progress.

And then I stopped.

Because as I stood there (smiling at other pedestrians and trying to look like maybe Max and I were just sort of “resting”), I realized that I do the same thing. I start out like Enoch (he’s a Bible guy who “walked faithfully with God” for 300 years), but then I look down the road and see something – a real something or a fake something – that could be a problem, and I balk.

Which is not God’s idea of how things are supposed to play out.

Here’s the thing. God knew we’d come up against some scary stuff. Real scary stuff (like cancer), and fake scary stuff (like what people will think or even say when they see you dance, which – trust me – is not something that should keep you off the floor when the band starts to play Livin’ on a Prayer).

God knew we’d face threats, and that fear would be a problem. And so he gave us the answer. He gave us the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Put another way, God gave us a Spirit who can make us bold in the face of uncertainty, loving when it might be easier to just turn away, and self-controlled and steady when life feels anything but calm. He gave us a Spirit who can equip us to do the good things that he has prepared. He gave us a Spirit who can strengthen us to walk faithfully with him on life’s longest journeys (no matter what sort of pirate-dog stands in our way).

God did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us the Holy Spirit. So let’s stop with the balking already.

Let’s move.


Living the Scriptures


05.16.2017

…and Underneath are the Everlasting Arms

We made camp on the beach on Mother’s Day, surrounded by an assortment of family members and friends. When I turned around and saw my brother, David, tossing his youngest into the air (and caught the uncertain-yet-delighted expression on Julia’s face), I had just one thought:

Lord, I want to be like that.

When the future feels uncertain, when I find myself sort of suspended (or even on the way down, after one of life’s highs), I want my outlook to be one of delight. When I can’t feel the ground beneath my feet, I want to behold the face of my Father and trust in the strength of his arms. I want to choose joy…even if doing so takes more faith than I think that I have.

Which is, I think, a good thing. Over and over again in the Bible (like, literally, more than 150 times), we are exhorted to rejoice. I don’t know why God thinks that’s such a big deal, but looking at David’s face in this pic, I have an idea. I think God takes delight in us. And when he sees us rejoicing – trusting him in life’s trickiest moments – he cannot contain his own joy.

I’d wrap up this post with one of the joy verses (something like Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always”), except that, if you’re like me, you might want something more. You might want to rejoice, but maybe you need a little help getting there. And so, with the image of a father and his child fresh in my mind, I am gonna scroll all the way back to Deuteronomy, where Moses blesses the sons of Israel, and offer you this:

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help… The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:26-27, ESV)

Underneath are the everlasting arms.

Rejoice in the Lord today, Beloved, knowing that you are safe in his arms…and that as God looks into your face, he is smiling.

 




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