We Went To Camp: Edition 16.0

Finally getting around to writing about camp today, though we’ve been home almost a week now. It was our 16th year to go to Gordon College for Crosswalk – our regional weeklong summer camp for teens. Robert’s first year on camp staff was the summer I was pregnant with Kayla, and we’ve only missed two years since then.  My kids grew up going to camp long before they were old enough to be campers, as you can see.

On our way to the beach! Gordon is only three miles from the closest beach, and this is how we used to spend a couple of afternoons during the week while dad was working on sermons. (circa 2005?)

Cooper has even made Gordon College his home away from home by going to school there.  He’ll start his second year as a student there this fall, but he’s had 16 years of prior dorm, dining hall, and campus  experience. 😉

We love our week at camp for many reasons, but it feels a little weird to tell you all the highlights without letting you know that the weeks leading up to camp and the week back home have been hard.  The days have been consumed with resolving conflicts, receiving emergency texts and phone calls, making hospital visits, facilitating counseling sessions, encouraging dear friends in crisis, and more. In many ways, the intensity of these situations seems greater than ever before. Daily, we are reminded of and burdened by the effects of sin and darkness, but at the same time we are sustained in Christ’s strength.  Still, we would appreciate your prayers.

So, camp was as wonderful and as exhausting as usual.

The staff arrives 3-4 days prior to the teens in order to prepare for the week. Trying out new games is often a weekend activity, and here you can see Itamar and Jared playing Chinny Penny – or keep a penny flat on your chin without letting anyone knock it off. Last one with a penny on their chin wins.

Reconnecting with returning staff, eating, laughing, catching up, praying, and worshiping together are things we look forward to every year. In texting with our director prior to camp about various questions, I said “Won’t it be nice to enjoy sweet fellowship next week?” We both agreed that it would.

Our Western Massachusetts gang – just after arrival.

After campers arrive and get settled, their days start with Morning Celebration:

LeBron James made an appearance on Celebrity Home Improvement last week, as did Justin Timberlake and Selena Gomez.

 

Afterward the camp pastor sends everyone off to group Bible studies.

While the teens are in Bible study groups, Robert and I spend the time in Bible study with all of the adult chaperones. My group played musical rooms this year, and studied both the book of I John and did an overview of the Seamless study and workbook. (Have I convinced you to do the study yet?)

The dining hall ended up being a terrible place to have Bible study. Food and supplies being wheeled in behind me every five minutes. So loud, too!

After Bible study, it’s “Rec” time, and Gordon has such a beautiful spot for this – “the Quad” – right in the middle of campus.

Anthony and Finn playing dodge ball.

 

Kayla and her fellow “Questies” from our group. Each of these guys will be seniors next year and just completed the Quest Leadership Development program during their junior year.
Kayla loved reconnecting with a few from her Scotland team – Trevor and Nathaniel, here.
Even the chaperones can get in on the fun!
Practicing for Mega Relay – which takes the place of Recreation on the last full day of camp.
Lunch follows Recreation – always kind of a love/hate relationship with dining hall food.

After lunch, the teens head to Activity Tracks.  They can choose anything from Arts and Crafts to Missions to Competitive Sports. (This mission track learned about a really great ministry called Sole Hope during one of their sessions.) Free time follows and many of them just stay on the quad playing frisbee, soccer, and football. They can also swim at the Rec center on campus, play basketball in the gym, or go back to their room and read, play games, or paint each other’s nails.

The evening worship service happens after dinner and a short activity at 6:35pm – called 635. 😉 Robert spends his afternoons polishing off sermons he’s tried his best to prepare before arriving, creating PowerPoint presentations, printing notes, and practicing.

This year’s most memorable image may have been the Jenga Tower of Babel. (All sermons were on things built either by God or humans, since the camp theme was Blueprint.) And if you know Robert at all, then you know that about halfway through the sermon, he knocked that tower right over to illustrate what God did to the plans of humans intent on making a name for themselves rather than for their Creator.
Want to see it in action? Click here for the camp highlight video.

I still don’t know how he pulls this off each year. Well. that’s not really true. It’s God’s grace and His provision of ideas and direction and efficient work. Still, I marvel. Six sermons in six days!

(I would like to take credit for some of his wardrobe choices throughout the week, though. It was a crowd of teenagers after all, and I am able to provide at least a tiny bit of fashion counsel so as not to distract from the message.)

Mercyhouse was well represented at Crosswalk this year.  Just look at these four…

Tommy and Kaitlyn served on staff leading Bible studies, Activity Tracks, and playing in the band.  Sarah served as a chaperone for our girls for the third time, and Chloe served as one of our many adorable camp mascots. She even made appearances in two sermons.

And here is Sarah again with Meghan and Anthony. Pretty sure these three would have won World’s Best Camp Chaperones this year if there was such a thing. They were amazing, and I thank God for their eager investment in our teens’ lives last week. They truly went above and beyond.

Anthony shared about his experience seeing God change hearts and lives at Amherst College.
Kayla shared (with 500 people!)highlights from her experience in Scotland.

Shoutout to Ellen, Patrick, and Nick as well!  So fun to be with Mercyhouse people while away at camp!

One final picture of our group on the last day. They all seemed to have such a fun and meaningful time. Lots of heart transformations and life direction received. Many renewed in their desire to “offer their bodies as living sacrifices” which was the other very tangible image of the week – Robert placing his whole body on a small table to illustrate what a whole burnt offering is all about.

 

Saturday morning it’s all over. One last time with Bible study groups, one last song and short sermons, and all the teens are back on the road with their individual churches.

Staff stays around another hour or so for clean up, which may be the toughest job of all.

Because deflating beach balls, giant pizzas, and ring toss cones is hard work, y’all!

New England Summer Lovin’

We didn’t plan specifically for this, but a classic New England summer has been in full swing lately. Kinda hard not to call it classic when it kicks off with a trip to Fenway Park on a PERFECT June evening.

We were offered two Red Sox tickets by an unnamed source (whose name begins with an A and might just be one of their biggest fans) the morning of the game, and somehow were able to make quick arrangements for a trip to Boston that afternoon. The commuter rail from the Worcester area was suggested for parking and traveling to Fenway and back. I took full advantage of someone else driving by sleeping most of the way back to our car that evening.

Our ticket giver was not too happy about having to forgo the game that night due to being under the weather and exhausted from travel, so we tried to fully enjoy her great seats and even indulged in some Cracker Jacks for the occasion. (I’m just glad it wasn’t a 16 inning game like they had against the Yankees on Saturday night.)

It was on the way to the Red Sox game that we realized that in just five short days, we’d be at Tanglewood in the Berkshires for the John Mellencamp and EmmyLou Harris concert. The only thing that would have made this event more “classic” would have been seeing James Taylor instead, but we’ve done that several times already. (It never gets old, though!)

There were big black trash bags under our blankets and holding our cooler, shoes, jackets, and more. Miraculously, everything stayed dry and we enjoyed our Whole Foods snack dinner before the concert started.

 John Cougar and EmmyLou were fantastic!  We enjoyed every minute – even the minutes we had to snuggle under the umbrella due to a couple of passing rain showers. We did not expect to see the sun at all, but it finally pierced through the clouds and made for a gorgeous evening.

A few days later it was time to celebrate the Fourth of July. With barely a hint from me, Kayla (and then Mary!) agreed to plan, shop for, and prepare ALL of the food for our annual picnic for the Amherst fireworks. I was so relieved! As much as I enjoy hospitality and putting meals together, it can certainly wear on me, and I was just not wanting to go to the effort.

Kayla and Mary to the rescue!

These girls took everything on the to-do list and executed it with zero help from me. (Well, a few cooking consultations, but that was it.) Not only was it a huge relief to me, it was a big blessing to those who joined our picnic that night. They were truly amazed by what we pulled out of our picnic bags and cooler – everything put together beautifully by these two young ladies.

And my kitchen after their afternoon of cooking and baking?

Spotless.

Ahhh…..

Kayla even created her own beautiful shopping list. They WALKED to the store and back (because I wasn’t up for chauffeuring either, and Kayla can’t drive friends yet) and spent several hours in the kitchen. A fruit pizza was not on the list, but it was a part of their vision and such a fun treat! (P.S. The grocery store is only a stone’s throw away. 🙂 )
Vi is every child’s second mama at our church!

Little Joseph was happier than any of us had ever seen him – and he’s definitely already a good natured and happy boy. Dancing and laughing and eating, he was mesmerized by the fireworks, and it was a gift to us all to experience the holiday through his eyes. A gift to be with his mom, too, who had never experienced fireworks in person, and who could not get over the feast that Kayla and Mary had prepared.

Not one bit afraid. Just mesmerized.

The very next day was our last time to meet as a small group. Bittersweet for sure. I loved being with these ladies so much and working our way through the whole Bible and redemption narrative using the Seamless workbook.

Vi made us a set of flash cards for the icons used in the workbook, and so we had a bit of hands-on practice with the order of events. I think I mentioned that we accidentally ordered the wrong book and ended up doing the “teen girls” version. Everyone just rolled with it (still a great, substantive study!), and on our final night together, SouYoung said that she thought it was no accident.

Yes, these grown women eagerly indulged me in my photo taking and flash card games.

“No mistake at all,” is how she worded it. New to faith, to church, and certainly to the Bible, she added a richness and freshness to our study. She enabled us to see Jesus through the eyes of a new believer (her retelling of the story of the woman caught in adultery brought tears), and challenged us with her ability to perfectly recall all thirty events in the redemption narrative. She was truly a gift to us.

The very next day, Robert and I were off to the North Shore of Boston – maybe one of THE most quintessential New England locations – to prepare for a week of youth camp at Gordon College. Dinner at Woodman’s in Essex  (because everyone was hot and sweaty and not up for fine dining) with a few members of the camp staff got us started off right.

EVERYTHING (except onion rings, clam strips, and bread, of course) gluten free. We were shocked…and giddy!

Yes, we had a side fries with our fries.

Not a paleo meal by a long shot, but gluten free fried fish is such a rare treat. It felt like a little taste of heaven, and we ate way too much of it.

(Legal Sea Foods uses all gluten free batter now, too. Woohoo!)

We got settled into our dorm/apartment at Gordon College later that evening, and started preparing for a week of teaching and preaching, of late nights and early mornings, and of ministry to over 500 teenagers and their chaperones from all over New England.
Blueprint was the theme this year. God’s plans for building and rebuilding.

It was an incredible week, and I’ll have to tell you about it next time. We’ve only been home three days now, and are still somewhat in recovery mode. We’re also in planning mode for our next and annual New England adventure – a trip to Ogunquit, Maine.  Planning for our 25th anniversary trip on August 1st as well. I haven’t told many of you about that one either, but it’s a big one and I’ll fill you in soon.

For now, I’ll leave you with a fun pic of our camp staff this year.

Photo Credit: Nancy J. Williams, The Dijitl Group

Feeling really thankful for the privilege of doing ministry (and living life) in New England today.

When Every T-Shirt Holds A Memory

“Mom and Dad, can you guys just take these two bags to Goodwill?” he said while we packed up his house in Waco just before graduation.

We agreed, loaded them in the moving truck, and hauled everything to a storage facility in San Marcos. I kept the two white trash bags, though, a bit skeptical about what he’d chosen to give away.

Call it a mother’s intuition, call it a lingering grief over college graduation, or call it hoarding, one of those bags I chose to hold back contained freshly washed and neatly folded t-shirts representing major milestones and special occasions in my biggest kiddo’s life. There was no way I could bring myself to throw them in the Goodwill receptacle.

Robert was now the skeptical one. Were we really going to transport all of those t-shirts back to Massachusetts in our already-pushing-fifty-pound suitcases? (Though he did find some treasures for himself in the other bag. Button down dress shirts? Those were keepers for sure.)

I explained that there are companies that make quilts out of t-shirts, and that Kory’s birthday was next month. This bit of information got him more on board with my vision, and can I just say how thankful I am for a husband who doesn’t squash my seemingly outlandish and almost always inconvenient ideas? 

Back at home, I mentioned the t-shirts to my friend, Betsy, and that I was thinking of sending them off to be made into a quilt. To which she said that she was in the process of making TWO t-shirt quilts for a couple of her kids and that I could definitely make it myself.

Of course Betsy was currently making two t-shirt quilts. What is she ever not doing?

I’ve written about Betsy a lot here. She’s the one who talks me into things like harrowing backpacking trips in the White Mountains, Olympic-length Triathlons, and half-marathon trail races. Challenging things. Epic things. Death-defying things.

I view quilt-making in those categories, but once again she convinced me.

“I’ll help you,” she said.  And she did.  We consulted back and forth with picture texts, and she walked me through the process.
One especially challenging part was that I had loaned all of my sewing tools to my friend Isabelle, who led a breakout session on sewing at our women’s retreat in April. She had everything except my machine, and just happened to be on a camping trip the weekend I decided to start this project. Somehow I found some not-so-good pins, a pair of not-very-sharp scissors, and some poster board scraps I could use for making not-very-straight-patterns.

It was kinda like sewing back in the Little House on the Prairie days, except for my electric sewing machine and iron.

There’s just really not much time for projects like this in my current season of life (not convinced there ever will be), but I was able to work on it here and there for a couple of weeks until it was finished. As you can see, it took up quite a bit of floor space (dining room table space, too), and so it required everyone living here to live around the quilt – eating, walking, watching movies. Not always an easy task.

My goal for finishing was Monday, June 26, and I actually finished up on Sunday night the 25th. This left me plenty on time on Monday morning to get it wrapped and boxed and shipped off to the birthday boy who would turn 22 in Texas on the Thursday the 29th.

This is probably where I should tell you how much I love the post office. Stamps, and boxes, and the same friendly postal clerk I’ve been visiting ever since I was pregnant with Kayla – though I also love the automated postal kiosk when the line is too long. Speaking of, I also love this Jane Austen quote from Emma:

“The post-office is a wonderful establishment!” said she.– “The regularity and despatch of it! If one thinks of all that it has to do, and all that it does so well, it is really astonishing!”

I completely agree, Jane!

I remain totally enamored with fact that I can put a stamp on something and then someone else will deliver it to a person I care about – even someone very far away. Like, right to their home or dorm mailbox or summer camp outpost. I love imagining the other person’s delight upon receiving my letter or care package (because, of course), and I adore finding just the right little surprises to enclose. Getting a note back from them? Well, that’s just icing on my postal system dream cake.

Did you know you can put an address and stamps on a potato and send it to your cousin in Texas because sending potatoes is an inside joke between the two of you from back in your Webkinz days? Well, you can. And just imagine the delight of finding a potato from Amherst, Massachusetts in your Austin, TX mailbox!

But this is not a post about post…or potatoes.

Robert agreed to snap a picture before I boxed it up that Monday, and I had to stand on our picnic table to display the entire thing, It felt so good to have accomplished this project myself. (Thanks, Betsy!)

Mission trips, sports teams, fraternity events, Pine Cove summers, favorite Texas hangouts, memories of home in Massachusetts, Young Life in his high school years, Baylor college days, and more. Leaving him behind in Texas was hard, and this may have been just the task I needed to bring about some peace with that.
For anyone interested, I’m going to post more pics and instructions below. There are several Youtube video tutorials about t-shirt quilts, as well as websites listing written instructions, but I found that many of them left out steps I was stumped over. That’s when Betsy’s texts and photos were a lifesaver.

If you are a real quilter, I’m sure you will cringe at the photos and instructions below.  There was nothing precise about what I did, but somehow it turned out fairly straight, and my “machine quilting” at the end will at least prevent the batting from shifting around too much. Read more at your own risk.

Continue reading “When Every T-Shirt Holds A Memory”

Bloom Where You Are Planted/Exiled: Part 4

A couple of years ago, I experienced what felt like an all-out betrayal (which is an exile of sorts) by someone close to me. I was hurt, and I grieved the loss of relationship through tears for weeks. When I would recount the experience, listing off all of the felt injustices to my husband, he would say this:

“I know. I’m so sorry.”

“But don’t you love Jesus more now?”

Maybe it seems an insensitive way to respond to a weeping wife (as I did for a split second), but I thank God for a husband who offers truth in the midst of emotion.

You certainly won’t find me out there looking for more betrayals and conflicts, but I do love Jesus more for the ones I’ve experienced. He met me in my grief. He taught me to not put my hope in people. He reminded me of His steadfast love – the kind others aren’t able to give perfectly. I read His Word more. I prayed more. I poured out my heart more and was met with more grace and strength by the One who had experienced a betrayal much, much greater than mine.

Why did God require a 70 year exile to Babylon for His children? Because they had not chosen to know and walk closely with Him at home – in the Promised Land, in Jerusalem, their holy city.

It’s in our exile that we learn to love our real home as we should. And our real home is in Christ.

But listen to that famous verse to exiles again:

“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'” Jeremiah 29:10-11

Some versions say “I know the thoughts I think toward you” and this is what Charles Spurgeon had to say about that:

“Yet what God told the exiles through Jeremiah was even better. God does not only think of His people, His thoughts are toward them. The Lord not only thinks of you, but towards you. His thoughts are all drifting your way.”

Instead of punishing the exiles forever and not granting them any hope of redemption or rescue, He assures them of His plan and His promises for the future. He is coming for them eventually, and in the meantime His thoughts and plans are for them.

I don’t really anticipate a permanent return to my home in Texas – at least not anytime soon. But I do love Texas more now than I did when I lived there. I appreciate the temperatures, the landscape, the food, the history, and the culture much more than I did when I was swimming in it – sometimes literally. (Have I mentioned the rivers and lakes? Gorgeous!) And I appreciate my Savior more when He allows different sorts of exiles in my life.

Israel’s sin exiled them from their homeland and the temple leaving them in Babylon. Our sin exiled us from God’s presence and a glorious garden leaving us in this fallen world. But God still promises us a rescue and a return to the garden – if we acknowledge and receive forgiveness for that sin.

The only way He could promise this rescue?

To become an exile Himself.

He did that in Jesus, who chose exile from heaven, put on flesh, and died on a cross for the sin that caused our own banishment. Then He resurrected showing power and authority over the death that sin brought about. (And trust me, the exile from Texas to Massachusetts was really nothing compared to the exile from heaven to earth.)

If you have placed your faith in Jesus you can hope in the same promise the Babylonian exiles received from God – that He is coming back for you. He will eventually return you to your true and new home with Him.

And not only do you have future hope, but you also have present help…Help to bloom where you are planted. Strength to remain, to settle, to surrender – no matter what your current circumstances are.

His plans and His thoughts are all drifting your way.

 

Are you walking through a difficult season (or the end) of marriage?

Is He asking you to be pure, patient, and faithful in your singleness?

Are you exhausted by the difficulties and challenges of parenting?

Is He asking you to keep praying for and being patient with a rebellious child?

Do you need to be strong for and keep striving with a sick child or an elderly parent who requires great care?

Is your family and homeland thousands of miles away?

Are family dynamics a source of pain or discouragement?

Do anxiety or depression (or both) overcome you?

Is your work environment frustrating, demeaning?

Are people taking for granted your faithful volunteer efforts?

Has a friend betrayed you?

Are finances dwindling?

Do you have dreams and desires that seem disregarded or shut down by God Himself?

All of the above, different facets and layers of living in exile. And though seemingly impossible at times, all fertile ground for blooming, too. Not so fun at times. Often uncomfortable. Sometimes totally heart-wrenching. Still, I thank God for my exile and the for the growth and blossoming He’s accomplished through them.

And some sweet day, near or distant, I’ll finally get to return to Tex-Mex and temps above 70.

Just kidding. I’ll finally get to live fully and wholly in and with Jesus.

I can’t wait.

Until then, praying to blossom and grow in this exile.

Bloom Where You Are Planted/Exiled: Part 3

The following July when Kayla turned one (the sun came out, the morning sickness ended, and I found a wonderful OB/GYN and hospital), I looked around my dining room table at the people I’d been able to gather to celebrate her birthday and watch her eat her first cake ~ a teapot cake I’d carefully made for the occasion. There were a couple of local folks and students, two other visitors who were college students we’d known from Oklahoma (Hi Jenny and Jason!), my husband, my two little boys and me. It was not the big gathering of friends and family that my boys had each had back in Texas for their first birthdays, and I wondered why the Lord had sent us to this place. I’m not sure what I expected, and I though I loved ministry and knew that we were here for a good purpose, it seemed like the punishment of exile at the time.

It was sometime after that, that I came across Psalm 37 and I’ve already shared the verses that I began to cling to and try to practice. Here it is again:

Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. v. 3-4

Dwell: reside, live, be settled, stay (Hebrew – Shakan – to establish, abide, remain)

Cultivate: to improve growth by labor and attention, to develop, to dig, till, plow, and fertilize (Hebrew – Ra’ah – to tend, graze; also – befriend, associate with)

Faithfulness: devotion, long-continued and steadfast fidelity, loyal stability

When I read those verses, I knew the Lord was asking me to bloom where I’d been planted – to settle in and be faithful. I wrote the verse out and put it on our refrigerator as a constant reminder. As difficult as I often found it, and as resistant as I could be at times, I knew He was asking me to build my home here.

To plan birthday parties here with whoever is able to come. To pick apples in the fall and learn to eat a lobster. To meet my neighbors. To walk the Freedom Trail and enjoy the local history. To learn to love snowshoeing. To pray for my town and state and region. To join the local Woman’s Club. To purchase a snow blower and some waterproof boots. To join the local organic farm co-op. To lead small group Bible studies for young women and spend time on the college campuses. To invite church folks over for lunch after the worship service and more.

David’s words toward the end of the Psalm in verse 25 gave me the encouragement I needed to live those things out…

I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread. v. 25

David was saying, in essence, “I have been alive a very long time, and I’ve been observing how God deals with His children all these years, and NOT ONCE has He forsaken them or left them in need of anything.”

And though I have come to love New England, my town, and my church, Texas still feels very much like home. I was just there last month for my son’s college graduation. Many of you know he went to Baylor University in Waco, TX. If you are a Fixer Upper/Chip and Joanna Gaines fan, you know exactly the place I’m talking about. It’s that sweet little town where the 4 bedroom 2 bath homes are less than $200,000, the marriages are all happy and fun, and the local business owners are all friends and go to church together.

It was warm and sunny  while we were there. I was drinking iced coffee at the Silos and shopping at the market. When I’d go out for a morning run, people smiled and waved. Sometimes they stopped me and engaged me in friendly conversation. (True story.) We stayed with my dad who is healthy and active, but growing older. We cooked steaks on his deck after a few hours of floating the beautiful nearby river.

Did I mention that it was warm and sunny?  Yeah – you could swim in that river without your lips turning blue and your whole body going numb….in mid-May.

Photo Credit: Kayla (You know, that one year old I was talking about in the first paragraph.)

And like the Israelites in exile experienced, there have been some false prophets in my life. During an especially difficult time in ministry a few years back, someone said something like this to me: “You’ve given up over 15 years of your life living in New England and doing what your husband is called to do. I think it’s your turn to live where you want and do what you want now.”

Yikes.

Now, I know that the Lord often speaks through others when He wants to lead us in new directions, but I knew immediately those words were not from God. A true prophet would have known that what’s best for me is to be right where God has called BOTH my husband and me. A real friend would have encouraged me to be faithful to that calling and not tempted me further with my own desires which were mostly self-centered and honestly had much more to do with months of sunshine and southern hospitality than ministry or walking with God.

I knew I needed to disregard those words, because they were so contrary to the “dwell, cultivate, be faithful” commands God had been asking of me all along. And if it’s not a friend or family member playing the role of false prophet, there are plenty of other voices on social media, podcasts, and in your local bookstore. You don’t have to go far to find someone encouraging you to seek out your own personal desires and follow your own heart no matter the cost or consequence, no matter God’s will or purposes.

So many wonderful things have happened in our church and family over the last 18 years. I consider it a great privilege to be here and see first hand the incredible ways God works in people’s lives. The difficult days of ministry and the longings for home have not disappeared, so at times it still feels like exile, but the reality is, we’re all living in a type of exile. This world is not our home. Life here is difficult and riddled with disappointments, yet we are asked to settle here –  as “aliens and strangers” is how the apostle Peter describes it. (Or “sojourners and exiles” if you read the ESV) It’s not the Garden of Eden we were created for, and it’s lasting a lifetime.

But we’re not the only ones who have been asked to dwell and bloom here. That same Hebrew word for “dwell” in Psalm 37 God also uses to describe what He does with and for His people.

Exodus 29:45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.

I Kings 6:13 And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.”

And even crazier than a God who chooses to dwell among His people in spirit as these Old Testament verses are describing, is a God who chooses to put on flesh and dwell among us in Jesus. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

“Pitched a tent” among us is what the Greek word for “dwell” means in the first chapter of John.

He comes close to us in our exile.

To be continued…

(Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you on Monday!)

Bloom Where You Are Planted/Exiled: Part 2

Okay, so the hostas I reluctantly planted must’ve put down some roots, because they are looking great this year. Healthy, happy, full, and green. And all of this in spite of being uprooted from the foreign land of Betsy’s front yard and exiled to my house a mile away. Evidently, plants can do that sort of thing with quite a bit of resilience.

The Israelites, not so much.

Psalm 137 tells us that in their captivity they sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept. They couldn’t even sing or enjoy music due to the grief of being taken hundreds of miles away from their beloved homeland.

I can relate.

I, too, am hundreds of miles away from my beloved homeland. Thousands, actually. And I had no idea the affect a place can have on a heart. (The hostas and myself are more of a relocation than an exile, but stick with me.)

Despite their deep despair, God tells them (through Jeremiah the prophet) to “bloom where they are planted.” And He’s not vague on the details regarding what “blooming in Babylon” should look like….

Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. ~Jeremiah 29:5-7

I really don’t think this is what the Israelites had in mind.

Settle down in a pagan culture? Raise families there? Pray for and seek the good of the city? Especially difficult to escape were the words of the false prophets telling them the exile would be short, that God would be coming to rescue them and deliver them back home any day now. In reality, they would spend seventy years in Babylon, which meant that most adults would never see Jerusalem again.

Are you beginning to think of times when God has asked something similar of you? You may not have been literally driven from your home because of your rebellion (or maybe you have), but you’ve been asked to endure uncomfortable circumstances, less than ideal situations, seasons of life that were unexpected and difficult, tragic loss. Not places you’d choose to be, but there you are anyway?

I can relate.

I didn’t grow up anywhere near New England, but I did dream of traveling here one day. In fact, growing up, this Texas girl’s dream honeymoon was a New England one. New England…that far away land in the top right corner of my geography class map. Lobster, bed and breakfasts, quaint small town inns, scenic back road drives with falling leaves, white steepled churches, rocky coastlines, and fires burning in every wood stove. Maine was probably the only state I could name and locate at the time, but it just seemed like the perfect romantic fairy tale to me.

That I did not end up having a New England honeymoon is not just an understatement. The only similarity my real-life honeymoon had to my fantasy honeymoon was its proximity to a coastline. The Gulf Coast coastline in this case. Robert and I spent a week in Galveston, TX staying near a less-than-beautiful beach at a family-friendly resort. (A family I babysat for during college had given us a coupon for the place.) We could hear the older man in the room next to us snoring each night, as well as hordes of children running up and down our hallway on their way to the pool all throughout the day. It was a far cry from my romantic northeastern ideal.

Robert was a youth pastor in Austin,TX at the time, and I was still in my last year of college at the University of Texas. Living on one ministry income while finishing college meant that you gladly take the coupon to the family-friendly resort being offered to you. It was a honeymoon after all, and so it wasn’t that difficult to “bloom where we were planted” in that case.

7 years later, though, the Lord did grant a trip to New England. So far that “trip” has lasted 18 years.

It was not exactly what I had in mind.

In 1999 God opened a door and invited us into ministry in New England. Robert had a desire to plant a church in an area of the country that was in need of more churches, and right after he completed seminary the opportunity came to do that very thing in Amherst, Massachusetts. I think we both thought church planting (which was a fairly new thing at the time) would be something we did in our forties and fifties, not in our late twenties and early thirties. (Now that I think of it, we are still sort of church planting in our forties and almost-fifties, so we weren’t all wrong in our thinking.)

We visited Boston and Amherst in January of 1999 (our first-ever trip to New England) and moved to Amherst with our 4 and 2 year old boys in July of 1999. I was pregnant with my daughter by December of that year and really did not know even one soul in Massachusetts, let alone an OB/GYN. It was bitter cold and snowy. My husband was very busy trying to meet folks in town and plan our first worship services. I was at home on the couch with relentless morning sickness and two toddlers running around, except when I was hosting college students and out-of-town mission teams for meals.

Then, very soon after I found out I was pregnant, the headline of our local newspaper proclaimed the new abortion services being offered at the nearby hospital. I don’t know exactly why, but that glaring headline sitting on my doorstep felt like a tipping point. This foreigner was very lonely, probably depressed, and semi-horrified that I lived in a town proud of its abortion services. Where had God brought us? It was not romantic or fairytale-ish at all.

It felt like exile.

To be continued…

Bloom Where You Are Planted/Exiled: Part 1

I do not have a green thumb.  I really wish I did. I am in love with the idea of gardening, but seem to lack the knack. Actually, I think I fear gardening. The perfectionist in me often resists the notion entirely because I fear that (from experience with a couple of house plants) it won’t work. A couple of years ago my friend, Betsy,  insisted upon giving me some hosta cuttings from her yard. I tried to politely refuse, but she dropped off a bucket of earthy roots with attached leaves anyway and told me to just put them in the ground.

The bucket sat near our front door for probably a few too many days while my guilt over their impending death grew. I finally gave in one day and dug out a row in the grass of our front yard and plant the cuttings there out of guilt mixed with a lot of doubt and grumbling.

Guess what happened? They grew! (Not surprising to you green-thumb people, I’m sure.) They’ve even grown larger and fuller each spring since I planted them. I’m pretty sure this one success of mine does not mean you’ll want to hire me as your next landscaper, but still. I planted something – something cut out of a friend’s yard, no less, and it grew!

(Actually, I have had one or two successful vegetable gardens, but I’m like 2 for 25. Not good odds.)

And while plants are often used to illustrate people and their growth, the truth is, that people don’t always thrive and grow where they’ve been placed. (I suppose some plants don’t either, but it’s never due to own their choices.) It’s why we have cliches like “bloom where you are planted” to encourage each other to thrive and make the best of any given situation.

I did some research on the origin of the phrase. It’s earliest mention seems to be from the 16th century…

The Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) said this: “Truly charity has no limit; for the love of God has been poured into our hearts by His Spirit dwelling in each one of us, calling us to a life of devotion and inviting us to bloom in the garden where He has planted and directing us to radiate the beauty and spread the fragrance of His Providence.”

The phrase “bloom where you are planted” cannot be found in the Bible, but the concept can be found all over the scriptures.  When I was first asked to speak at a womens’ breakfast with this theme, my thoughts immediately went to Psalm 37. It’s a Psalm I have clung to often – especially these verses written by an older King David.

Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him and He will do it.

And then I started thinking about specific times that God had asked people to “dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” or in other words “bloom where they were planted.” (Also where I got the “dwell” in this blog’s new name.)

The book of Jeremiah came to mind. Especially the 29th chapter. You are probably familiar with Jeremiah chapter 29 because of its often-quoted verse 11.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I have received a couple of birth announcements, wedding invitations, and graduation cards with that verse on it.

And while it is a verse about God’s plans and the coming circumstances of His people, the context really has nothing to do with celebrations or congratulations or even God’s plans to prosper His children with good jobs or safety or successful futures. Quite the opposite. (Though I think we can still use it to give evidence of God’s involvement in our lives and His good intentions toward us.)

The context of Jeremiah 29:11 is exile. In this chapter, God’s people have been recently conquered by an enemy nation and forced from their homes. It is a consequence of their disobedience, of rebellion, and of idol worship.

God had been very patient with them for about 1000 years, having given many, many opportunities for them to turn from idol worship and disobedience and back to Him. Not only have they refused, they have only escalated in their rebellion and evil deeds. (Just read about King Manasseh in 2 Kings 21. Yikes!) God has now has appointed some very extreme consequences for His beloved children: destruction of their city, their homes, the temple, and banishment from their homeland.

After 1000 years of His people leaving Him for other Gods, we might expect an “I told you so” or “I am so done with you” from God. Something reminiscent of Keith Urban’s 2002 hit:

Take your records, take your freedom

Take your memories, I don’t need ’em

Take your space and take your reasons

But you’ll think of me.

And take your cap and leave my sweater

‘Cause we have nothing left to weather

In fact I’ll feel a whole lot better

But you’ll think of me, you’ll think of me.

(We just got a Spotify family plan, and now I can listen to as much Keith Urban, George Strait, and Faith Hill/Tim McGraw as I want. Sandra McCracken, Sara Groves, and All Sons and Daughters, too. So exciting.)

Fortunately, God was not as bitter as Keith was over his breakup. Actually, God is incapable of these attitudes. He is in a covenant relationship with His people, and so He is literally unable to break His end of the deal. Israel, however, is well known in the Old Testament as the unfaithful wife of God. She keeps betraying Him with other lovers, but He remains faithful even so. (Read the book of Hosea for an incredible portrayal of that adulterous affair.)

With that in mind, maybe instead of a “breakup” message, it’s a message telling them to just hunker down and wait for God to intervene. Maybe it’s a “don’t worry, it will all be over soon” letter or a letter encouraging them to actively resist this pagan nation, to stay pure, to stick together and to fight for their rights.

Nope. Not that either.

God (almost literally) tells them to bloom where they are planted – even though where they are planted is in EXILE.

To be continued…

Soul Food

Last week I was tasked with writing a devotion (a Bible reading/prayer/meditation plan) for a friend who is walking through the darkest days of her life so far. Actually, three of us would write a devotion, so that she would have three days worth of truth to focus on while she’s away on a tropical vacation that had been planned long before the darkness invaded life as she knew it.

It wasn’t as easy of a task as I thought it would be, and up until the night before her departure, I wasn’t sure what to write, what direction to take. But then I remembered a conversation we’d had about a passage from Stepping Heavenward.

(You know, my favorite book? The one which, if you’ve read it and don’t like it, I start to question our friendship. The one that Elisabeth Elliot also likes, and said we could be friends over? Yeah, that book. You can order it here.)

Here’s the passage I came across. It’s one in which Katy (the main character) is talking to Mrs. Campbell (an elderly woman and patient of Katy’s husband) and asking her about her illness and enduring the trials of life.  Here’s what Mrs. Campbell says:

“I was bound to my God and Savior before I knew a sorrow, it is true.  But it was by a chain of many links; and every link that dropped away brought me to Him till at last, having nothing left, I was shut up to Him and learned fully what I had only learned partially, how soul-satisfying He is.”

And here is what I ended up writing for this dear friend in hopes of helping her overcome the fear and deep sadness she is facing, with a few edits as of today, because I’ve had more time to think and research.

Isn’t that a beautiful way of describing it? We are bound to Christ in our salvation, but the distance between us (or gulf between us in intimacy) is so much greater than we realize – many, many links in the chain. There’s the link of self-sufficiency, of pride, and of fear. One especially stubborn link is that of control and even more fierce – the links of health and material blessings. Ask me how I know! Cutting those links of metal requires a serious tool, and because there is life in this particular chain, it hurts deeply when the links are cut away.

But the more that are cut away, the closer we are drawn to Christ. And the closer we are drawn to Christ, the more soul-satisfying we find him.

Soul-satisfying.

Doesn’t that just sound so good? Can you imagine being completely satisfied from deep within your soul? No restlessness. No fear. No insecurity. No anxiety. No hiding. No putting on a happy face. In fact, the smile is natural, because it comes from way down deep in a soul completely at rest in her savior.

Oh, how far from that kind of satisfaction, that level of contentedness I am!

So, in order to better face these days when the chain links are being cut away, I thought you and I could both focus on how soul-satisfying Jesus is today. That’s right, both of us. I need this as much as you, and have committed to meditating on the same things I’m asking you to this week. I want to learn it fully, and not partially – just like Mrs. Campbell said.

When you can get alone and undistracted for a little while, look up these verses. I’ll give you some prompts or questions after each one.

Haggai 1:5-7  (…there is not enough to be satisfied. v. 6)

 “Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”

What things did the Israelites think would satisfy them?

Pray about ways/places/people in which (or whom) you’ve sought satisfaction apart from Christ.

Write them down.

Matthew 14: 19-21 (…and they all ate and were satisfied. v. 20)

“Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.”

About how many were satisfied with five loaves and two fish?

What other needs might Jesus’ followers have been trying to satisfy?

Were there leftovers after the meal? How much?

Remember and make a list of the ways He’s provided for you, satisfied you, given good gifts.

Thank Him.

John 6:30-35 (…he who comes to Me will not hunger. v. 35)

“So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” 

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.’ “

What do the people want? What Old Testament reference do they make?

What does Jesus say the bread of God gives to the world?

What/Who is the true bread? What happens (or stops happening) to those who eat this bread?

Thank the Father for Jesus. Ask to have your soul satisfied in Him alone.

Write out John 6:35.

Offer it in adoration to Him throughout the day…”You are the Bread of Life. You satisfy every desire.”

Now, just a few more tasks for today…

  1. Find some pieces of rope, seaweed, palm branches, vines, (toilet paper? 😀 ) etc. and make a short chain out of them. Take a picture and text it to me. This will remind you that in the removing of links there is soul-satisfying nearness to Him happening.
  2. Buy a loaf of artisan bread in a local market or store (or…grab a piece of toast from the hotel’s continental breakfast?). Text me a photo. Slather on your favorite toppings – butter, jelly, peanut butter, honey? Savor it and with every satisfying bite, give praise to the True Bread of Life.
  3. Lie on the beach. Close your eyes. Meditate on these words: “My soul is satisfied, My soul is satisfied; I am complete in Jesus’ love, And my soul is satisfied.” It’s the chorus of the hymn “My Soul is Satisfied.” (And the whole thing is worth reading!)

May your soul be at rest today, and fully satisfied in Jesus. May every link that is cut away deepen your satisfaction in Him and your intimacy with Him. I love you, friend.


I did a little research on the Greek word for “satisfied” in the Matthew verse.  The word is chortazō and it carries all of the meanings you would guess – to fill, to fulfill – but it can mean something even more grand than that: to gorge or supply food in abundance in order to fill, feed, and satisfy.

Today I’m praying for my friend, for myself, and for you ~ that we would gorge ourselves (I think I like the terms savor and delight and indulge better than gorge) on Jesus and all that He is and provides. He is truly enough, even in our most despairing seasons and on our darkest of days. In fact, nothing and no one else can satisfy.

Summer So Far

It’s 2:30 on a Monday and I planned to have all of this posted mid-morning.

Have you guys noticed that life has a lot of interruptions? A hospital visit was not on my long to-do list this morning, but that’s where I spent a good portion of the time. If you think of it, pray for a friend who is there. An “interruption” to my carefully planned day, yes, but also a planned-by-God privilege to be able to bring some encouragement, reassurance, and prayer.

I can’t believe we’re in the second half of June. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but while I always long for summer and a break from the busyness of the school year, it definitely has a fullness all of it’s own. It probably feels especially crazy, because there is no pattern or routine – just a lot of events and happenings and random activities.

We are five weeks in to seven weeks of small groups at church (one of the “routines” of summer), and I LOVE MY GROUP. You might have noticed that we ordered the wrong version of the Seamless workbook, but we decided to proceed with the teen girls’ version.  It has worked out just fine, and we’re all learning or re-learning a ton. Vi (pictured below, right in the middle) made us these awesome flash cards of the icons used in the workbook to help get a visual for the timeline of the whole Bible. (Crosswalk Chaperones, you may see these again next month!)

(No, we are not learning the Bible backwards (though I think a lot of us do!), it’s just that they organized the cards from their left to right, not ours.)

We’ve hosted a couple of Sunday lunches, one of which held an impromptu birthday party for Joseph, age 2. And you know I love a crowd around my dining room table – especially when they are this cute.

A couple of weeks ago, Robert and I found ourselves in Indianapolis for the second time in three months – The Gospel Coalition Conference in April and Grant and Melissa’s wedding this month. It might be appropriate to call this The Year of Indianapolis, because Robert will be back there to perform another wedding ceremony in August. We’d never even been to Indiana until this year.

We’ve enjoyed running about a 4-5 mile course on the Cultural Trail both times now.  Getting our bearings a bit more this time, we ran more along the canal, which is really beautiful.  Then it was breakfasts at outdoor cafes, coffee stops, enjoying our downtown hotel, carpooling to the wedding venue (about 45 minutes out of the city) rehearsal dinner, and wedding.

These two…

They worked so hard to create a wedding venue out of a field of weeds which happened to back up to a pretty brook.  They mowed and weed whacked and moved tree trunks and planted flowers and watered flowers and mowed some more and arranged chairs and I’m thinking they could rent that field out for future weddings now.  It was just gorgeous. And if I had time and space to tell you their stories, you’d find them even more beautiful.

It’s yet another privilege of being in ministry and close community with so many…spending wedding weekends with students (and others) who’ve been a part of your church. Really.  Such a joy.

One guest was especially encouraged by the faith of these young college students and recent grads. He pulled both Robert and me aside at different times to express his delight. “They get it!  They love Jesus and know how to give Him glory.  These kids are going to change the world.”

I totally agree.

We toasted with milk and chocolate chip cookies. (And if that’s not world changing, I don’t know what is.)

The sad part about that wedding weekend was that in between morning runs and late night dinners and rehearsals and sometimes during all of those things, we were texting and talking with dear friends whose marriage is falling apart. Dear friends. Covenant friends. 30 years of friendship friends. Children confused, hurt, and angry. Hearts ripped apart. Just so difficult to process the darkness and complexity of the seeming end of a marriage while experiencing the light and joy of one just beginning.

Pray for my friends. I still have hope for them.

My days have been filled with lots of coffee dates with women from church, and a special DIY project that I can’t wait to tell you about. We’ve also been slowly making our way through some much needed home improvements. I have the pics of an almost brand new kitchen and mud room and will post soon.

(Also, DIY projects, home improvements, and plenty of time to meet with women means I dropped my summer seminary course.  The first assignment was due the week after Kory’s graduation and the final exam would have been during a special 25th anniversary trip we’ve planned. It had to go. More on our trip later, because we might need your suggestions.)

Father’s Day was really fun.  Also Child Dedication Sunday, we dedicated 15 children – and had well over 40 children at church. So crazy and so wonderful – especially when you take into consideration that my own kids were the only kids in the church from 1999 until just about seven years ago.

Later it was ice cream at Flayvors – our local dairy farm…

…and burgers by Cooper wearing a 1987 vintage (i.e. older than Cooper by 10 years) Texas FCA shirt. I honestly think it might be worth some money to a handful of folks, but we’re not parting with it anytime soon.

I’ll close with this:

Yes, he does love the SnapChat filters.

Thanks again for joining me here and being patient as I learn to navigate this new space.  (It’s not quite as easy as it was before, but maybe I’ll get the hang of it soon.)

Happy Start-of-Summer to you!

Blogging Anniversary = Blog Renovation!

Hi Gluten Free Krums Friends!

I’ve been blogging for TEN YEARS this week – June 12 to be exact – and to celebrate I thought I’d work on a little blog “fixer upper.” I’m hoping to have this space just right in the coming days, but my computer tech skills are not quite up to speed. Chip and Joanna won’t be here for a big reveal, but I hope you’ll keep checking in for any improvements.

(Like that blue font color in the sidebar. I’ve yet to be able to make it the brown color I want to match that new and beautiful header – created with design help from my friend, Isabelle.  But I DID successfully change the navigation bar color (miraculous), and I HAVE learned a few things about HTML, PHP, and CSS.) (Emphasis on “a few.”)

*Update: Many thanks to my friend, Anne, for coaching me on CSS code and format, so I could finally get the colors and fonts to my liking – and hopefully yours! The blue is now green! (I didn’t like the brown as much as I thought I would.)

Ten years. I can hardly believe it.

Here’s to another ten with some fresh paint and new furniture.

Be sure to click the “About” and “Why?” tabs to get some backstory, and I’ll see you around here again soon!