Adventures in Greece (Part 1)

Greece was really amazing, guys. Thanks for praying for us and being excited with us.

One way to know for sure that it’s going to be a great trip is finding that the airline you’re flying (Turkish Airlines) has individual foot rests. I just can’t even tell you what a game changer this was for me. It even adjusted to various heights, and I’m pretty sure it’s the main reason I was able to sleep for much of the 10 hour flight that left Boston at 11:30pm. I can hardly ever sleep on an airplane.

And then there was the food.

A week or so before the trip I was looking up “Turkish Airlines amenities” and found that you could order special meals for special diets – gluten free in my case.  I really despise having to be “high maintenance” in the food department, and oftentimes just choose to bring my own snacks, so I don’t have to make a scene inquiring about accommodations. I’ve actually tried to request meals before with other airlines who promised, but did not deliver in the end.  Not so with these folks.

The flight attendant knew just where the “special meal” people were seated and pulled out special trays with our names on them. We did not have to ask or remind.  Amazing.

That’s fish, red potatoes, peas and carrots, fruit salad, some kind of tomato/eggplant salad with feta, green salad with chicken on top, a rice cake, a small jar of honey, and inside the packet of utensils was butter and a wedge of hard cheese. The things that were supposed to be hot, were hot, and the things that were supposed to be cold were cold. It was delicious, and about 5 hours later, they served us another meal for breakfast that was equally amazing.

But you’d probably rather read about our destination…

It’s just that I really love food, and so I won’t be able to talk about Greece without mentioning and posting photos of the food. The local and traditional Greek food is even one reason I was interested in going there. Olives, olive oil, yogurt, meats, cheeses, hummus. Though I learned that hummus is not really Greek.  Syrian, most likely. The Middle Eastern countries. That’s where hummus comes from. The word hummus is Arabic for chickpea. Though, there is a lot of crossover when it comes to foods in that general region.

The main difference between our typical food routine and the Greek one was breakfast. We eat eggs and bacon and potatoes; they eat pastries. I have to tell you, life would have been a lot easier if we could have eaten pastries. Pastries and espresso, this is the Greek breakfast.

Fortunately, there are some local restaurants that cater to big-breakfast people, and we hit the jackpot on our first day in Athens. The place was called Meliartos, and was just down the street from the Acropolis.

Espresso, Cappuccino Freddo (iced), beautiful glass bottle of ice cold water, Greek yogurt with honey, and Greek Scrambled eggs. So, so good.

And like I mentioned before, plenty of Starbucks in town – really all in view of the Acropolis, but this one was probably the one with the most direct line of sight. We only went once for iced tea, electrical outlets, and wifi.

And not to worry…PLENTY of “You Are Here” mugs to collect from your travels.

I promise, we did see some sights on that first day, but we also drank another iced cappuccino while we waited for our Athens Walking Tour group to assemble.

We also seemed to hit the tour-guide jackpot. Ours was a man who was extremely knowledgeable, and spent from 11am until 3:30pm with us, which is about an hour and a half longer than the tour is advertised. It enabled us to skip the very long line to buy a ticket and enter the Acropolis area, and provided all of the details on the major sites along the way to the top and once there. I would not recommend trying to visit the Acropolis on your own, unless you happen to be an expert on all things ancient Greece and Rome. (Which I know a couple of you probably are, but not most.) Reading Percy Jackson does not really count, but it would certainly help.

There are many sites along the way to the top and at the top of the Acropolis, which just means “high part of the city” really. Many cities had an acropolis.

akros “highest, upper”  + polis “city”

I’ll just show a few photos/sites here…

Theatre of Herodes Atticus. It is located at the south slope of the Acropolis and was added in 161 AD during Roman rule. The theatre was built by Herodes Atticus, a wealthy Roman, in memory of his wife Regilla. It has exceptional acoustic capacities and can sit up to 5,000 spectators. (Source: www.greeka.com) Sinatra, Pavarotti, Sting, Elton John, and Diana Ross (and many others) have all performed here. We also saw the Theatre of Dionysus on the way up which held more like 15,000 in its day being near the bottom of the Acropolis with seating up the hillside.
Erechtheion On the north side of the Acropolis, it was erected in 421-406 BC as a replacement of an earlier temple dedicated to Athena Polias, the so-called ”Old temple.” This is where, according to the myth, Athena’s sacred snake lived. The sanctuary also contained the grave of Kekrops and the traces of the dispute between Athena and Poseidon for the possession of the city of Athens. (Source)
Parthenon It was dedicated to the patron goddess of the city, Athena, since Parthenon means also the apartment of the virgin. Athena was the goddess of wisdom, war and also a virgin. The Parthenon is located on the top of the Acropolis hill. It was created between 447 and 432 B.C. (Source: www.greeka.com)
Standing on the Areopagus (Mars Hill). Acropolis in the background.

Coming down from the Acropolis, the Areopagus was next on the tour – or Mars Hill – probably from “Ares” the Roman name of the god, Mars, and “pagus” meaning rock. Ares Rock in Latin or Mars Hill in Greek, I suppose.

Our guide wasn’t planning to have us walk to the top, but he clearly didn’t know who he was working with, because not standing on Mars Hill was not an option for the Bible nerds in the group. (See Acts 17:22-34) He gladly obliged, and then gave us the insider information that people like to watch the sunset from the top. We finally did that on day three.

I’m sure that sunset viewing from Mars Hill was a top priority for the Apostle Paul, too. Or not.

The Apostle Paul’s “Men of Athens” sermon.

After Mars Hill we walked next door to the Agora – or marketplace. Every city had one of these as well, but this one is best known for it’s philosophical debates, the beginnings of democracy, and lots more. Here’s a good description of its importance in the 6th-1st centuries BC:

…the heart of the government and the judiciary, as a public place of debate, as a place of worship, and as marketplace, played a central role in the development of the Athenian ideals, and provided a healthy environment where the unique Democratic political system took its first wobbly steps on earth. During this time, the Agora’s political, cultural, and economic influence shaped some of the most important decisions undertaken in the shaping of what we commonly call today Western Civilization. (ancient-greece.org)

Temple of Hephaestus located in the Agora – He was the Greek god of blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metals, metallurgy, fire, and volcanoes.

This is where Socrates was exposing faulty logic and weak worldviews (and corrupting the youth?!) with his incessant questions. It’s probably where Plato, his famous student, was developing his ideas of transcendent Forms known only by reason, whereas his pupil, Aristotle decided that reality was not dependent on those universal forms.

And yes, I had to look those guys up for a refresher. You’d think after many years of tutoring Classical Conversations and several grad level philosophy and theology courses I would remember those important ideas, but philosophy still feels Greek to me!

And I haven’t taken Greek yet, so it makes perfect sense.

The Stoa of Attalos Also in the Agora, the Stoa became the major commercial building or shopping center in the Agora and was used for centuries, from its construction in around 150 B.C. until its destruction at the hands of the Herulians in A.D. 267. (Source)

We were starving after this almost 5 hour tour, so we got an early dinner at a nearby restaurant and did some shopping. Leather sandals, olive oil, olive wood, olives, and honey – these were the contents of most every shop, just in various forms and brands, and we bought a little bit of each to bring home as gifts.A trip to Corinth and more food were on the agenda for the next two days in Athens, so I’ll be back soon with more pics and details.

Truly an amazing adventure.

Running Anxieties

Not anxiety about running itself, though there was a bit of that yesterday as well. We didn’t run while we were in Greece. Couldn’t seem to make it work. We either slept too late letting it get really hot outside, or we had to be out the door early for a tour or a flight. So, yesterday was our first run in almost two weeks, and we never let that much time pass.

Running is an anxiety remedy for me, so not running for a couple of week means that not only do I not have my usual anxiety outlet, but it also causes anxiety about my running ability after letting so much time pass.

Are you following? Does that mean I’m anxious about being anxious? Am I crazed?

Running is also when I do much of my praying, which certainly has something to do with the anxiety relief over and above any amount of endorphins and serotonin that running produces. It’s a pretty good combo now that I think of it.

The point is, I finally went running again yesterday, and the running wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be, but the praying was. Somehow, being out of the country provided a reprieve from the daily onslaught of distractions, but coming back home opened wide the door to frenzied thoughts once again. Every time I tried to pray I was bombarded with anxious thoughts…

Need to take a wedding gift to church tomorrow

North Korea

Need to have two other wedding gifts sent

Car needs an inspection and the side-view mirror is broken

Charlottesville

Child sponsorship program needs back pay from an expired debit card debacle

Kory’s college loan grace period ending soon

How will he transition from camp to corporate world?

He needs a place to live

That thing she said…ouch. What did I do wrong?

That Facebook post was harsh

Cooper’s move-in back at Gordon is soon

Does he need new stuff for his room this year

Need to go to Target

Tanglewood is one week from today. Don’t forget. Don’t double book

Seminary starts next week

Do I need to buy a new book for my seminary class?

I really need to buy groceries

I need to unpack

Everyone in my family needs a dentist appointment

A few minutes in to granting all of these anxious thoughts space in my heart and mind I realize what’s happening, and I wonder what God is thinking. I mean, it was only a few seconds after I started talking to Him that my prayers took an abrupt turn and into my long list of concerns and to-do’s.

So, I tell Him I’m sorry, and I start my prayer again.

Please forgive my distractions, Lord. Thank you for an amazing trip to Greece, for keeping us safe, our kids safe, for 25 years of marriage, for your grace and your good gifts…

I wonder how my friend is doing in the midst of her divorce

How could he do that to her? To his kids? To us?

Should we reach out to him again?

I hope _____________ is okay after her hospital stay

I hope she is settling in well in her new place

I wonder how much the church interns had to help with that after we left

Women’s ministry team has a meeting in a couple of weeks

What should our postcards look like? Maybe __________ can help with that?

What if someone doesn’t like the things we have planned?

Will this event/small group/Bible study cause offense?

Kayla starts school in one week

I hope her books arrive on time

I hope I got all the books she needs

She’s anxious about starting her senior year

I want to help her with that

How can I lift her burdens?

I need to pray with her about it more

We need to have ____________ over for dinner

I hope ____________doesn’t think I’m ignoring them

I need to respond to that email

I need to be sure and write Airbnb and TripAdvisor reviews for our hosts and tour guides

I need to find a job in the next year

Where should Kayla go to college?

College loans x three kids

Should I reach out to _______________?

She may not want me to reach out, but she might also be waiting for me to.

I don’t know…

Oh, Lord. I’m doing it again! I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I can’t pray today. Help me to pray.

This is how He answered…

Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. (Psalm 55:22)

…casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (I Peter 5:7)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God… (Philippians 4:6)

And so, because those are the verses that came to mind as I asked for His help, and also because I really could not focus in the type of prayer I was trying to manufacture, I just started casting.

Casting the cares that were flooding my mind.

Lord, be near to ____________ and give her peace.

God, restore their family and grant much comfort in the meantime.

Casting the anxieties that were troubling my heart.

Lord, protect our country and turn the heart of our president to you.

Father, provide for the finances and the debt.

Casting the burdens that were weighing heavy on my shoulders.

God, give us strength for the school year.

Lord, give me wisdom and discernment about this person. Give me love for them.

Letting the long list of requests be made known.

Father, you know we need this.

Lord, draw his heart to you.

God, show her her calling.

Father, give me efficiency in time and productivity in all the work.

It felt disjointed, unorganized. It didn’t follow any acrostic. There was no adoration or confession, really. In short, it wasn’t the prayer I intended to pray, but it was clearly the one I needed to pray.

What a relief (what grace!) that God anticipated our anxieties and scattered all throughout His Word reminders that He wants to carry them for us. He continued showing them to me throughout the day…

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; (Psalm 139:23)

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul. (Psalm 94:19)

and in His typical and tender way, He reminded me of this at the end of my run and again at the end of the day…

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Running.

Yesterday it was a running list of worries running me into a frenzy – and even about the actual running itself. (Help!)

Today it is a running list of promises that relieved that frenzy.

I’m really looking forward tomorrow’s run.

25 Years of Incompatibility

Today is our 25th wedding anniversary. 25 years!

I remember thinking ten years was a big accomplishment.

Justin Taylor posted a G. K. Chesterton quote on Twitter last week. It made me laugh…and think. I’m not going to pretend to be well versed in Chesterton’s writings (I’ve only read a couple of Father Brown mysteries), but I did download the book from which this quote was taken (What’s Wrong With the World?) on my Kindle over the weekend. It was free, and I’ve been accumulating a few things to read on our trip to Greece which begins this evening.

It was over 100 degrees in San Antonio, TX that day. We rode off in a horse drawn carriage with all of that birdseed stuck to our sweaty skin. The air-conditioning at the reception venue went out, and the ice sculptures my mother insisted upon did not fare well. (Neither did our poor guests.)

Anyway, here are the tweets:

Don’t feel compatible with your spouse? Chesterton: “I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one.” >>

>> “The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable.”

This led me to look up the definition of compatible.

Compatible: (of two things) able to exist or occur together without conflict.

Chesterton was definitely on to something.

In my small hometown (Uvalde, TX), weddings got a half page write up.

Two weeks ago I watched Robert as he instructed us, a group of camp Bible study leaders, on the framework and theology of the book of I John. White paper ripped off its roll and taped to the wall in order to illustrate overlapping themes, he pulled out his marker.

A dry erase marker.

I thought I might have to leave the room hearing that expensive marker, meant to glide smoothly and quietly across a slick white board, spill its precious ink on that crude butcher paper.

“But dry erase markers work fine on paper, too” was his reply to my later (and incredulous) inquiry.

That “they work” is, of course, not the point. The point is, “is it best” to use them in this (savage) way. We discovered, after 25 years of marriage, that we have serious conflicts about the proper stewardship of dry erase markers. Robert’s sole concern is with necessity, practicality; mine contains both the practical and the ethical. (And is therefore much more pious, of course.)

And to think that he actually questioned my morals here. He may have even called me a “dry erase legalist” a couple of weeks ago. I’m just not sure I can submit to his leadership in the case of marker usage, and I know for a fact that many of you are with me on this one.

Rehearsal Dinner with the flower girl – my little sister, Melinda.

Even before this shocking dry erase marker debate, I noticed something that happens fairly regularly when we are in the car together.

He’ll be turning left, but my body is leaning right. Left is clearly not the fastest way to our destination, but I have gained a smidge of self control through the years, so I wait. But it happens again. This time he’s turning right, and I’m leaning left. Patience and self control all used up (it lasted at least two whole minutes), I ask him where he’s headed, because surely we’re not going to the same destination in our minds. I’m surprised when he assures me that we’re headed to such and such a place. Really? He must have  forgotten the route.

But, no.

He did not forget how to get to that place we go to on a regular basis. In fact, his route and underlying logic (though questionable in my mind), will get us to our destination. Our daughter, Kayla, claims to have directional dyslexia; Robert and I are just diametrically opposed, directionally speaking.

To-may-to, To-mah-to. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

We’re definitely not calling the whole thing off over markers and maps.

Our engagement photo. When my grandmother saw it she said “Why didn’t you comb your hair?”

But our incompatibility is not always over such minor things. (Though dry erase markers and efficient travel can become major if left unchecked.) We have opposing methods and visions for many things, some of which we didn’t even realize until recently. In fact, it wasn’t until about 23 years into our 25 year marriage that we realized how much differently we viewed our role as parents.

 “But you’d already raised your kids for the most part,” you might interject. True, but a lot of that child rearing was done with some unspoken and underlying conflict and questioning of each other’s methods. When we finally (or more fully) discovered this in year 24, it was not very pretty. Ugly attitudes were exposed, angry words were spoken, self-righteousness surfaced, contempt and disdain could not be contained, and I’m not proud to report that most of those sinful reactions were mine.

We needed help to navigate those volatile waters, and we found it in a fellow-pastor-turned-friend. He asked us questions, helped us understand the other’s perspective, gave us journaling assignments and scripture to memorize. He also marveled at our kindness toward one another, and complimented our mutual respect and love. Those were encouraging words in the midst of what felt like such a difficult time.

New Year’s Eve in Austin, TX
My brother’s wedding in Santa Monica, CA.
Anniversary trip to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Parenting, finances, extended family, friendships, free time, ministry, holidays, and more. I’m not sure how we didn’t realize for such a long time that we aren’t very compatible in many areas. Sometimes I think it’s a special mercy from God that we haven’t been fully aware of our incompatibility, because we very often have conflicting convictions, varying visions, and differing dreams. And it’s not just us.  If you’re married, it’s you, too. (In fact, you probably knew it long before me, and handled it with much more grace. Really.)

But here’s where we are completely compatible: The gospel is our go-to.

We each treasure the good news that Christ has died in our place. We both acknowledge that we desperately needed the forgiveness given at the cross. We know our capability to inflict wounds as well as our incapability of knowing and loving one another sufficiently.  We each realize that we are dependent on God’s power and strength daily. And really, even these things are not of ourselves. The ability to love God, His gospel, and each other are gifts straight from Him – “nothing but the dripping grace of Jesus” is how someone might put it.

Molly and Brian’s Wedding at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst. (Photo Credit: Shannon Sarkisian)
Crested Butte, CO for Chris and Katie’s wedding.
Deerfield, MA Family Photo Shoot. (Photo Credit: Kylie Lynn Photography)

And I know there are very serious and seemingly insurmountable issues in marriage, even marriages between two Christians, but I’m convinced that if both partners receive and depend on the gospel, anything is possible. I’m not just theoretically convinced either.  I’ve witnessed it.

The gospel has the power to make incompatible people harmonious. Happy, even. Just look at the church and it’s assortment of all different kinds of people. I think it’s what Chesterton was getting at. An overarching mutuality and kindredness arises when the gospel is your go-to, but it still takes effort. There remains a necessity to choose and focus on gospel truths (i.e. I require grace and forgiveness as much as he does) and fight through the incompatibility.

In our marriage, Robert has led the way in this fight. Quick to listen, quick to ask forgiveness, slow to complain or accuse, he’s displayed a humility in our incompatibility that has softened my many sharp edges and given me a safe place to grow.

Sometime during our newlywed stage, I was introduced to Beth Moore and her Bible study workbooks and videos. If you don’t know who she is, it’s time to look her up and order her study on David, or The Tabernacle, or Daniel, or maybe the best one of all in my opinion, Jesus, the One and Only. In many ways, she continued into my adult life the depth of discipleship I had received during my college days at UT (Thank you, Laura, Cas, and Tracy) only via workbook and video and conference. (I did meet her in person once at a Passion Conference probably 23 years ago. I’m sure she remembers it well.)

Chris & Nicolette’s 1920’s Speakeasy 40th Birthday Party. (Photo filters by Jen Sinclair)
A 1970’s 40th Birthday Party for Lois.
Halloween. Taylor Swift and her rapper friend.

If I had to guess, I would say the following two pieces of advice came from her study on the life of David, but I’m not completely certain. Anyway, I tucked them away in my heart, have prayed them regularly, and believe God has answered powerfully. I suppose this has been one way I’ve fought through our incompatibility.

Beth said this:

Pray to always be thrilled by his kiss.

And now I’ll attempt to comment on this exhortation in true Beth form: (Read with a deep, serious Texas drawl)  Y’all. Let me just tell you right now, my man’s touch still thrills me to no end. His kiss sends my heart aflutter to this very day. Whew. Be careful what you pray for, sister. Y’all don’t need to wonder how we’ll spend the time in Greece when we’re not touring those ruins. MmmmmHmmm. 

In other words, I think (actually, I know) this is a prayer God loves to hear and answer.

Incompatibility and conflict have a way of dampening attraction and desire. This prayer is a remedy for that, and I can attest to its power. I don’t like for Robert to leave the room I’m in, let alone the house or the country. I never tire of being with him, and his kiss, embrace, and touch still make my heart beat fast. It’s a gift and a specific answer to a specific prayer.

Here’s something else Beth taught me about praying for my marriage:

Be shrewd as a serpent, innocent as a dove.

It comes from Matthew 10 and deals with persecution. Beth expanded this by urging us to remain pure of heart and to maintain all hope, but to face the fact that the enemy wages war on our husbands daily. She taught me to pray shrewdly that Robert would have eyes only for me and be able to resist the temptation that will inevitably come.

Imagine what happens when both spouses pray along those lines for each other? It’s something that transcends mere compatibility, I can tell you that for sure.

Whether it be silly things like dry erase markers or serious issues like parenting (and don’t even get me started on purchasing appropriate wedding gifts for others or timeliness in returning emails and phone calls), Robert and I are incompatible in many ways.

But we are happy. Happy in the gospel of Christ and therefore in each other – for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health – conflict or compatibility, until death do us part.

So today, and with much gratitude to God, we celebrate 25 years of happy incompatibility.

Crosswalk Camp “Flight Plan” photo – 2014
Allyson, our camp director, had all the campers and chaperones pray for us this year in celebration of our anniversary. Truly an overwhelming blessing.

P.S. Beth’s marriage has been anything but ease and compatibility. Want to be greatly encouraged regarding your marital incompatibility? Then read this post by Beth on their 38th anniversary.

Not convinced enough to click? Here’s an excerpt to help with that…

We don’t just kiss on our anniversary. We high five.

I’m really reluctant to do what I’m about to do because what if he and I get into the biggest fight of our lives tonight and I maniacally hurl all his fishing gear and deer heads and forty pair of unders in the front yard? I’ve never done that before but I’ve always known I had it in me. I’ve always kept my pitching arm in shape for such a time as this. And what if one of the neighbors videos us and I end up on the YouTube cussing? I’ve never been one to cuss much but, if I’m ever going to have a cussing conniption, it will be my luck to have it on the YouTube. One time I did try to leave Keith and he said, “Go right ahead. Leave me. But you’ll look in your rearview mirror and there I will be and not because I like you any better than you like me. Because I don’t. But because we are married and married we’ll stay.” Keith never was a great Catholic except about the one thing I wished he’d been more Baptist about: splitting.

(She cracks me up.)

And here’s a poem she wrote about marriage, in which she also urges a young bride to “pray to love his tender touch and want his gentle kiss.”

 

Maine-ly About Turning 17

Summer birthdays can be really awesome or really weird. Parties can be big, all-out shindigs, or altogether nonexistent, because all of your besties are camping or traveling or working odd hours in summer jobs. Fortunately, Kayla is happy to celebrate anywhere we happen to be at the time. Due to its July 28th date, we’ve celebrated her special day in various places…once at the home of an old high school friend of mine while visiting D.C, once in Connecticut at the home of fellow church planters, and this year we celebrated in Maine.

We have been going to the same cabin in Ogunquit, Maine every summer for as long as Kayla has been alive. (She started her cabin stays in a Pak N Play, and has since graduated to a twin trundle bed.) The cabin is a ministry to those in ministry, and a has been huge blessing to our family. Robert and I left a couple of days early and stayed in New Hampshire, and then Cooper and Kayla met us on Wednesday for lunch and the rest of the drive into Maine.

We invited Lars Gren to join us for lunch, since he lives very close to our route. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that Lars is one of the “Saints on Strawberry Cove.” He is the widower of Elisabeth Elliot, and has now been without her for a little over two years. The last time we had lunch with him was on July 15, 2015 – exactly one month to the day after Elisabeth died. I was eager to catch up with him and see how he’s been. Despite a head on collision with a drunk driver last August, and dealing with residual pain of several compression fractures, he’s doing well.  He had just returned from California where he attended a wedding and spent time with the family of the bride – a young woman who had been homeschooled and part of a conference and ministry at which Lars and Elisabeth were often asked to speak.

We enjoyed his stories and sitting together on the patio, though it was hot and I’m not sure how Lars endured it with his long sleeves and sweater.  He also ordered hot water (with lemon) and let us know that he never drinks anything cold….unless it is a 7-up, and then, of course, it requires ice. When we told him we’d be traveling to Greece for our anniversary, he said he also traveled there “years ago, courtesy of the US Navy.” Said he’d trade duties with other officers and take the night watch, so that he could go and explore the various cities in which they docked during the day.

We discussed the family of Jim Elliot, whose brother died in the last year. Lars traveled to attend Burt’s memorial service, which sadly also ended up being a memorial for Burt’s wife, Colleen, who slipped on ice walking up stairs, hit her head and never recovered. Tragic indeed, but in a strange way also very meaningful to celebrate two lives at once and a marriage dedicated to Christ and missions together.

It was a really nice visit, and the Wenham Tea House was just as you might imagine – little old ladies eating scones, salads, and tea sandwiches catching up on all the local scuttlebutt. If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan, think Emily Gilmore and the ladies of the D.A.R.

Then we drove up to Ogunquit, walked across the drawbridge to Perkins Cove for ice cream, grabbed some chicken and veggies at a cute downtown market to grill for dinner, and played a cutthroat game of Spades.

Cooper’s girlfriend, Madison, joined us for the day on Thursday which was really nice, and began with a big breakfast together at one of our favorite restaurants, The Roost.  Gluten free pancakes, muffins, and waffles are always on the menu there.Friday was Kayla’s birthday, and the only day we spent at the beach. It was nice and sunny that day. Since 17 year olds and 20 year olds like to sleep way past 7am, Robert and I went for a run, stopped at The Love Shack juice bar on our way back (beets and carrots and parsley!) and then started working on the birthday girl’s special breakfast – gluten free waffles (made in one of her birthday gifts, a mini waffle iron) and pancakes, eggs, bacon, and fruit. Her other gift was a pair of long-desired Birkenstocks. Cooper gave her a pair of Crocs, so I’d say she’s all set for summer footwear.

After breakfast, we packed our lunch cooler and headed for the beach.

Though it was warm that day, it was not really warm enough to get in the water. (In my opinion, of course.) Kayla kept begging someone to go in with her, but when Robert finally agreed and hit the waves ahead of her, she wasn’t so sure anymore. Eventually, they both took the frigid plunge

She’s planning a waffle birthday party for herself this week while we’re away in Greece, and has lots of other activities lined up for the week without us – babysitting, assisting a wedding photo shoot, and time with friends.

I know parents are supposed to say wonderful things about their children, and especially on their birthdays, but I don’t feel any obligation to exaggerate here.  Kayla is just a wonderful young woman, and I thank the Lord for giving me the gift of being her mom. We’re watching her work out her own call to ministry and seek the Lord for direction about college and beyond, and I’m always impressed by her discernment and wisdom and willingness to listen to God. She’s focused on meaningful things, and though tempted, not swayed by the different choices and direction of others.Saturday morning had me up with the sun and sitting on a bench along the Marginal Way with my Bible and journal. The gift of quiet and beauty all around, I finished the coastal-view walk with a trip into town for coffee and gluten free muffins for our final breakfast together in the cabin.

I hope Kayla looks back on her 17th birthday with happy memories of “the cabin in Maine” and a day at the beach. Maybe someday she’ll even be glad for the time with Lars (though she baked in the sun and wondered if she’d end up in a blog post) and being joined, even if ever so slightly, to the story of their family and ministry. Maybe she’ll even join their ranks as a missionary and hero of the faith.

She’ll be reading this soon, of course, so I’ll sign off by saying…

Kayla, Yes, you ended up in a blog post again. 😉 I love you and thank God for your life of faith and faithfulness even (and especially) at age 17. God has gifted you with a strength and confidence and calling that I know He plans to use for His glory and the good of others. I really love being your mom, and I can’t wait to watch it all play out in His time.

Greece Is The Word (One More Week!)

I couldn’t help myself with that title. You guys know it refers to one of my favorite childhood movies and musicians, because even at age eight I was already a big Olivia fan. Thankfully, almost all innuendos were completely lost on me at the time. Being in second grade meant it was all purely “isn’t she so pretty?” and “isn’t her voice so beautiful?” and “aren’t they so romantic?”

Now, forty years later, I can be much more spiritual (though I can still quote the movie) and say that my title here refers to the WORD (God’s Word in the New Testament, that is) being originally written in Greek. So, Greek is the Word…or the Word is in Greek.

The point is, we’re going to Greece!

(Lord willing, of course. And there have been a few twinges of fear and apprehension that it might not be His will, but so far, so good.)

 It’s an anniversary trip, and we leave on August 1 (one week from today!) which will be our actual 25th wedding anniversary.

One afternoon in April after an out-of town trip, Robert had a freshly cleaned house these things waiting for me on the table when I arrived home.

25 years of marriage seemed to us like something to celebrate, something to commemorate in a special way, and we’ve really never done anything quite like this before – well, except for that one time we went to Switzerland almost 10 years ago. (Hi, Romy!)

My memory is fuzzy on our 5th anniversary – probably because we had a two year old (Kory) and an infant (3 month old Cooper) at the time, but I think we may have gone to a bed & breakfast in Guthrie, Oklahoma. (Not exactly a romantic destination.) Robert’s parents stayed at our house in Stillwater with Kory, and we took Cooper with us.

On our 10th anniversary, a group of college students and grads from our church here in Massachusetts were helping us move into the house we still live in.  At the end of a hot and sweaty day, they gave us a box of Reynold’s Wrap (#10 is the aluminum anniversary 😉 ) and a gift certificate to a couple of nice restaurants in nearby Northampton. I remember hearing Twila Paris’ “How Beautiful (Is the Body of Christ)” in the background that day, and thinking that though it was not an “ideal” celebration, God had given us a family in these students and young adults. He’d given us laughter, too, in that box of tin foil.

Anniversary #15 was spent at The Copley Square Hotel in Boston and doing things in Boston we had never done because of having small kiddos – a Duck Tour and The Blue Man Group. It was three days and nights, I believe. We were so happy to sit for hours in cafes just talking or quietly reading.

Sunshine!

For Anniversary #20 we went to Bustins Island off the coast of Maine. I was very leery about this due to it only being accessible by ferry (all food and water had to be carried in) and not really having any electricity, but friends offered it, the price was affordable ($0.00), and Robert agreed to shop for and cook all meals. (I was pretty skeptical about that.) It turned out to be an incredible getaway, and kayaking around the island at sunset? Well, Sandy and Danny only came close to that kind of romance in Grease. (Oh, and Robert did indeed take care of all the food and even let me beat him at Scrabble a few times.)

I’ve been dreaming of visiting Greece for several years. I think it’s a combination of missing the sun so much after nearly two decades in New England as well as becoming more and more interested in biblical history and geography. Where better to indulge in both loves?

Greece is the word.

More sunshine! (So exciting, after a very rainy summer here.)

When we began dreaming about a vacation for anniversary #25 way back in October, our first thought was Catalina Island off the coast of southern California. (Greece seemed a bit unrealistic at the time.) That way we could stop for a couple of days in Palm Springs to visit our newest niece, Taya, and then head out for a warm, beach vacation. I texted my brother for some insider info on the resort island. He agreed to send me an email with plenty of ideas, but when he found out our other idea was to go to Greece, he said, “You’re trying to decide between Catalina and Greece? Go to Greece.”

In his mind it was a no-brainer.

Still not convinced, we looked up August’s average temperatures for both places.

Athens, Greece = 85 degrees.

Catalina Island = 75 degrees.

History, archaeology, architecture, and my brother’s advice aside, I was convinced. Oh, how I love 85 degrees. I can have 75 degrees on the beach in Massachusetts or Maine anytime, shivering in my hoodie all day. I’m not even packing a hoodie for Greece. (Well, maybe for the plane.)

We still didn’t think we could swing the financial aspect of  a trip like that, but an unexpected tax return and our camp paychecks enabled us to book all flights and Airbnb lodgings. It didn’t hurt that nearly every Airbnb listing in Athens said something like this: “$37.oo a night. View of Acropolis.”

Crazy.

It was so hard to limit ourselves to visiting only one island, but after much comparison and reading up on them, the biggest one, Crete (we’ll be in Chania), was the winner.

Having already booked travel to and lodging in Athens and Chania, Crete, last week we were finally able to sit down together and create a more detailed itinerary for our trip. It was so much fun, and we can hardly wait!

Here are some things we have planned…

Thursday, August 3: Skip the Line: Walking Tour of Acropolis, Ancient Agora, and Attalos Museum

Friday, August 4: Gourmet Food Walking Tour in Athens

Saturday, August 5: Corinth Half Day Tour From Athens

Sunday we’ll fly from Athens to Chania, Crete (attend a church service?) and explore the city.

Monday, August 7: Hike the Samaria Gorge and stay overnight in Agia Roumeli

Tuesday, August 8: Return to Chania. Afternoon/evening Boat/Swimming Tour.

Wednesday, August 9: Half day trip to Monastery of Agia Triada

Thursday, August 10: Return to Massachusetts

You know, just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Acropolis.

Out of curiosity, I looked to see if there are any Starbucks stores in Athens. Silly me. There are actually six, but we have agreed to not drink their coffee or tea. It will be strictly local cafes and markets for us over the next two weeks, however, I may have to purchase an Athens “You Are Here” mug.

As exciting as all of this trip dreaming and planning is, I can honestly say there is no one I’d rather experience it all with than my husband of 25 years, and I thank God for that gift. To be happily married and longing for more time together in faraway lands is a truly gift. We could never have maintained this kind of love and affection and devotion in and of ourselves.  We know it comes from God, and we can’t wait to celebrate His generosity toward us with a very exciting adventure next week.

So, now that I think of it…

Gift is the word.

And the Giver is so good.

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!)