Five Favorites On Friday

My seminary lectures and readings last week were all on the book of Ecclesiastes.

Kind of depressing at first.

“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (1:2)

“The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.” (1:8)

“So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after the wind.” (2:17)

Vanity. Futility. Striving. Grieving. Restlessness. Discontent.

Hurray.

Not only did I spend time looking at the book of Ecclesiastes, but because I was in search of some encouragement in the face of fear I turned to the Psalms. The one I read and prayed through (#90) seemed uncannily in the same despairing tone of Ecclesiastes.

“As for the days of our life, they are seventy years. or if due to strength, eighty years. Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away.” (v. 10)

and then later…

“Make us glad according to the days you have afflicted us, and the years we have seen evil.” (v. 15)

Labor. Sorrow. Affliction. Evil.

Sigh.

But, you know what? I’ve always said I’d rather have the raw truth than some candy-coated, fairy-tale version sure to result in heartbreak when reality arrives at my doorstep.

So, it’s true. Life, especially life in a fallen, broken world is often sorrowful and disappointing.

But I love what my professor told us was Martin Luther’s theme and final message of the book of Ecclesiastes: “To enjoy life as a gift from God.”

I think he was right, and have been trying to do just that this week.

So, in the spirit of enjoying and being glad in these days, let me share five of my favorite things from this week…

1. A Quaint Vermont Inn

When I checked in last Friday evening, there was an autographed photo of Bob Newhart behind the front desk. I know this will date me, but Newhart (that sitcom from the 80’s) is what I first think of when I think “quaint in in Vermont.” Well, turns out this was the inn Hollywood used to film exterior footage for the show. It’s kind of a crazy story, but the producers/directors chose this inn out of all the inns in Vermont, starting filming the exterior in all different seasons, decided the inn looked too dark in the footage, painted the whole thing white, filmed in all seasons again, and then painted it back to its original colors. I learned this story when I couldn’t resist asking the front desk clerk why Bob Newhart’s photo was on display. She was sure to tell me that Bob Newhart never actually made it to the inn, but that Darryl and his other brother Darryl did. Ha!

I couldn’t believe I was staying in the very place my mind goes when I think of Vermont. Newhart was all we Texans had to go on, because no one actually ever went to Vermont, of course.

The quaintness did not stop with the iconic inn beautifully decorated with autumn colors, though. On Saturday afternoon I was back at the inn studying and going over notes for our next session at the women’s retreat. I was craving a cup of coffee, and knowing the closest Starbucks was an hour away, I decided to ask about getting a cup from the kitchen.

This is what appeared at my door just a few minutes later:

And there is just something wonderful about coffee and cream on a tray delivered to your room.

2. A Taco Restaurant…in Vermont

I knew I would get hungry on my three hour drive home Sunday afternoon, and feared there would be no place to stop for real food. I actually drove past this place, but about a block later decided this was probably as good as it was going to get and turned around. My Mexican food expectations were low though, because…Vermont. But, two chicken tacos with crispy shells, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and black olives later, my tummy was very happy. Tacos in Vermont. A new favorite.

3. A Sibling Skype Date

 

I considered staying an extra night at that quaint inn in Vermont, but this sibling hangout had been on the calendar for a while, and I didn’t want to risk not having good internet service. We had some technical difficulties, one of which was that my video wasn’t working. It’s why you only see three siblings instead of four, but we still had fun catching up and discussing the merits of Stranger Things 2. We’re trying to make it a regular date, which it not easy as the four of us live in four different times zones. And we’re even thinking of broadening our Skype date horizons, so you’ll have to keep checking in here to see what comes of it.

4. Freedom Cafe Coffee Dates

The Freedom Cafe is my new favorite place to meet for coffee dates, and I’m thankful for Alena (Taylor and Brittany, too) for suggesting it. It’s now located in the basement of First Baptist Church which is practically on the campus of UMass, and I’m there at least once a week talking about life and faith with college women. I love that we’re supporting (even if in a very small way) the “efforts to end human trafficking and rescue its victims.” There is a donation built into the the cost of your drink, but you also have the option to round up or donate any amount on top of that. Coffee for a cause. I love that.

5. Flowers Delivered To My Door

Aren’t these so beautiful and bright? Some dear friends from my church sent these to me this week with encouragement and thoughtfulness attached. I was so surprised when they arrived yesterday afternoon, and this vibrant bouquet has been my favorite thing to look at ever since – a reminder of God’s kindness and care via the body of Christ. And they were from Atkins Farms, which is one of my favorite places to shop in this season. And there were bright Gerbera daisies in the mix, which are my favorite flowers.

So, I’m with you, Martin Luther. I’m enjoying these favorites as gifts from God in spite of the vanity and futility of life. I think it’s exactly the Psalmist, Moses in this case, meant when he prayed this in Psalm 90:

“O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (v. 14)

Prince of Peace, Come and Reign

It was such a lovely weekend. About twenty-five of us gathered in what can only be described as a log mansion. The oversized stone fireplaces surrounded by the coziest of furniture on every level disqualified it from being a mere cabin. Built long ago as a luxurious hunting lodge, it now serves as the retirement home and extended family gathering space of a godly married couple. Located on a gorgeous northern Vermont hillside, every window offered a breathtaking view of the the large lake down below, bordered by the rusty-colored foliage so familiar to New England in late autumn.

Truly lovely.

The purpose of the gathering made it even more delightful: To Retreat. To take a break from busy lives in order to  worship the Lord and learn from His Word together as women. Specifically, we focused on blooming where we’ve been planted, which is sometimes also known as living in exile.

Living in exile, because as Paul proclaimed in his letter to the Philippians, our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior. (3:20)

And waiting means abiding.

Observing, adhering, remaining, persisting…in Him who has not yet arrived to re-establish our real home.

Though my mind and body were a little weary from the wonderful weekend, my spirit was soaring as I made the three hour journey home down winding mountain roads and through picturesque ski towns. I sang Matt Maher’s “Christ is Risen” on repeat.

And that’s when I got the text message from my sister. Breaking news: Up to 16 shot at Texas church.

“I knew it was just a matter of time,” was my jaded reply.

In fact, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but during a worship several Sundays ago, I had convinced myself that there was a gunman in our midst. I could barely pay attention to the service, my mind racing with contingency plans, death tolls. I prayed against any evil schemes. I don’t want my own struggle with fear to exacerbate anyone else’s, but surely I’m not alone in these culture induced concerns.

Matt Maher’s song and lyrics were the perfectly timed background music for the devastating news.

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with Him again
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light
The glory of God has defeated the night

Oh, the sting of death is felt acutely today. The victory of hell seems all too near this afternoon. But as Owen Strachan wrote today: Evil has an expiration date.

As I sang about God’s ultimate and forthcoming defeat of all darkness, and as I prayed for Him to be near to those suffering in Sutherland Springs, TX (so very close to my hometown of San Antonio), another song and artist came to mind. Truly, a blast from my high school and college days past: Twila Paris. A few clicks later, she helped me cry out for the hastening of that defeat.

There is no hope for a world that denies you
Firmly believing a lie
Hiding their hearts while their minds analyze you,
Cleverly choosing to die

Maker of all, we kneel interceding
Fighting for your will
Father of light
Your children are pleading still

Prince of Peace, come and reign
Set Your feet on the mountaintop again
Take Your throne, Rightful Lord
Prince of Peace, come and reign forevermore

I had just spent an entire weekend teaching the why’s and how’s of living in exile, of abiding in Christ as strangers and aliens in this broken world, of dwelling in this dark land and cultivating faithfulness. If it had still been theoretical for any of us that morning, surely we were convinced as we drove home and faced the evening headlines. What more will it take? Twenty-six of our own had been slain while we gathered safely tucked away in a mountain lodge. Twenty more wounded. Almost an entire church wiped out by its crouching enemy.

And then I thought of what those believers were doing as their lives were taken.

Abiding.

Observing, adhering, remaining, persisting.

Dwelling diligently. Gathering faithfully. Attaching themselves to the Vine.

Standing in the light. Acknowledging God’s glory and defeat of the night.

It reminds me of a verse we looked at in my women’s small group last week:

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28

Those gathered worshipers feared the only One who has real power.

I like the way the Phillips translation puts it:

Never be afraid of those who can kill the body but are powerless to kill the soul! Far better to stand in awe of the one who has the power to destroy body and soul in the fires of destruction!

That’s right. Powerless to kill the soul.

Because Jesus trampled death by death.

Yes, Prince of Peace, come and reign. Please come and take your rightful throne. Hurry and set your feet on the mountaintop again.

In the meantime, help us abide. Even if it means facing fears and fatal wounds as we do.

Gorgeous

Someone with blonde hair, a lot of love for cats, and not a lot of love for Kim and Kanye released a new song last Friday. And because, according to my Myers-Briggs personality type, I am “fiercely loyal,” I believed in this young musician whom I have come to enjoy and admire. I just knew she would come through. I had high hopes that this song, the third released from her not-yet-fully-released-album would finally be sweet and sincere – suitable for her female (and male) listeners young and old.

I fully expected “Gorgeous” to be a ballad of encouragement and inspiration, a call to confidence for all of her adoring female fans. (And a call for respect from all of the young men listening.)

I was so wrong.

Can I just tell you how often my fierce loyalty leaves me feeling fiercely betrayed?

Often. Very often.

Ah, Taylor. I’m not giving up on you yet (it’s almost impossible for me, because…ISTJ), but may I just share the definition and my own thoughts on the word gorgeous with you?

I know, I know. I’ve heard women describe men as “beautiful” and “very attractive” before, but more often the adjectives “beautiful” and “gorgeous” are used to describe women. It’s why I had a certain expectation about your song.

But, silly me.

It was about a man.

When will I learn?

Granted, the song probably describes well the instant infatuation with a man based on his outer appearance and the emotionally intoxicating experience that attraction can be for some women. Honestly, I can be a tad slow in this department, not noticing right away a man’s attractiveness, so I’m speaking mostly from what has been described to me. I thank God for that mercy, too, because I know it is a great struggle for some.

But I know for sure that writing a song about recklessly giving in to that obsession is good for no one, especially young and impressionable women.

And from a biblical perspective, it’s idolatry.

It’s worshiping the thing created rather than the Creator Himself, and it’s serious.

Serious, because it’s a grand departure from our original purpose: worshipers and image bearers of the One True God.

This weekend, I get to tell a whole bunch of women how gorgeous they are. Superb, impressive, splendid, spectacular, and awe-inspiring. I can hardly wait.

It won’t really be their physical appearance that we discuss, though any time I am in a large group of women their beauty truly captivates me. On Saturday morning, we’re going to talk about their identity as image bearers. What could be more gorgeous? We’re going to explore the beauty of a humanity created in two genders, and examine the great significance of being created female.

Here’s the description of the session:

A Resplendent Replica: She is brilliant, skilled, impressive, stunning, magnificent, and breathtaking. She is woman, and uniquely created to reflect the very image of God. But her feminine identity, intended to mirror both her Creator and the gospel itself, is often under assault  – by her own indwelling sin, by the world in which she lives, and by the enemy of her soul. Let’s return to the garden of Eden where she was created and distinguished as female. Let’s rediscover the Creator’s design and intentions for her, and let’s pray that both individually and collectively we would be strengthened to embrace the beautiful idea of God that is woman.

Would you pray for us?

I’m feeling so passionate, yet also very inadequate in regard to communicating these biblical truths to a conference room full of 18-25 year old women. I’m praying fervently that God will use our time together to do exactly what I was naively hoping Taylor would do:

Tell women how incredibly special and distinct they are.

Remind them of their beautiful, intentional design.

Encourage them to confidently contribute to the world and the church with their unique gifts and abilities.

Equip them with the truth about their true identity.

Warn them of the vulnerabilities that are inherent within them.

Exhort them to highly value both themselves and the men in their lives.

Would you pray for Robert, too? He’ll be teaching something very similar to the men.

 

Guess what one of the definitions of beauty is?

That’s right. A woman. Both of those definitions expose the truth that women distinctly embody beauty.

Oh, I know it sounds superficial, but it doesn’t have to be. Beauty is a reality that points to God Himself. May we, as women and image bearers of our Creator, know and honor that beauty.

May we resist the “magnetic field” of our enemy who makes fatal things appear “gorgeous” and delightful to the eyes.

And silly as it may sound, may Taylor herself be delivered from this seduction and its far reaching effects on her faithful followers. She’s got 12 more tracks to go, and I don’t know if I can face the sting of her betrayal all over again.

Weepy Eyes. Full heart. Can’t Wait Till Christmas.

Ya’ll already know how much I love to have people around my dining room table, but these people right here are my favorite ones to have gathered in one place. They are my favorite people to cook chocolate chip pancakes and bacon for. This is my favorite group to hang out with and laugh with and reminisce with, and I got to do all of that and more this last week. It’s why my eyes are a bit weepy today, but my heart is so full.

We picked up Kory and his girlfriend, Rebecca, from the Boston airport on Friday at noon and drove straight to Beverly, MA for lunch at Atomic Cafe and GF cupcakes at Crave Cafe & Bakery. Cooper had a 2pm exam, so we had to kill some time before going to see him in his natural college habitat. Coop and his girlfriend, Madison, gave us a great tour of campus, and we all enjoyed coffee and apple cider at Chester’s on campus.

The campus was decorated so festively, and it was perfect fall weather – even a little on the warm side. My dad and the rest of our group were impressed with the beauty of Gordon College, but Grandad was not so impressed with Cooper’s actual habitat – a.k.a. his dorm room. He probably would have appreciated it much more if he had seen and smelled Cooper’s previous dorm room at the end of last year. Yikes.

Gordon College is only three miles from the coast, and so we decided to visit Singing Beach on our way to dinner. Fresh out of the water, a man greeted us as we walked onto the beach. He strongly encouraged us to go for a swim saying the water was nice and warm. And I think it really was – warmer than the air temperature anyway, but none of us were really up, or dressed for a swim.

We did try to take some photos, though. I was pretty disappointed that Cooper was unable to attend Kory’s Baylor graduation back in May, mostly because it seemed like my one chance to get a family photo for the Christmas card. Well, we made several atempts, and as you can see, none of them are perfect.  Parents of young children take heart. It does get better through the years, but not that much better.

The sunset was easier to capture that evening right before enjoying a nice dinner in Manchester-By-The-Sea at 7 Central.

Cooper followed us back to Amherst that evening, and Saturday had us driving to Vermont in order to enjoy the fall colors via the chairlift at Mt. Snow on the last weekend they offer it. Whew.

But you have to drive right past the flagship Yankee Candle store to get to Vermont from my house, and we just couldn’t NOT expose Rebecca to the wonders of the “Scenter of the Universe.” Robert set his phone timer to 30 minutes, and we managed to see Santa Claus (who was decorating pumpkins with kids that day), get snowed on (it happens every 4 minutes there), walk through the castle, see the trains, and smell lots of candles – clearing our palates every now and then with coffee beans.

You might see this one on a Christmas card though.

We managed to buy absolutely nothing, and we missed the Green Mountain Boys show, but we scored some free samples of apple cider, and still made it out in 30 minutes exactly. Definitely a record of some sort.

The colors have been a little slower to show this fall, probably due to the warmer weather lately, but driving north a bit made a big difference. It didn’t hurt that Saturday might have been the most perfect fall day ever. The view from the chairlift and peak of Mt. Snow was really gorgeous.  We were able to spend an hour or so at the top before riding back down at the beginning of sunset. The lighting at that time of day made the colors even more vibrant.

Or maybe this one?

I’ve only been at the top of this mountain in the dead of winter, so I had no idea that was water down there. It was really fun to see it in a different season. And please remind me to never ski down Chute ever again. It is scary-steep looking with snow, and even more so when you see it without. No wonder I did damage to my tailbone on that run. I am definitely getting too old for that.

Sunday was church, and then we had a few people over for lunch who know and love Kory. It’s crazy, but there aren’t that many folks around who know him anymore.  I have to say things now like “my oldest son, Kory” or “my son that lives in Texas” because he’s been gone over four years now, and we have a big turnover in our mostly-college-student-congregation in that time. The Moylan family couldn’t make it to lunch, but they were so sweet to stop by later in the afternoon to say hi and meet Rebecca. You might remember the Moylan fam from this post.

Cooper left early Sunday morning, because he was invited to tryout for the Gordon basketball team and needed to be back on campus by 10 or 11am in order to get ready and warm up. And with this unexpected event, my plans for an afternoon family photo shoot were derailed yet again. At least we got a few shots together on Saturday.

Robert took Kory and Rebecca to Boston to catch their flight on Monday morning (they missed it!) and then left for a three day pastor’s conference/retreat in New Hampshire.

On Tuesday, my dad and I did something I’ve wanted to do forever – or ever since I heard you could do it: a tour of Fenway Park. I’ve taken him to do the Freedom Trail, Boston Common, The Prudential Building, John Adams’ house, Lexington and Concord. We’ve even done the capitol building in Hartford, and Ogunquit and Kennebunkport in Maine.

The Fenway tour was awesome.

This was the part where the tour guide let us sit in the press box and told us that portions of the movie Moneyball were filmed in that very spot – so we were breathing air in a space that had been inhabited by Brad Pitt.

We had burgers and fish tacos at Cask and Flagon after the tour and then walked the one mile it takes to get from Fenway to the Prudential Building, which my dad was only slightly concerned about. (I promised we would be on public transportation at all times after that.) He actually enjoyed the walk, and he mentioned several times how neat it was to see the brownstones in Back Bay. Plus, it ends up being part of the Boston Marathon route, so there’s that as well.

It took some strong exhortations on my part, but I did convince him to walk a little beyond the Prudential to the marathon finish line at the Boston Public Library.  When he got a little grumpy about it, I just reminded him that he would not be able to tell his friends he saw the finish line or stood right where the bombings happened if he did not continue on to about 1.2 miles. He just laughed and kept walking, and then took several photos of the famous landmark. He was totally unimpressed with Eataly – the incredible new food court at the Prudential, and so we headed straight over to the Marriott Starbucks to rest our legs and warm up over coffee. We ended up hailing a taxi back to Cambridge where we had parked just to skip the T at rush hour and the need to change trains half way through.  Plus, we were just tired.

Side Note: I can now say I’ve met someone from Benin, Africa. Benin, Africa! Our very kind and friendly taxi driver was from there, but has lived in Boston for 20 years now. I pulled it up on Google maps as we rode into Cambridge and showed him, asking him if I was correct in spelling/location. He loved talking about it and then telling us a few stories about his previous work in the U.S. in a psychiatric ward in which a patient once broke his wrist! The list of friends and acquaintances God has brought into my life from African countries continues to grow, and I truly love it. They are always such lovely people, and I learn so much from meeting and knowing each one. It’s one of the gifts of living in a college town and near a major city – a gift for which I’m really thankful.Wednesday, my dad and I left a bit early for his flight out of Hartford, so we could have breakfast at Sylvester’s in Northampton, and then do a little bit of shopping in West Hartford. Some of you know that my Dad likes to shop, and enjoys clothes and fashion very much having worked in the industry his entire career. What this means is that there is almost always a trip to the mall for a new outfit for me when he visits, and this time Ann Taylor Loft was having a 40% off sale. And just in case you don’t do math like a true shopper, 40% off means that you buy MORE clothes than you usually would.

I feed him home cooked meals and make him walk 1.2 miles to Boston landmarks, and he buys me new fall and winter clothes. It’s really a win-win. (Kayla got a new sweater on Wednesday, too, and she wasn’t even with us.) Don’t ever suggest to him that he enjoys shopping, though, because he will deny it every time.

But new clothes don’t make up for the quiet house and near empty nest I’m living in again. It was hard to say goodbye to everyone this week. Maybe it’s good that the goodbyes happened in a staggered fashion – Sunday, then Monday, and finally Wednesday. Christmas is only 65 days away, though. The countdown clock at Yankee Candle was a bit frightening at first, but then I remembered that we’d all be back together again, and I can’t wait.

Turkish Delights

Passport, Visa, packing lists, notarized forms, planning meetings, books to read, letters to send, phone calls to make, a pantry to stock, and fears to face. The trip to Turkey finally came and went, and it was truly an incredible experience.

Full Turkish breakfast every morning – included!

It’s difficult to express all that it meant to me, especially with an inherent limitation on specifics, but I learned so much, met some very special people, and had a couple of opportunities to serve.

My son, Kory, traveled to Turkey in 2012, and I’ve been interested in going ever since. A leadership development and service trip, he returned with a deep respect for those who’ve chosen to live and work in one if its largest cities.

Where I’m sparse on specifics, I can be prolific in photos – and you should know that some of these photos are mine, but some are stolen from other members of the group I traveled with. (Thanks, guys!)

Simit – the Turkish (and Greek) bagel. He walked up and down our street every morning yelling SIMIT! SIMIT! SIMIT!

Olives. And an olive shovel.
Artichoke hearts and figs and lots of free samples.
The Hagia Sophia. Couldn’t believe I was seeing it in person.
Men’s washing area, before entering the mosque for prayer.
Symmetrical marble pieces cut with silk threads – about 1500 years ago.
Islamic symbols next to and covering up Christian symbols.
The crosses were removed from the walls.
Blue Mosque – or Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Still an active mosque. Long pants, skirts, and head coverings required even for visitors. Shoes are removed.

We stayed in a part of the city that was also ancient Chalcedon – where the fully man-fully God nature of Christ was settled by the 4th church council.

We HAD to run through the pigeons on our way to the Spice Bazaar.
Waiting for the metro.
I was captivated by the coverings.
Gözleme at the Sali Bazaar. Kind of like a quesadilla – filled with potato, cheese, and spinach…I think. Or any combination of those.
He gave me that fig, and it was delicious.
Ginger, Cinnamon, and Carob – in the ginger box. We ate the whole carob pod and all

 

It doesn’t look like it, but Angela and I really enjoyed that “Ottoman Coffee” and all the free samples of nuts, fruits, tea, and Turkish Delight.
Beautiful bowls everywhere.
Tea for breakfast…
…tea on the ferry…
…and more tea! (But without me that time, because…stomach bug. Ugh.)
The whole group in front of the library at Ephesus.
Jordan reading from Ephesians in the Ephesus theater.

The goddess, Nike. (Also a shoe maker from Oregon according to our guide. 😉 )

We got to make some American treats for our Turkish friends – pancakes with Nutella, jam, fruits, and syrup. They weren’t so sure about the syrup part.
Making friends, practicing English, playing games, taking classes.
Baklava! There was baklava everywhere, and we even found a shop that had a gluten free version. Yippee!

 

Does this Turkish doughnut shop look familiar?

There were so may highlights, but I think the most meaningful part of the trip for me was meeting a few expat women who live, work, and raise families there. Angela and I got to spend a morning with them – being silly, listening to their life stories, and studying the Word together. The challenges they faced prior to arriving in Turkey and have faced since moving there were truly heartbreaking, but also in line with what Robert always says about those called to that type of work: it requires purification and refinement – often severe, and as if by fire.

The fire-tested faith stories of those women will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Yes, so many Turkish delights. Really, too many to count, and I’m so thankful.