A Winner & A Podcast

So fun!  I would have been so thrilled to send a Bible study workbook to any of you who commented on the last post, because each of you are really precious to me. Really. I truly love connecting with you here, and sharing life’s battles and our common faith. But, Sara Evans was the winner, and I’m so glad I get the chance to introduce her to you.

(And just in case you wonder how I chose, here’s the site I used and the results.)

Sara’s husband, Austin, was a part of our Manchaca Baptist Church (Austin, TX) youth group way back in the day. (Circa: 1991-1995) “Austin from Austin” is the way girls from other youth groups would refer to him when we were at camps and conferences…if you know what I mean. Yep, he was quite the catch back then, but Sara was the eventual winner of his heart.

They met at Pepperdine University while studying and surfing the SoCal waves. Just kidding. I don’t think they surfed all that much, but Austin did play baseball there.

Sometime after they married, they were crazy enough to pack a U-Haul with all of their earthly belongings and drive it to Amherst, Massachusetts to live and work and help us with our church-planting endeavors here.

I absolutely loved having them here, and miss them very much now that they’ve moved to Bend, Oregon. Now, whenever young families join our church, we almost always say “Oh! I wish the Evanses still lived here. You guys would have totally hit it off with them!”

Sara exercised both the gift of hospitality as well as her gifts for administration and bookkeeping in such joyful and generous ways, and I absolutely loved spending time with her. One of the great highlights and privileges of my life was participating in the birth of her firstborn son, Dominick. It was a water birth. It was without any pain meds. And it was absolutely amazing. Sara remained her beautiful, determined self throughout the entire process and I was on cloud nine for at least a week afterward. What a blessing.

They went on to have another boy named Nolan, and then they adopted a little girl from China whose name is Maelyn. Currently, they are in the process of adopting a little boy from China. It is truly an incredible story in that their son, Nolan, was diagnosed with Freeman Sheldon Syndrome early in his life, and little YouYoung shares that diagnosis in an even more pronounced way. The tears just start flowing when I think that not only will YouYoung soon have a forever family, but he’ll have a brother who shares a common struggle and syndrome – even if he shares a different ethnicity. And Maelyn will have a brother who shares her ethnicity soon. It’s all just so beautiful to me.

If you’re interested, you can follow their family’s story here. 

So, congrats, Sara. I’ll contact you soon, so you can tell me which workbook you’d like!

Okay. So I really wasn’t planning to ever mention it again, but the podcast I mentioned in a previous post aired today. Bethany texted me last night to give me a little heads-up about it, and I wish I could say that I did not experience the same horror I felt in the days leading up to the interview (which had begun to subside) all over again. But them something really sweet happened.

With much trepidation, I pushed play on the podcast app as I started off on my morning run. I truly expected to cringe at the sound of my own voice, but that’s not what happened. The story was not as random and disjointed as I imagined, my voice was not as awful sounding as I had assumed, and things that are very dear to me came out in ways that I couldn’t have manufactured on my own.

Somehow, God used my listening to myself tell my own story to very sweetly encourage me.

Somehow, my estimation of myself changed as I listened to the ways the Lord has carried and sustained me.

Somehow, I could see and hear His love for me, His acceptance of me, His working in and through me.

Somehow, I ended up in tears over the ways I don’t see myself as He does, how I condemn myself, limit myself, and believe things that aren’t necessarily true or right.

Somehow, He used my own podcast interview to comfort me and remind me of His love for me.

I did not expect that at all. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what I expected.

He is so good like that.

(And Bethany, thanks for having confidence in me and for being such a great host, minister, wife, mom, and encourager of the church in New England.)

(You can find the podcast here, here, and here.)

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.

Bloom Where You Are Planted/Exiled: Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He comes close to us in our exile.

To be continued…

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

Bloom Where You Are Planted/Exiled: Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take your records, take your freedom

Take your memories, I don’t need ’em

Take your space and take your reasons

But you’ll think of me.

And take your cap and leave my sweater

‘Cause we have nothing left to weather

In fact I’ll feel a whole lot better

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

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

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

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

Nope. Not that either.

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

To be continued…

Summer So Far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These two…

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

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

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

I totally agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll close with this:

Yes, he does love the SnapChat filters.

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

Happy Start-of-Summer to you!

Some People

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt.
Luke 18:9

The italics are mine, and I am “some people.”

self-righteous: convinced of one’s own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others : narrow-mindedly moralistic.


contempt: the feeling that a person or thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving of scorn.

Ouch.

It’s even more painful to read the parable that Jesus told to some people, ie. me.

It’s the one where the Pharisee (a Jewish teacher who knows well the stories of God and the Ten Commandments and more) goes to the temple to pray. (If that’s even what you can call it.)

He stands. He does not kneel or bow his head, let alone prostrate himself.

He thanks God for his elevated ethics. You know, that he doesn’t steal things or sleep around.

He highlights for God his spiritual practices – scheduled fasting, calculated giving.

“Obsessed with his own virtue” is how one person put it.

He celebrates with God that he is nothing like the tax collector (a Jewish collaborator with the Roman Empire) who has come to pray at the same time.

You know, the one lying face down next to him.

The one unwilling to lift his eyes to heaven.

The one agonizing over and acknowledging his sinful ways.

The one begging for God’s mercy.

Unpleasant as it is, being faced with your (my) “some people” status and finally (or at least more fully) agreeing with it is a gift. It’s the answer to one of those reluctant (but persistent out of desperation in my case) prayers to be made aware. The result of this prayer specifically…

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139: 23-24

There are hurtful ways in me, but I want the everlasting way.

So with the tax collector I pray, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”

And even if those are just words on a page in my journal, I pray He will hear them as true prayer and real pleas to be set free from my “some people” status.

***

By the way, I painted my kitchen this week. Hours and hours and layers and layers of white primer and then white paint. It looks great. Really beautiful. So clean and crisp. Just like new. Yet with every stroke, I was reminded of Jesus and the Pharisees. So, I think I’ll have more to say about “some people” and their (my) whitewashed tomb tendencies soon, because I think I might finally be getting it? Maybe.

Potty Training, Prayer Training

It’s probably a big parenting no-no these days (pretty sure I did all the current no-no’s), but way back in the 90’s I used to give my kiddos M&M’s as a potty training incentive.

Actually, we started out with stickers.

Sit on the potty, get a sticker.  It was all very exciting.

We kept a small poster board with all collected stickers on display nearby. This new routine made for many “sit on the potty” trips to the bathroom. You didn’t even have to produce anything. All you had to do was sit.

(I’ve found that stickers remain a motivator even to college girls in a small group Bible study which requires weekly homework, but that’s a different post.)

After a while of practicing with stickers, the prize increased exponentially with M&M’s – one for #1 and 2 for #2. I should have expected that there would be even more trips to the potty with this delicious, sugary, chocolatey, red dye #40 reward. Who would have guessed that you could eke out #1 several times an hour in order to obtain what would amount to a handful of M&M’s? I  quickly learned that no one has to teach us to milk the system. It’s in our nature from the very beginning.

Now that I think of it, M&M’s kept in the bathroom might not have been
the most sanitary. At least there was a lid?
And don’t ask about the crayons. No idea.

I think that God, in His abundant grace, uses that selfish nature to His advantage and ours at times.

Recently, I was feeling pretty discouraged about my interactions with one of my big kids. In my opinion, they were acting with disrespect and dishonor and selfishness. Funny how that kind of behavior can train a parent if we’re not careful, and I found myself being trained. I would avoid asking for help or making suggestions or requiring obedience or doing anything that I knew would produce eye-rolling or heavy sighs.

I’ve also learned that the problem only gets worse in that kind of a cycle, so I decided to confront the kid. This was met with more disrespect, dishonor, and selfishness mixed with anger and disdain. Not fun at all, and even more discouraging.

Sadly, prayer was my last resort. I hadn’t yet read my Bible or prayed that day, so I went to another part of the house, read from Matthew (I’m still trying to read each gospel each month), and then began writing out my prayers in my journal. Maybe halfway through, it dawned on me that I could pray about this parenting situation. Now, I’m not always this slow to take things to God in prayer, but self-sufficiency is definitely an ongoing battle for me. Why bother God with this? I can figure it out on my own.

Right….

I must have been two sentences into my “Lord, please turn this child’s heart to You and to me. Show me how to respond…” when the kid walked into the room and said humbly, “Mom, I’m sorry I was being mean to you. I’m just really stressed and overwhelmed right now…”

And the child sat down and we talked. True feelings were revealed. Inner battles were described. Shoulders were rubbed. Pep talks were given. Hands were laid. Prayers with and for the child were said.

I immediately thought about my potty-training strategies from long ago. Talk about positive and immediate reinforcement. God had not just given me one or two M&M’s, but more like a whole bag.

I had to laugh. Here I was trying to parent my kid on my own with a tiny trickle of prayer about the situation. Little did I know I was the one being parented.

And what was God trying to reinforce? Well, I suppose it’s pretty obvious, but here it is: He wants us to pray. At all times and about everything.

The verse is probably so familiar. It’s one of the first ones I ever memorized, but also one of ones I most neglect:

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

In everything.

Through the years, and though I’m slow to grow,  He’s taught me that I can and need to pray about everything.

Am I scared at the recent turn of events in our world? I can pray for President Trump and for Syria and Turkey and North Korea. Big things.

Am I stumped over what to do for my husband’s birthday? I can pray for creativity and gift ideas. Seemingly little things.

And when he answers the little things, it gives me peace that He’s at work in the bigger things as well.

More than that, though, His often and immediate answers, show me that He loves it when we pray. He loves it even more than I love it when my kids are finally toilet trained or come and open up about their struggles.

He’s a good parent, and I’m so grateful for His patience and grace in raising this big kid.

Want some more incentive and encouragement to pray? Check out this great list.

New Year, New Mercies (and a tiny follow-up)

We sang the song regularly at our weekly Cru gatherings. The University of Texas circa 1990. (We called it Campus Crusade for Christ back then.) Sometimes there were two or three hundred of us singing this…

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning, new every morning 
Great is your faithfulness, O God.
Great is your faithfulness.

That weekly worship gathering is still a powerful memory, and that song was one of my favorites. I’m pretty sure the name of it was simply Lamentations 3:22-23, because those lyrics are straight from Jeremiah’s song of lament.

Without really being intentional about it, I have found myself beginning many prayers lately with a combination of those Lamentations verses and Psalm 118:24…

This is the day that the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Something like this before I even get out of bed…

Thank you, Lord, for this new day that you have made and given to me. Thank you for new mercies every morning. Help me to rejoice in this day and rest in your faithfulness.

And then I got to thinking about that word…mercy.

Baby Cooper…and drugged, post C-section mama.

What does it mean that His mercies toward me are new every morning? Is He really having to withhold punishment and deserved consequences or wrath before I even put my feet on the floor? Isn’t “mercy” something you cry out in order to be released from some painful, torturous circumstance? Didn’t the cross take care of me needing mercy today?

So, last month, as I was pondering and praying about the new year and the coming 365 days of new mercies, I looked up the Hebrew word.

The word is racham.  It means womb.

Womb.

Wow.

Every time the word racham is found in the Old Testament, it is translated “mercy” or “compassion”, because of the tender relationship between a mother and the child in her womb – or later, the child from her womb. It is also used to refer to a father’s love for his child…the child who came from his wife’s womb. It even makes me think of my friends who long to know the feeling of a child in their womb. They hope for, love, and grieve the child who is not even there yet.

From Blue Letter Bible
And “cherishing the fetus”? Well…that’s another blog post, I suppose, but noteworthy in light
of the current culture, to say the least.
Robert (with no white hair), Kory (with red hair), and Coop (bald).

Maybe this has been written about extensively somewhere, but it was totally new to me, and such a sweet, sweet revelation. Sadly, this is partly due to my tendency to still think I’m undeserving of His mercy, unworthy of His love, expected to work to earn His approval, and falling just short most of the time. Thankfully, He used my curiosity (actually, He gave me the curiosity) to discover the same truth one more time: He loves me. His love for me is like a mother’s toward the child in her womb, but even more so. Incomprehensibly more so. The use of the word womb is just the closest He could get to communicating His love to us in human terms.

(Sadly, we’re growing cold in our love for the child in the womb, though, so the image is a bit tainted.)

It made me think of missing my oldest son’s phone call yesterday afternoon. He’s 2000 miles away and in his senior year of college. But, we were in the middle of our afternoon church small group, so I couldn’t pick up. The last person left around 4:30pm. The house was back in order by 5:30pm. I had a seminary quiz due at 11:55pm and still many pages of reading to do before taking it.

(And the Superbowl was on at 6:30pm. I ended up making a 100 on my quiz during the 4th quarter, and I’m just gonna go ahead and give the credit to Tom Brady, because…wow. I did have to Google GOAT, though, and yeah…I suppose he is. 😊 Incredible.)

Anyway, this morning Robert and I did our usual work-out-at-Planet-Fitness-eat-breakfast-at-Whole-Foods-Monday-morning-thing and I kept seeing Kory’s call notification on my phone. It made me miss him. It made me regret the busyness of Sunday and missing our weekly conversation. It made me want to talk to him as soon as possible. He’s got a torn meniscus (most likely), and I wanted to see how he’s feeling. Wanted to hear about his weekend. Wanted to talk Superbowl. Wanted to hear about his classes. His girlfriend. How his job interview went. I just longed to hear his chipper voice.

Needless to say, my “mercies” and “compassions” toward Kory this morning (and toward all of my kiddos… most of the time) were new, abundant, and overflowing, and God used it all to help me understand again His mercies toward me.

The sonogram pic above was emailed to me last week from dear friends expecting their first child. They are in love already, and so am I. Another sweet reminder of racham…His new mercies and love for me, His child, and for all of His kids.

So when I prayed about how to rehearse and recall His racham this year (that’s what Jeremiah was doing), I got the idea/prompt to read the gospels over and over. Each gospel each month. One a week. The life of Jesus. His words. His actions. His parables. His miracles. His death. His resurrection. His commands. His love.

I managed to make it through all four last month. Listening through the Bible App helped – combined with lots of time running and driving. I’m a visual learner, but I’ve found that listening forces me to pay attention differently. I’ll switch it up each month, though. I’m reading from actual pages this month, but from a Bible that presents the text in one column rather than two. That also causes me to read the stories with more attentiveness, since I’m used to my two-column format.

After one month, I’m in awe of Jesus all over again. It’s such a gift and answer to prayer. It’s not something I can produce on my own.

The curiosity He gave to research racham.
The prompting He gave to read His gospels.

It’s His way of giving me exactly what I need: the assurance of His love.

I can rest in that. I can serve freely out of that. I’m rehearsing it every morning.

____________________________________________________________________

It’s been two weeks since I wrote about the Women’s March. I think I’m finally sleeping through the night without cold sweats and heart palpitations. I really had no idea the response it would elicit. I never post anything controversial or extremely personal without Robert’s approval. He agreed with my confusion over the participation of Christian women, but he warned me that some would not like it. Still, I was naive in my expectations…as usual, but sometimes I wonder if it’s a God-given naivety. I don’t know…

I wanted to say thank you to those of you who reached out in encouragement. For two weeks now you’ve sent text messages, emails, Facebook messages, or posted your thanks here in the comments or on the Facebook post. Thank you so much. It’s always helpful to hear that you are not alone in your concerns. And thank you for praying. As I heard from you (and as you well know), I recruited you to pray – for God to use the post for good, and for the enemy to be prevented from twisting, dividing, and stirring up anger. I’m still praying that on a daily basis. It was not my intention to hurt or cause offense. As I sat down to pray about why my heart was so heavy that Saturday of the March, the stories of those biblical women came to mind immediately. The words just flowed. They required no research except for the actual verses from each story. It truly felt like I was being led, but I cannot claim that with absolute certainty.

Though it is a very unpopular view, the Bible teaches that Eve was deceived. Adam was passive (and other “Adams” were dominant and abusive, I know), but Eve was deceived. The New Testament restates it. But Paul is unpopular, too. I am not unaware of this. It’s just that as Christian women, we don’t have liberty to avoid the Scriptures we do not like. We’ve got to take God at His Word, and know this tendency we have to believe the wrong thing for all the right reasons. It’s a liability of the nurturing, compassionate, life giving natures the Lord gave us.

And no, I’m not claiming that every Christian woman who marched was deceived, but I do think it’s worth considering and praying about.

I came across a few interesting articles and sermons regarding the March (and our possible deception) and also the relationship between the gospel and social justice. I’ll post them below in case you are interested. The only one I can truly and personally vouch for is Matt Carter who is a pastor in Austin, TX and whose church we attended while on sabbatical there five years ago. The other two are women whom I’ve only done minimal Googling about. While I think they have very important things to say, please keep that in mind.

I listened to Matt Carter’s sermon twice and was in tears both times – once on the treadmill at Planet Fitness! His is a picture of how the gospel fuels social justice and how his church has been used by God to transform a city. I “made” all of my kids listen to it, by which I mean, I sent my boys the link and a mother’s plea, and forced Kayla to listen to it with me as we drove to our ski program in Vermont two Thursdays ago. She was affected by it almost as much as I was, I think. Here’s the link.

How To Live in the Tension of Gospel and Social Justice

And here are two articles specifically about the Women’s March:

Dear Daughter: Here’s Why I Didn’t March For You

Women’s March Toward Islam?

I’m a little nervous about facing a couple of more weeks of restless nights over lots of comments negative and positive. I am willing to talk to you personally if you like, or via text/FB message/phone. Would you keep that in mind if you choose to respond?  I’d appreciate it so much. But I also understand that if I’m posting publicly, you should have the freedom to comment publicly, so if you must voice your disagreement (or your approval), please go ahead.  I just might respond to you in private this time around.

March On, Sister

“Oh my soul, march on with strength.”
 (Judges 5:21)

That’s what Deborah said.

It was her victory march, her conquering song. She led a march against oppression – the oppression of God’s people. She marched alongside a reluctant man. She gave praise to God. She attributed the victory to Him

“Hear, O Kings! Give ear, O princes!
I, even I, will sing to the Lord;
I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel.” 
(Judges 5:3)

I kept thinking of Deborah on Saturday. What would she think of this march?  Those posters? Those hats?

“Thus let all your enemies perish, O Lord!
But let those who love Him be like the sun
when it comes out in full strength.”
 (Judges 5:31)

Would she have been able to sing that on Saturday? Would there have been solidarity around those words?

I also thought of Miriam.

“Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all of the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.” 
(Exodus 15:20)

All of the women. All of the women went after Miriam singing and dancing. It wasn’t to demand their rights. It wasn’t to require respect. They were dancing to raise awareness of the Majestic One, the Holy One.

“Miriam sang to them: Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted;
The horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea.” 
(Exodus 15:21)

She led them to rejoice in the goodness of God. They were delighting in their deliverance by His hand. Would Miriam have gone to Washington? Would she have taken her daughter? Gathered the other Hebrew women for this event?

I thought of Lydia.

“On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth.  
She was a worshiper of God.” 
(Acts 16:13)

I thought of the way Lydia chose to gather with women – in prayer. I thought of how this businesswoman is memorialized in Scripture – as a worshiper of God.  As one whose heart was soft to the things of God and to the men of God.

I thought of Esther.

“Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.”
(Esther 4:16)

I thought of how confused Esther might be by the women who marched on Saturday. No fasting? No praying? No risking of life in approaching the authorities? This is how you plan to garner safety for your gender? Respect?

Maybe I’m putting words in Esther’s mouth; I don’t know. Maybe she and Deborah, and Miriam, and Lydia would have all shown up and worn their p—y hats. I’m just having a hard time reconciling the marches, the songs, and the gatherings of my heroines of the faith with the women who marched on Saturday.  I’m having a difficult time understanding why my Christian sisters participated. And I’m having the toughest time with my Christ-following girlfriends who very eagerly and proudly posted photos of themselves on social media marching when the same eagerness and pride is not given publicly to Jesus, the object of their faith. Isn’t He the only way, truth, and life?

Where are your Jesus posters?
Where are your public invitations to church?
Where are your links to great sermons?
Where are your gospel hashtags?
Where are your smiling photos from your small group Bible study?
Where are your protests on behalf of the persecuted church?
Where were your outcries on behalf of the pro-life women who were excluded on Saturday?

Will you also be at the March for Life in March?
Will you take your daughter to the next Christian women’s conference? Prayer gathering?
Will you tell your daughter that Bill was no better than Donald when it comes to objectifying women?
Will you teach her the beauty of being single from I Corinthians? The beauty of marriage from Ephesians? The high calling of motherhood from Proverbs?
Will you spend your money to support a female missionary who risks her life on behalf of third world women who are truly marginalized?

Saturday’s march also brought these verses to mind…

Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
Matthew 10:32-33

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.
Mark 8: 38

Participants in Saturday’s march received the praise and affirmation of the world, but Christians are called to be different. In the world, yes, but not of the world. Jesus says the world will hate us as it hated Him, but many don’t seem willing to take that risk. And it’s not that I don’t struggle with the fear of worldly rejection, I do. It’s just that I felt a little abandoned by some of my sisters on Saturday. I thought we were in this together.

So, Saturday was disheartening to me (as was Friday), because I also long for right views of women, proper treatment, equality, safety, protection, honor, and justice.  I missed the inauguration (which is no great loss), because I spent the morning with a woman suffering in an abusive marriage. I encouraged and supported her in drawing a firm boundary (as in him out of the house), for her protection. I spent much of the day today corresponding and problem solving with a single mom doing the very best she can, but still in need of basics like a car, food, and tuition to complete her education. I sat in divorce court a while back in support of a friend making a difficult, but necessary choice for her own safety and the well-being of her kids. And I’ve wept with many women over the abuse of their fathers, the assaults of their boyfriends and even brutal rapes by complete strangers. (That last woman stayed a week at my house this summer – we prayed, we cried, we talked, we spent a day in the E.R.)

I’m just not sure marching on Washington (or Boston, or Chicago, or Los Angeles or wherever) is the answer to these deeply grievous situations.

In fact, I know it’s not, and so I’ll keep marching right here – for Christ and for women, too.

For the deep healing He offers them.
For the high value He bestows on them.
For the great dignity He instills in them.
And most importantly, for the precious salvation He purchased for them.

It’s a march I believe my sisters Deborah, Miriam, Lydia, and Esther would lead if they were here today.

I think their prayer would be, their poster would read:

Oh my sisters, march on in strength.
The joy of the Lord is your strength!


(P.S. Came across this video. Do you listen to Beyonce? Watch Friends reruns? If so, you may be contributing to the problem. Check it out:  You Didn’t Vote For Trump – Or Did You?)

A Trip, A Tea Party, & 3 Winners!

Macy’s on 34th
John Piper’s Advent reading plan on the Bible App has been giving me a lot to think about and be challenged by lately. Here’s part of what day 22 said:
“You can read every fairy tale that was ever written, every mystery thriller, every ghost story, and you will never find anything so shocking, so strange, so weird, so spellbinding as the story of the incarnation of the Son of God.”
Urbanspace on Vanderbilt
Thank you, Jenna, for the recommendation!

You can also travel to New York City and take in all of its elaborate window displays, giant Christmas trees, and holiday music playing everywhere and forget to set your mind on Jesus. You can even host a Christmas tea party for a great group of teen girls, make gingerbread houses, create handmade gifts, and eat Christmas cookies without considering the baby born to die.

But we tried not to do that this week.

Mary & Izckra got to try the gigantic doughnuts.

Just choosing to go to NYC at the beginning of a busy week was an opportunity to trust God! I had to fight the temptation to fret over all that was not yet done back home, but the calmer of the seas was providing peace and helping me to laugh at the days to come.

We tried the pistachio-cardamom gluten free bread and the chocolate truffle cookies.

First we had a taco, cookie, and doughnut feast at Urbanspace on 44th near where we parked. Then it was shopping on 5th Avenue – Topshop, GAP, Uniqlo and more.  Later we hit the H&M near Macy’s, of course.

It was a Sweet Sixteen celebration for Mary!

Skating at Rockefeller was the plan, but the girls decided against it once we were there. It was pretty cold and windy out, so we headed underneath the big tree for dinner and more shopping – gluten free Mediterranean wraps, soup, burgers, sweet potato fries and Starbucks. Wandering around in Anthropologie took us about an hour, but no one dared purchase anything due to the mile-long check out line.

Saks 5th Avenue is directly opposite the Rockefeller tree.  If you’ve been there, you know that if you turn 180 degrees from looking at the tree you see the front of Saks. Not only are the window displays beautiful there, but they do a light show on the front of their building every ten minutes. Such fun treat – and a lot to take in in just one spot!
My old friend Mike stopped by Rockefeller for a quick hello and then swiped us all onto the subway headed in the direction of Macy’s. From there we Ooo-ber’d it took an Uber back to our parking spot and enjoyed chatting with our driver who is planning to enter the NYPD Academy in January and shares a love for the show Blue Bloods. How cool that someday soon he’ll be working for Commishioner Tom Selleck.  😉

Saks 5th Avenue Light Show
Wednesday was spent getting ready for the tea party (and tonight’s open house), and Thursday morning we enjoyed having several of Kayla’s friends over for her annual tea party. I just love this tradition!
Dress Code: Pj’s

Some friends have moved away and some weren’t able to make it this year, but just look at how much they’ve grown! When we first started doing this, I could totally envision this past Thursday’s scene in my kitchen – big girls enjoying all the same tea party activities that they did when they were little.  Does anyone ever outgrow a love for decorating gingerbread (well, graham cracker) houses?

Tea Party 2008
Thanks for reminding me of this pic, Virginia!

After decorating our houses, we moved on to the actual tea party part – eating finger foods and drinking hot tea, hot chocolate, and we’ve added coffee in the last couple of years. We used to read a children’s Christmas book together while everyone was eating, but this year we switched to a passage of Scripture. I chose Mary’s song – the magnificat – to read to these girls who are all probably about the same age as Mary was when she was visited by the angel.  We talked about the meaning of “bondslave” and discussed Mary’s virtuous character and love for God as revealed in her song. I pray that each of these young women continues to grow in her desire to know and serve God in the same way.

Next we made our gifts for mom – a coconut oil, sugar, and peppermint hand and/or foot scrub…

 And pocket sized hand warmers – fabric squares sewed together and filled with rice which can be heated in the microwave. I thought I might have to spend a lot of time helping them with the sewing machine, but thankfully (and impressively!) several of the girls knew how to use it.  I hardly had to help at all, because they just naturally helped each other.

The boys hung around for a while before letting us have the house to ourselves.
So nice to have them home!
So nice to also have Ms. Abbott with us – or “Sabbott” as she is now affectionately known.
Even Sabbott got sewing instructions from Jessica!

There was cookie decorating and game playing later and I enjoyed every minute of the morning into early afternoon – even the kitchen cleaning from which I could hear the girls laughing and chatting in the living room. Truly a delight.

Mary’s song always serves to help me remain in awe and worship during this season…

My soul exalts in the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on generation after generation toward those who fear Him… Luke 1: 46-50

Thinking on the Mighty One, the Savior, and His mercy have sustained me this week.

John Piper has given me words to pray in request for a heart that is spellbound by the incredible gift of the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection…

“Oh, how I pray for a breaking forth of the Spirit of God upon me and upon you; for the Holy Spirit to break into my experience in a frightening way, to wake me up to the unimaginable reality of God.”

May your heart be wakened by the Spirit this Christmas to the reality of the God who put on flesh for you, to Emmanuel, the God who came near.

And now for the winners of the giveaway…

(I used this website to help me draw your names!)

For bundle #1: The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield, and the Bird’s Nest Necklace.

Congrats, Itamar!

And for Bundle #2: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss, and the Bird’s Nest Necklace.
Congrats, Angela!

And I decided to add a third prize: The One Thousand Gifts Devotional by Ann Voskamp.
Congrats, Michelle!

I’ll send these your way mid-January and I pray they encourage you as they have me. And if you’ve already read them, pass them along to someone who could use them!

Merry Christmas, everyone!