Heartbroken for Houston

In 22 years I don’t think I’ve ever been as homesick as I have been this week.

22 years. That’s how many years I’ve lived outside of Texas, and you’d think I’d be over it by now, but I suppose that’s the kind of affect a place can have. I didn’t even know I was affected by it until I left, but then again Texas is not just any place.

It’s a warm place – in weather, in jalapeños, and in friendliness.

It’s a diverse place – in landscape, in culture, in ethnicity.

It’s a fun place – on a Friday night under the lights, on a river tube, and in a live music venue.

It’s a place of faith – with its churches, seminaries, and mission-minded service groups

But this week it’s a hurting place. A place literally flooded with pain and loss, and it’s causing me to ache with homesickness and helplessness.

My friend, Laura, was trapped in her third floor apartment and without running water until a boat rescued her yesterday. I still don’t know where she ended up.

Other friends, Shawn and Lynette, have a family of strangers living with them – folks they met at the grocery store who were without a safe and dry place to go.

I’m seeing dear friends from high school and college post general well wishes or updates on Facebook only to have their comment threads turn into desperate cries for help from those who have not had a rescue yet. People on rooftops with cell phones.

And I’m watching those threads turn into literal lifeboats as a network of friends and strangers write comments and work together to dispatch a husband or brother with a boat to their exact location. (Thank you, God, for social media during times like this.)

The family of 6 washed off the bridge in their minivan, the driver unable to help them out, but able to hear the children cry as they sank below the floods.

The police officer of 34 years who left his home because he “had work to do” against the desperate pleas of his wife to stay, and who drowned on his way to report to his station.

The police commissioner who told the story through tears of pain, but also tears of hope as he discovered they “are a family of faith, and where’s there’s faith there’s hope…the hope of eternal life in Jesus.”

The caravans of trucks pulling boats on every open highway, headed to give their time and resources to the rescue mission. The caravans of H.E.B. grocery trucks.

The rallying tweets and posts of the local churches who mobilized volunteers immediately.

The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams with their food tents and emergency equipment.

And I just want to be there. I just want to go home. I want to help. I want to serve. I want to comfort. I want to cook and clean and give rides. I want to go shopping and make beds and wash clothes. I want to pray with and for those who have lost everything.

But I can’t, and you know what? I think God has been preparing me for this week. Here’s how: He keeps bringing up this famous Oswald Chambers quote in conversations. I haven’t read Oswald Chambers since college, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that at least five times in the last three months I’ve had a conversation with someone about this very quote:

“Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work.”

And so in my in my heartbrokenness, my homesickness, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.

Pray.

For the church there to rise up, to join together in sacrificial service, and be a powerful witness to the gospel.

For the world to look on, see their good works, and praise their Father in Heaven.

For those who are still stranded and alone to be found.

For lives to be spared.

For the helpless, the elderly, and the hospitalized to be protected and provided for.

For the schemes of the devil, who would love to capitalize on the destruction, to be circumvented and sent back to hell.

For the usual voices of criticism and condemnation to be silenced.

For the strength of the divers, the firemen, the National Guard, the Coast Guard, the police, the volunteers.

For the strengthening of the people of Houston and Rockport and Port Aransas and Dickinson and Beaumont and more – in faith and in hope.

And not just for Texas, but Louisiana, too.

Chambers goes on to write,

“Prayer is the battle, and it makes no difference where you are. However God may engineer your circumstances, your duty is to pray. Never allow yourself this thought, ‘I am of no use where I am,’ because you certainly cannot be used where you have not yet been placed. Wherever God has placed you and whatever your circumstances, you should pray, continually offering up prayers to Him.”

and…

“When you labor at prayer, from God’s perspective there are always results.”

Oh, how I’d rather do the shopping and the cleaning and the sheltering and the feeding. You know… work that feels so much more tangible than prayer. But He’d already prepared me, and He’s showing me now that prayer is a great work – even a greater work than any small amount of hands-on labor I could offer.

Texas, I ache with you today. I’m heartbroken over your losses and devastation. But I (along with so many others) am praying for God’s mercy upon you today and for His healing upon you tomorrow.


And while prayer is indeed the greater work, there are also some ways to help from afar. We’re choosing one or two of the following ways, and hope that you will, too:

Southern Baptists have the third largest disaster relief organization in North America – behind the Red Cross and FEMA. Read about their work and give here. 

Bayou City Fellowship is a great church in Houston. It’s also Beth Moore’s church, in case that rings a bell. They are hard at work dispatching volunteers with shop vacs, shovels, boats, food, and more. They would be a great place to direct your resources. Here is their volunteer/donation page.

Chip and Joanna Gaines are selling this t-shirt and donating 100% of proceeds to disaster relief.

James Avery is a Texas and faith based jewelry designer. 100% of proceeds from the purchase of this charm will go to relief efforts in southeast/northeast Texas.

And if you’d like to give personally to one of our friends in the Houston area, just send me a message, and I’ll connect you with them!

Bloom Where You Are Planted/Exiled: Part 4

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

“I know. I’m so sorry.”

“But don’t you love Jesus more now?”

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

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

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

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

But listen to that famous verse to exiles again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only way He could promise this rescue?

To become an exile Himself.

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

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

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

His plans and His thoughts are all drifting your way.

 

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

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

Are you exhausted by the difficulties and challenges of parenting?

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

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

Is your family and homeland thousands of miles away?

Are family dynamics a source of pain or discouragement?

Do anxiety or depression (or both) overcome you?

Is your work environment frustrating, demeaning?

Are people taking for granted your faithful volunteer efforts?

Has a friend betrayed you?

Are finances dwindling?

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

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

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

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

I can’t wait.

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

Bloom Where You Are Planted/Exiled: Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He comes close to us in our exile.

To be continued…

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

Bloom Where You Are Planted/Exiled: Part 2

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

The Israelites, not so much.

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

I can relate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can relate.

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

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

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

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

It was not exactly what I had in mind.

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

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

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

It felt like exile.

To be continued…

Dress Alterations and “All Those Republicans…”

I did not sleep well at all last night. It was cool outside but warm in the house, and the window unit in our room doesn’t think it should cool our room in that situation.  I was hot and achy and tossed around all night long. I’m telling you this, because what follows might just be a result of my sleep deprived crankiness today. I don’t know. I’m asking for forgiveness ahead of time for any rash words.

(Also, I’ll be outing myself politically, though I’m sure it will be no surprise to most. I’ve revealed my leanings on my blog before, but try and stay away from talking about them in church and on Facebook, etc.  I truly want people to hear about Christ first and foremost, and I know that politics, especially conservative politics, is often something that keeps folks from truly understanding Him. Robert, too. We agree on politics, but we also agree that they should not be tied to sharing the Gospel in any way.)

Today was Kayla’s first day of Classical Conversations.  She’s a junior this year and in the Challenge III level with one of my sweetest friends as her tutor – Aimee or Mrs. Gould. (I am not tutoring this year, and though I love CC, it’s so nice to have a break.) I knew I would be dropping Kayla off this morning at 8:15am, so a week ago I made an appointment to have the bridesmaid dress for my sister’s wedding altered just after getting Kayla settled in for her first day of class. My appointment was at 9am, so I read my Bible at Starbucks for a few minutes over hot tea before heading over to the appointment.

Ours is the strapless one on the left. With pockets!

I was greeted by a lovely petite woman with white hair in her late fifties, I’m guessing. Really, she was just so pleasant. I could even tell from her website that she was a gentle and kind person. It’s part of why I chose her shop. We took a look at the dress, and then she left me alone to change.

When she came back in, she began pinning and chatting some more. A few years ahead of me in having a crown of white hair, she asked me if I was highlighting mine.  When I said no, she went on and on about my hair – it’s color (or non-color), it’s cut, it’s length.  It was so sweet, and I love it when people are so free with their genuine and complimentary thoughts. (Though hard to receive!) It’s something I’m trying to get better at myself.

Then the conversation turned to the wedding.  She mentioned hardly ever seeing wedding party dresses with floral prints, but when I explained the outdoor Texas venue, she thought it would be a perfect match. And after telling me about her niece who recently moved to Dallas, she said something about Amherst being so liberal.  At first I couldn’t tell if she thought that was good or bad, but then it became all too clear…

Me: Well, yes, Amherst is very liberal, but I think what pushes it to the far left of left are the colleges and the university.

Seamstress: Yes, because young people finally leave home and get educated.

(I could have been mistaken, but she seemed to be glad that the education led to the liberalness.)

Seamstress: I don’t know if I could live in Texas with all those Republicans. So many Republicans there. It’s so diverse here.

Me: You know, I am originally from Texas, and I find Amherst to be much less diverse than where I’m from – ethnically, ideologically, and politically, but I also lived in the cities of San Antonio and Austin for many years, so maybe that’s why.

Seamstress: Oh, you’re from Texas? Well, I mean we have so many nationalities here because of the colleges. I guess if you lived in a city in Texas, you had some diversity. Dallas seems to be all white Republicans though, or at least the area my niece lives in.

Me: Well, my husband and I both grew up in very small towns in Texas.  He was one of the few white kids on his football team.  Many of my closest friends were Mexican, my head cheerleader, Rhonda, was black, as was the cheerleader, Bernie, from whom I inherited all of my cheerleading uniforms.  My computer science partner, Takeru, was Asian. So was our valedictorian.

(Or something like the above comments, but I’ve tightened them up here for effect.)

Seamstress: Really? Well, I guess it just depends.  There must be a few pockets of diversity there.

Me: Yes, and there are Democrats, too, but I don’t find quite the same diversity of ideals and politics in this area. Everyone here seems to vote the same way.

And then we got to talking about our kids, and being in-laws, and grandparents.  When she heard my oldest was 21, she said not to worry, that kids these days get married really late – even after they’ve bought a house together and settled in, which is nice, because then they often pay for the wedding themselves.

As lovely as this woman was, I couldn’t help but think that this type of presumption and narrow-mindedness is part of what has gotten us into our current polarized political and cultural situation. (By the way, I will be heartbroken if my kids buy houses with their girlfriends or boyfriends and then get married years later. I wonder if she knows how high the divorce rate is for those folks.) And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a similar situation since moving here. Don’t get me wrong. I know it happens in Texas, too – or wherever there is a majority of one ideology or ethnicity. But no one is exempt! Liberal New Englanders don’t get to look down their noses at Conservative Texans and create a narrative about their obvious ignorance and lack of relationships with people of other colors. (We moved here during the 2000 Bush election, so being from the same state as the president automatically meant I must be an idiot. A downtown restaurant changed it’s menu to mock the administration at that time. Diverse? Tolerant? No, not at all.)

So, yes, I am a registered Republican from Texas. I think the government is too big and controlling. I think taxes and spending are out of control. I don’t want babies aborted or laws that encourage it. I desire traditional marriage to be upheld, because I believe it’s by original design and what’s best for kids, and the culture. I want freedom of speech and religion. I think people are better off when they are given a hand up rather than a hand out. For all you political scientists and junkies, I’m sure it all sounds rather simplistic.  (And I’m sure it is maddening to some, too.)

However, I have not voted for the Republican nominee (or the Democratic one) in the last two elections, nor do I plan to vote for the current nominee. (Or his democratic opponent, to be clear.) I have indeed voted in every previous election, but in my opinion, the Republican candidates have not been true conservatives, and I’ve felt pretty discouraged and disillusioned by it all. Voting has been no fun at all. (And my vote doesn’t count for much in this state anyway.)

I’ve never prayed for this country like I have in the past several months.  Prayers of confession mostly – in the same vein as Daniel on behalf of the rebellious nation of Israel. We are truly a mess. It grieves me and causes me to hope for heaven more than ever before – which is our only real hope anyway. So many Christians forget that – including me.

I have been watching and reading up on the election and candidates as much as I can, depressing as it is.

(I honestly thought the Democratic National Convention was very well done – as if that counts for anything. Michelle was the wise woman, wife, and mother she usually is, and Bill was as eloquent as ever. He left a few glaring issues out of his speech, but Slick Willy has never been so convincing.)

I have to thank my friend Josh Torrey for keeping me abreast of great articles on the topic via Facebook. (Thanks, Josh!) Here are a few I’ve read that cause me to think that it’s okay to keep voting in a non-traditional way. If we say we want change, then I think this is what it’s going to take. (And yes, I know you can find articles that say the exact opposite.  I’ve read many of those, too.)

How Not To Waste Your Vote: A Mathematical Analysis

Conservatives Don’t Owe Trump Their Ballot

Four Issues To Consider Before You Support Trump – What Is Really At Stake

Al Mohler and Russell Moore Explain Why They Can’t Support Trump

Though I don’t know if I’ve ever been overly presumptuous (mostly because I’ve never been overly comfortable with religious and political conversations, so be gentle if you choose to comment), my 17 years in New England have helped teach me that presumptions (which are really judgments, and discriminations in disguise) are not helpful. In fact, they are hurtful. Even my sweet seamstress has fallen prey to the narrow-mindedness she accuses the other side of having, but I really don’t think she’ll take it out on my dress. She did like my grey hair after all.

Wild Summer. Good Father.

Just returned from this gorgeous scene on Friday night. I don’t know if any U.S. coastline compares to this particular stretch. Maine is just beautiful, and I have to pinch myself when I’m there. Truly the stuff of dreams, I can’t believe this is how we’ve spent about one week of every year for the last 17 years. Between skiing in Vermont every winter and hanging out in Ogunquit, Maine every summer I try and emphasize to my kids that some people only fantasize of this life, but I think it’s lost on my New England-raised-kids. This Texas girl, however, continues to be in awe of my surroundings and grateful to God for all of it.

 Prior to our arrival home on Friday,  I had been in my own home and bed only about 72 hours between July 6 and August 12. Summer is always kind of wild and crazy, but this one may top the list.

I spoke at a Classical Conversations Practicum for 3 days in June. It was wonderful.  Not my speaking, but my worshipping over the things I was learning as I prepared to speak on a Christ-centered, Classical curriculum.  Wow. More on that later…hopefully.

Our oldest turned 21 a week later.  That seemed crazy enough, but then we decided on a Monday to go and surprise him on Friday of the same week. He only has Saturdays off, and so it seemed perfect.  We’d fly in on a Friday evening and spend all of Saturday and even Sunday morning with him.  Turns out it was the worst weekend we could have chosen. It was a staff change weekend.  First half staff was leaving and second half staff was arriving.  As a senior counselor, Kory was required to work all day on Saturday re-training staff on the ropes course and more.  We got to participate in the closing ceremony for that week of campers on Saturday morning and go to the staff meeting afterward, but then we had to say goodbye until around 8:30pm.  We grilled steaks for a late dinner and had a pancake breakfast together the next morning and did a lot of laundry, and our 18 hours together flew by too quickly.  No regrets though!  It was SO good to see this kid in his natural summer habitat!

I could go on and on about the excellence of Pine Cove and the high level training in leadership
and ministry that Kory has received here.  So grateful!

 Then we went to camp again!  Crosswalk Camp at Gordon College.  I think this was year 15 or something.  I know I was pregnant with Kayla the first time Robert was on staff and we skipped a year here and there.  We took our largest group of campers ever this year and had a blast.

 The camp pastor (a.k.a. my gifted husband) did an incredible job of teaching through the Sermon on the Mount…

 …and I had such a great time with all of the female chaperones working through the Sermon on the Mount by using the inductive Bible study method.  Here they are discussing and making posters of their “observations, interpretations, and applications.”

 We got home on a Saturday evening from youth camp and left the next Tuesday morning for this:

 When we got the invitation to Chris and Katie’s Colorado wedding, I knew we needed to go. So, months ago, we decided to make a week’s vacation out of it, and we are so glad we did. It doubled as a 24th anniversary celebration for us, since I would be in yet another state for the actual day. The trip was made even more do-able because of a generous gift given to us by members of our church!

Chris, the groom, has been a student at our church for the last four years.  An Amherst College football player from Texas, he and Katie have been dating since 8th grade. She graduated from UT Austin this May, and their wedding was in Crested Butte, CO – a favorite family vacation spot for her. It would take several paragraphs to describe this incredible wedding weekend, and so I’ll spare you all of the amazing details (I’m still basking in the beauty of it all!), but this is where the “Good Father” portion of my post comes in.

This crew.  Football players.  Groomsmen. Great friends.
And powerful witnesses for Christ on the Amherst College campus.
The handsome pastor on the right enjoys spending every Tuesday afternoon with them in the dining hall on campus.

The above photo was taken at the rehearsal dinner. A literal mountaintop experience. The cocktail hour had a 360 degree view of the surrounding peaks, and the dinner itself  – a white tablecloth affair under a nearby tent –  lingered with the most heartfelt toasts to the bride and groom that I have ever experienced. Both fathers spoke at length about the bride and the groom, but it was each father’s toast of the bride that had me close to sobbing.

Both her own father and her soon to be father-in-law spoke of her beauty, her kindness, her faith.  They each treasured her femininity, her intelligence, her character. They gave specific examples of those things.  They expressed joy in knowing her. They thanked God for her. They sincerely celebrated her. They acknowledged her great worth and delighted in the gift she is to both families.

I could not hold back the tears. (I wasn’t the only one!)

I stole this photo from Facebook. Katie looked like a princess.
The ceremony was at a private river valley resort. Absolutely beautiful.

I went to bed that night still rejoicing over the beauty of that dinner, those toasts, the humility of each father, their great affection for their kids. But there was this underlying sorrow still with me the next morning.

To be treasured like that.
To be built up and honored.
To have your femininity called beautiful and celebrated.
To have your faith and acts of service noticed with gratitude.
To be thought well of.
To be loved and cherished by the older men in your life.

Those are things I have not known from any earthly man but my husband. I’m sure it will sound a bit dramatic to some, but I was grieving the absence of those fatherly sentiments in my own life. (To be fair, those men who could and should be giving it, never received it themselves, and so I understand, but it doesn’t remove the desire.) Just a few days later, a forty-something acquaintance posted on Facebook about a call she got from her dad telling her how proud he was of her, of the family she is raising, and the new business she just started. She mentioned that no matter how old she gets, she never outgrows the craving for fatherly love and approval. Upon reading her post, I felt less silly about my own emotions. The longing is real and deep. And when it is satisfied, there is true rest and security and freedom. When it is absent there is striving and insecurity and bondage.

With a still-heavy heart, that next morning I opened my Bible to what just “happened” to be the next chapter in my reading plan.  It was Psalm 36, and God the Father spoke to me so clearly and specifically:

Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are like a great deep.
O Lord, You preserve man and beast.
How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
8 They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house;
And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.
9 For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.

And there I was in Crested Butte, Colorado, literally surrounded by His mighty mountains – unmoving, lifting eyes to the heavens – visible images of His ability and willingness to faithfully and righteously love and protect me. As I was taking in the abundance of His creation, He was also saying so clearly and so personally, that HIS house is like that: abundant in love, a strong, affectionate refuge, and full of delights.
Whatever I grieve as a loss or scarcity on earth, He makes up for in abundance. The fatherly approval I long for He gives extravagantly.  The fact that He had me read that Psalm on that specific morning is only further evidence of His intimate love and affection. I was in tears again.
And when we climbed the highest of those surrounding mountains the next day, it was difficult not to think of His goodness, faithfulness, and unwavering love for me. 
Truly beautiful. 
A gift.

Our flight home was canceled due to severe weather in Houston, so we had to spend another day in Colorado.  Rough life, I know.

But what that meant was that instead of being home for two days before leaving again, I would only be home one day, and that day happened to be Kayla’s 16th birthday.  Not at all the way I wanted it to happen, but we had a fun day celebrating with the time we had.

A nice new camera was what she was hoping for, and we loved surprising her with it. (Well, sort of.  The box was delivered and sitting in our mudroom while we were away in Colorado, and there was no question what was inside, due to the markings on the box.  Oh well…)

We went to the Montague Book Mill for lunch (a great place for picture taking!) and the Esselon Cafe for cupcakes and coffee on the way home. For dinner we drove to West Hartford and her favorite restaurant – P.F. Chang’s. (Passing the airport that I would be back at only about 6 hours later.) I’m so thankful we had at least one day together, because…Sweet Sixteen!  Wow, can hardly believe it.

In total, I was home all of about 27 hours, as my plane to Texas left the next morning at 5:45am. I am always shocked to find hundreds of other people at the airport at 4am, and I barely made my flight because of the crowd. I arrived on a Friday night and was able to attend a bridal shower on Saturday for my youngest sister, Melinda.

I also got to meet the groom’s parents and spend lots of time with them over the weekend ~ such kind-hearted people. The following week, I spent at my dad’s house and helped my sister with a few wedding things – namely going along for the food tasting at the wedding’s resort venue. Not only did I get to eat a lot of delicious food, but then Melinda and I received a complimentary afternoon pool pass. A waiter brought us cold drinks and chips and guac while we sunbathed or floated in the lazy river. Such a rough  life, I know.

The following Saturday Bachelorette Party Weekend happened! It was the culmination of over 100 back and forth emails between 6 bridesmaids to coordinate the activities and venues for Melinda’s last hurrah as a single lady.

First there was a pontoon cruise on Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin…

Then there was hanging out in the singles’ bar pool at the Hilton…

Had I been by myself or just with my other forty-something sister, we would have taken one look at that scene and headed straight back to the room.  Seriously.  But not only did we squeeze into the only two lounge chairs left on the deck, we also GOT IN THAT POOL and stood there in a circle with the other gals, chatting and acting like it was totally normal. Like we do this all the time. I really don’t think I was fooling anyone in my as-much-coverage-as-a-bathing-suit-can-offer swim attire, and I would be willing to bet that I was the only homeschooling pastor’s wife there. And why the massive, expensive downtown Hilton only offers this one tiny swimming pool is beyond me.  Oh, except for that whole singles’ bar vibe.  Now I get it.

And then there was a lingerie shower in the hotel.  Is this not the cutest, prettiest bride you’ve ever seen?

Then, we were off to dinner at a downtown Austin hot spot ~ Second Bar + Kitchen. So good.

I had to come back and edit this post to include what we did after dinner: Karoake at the Highball.  Our reservation was for 11:15pm.  We had our own private karaoke room (complete with pews, stained glass, and pentagrams.  I just prayed) and I cracked up at the group of 30year old former cheerleaders singing “I like big butts and I can not lie.”  Somehow I missed the 90’s rap era, but I’m telling you, it was alive and well until about 2am that night. Ha!

Sunday morning found us at a popular brunch spot ~ Moonshine. Amazing all-you-can-eat buffet. I even managed to go for a morning run along the lake with all the other Austinites – mostly because I no longer have the ability to sleep past 7am.  It was hot, and I thought I might die.  I prayed for Robert and Cooper while I was running, because they were also running ~ the Rockport, MA Half Marathon.  It was the same temperature in Rockport, MA as it was in Austin, TX, and I don’t know how they did it.  I can only run half-marathons in absolutely perfect weather conditions i.e. crisp, cool air with a steady breeze.

Here they are after the race – which was also the morning after Robert did our friend Pedro’s wedding in Worcester, MA. Impressive, huh?

They stayed at an Airbnb rental in Marblehead that night so they could pick me up in Boston the next morning. My flight from Austin to Boston was even earlier than the flight to Texas – 5:20am. I stayed in a hotel by the airport that afternoon (they let me check in at 1pm after brunch!) and overnight. It was a glorious 9 hours to myself. I read, walked to Starbucks, bought a salad at 7-11 for dinner (which was surprisingly good and fresh), had the pool all to myself for a couple of hours. I watched a bit of Texas Game Warden (quite interesting) before I caught up on two episodes of Blue Bloods since my family betrayed me by watching FOUR episodes while I was away – including the episode in which Erin is shot in the courtroom and the secret family code is revealed when Danny begs the shooter “Please don’t hurt my family.” Oh my goodness. More tears.

From Boston, we headed to Maine and our annual stay in Ogunquit. The cabin we typically stay in was only available two nights, and the kids wanted more time in Maine than that (they have come to love that time away), so Robert found a great place downtown and we stayed two more nights.

We had two great beach days and one rainy shopping day up in Freeport. 

The afternoon we arrived home, Robert had to go straight to a wedding rehearsal and dinner for these two. He was home earlier than expected, because the poor bride fainted (it was very hot and steamy) just before the rehearsal and ended up in the Emergency Room. There ended up being no rehearsal and no dinner, but you wouldn’t have known it by the beautiful ceremony the next day.

We had so much fun experiencing a Russian style dinner and dancing, and we are thrilled that these two will be staying around for a while.

Oh, there are so many other things to report on.  It was a wonderful whirlwind of a summer.  And of course I’m only telling you the glowing parts.  There was drama, there was strife, there were doctor visits, there was anger and disappointment, and there were LOTS of texts and phone calls with dear (and much too young) friends facing serious, life-threatening illnesses.  Climbing mountains and running marathons are also metaphors for the difficulty of this life and the stamina required. I thank the Good Father for providing both the glorious gifts and the grace to endure the not so glamorous parts.

Tomorrow is Cooper’s last day at home before leaving for college. There will be a cookout tomorrow night ~ hamburgers as requested, and then we’ll head to Gordon College on Friday morning. My van is currently loaded down with everything Target has to offer for dorm living. Pray for his transition if you think of it!

Kory begins his senior year at Baylor on Monday, which is just crazy.  And Kayla will be a junior ~ doing Challenge III at Classical Conversations this year.  I won’t be teaching at CC this year, but my 6th seminary class begins tomorrow – Christian Philosophy.  I am looking forward to it, and two of my textbooks are books I’ve already read for CC! (Sort of.  One is an almost identical title and premise.)

Robert is gearing up for year 18 of our church and the return of students to the area.  We are excited about being a part of what the Lord has planned for this year.

Thanks for reading, friends.

Costume Changes, Venue Changes, & Celebrations

 Here’s an attempt to recap the last four weeks of life.  Lots of photos here and not much reflection.  I’m writing from Texas, though, so although the days here have also been full, much is removed from the full plate called Life in Massachusetts.  Being 2000 miles away gives a little space to think and thank the Lord for an overflowing life. Time to write it all down, too ~ or at least to get it in the archives via photos.  If you actually read all of this, I’ll know you love me. And I’m repeating myself, I know.

On October 17 we took a field trip to Boston.  It may have been the largest group I’ve ever been on a field trip there with, but it also happened to be the group with the most cooperation and fun. Thanks CC friends!

On October 18 my friend Rachel and I took these ladies to a teen girls conference called Simply Beautiful.  It was a wonderful day of worship, Bible study, hearing “stories” from lots of different young women, and even sessions on fashion/modesty and healthy, homespun skin and body care tips.

 We drove straight from the conference to a dinner gathering of old friends from near and far.  It was a part of our church’s 15 year anniversary celebration weekend, and it was so wonderful to see everyone.

Robert and the guys ~ every one of them is a husband and father now.
The girls and me ~ all amazing 30-somethings, 40-somethings now ~ and ALL of whom I knew as college students

 The next morning we all worshipped together.  John and Cindy began with a song we used to sing “back in the day.”  I was in tears right away, and they lasted pretty consistently throughout the entire service. John was a transfer student who helped start the church from day one.

 When we moved to Massachusetts to plant Meryhouse, Kayla did not yet exist!  This next photo contains another photo of us a year and a half into life and ministry in Massachusetts.

Not really circa 1850.  More like March of 2000. Kory was 5, Cooper was 3, and Kayla was 8 months old.
We all went to visit Robert in the UMass Student Center where our church was doing a Spring Break send off for students.

 Lois did such a beautiful job playing for the service, but she could hardly make it through her own tears.  She joined with us only about a year into the plant, and has only grown more beautiful and in grace and skill and faithfulness with each passing year.

 Matt M. preached for us that day.  He had been a member of our church while a student and football player at Amherst College several years back, and since graduation has continued to serve our church with fundraising and alumni support.  We missed having his wife Janet and their new baby with us.  We have such fond memories of their time at Mercyhouse and of celebrating their marriage here.

It was great to have Greg with us that week!  He also led a directed prayer time in the service.

And these ladies used to BABYSIT Cooper ~ and the rest of my kids, too. So wonderful
to have Rachel and Virginia back for a visit after their years at UMass!
All staff and elders were thanked ~ and I got flowers!
Then it was time for Free Rides ~ which is an outreach our church has now been doing for 16 years.  It is always held on Halloween weekend, and provides a Free Ride to anyone who calls our number from 10pm to 2am. This is the weekend with the most “incidents” in our college town.  I have NEVER helped with this outreach at all until this year. (Small children, early bedtime, escaping chaos, etc…) I am awful at coming up with costumes, and I don’t really like Halloween at all, so no one in my family ever has a costume until about an hour before we need to ~ or not at all.  This year was really no different except that in the hour or two before we had to be at a party and Free Rides, I got an idea, walked to Good Will (all vehicles were in use), and put this costume together. Really. A quick trip to Target for some electrical tape was the only other shopping required.
You have to be a Taylor Swift fan and be familiar with this video to truly appreciate this.  
“Rapper Taylor” ~ Shake it Off

 Kayla, on the other hard, ALWAYS has great costume ideas, so she outfitted her friend Jayden and herself, and we all went to Free Rides to work the 9pm-12:30am shift.  Actually, these girls were troopers and made it through the second shift as well which lasted until about 3am.  They were “runners” ~ relaying the “riders'” pick-up information from the switchboard team to the dispatch team that night.

 We’ve had a friend staying with us for the last few weeks.  Kevin (middle) is working on starting a ministry and non-profit organization in the Dominican Republic community our church has been working with for the last two years.  He and Pedro were connected by Robert due to their mutual concern for the country, and they are a powerhouse duo to be sure.  Kevin will soon move to the DR and begin work on a soap-making factory that will enable the women especially to make an income and provide a sustainable industry for the benefit of their community.

And can I just tell you that I thought my pastor was looking especially handsome that Sunday?

A handsome man in a button down shirt and coat, preaching God’s Word with power and humility.
He gives me flowers and foot rubs, too. Wow.

 Because of the youthfulness of our church, a hospital visit is most often a joyful occasion…

Got to visit Liz and Ellie!  Aren’t they so beautiful?  Would you believe Liz was the first to respond to an email
I sent out the next day regarding help with a women’s retreat coming up?  Yep ~ Mama of two now, barely home
 from the hospital and and still eagerly desiring to minister to the women of our church.  Only by grace.

 The next celebration and costume change was for Lois’s 40th birthday.  We’d been planning it for about two months.  A 1970’s style bash, we knew that forgoing a costume was not going to be an option. I ordered my wig a week before, and a friend (thanks, Sarah!) let us borrow a brown cape. A re-purposed tan sheet and another trip to Good Will for a white long-sleeved top was all that was left to do a couple of hours before the party. Whew.

 A running  costume was needed about 12 hours later for a half-marahon with my friend Betsy. (How did all of these events converge in the course of a weekend?) Due to exhaustion, I had no intention of staying with my speedy friend, but God sustained us up the first seven miles of HILLS (no kidding) and allowed us some of our fastest times ever.  It was a beautiful day, and I’m so thankful for Betsy’s friendship these last 15 years. She’s one of the very first people I met after moving here and she even happened to be a neighbor then and now.

Two days later had Robert and I back in Boston and me on a plane to Texas to celebrate my dad’s retirement from Resistol-Stetson Hats, or HatCo as it is now called. On Wednesday night my sisters and I found ourselves in sea of cowboy hats as my dad was honored for his 43 years with the company. He was referred to as a “legend”, a gentleman, and best all-around dancer. Talk about a costume change.  I even wore boots.  I’ve never really been brave enough to pull off a cowboy hat, though.
Curtis inherited my dad’s sales territory.  He has been working alongside and serving my dad for over 20 years.
A silver engraved belt buckle and this signed photo collage were his gifts.

 Lots of layers and Baylor Bear gear was the next required costume change.  Even though we had returned from Dallas just 24 hours prior, my dad and I packed up and headed back up there (really, nearby Ft. Worth) for Kory’s baseball game against TCU. It takes us about four hours one-way, partly because my dad likes to stop at every Starbucks along I-35 which is just fine by me.

 It was 40 degrees and the wind was whipping. I thought I was back in Massachusetts at a spring ball game with the heaps of blankets, layers of clothing, and gloves we were wearing. My dad skipped a couple of innings so that he could warm up in the car for a while.

Super short stop out there!
They played great and won the game 5-0.  It was SO wonderful to see Kory play, and I especially loved hearing all of the joking and laughing between the guys on the team. Sophomore year has been stressful in more ways than one for this kid, and I pray that baseball continues to lift his spirits and relieve some of the stress.

I head back to Massachusetts today looking forward to more celebrations ~ especially those of the holiday season and two of my siblings coming to celebrate Christmas with us. The weeks of costumes and celebrations and different cities have caused my soul to feel pretty weary, but my heart to feel so full ~ and those really are different things according to my seminary reading for the week. My soul/person/body is exhausted by people and places and parties, but my heart/spirit are full and alive because of the goodness and kindness of the Lord in all of those things.

I know many of you must feel the same way about the pace of life right now.  I’m asking the Lord to help me (and you) to trust Him in the midst of the chaos and even trust Him to embrace it with a smile. My introverted self wants to frown, complain about, and hide away, avoiding all of this activity.  Jesus in me sustains and empowers and gives joy.

Hope to see you soon and with more reflection and less focus on my crazy calendar, but the historian in me can’t let so many family and church happenings go undocumented!

Love Affair With Trees (and Fetuses)

It was time, he explained, as he brought his business card to the door to warn us of the coming work in close proximity to our home. Cavities developing, branches dead, dying, and falling down meant that proper action was required for the sake of the tree and the people and homes nearby. Knowing it would soon disappear, I managed to remember to capture some images of the beautiful maple beforehand.
Plot maps show that we are not the  “owners” of the tree, though it is much closer to our home than our neighbor’s. Because of that, I always considered it ours. I didn’t realize how attached to it I was until the warning came of its removal, and I began to go about my days wondering how the whole landscape and the view from several of my windows would be radically altered. I loved seeing how it would change dramatically throughout the seasons through this window at the top of our staircase ~ a first glimpse of the day upon waking and heading downstairs to make the morning pot of tea in the kitchen where the maple greets us again through the side window. She felt like a familiar friend.  (We first met in 2002 when Robert discovered this little gem of a house for our family.)
But the workweek arrived and the progress was swift. Jamie, the foreman, saw me watching from the backyard and came over to talk.  He took me to the tree and explained exactly why she needed to go, pointed out the poison oak that was making its way up her trunk, and assured me that all roots and divots in our yard would be smoothed out and covered over. Delighting in his unusual kindness, compassion, and thoroughness, I felt the freedom to ask if Kayla and I could count the rings when they got to the trunk. 
“Of course,” was his reply. “We always count the rings for our records, and I would guess that this one is about 130-140 years old.”

We were captivated by the whole process, and found it difficult to stay on the normal tasks of our day. The chainsaws were loud (and sometimes got stuck!), the whole house shook each time a branch came down, and the chipper roared all day long chewing up leaves and smaller branches.

There were often men on our roof, and a bucket truck sent different workers hovering high and low all over our yard and right within our view.  Talk about distraction.  I suppose we could have packed up and done our schoolwork elsewhere ~ Barnes and Noble is a favorite locale ~ but it seemed we ought to stay put just in case. Plus, it was an education in and of itself.

On the same day the tree work began, I left the house early for my morning run. Walking past my other neighbor’s house ~ the one on the opposite side of the tree work, I caught a glimpse of her newest bumper sticker. Bumper stickers are an interesting and entertaining way to get a pulse on the culture of our town and region. Mocking the Christian Ichthus symbol, Darwin fish (with feet) abound, “My Other Car is a Broom”, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Republican”, and “Eat More Kale” are seen fairly often, and my favorite: “Get Real: As If Jesus Would Have Ever Owned a Gun and Voted Republican.”  Some of these seem quite incompatible with the other prominent bumper stickers: “Coexist” and “Teach Tolerance.”

My neighbor’s new bumper sticker says this: “Wendy Davis for Texas State Governor 2014”

(Remember now, I live in Massachusetts. We’re 2000 miles away from the Lone Star State.)

Bumper stickers and trees may also seem like incompatible issues for a blog post, but the two events happening on either side of my house this week got me thinking.  At one neighbor’s house, a statement about stewarding well the earth and nature, albeit it through the necessary removal of a beautiful creation.  At the other neighbor’s house another blatant (to those in the know) statement about “stewardship” through the removal of a beautiful creation.  Yes, both of the issues involve the choice to remove life.  It’s just that the former brings renewed life, sustained life, protection of life and the latter only ushers in several forms of death.

Wendy Davis made herself a national hero (to some) when she filibustered for hours recently to prevent the vote on a measure that would ban abortions in Texas after 20 weeks.

For many, the removal of a fetus is no different from the removal of a tree ~ a necessary and prudent choice. Both may be stricken with disease or deformity.  Death may be inevitable for each. Ending their lives may seem an act of kindness. Both may prove to be an enormous inconvenience someday, therefore early intervention and prevention seems wise.
Though they sound like such similar predicaments, they are vastly different in God’s eyes.  In fact, one is not really a predicament at all ~ though it may seem like it at the time.
As Christians, the first task given to us by God is stewardship of the earth. The animals, the birds, the trees and other vegetation, the rivers, streams, and oceans ~ they are all ours to rule over, to subdue, and to make productive.  The removal of a dying tree falls within godly stewardship of the created world.  
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 
Genesis 1:28
The same rule, however, does not apply to human life.
You shall not murder.
Exodus 20:13
And even before we see it clearly in the Ten Commandments, we see it inherently after the creation mandate in Genesis after Cain murders his own brother Abel.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he said “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”  He said, “What have you done?” The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.
Genesis 4: 9-10
No, we don’t have authority over the life or death of another human. God alone has that authority. Psalm 139 portrays well the preciousness of what is going on in the womb.
For You formed me in my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.  I will give thanks to You,  for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.
Psalm 139: 13-16
What is foolishly believed by my neighbor and all of Ms. Davis’s platform supporters is that the right to end life will bring about true freedom and that this unqualified freedom is what is best for the women of our country.  The strange thing is that we constantly limit “freedom” in this country for the sake of ourselves and our fellow countrymen. Our laws mandate that we not steal, speed, use or sell drugs, kill (those outside the womb), or trespass. Even smoking is now a severely limited freedom in this country. But to tell a woman what she can and can’t do with her uterus ~ a thing that is actually quite risky, and harmful to herself physically and emotionally, not to mention the other human involved ~ is, oddly enough, a highly disdained position.
I’m pretty sure my neighbor is not genuinely concerned about the welfare of the state of Texas, and I think she’s sadly mistaken regarding the welfare of the women and potential children of our country.
It’s so very disheartening to me and a tragic sign of things to come that a majority of folks grieve the one (the loss of the tree) and celebrate the other (the loss of human life).
On Wednesday, when the final cut was made, there was a crowd in my driveway and traffic slowed on our busy downtown thoroughfare. One couple parked, got out, and took pictures.  They requested a sliver of the trunk to show in their classrooms. Everyone wanted to marvel at the majestic life that had once been displayed in that tree. Several of us even gathered around, counted the rings, and celebrated the historical epoch the tree had witnessed in its 120 years.  It was a proper tribute, a godly recognition of the natural world given to us by a loving Creator.
The aborted fetus gets no such fanfare. (And it probably shouldn’t in this situation.) Though its life is quite short by comparison, its mutilated parts, in most cases, are quickly and mindlessly discarded. There is no celebration of the majestic and miraculous work which was in progress. Rather, the rejoicing is regarding the life that will never be, and the “freedom” the other seems guaranteed now that it’s gone.
Most of the women I know (and I need two hands to count them) who’ve chosen to end their baby’s life in utero are not celebrating, though.  They are grieving. Some decades after the fact. Oh, they know they are forgiven, that “therefore, there is now no condemnation”, but the ache remains. They would certainly never recommend their choice to another.  In fact, one of those friends recently took in a young, single pregnant woman, shared her own experience, and took her in for a heartbeat and ultrasound appointment. The young woman made the decision to keep her baby. We all rejoiced and plans were made for her care and support in the process.
Not all women’s hearts are aching though, and while that fact may be used as evidence in favor of the “right to choose,” I wonder if it’s an even more serious consequence in the form of a numbed and hardened heart. If lawmakers think this is a favorable condition for the females of our country, they are greatly underestimating the power in the tender strength of the feminine heart.  Protecting that natural resource would be to their advantage in my opinion.
The trees are lovely to be sure.  Women and children are lovelier. We were completely mesmerized with the process of removing the beautiful tree next door.  I just wish we were as concerned with the removal of children from this world and women’s hearts in the process.

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday: Fajitas & Sprouted Black Beans

 It all started when I got an invitation to sign up to take a meal to a young couple who just had their first baby.  Actually, this happens on a very regular basis at church these days.  We’re definitely having a baby boom there.  Thanks to another mom’s discovery, we use an internet based sign-up for this “meal ministry” called Take Them a Meal. It is a wonderful resource and very easy to use.  You can see every date for which a meal is needed, and as people sign up, they list what they will be bringing for everyone to see. That way the poor new parents don’t have lasagne and salad every other night for a month!

I’m always stumped as to what to make and take to the next new set of parents, but for some reason fajitas sounded like the thing to deliver this time.  Maybe because the new mommy actually transferred from Baylor University to UMass after she got married a year and a half ago, having married a young man from this area, and I thought she might like a little bit of Tex-Mex?  I don’t know.  She’s actually from Missouri, not Texas, but she did love her time at Baylor.  Or maybe it was that whatever I made for them, I would also be making for our family’s meal that night, and everyone’s always up for fajitas around here.

 Typically, you make fajitas with skirt steak, but you’d be hard pressed to find this in any local grocery store in these parts.  I’m sure dedicated butchers and meat markets might carry it, but I’ve never seen it in my local store.  What I have been seeing a lot of lately is sirloin tips.  They are usually pretty expensive, but they’ve been on sale in recent weeks, and they are delicious, as you can imagine ~ unless you are a vegetarian, of course.  I made beef tips and gravy with them two weeks ago for an after-church lunch here at the house, we grilled them last week for dinner along with sweet potatoes and sumer squash, and this week I decided to use them for fajitas. They turned out really delicious, and mostly due to the expert grilling of my husband.

 The Paleo Diet does not recommend eating legumes partly due to their nutrient diminishing tendencies.  They contain phytic acid which makes them difficult to digest, and also pulls vitamins and minerals from the body in the process.  I happen to love all kinds of beans, though, especially with Mexican food, so soaking and sprouting them has been our cheat/compromise.  Before beginning the Paleo Diet, I was greatly influenced by the research of the late dentist Weston A. Price as well as the cookbook his discoveries about nutrition inspired ~ Nourishing Traditions.  Soaking and sprouting is almost a given in the cookbook with any grain or legume.  That process allows germination to begin, which actually removes much of the phytic acid and greatly increases available nutrients.  Here’s a quote from The Vegetarian Times blog regarding this practice:


Nuts, seeds, grains, and beans are nutritional powerhouses. However, the natural agents that protect them from early germination can wreak havoc in our digestive system. Soaking and sprouting replicates germination, which activates and multiplies nutrients (particularly Vitamins A, B, and C), neutralizes enzyme inhibitors, and promotes the growth of vital digestive enzymes.

 It takes a bit of foresight and planning, but it makes eating beans much easier on the system and adds nutrients to your system, rather than depleting them. I think I was even scared to try it at first, but after just a tiny bit of research, I decided to give it a try.   It’s really so very easy, and I’ll list the steps below.

We decided to do both beef and chicken fajitas, and I used the same marinade for both.  I made sure Robert could be home before 6pm (which was the delivery time) to do the grilling, and had them all ready to go when he returned. As you can probably see from the pictures, we used about 6 chicken breasts and 6-8 strips of sirloin tips.

After grilling, we sliced them thinly and against the grain ~ longitudinally (sorry, we’re studying the explorers currently) which was a bit tricky due to the long thin strip nature of  the sirloin tips, but makes them easier to stuff a fajita taco with.

We sautéed peppers and onion in olive oil with a bit of garlic powder and salt, packaged them up along with the rest of the usual fixings ~ the sprouted and cooked beans, guacamole, salsa, chips ~ and cheese, sour cream, and flour tortillas for the non-paleo folks ~ and enjoyed making the delivery.  The best part, though, was holding the precious, now one month old little boy ~ sweetest, cutest little thing. Oh my.

The hardest part for Kayla and Cooper was waiting for us to get back, so we could eat our portion of the meal, which we finally did outside on the picnic table.  It was a really beautiful, warm evening.  There were even leftovers for lunch today.

There are so, so many recipes out there for meat rubs and marinades that are probably much better than what I’ve come up with through trial and error and simple ingredients on hand, but in case you just want something super easy and tasty, here’s what I did:

Marinade for the Beef and Chicken:

1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp McCormick Montreal Steak Grill Mates (optional, but it’s really tasty!)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil

Mix dry ingredients/spices together.  Add cider vinegar and olive oil and whisk together.  Pour over chicken or beef and let sit for 1-4 hours, turning and coating sides alternatively.

Soaked and Sprouted Black Beans:

Sort and rinse 1 package of dry black beans.  Place beans in a medium-large bowl and cover with warm water for 10-12 hours.  The beans will double in size, so be sure and add plenty of water for the soaking. Drain beans, rinse, and drain again.  Leave beans in the bowl or a large jar and cover them loosely with a towel or plastic wrap ~ allowing for some air to reach the beans.  Rinse and drain every 4-6 hours until you can pry one open and see a sprout forming, or a tiny sprout emerges from one end of the bean.

For the above black beans, and probably because it was warm outside, this only took an overnight soak and sitting drained and loosely covered on the counter for most of the following day.  By 4pm, they were sprouting and ready to cook.

To cook beans, add water to about an inch above the level of the beans. Add salt to taste and a slice of bacon if you like for seasoning.  Cook over medium-high for 1.5-2 hours until beans are tender.  Add water as they cook if needed.

Sautéed Peppers and Onions:

Slice 1onion and 2 peppers into thin strips or circles.  Sauté in 1 Tbsp of olive oil.  Add salt and garlic powder to taste as they cook and soften.

Those of us following a Paleo diet here just forgo the tortilla (corn for my GF kids) and fill a bowl with onions, peppers, beans, beef, chicken, guacamole, and salsa.  Sometimes we add a bed of lettuce and tomato, too. Everyone else stuffs their tortilla with meat, guac, sour cream, cheese, salsa, and peppers/onions which they truly think is some kind of heavenly meal.  I won’t tell who it was, but one teenager ate FOUR fajita tacos last night.  Someone is going through a growth spurt ~ and I am now officially the shortest person in the family.

Enjoy ~ and have a wonderful weekend!

Back to School 14.0 (And Back From Texas, Too)

Starting our 14th year of homeschooling today. I can hardly believe my baby girl is in high school this year.  Wasn’t she just beginning kindergarten?  Wasn’t she just 3 years old and taking ballet class and afternoon naps and losing teeth?
And completing her first “chapter book” ever?  Oh, those were such milestones and proud moments! But today she begins algebra I (she actually started this summer), and American Literature (The Scarlet Letter is first up!), and Spanish I and philosophy and economics and more.  She’s taking a break from CC this year, but will likely return in the coming years.  I just felt that God was leading us to be at home together this year doing our own thing, and am praying that He uses the year to pour into her an abundance of grace, confidence, strength, and wisdom. (Not that she doesn’t already posses these things!)
And Mr. Cooper is a SENIOR!  Here is is with his monstrosity of an American History textbook. He began the Challenge III level of Classical Conversations last week and has been hitting the books for hours on end ever since. Shakespeare, poetry, philosophy, pre-calculus, chemistry, and Spanish are all on agenda for this year ~ and LOTS of rhetorical assignments like debate, speech, memorizing lines of Shakespeare, etc.
But it seems like yesterday that he was just learning to type on a very old desktop computer. He’s still the fastest typist in this family for sure! 
The cuteness.  Oh my.
I’m hitting the books this year, too.  My first seminary course began last week, and I really enjoyed the lectures and readings.  Fascinating stuff ~ philosophy, philosophers, the nature of reality, arguments for the existence of God, existentialism, noumena, phenomena, Tertullian, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, Barth.  I’m overwhelmed by the amount of information, but I love learning it ~ I think.  My first quiz grade has me a bit discouraged, but this is a new week, and I’m hoping to get the hang of things soon. Prayers are appreciated.

Thankfully, my class did not begin until last Monday, which meant I had plenty of time to travel to Texas with Kory and take care of all sorts of things there along with him and my dad.

First on the agenda was buying a car.  Kory was blessed by a gift from his grandparents that enabled this purchase, and we are so thankful. (Thanks Grammie and Paw-Paw!) It was probably the easiest, smoothest transaction in car-buying history! I put out a plea on Facebook, a friend from high school, who happens to live near my dad, responded (Thank you, Lee Ellen!), we took it for a test drive the day after arriving in Texas, everyone had the correct paperwork, they signed over the title, Kory wrote a painful check that was well within our budget, and we drove away. Initially, I did the driving, since it is a manual transmission, but Kory practiced over the next two days and took to it like a pro.

I feared the transaction at the county tax office the next day would be stressful with long waits and trips to various offices, but it wasn’t.  We waited about 3 minutes, and walked out with Texas plates and registration in under 20 minutes.  Amazing. (Acquiring insurance was done over the phone at 9pm ~ inexpensive and unbelievably simple. Wow.)

It was so wonderful that all of this happened so smoothly, because it was Friday, and Kory needed to be at school on Sunday afternoon to begin his week of training for LEAD mentoring.  EVERYTHING had to happen by Friday, and it did!  This also meant that Saturday could be spent washing, vacuuming, Windexing, and Armour All-ing the car.  It cleaned up beautifully! (Have I told you how much I adore washing cars, vacuuming cars, and Windexing and Armour-All-ing cars?  Heaven!)

 Friday afternoon and evening were spent in Austin at the Domain, which is sort of an up-scale outdoor shopping mall.  After spending two hours in the Apple store watching/helping my dad purchase a new iPad (Kory went to the movie with a Baylor friend) and case, and SD card attachment, and wireless printer (whew!), we enjoyed some iced tea and GF carrot cake cupcake from the Steeping Room (yum!) and outdoor seating for the high-fashion show that this mall tends to naturally provide.  We were definitely underdressed.

 And then it was dinner out at Chez Zee with my sister and her family.  Fun times catching up, and frozen yogurt afterwards, of course! Speaking of growing up too fast, my nieces and nephews are all in high school now, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about their interests and classes ~ cross country and color guard flag team for the girls, and history and film for my nephew.  They are an awesome and talented bunch. (P.S. DON’T go and see “The Conjuring,” okay?  Take it from the experts here. I stay FAR away from stuff like that, but I’m passing along this PSA from three teens who KNOW.)

 Sunday morning had us leaving for Waco, TX and Kory’s return to Baylor.  My dad helped us gather up his things which had been in storage in his very hot attic. It’s a good thing that Kory got a car, because my dad down-sized from a Suburban to a Foreruner and it would not hold all of Kory’s Rubbermaid containers.

He’s in a single this year and loving having the room to himself.  I think he needs curtains.  What do you think? Only kidding.  Pretty sure he’s not concerned about window treatments, though I have to say, he has his own ideas about design and room decorating. He’s especially excited about his new futon.  Living the life…

 One BIG trip to Target during one HUGE thunderstorm (thankful we were safe inside!), and he was all settled in, and it was time to say goodbye.  I suppose it was slightly easier this time, especially knowing what good hands he’s in and how much he adores his school, leadership program (he’s a mentor this year), friends, classes, and professors. I’ve probably said it a zillion times, but Baylor is truly a special place.  Kory even had a much-anticipated meeting last week with Baylor’s Athletic Director, Ian McCaw, who happens to be a friend of ours from Amherst years ago.  Kory has been on Cloud Nine ever since.  He just soaked up the wisdom and example of godly leadership that Ian possesses.  We could not be more grateful for that life-changing influence in Kory’s life. They both love the topic of “leadership”  ~ godly leadership especially ~ and had such a meaningful conversation about it.  I’m pretty sure Kory even asked him why he went after Art Briles to coach football. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for all of that.

(Send your kids there!  You won’t be disappointed! REALLY.)

(Okay, I’ll stop.)

Allen Hall Year Two

 The best part of the ride home was meeting this sweet lady for dinner.  (My dad had to endure our speed-talking about kids, and church, and homeschooling, and private schooling, and more.) It was spur of the moment and scheduled around our late departure from Baylor, a river rafting trip for her family, and CC preparations for her, but we made it work.  Yvette and I have been friends since college, and it has been such a joy to stay in touch through the years and watch each other’s kids grow up.  She is an amazing mom and a gifted teacher.  I wish we lived closer, but for now we’ll grab whatever moments we can.

 Back in San Marcos, I was able to get started on my seminary course with the luxury of sitting in bed in a room by myself, listening to lectures, and reading, and taking notes for hours.  If only that were real life…

Oh, and we also made a lot of progress on a painting project.

 I talked my dad into getting started on painting his deck table, which is something he’s been wanting done for at least three years.  He has many, many projects on his list, but this was one I could actually help with (well, this and setting up the wireless printer), so we dove in.

We hauled the heavy furniture out to the driveway, and started scrubbing each piece with a steel brush.  We followed that up with steel wool.  Next came washing with soap and water, rinsing, and leaving out to dry overnight. Although, in south Texas, it only takes a few minutes for a soaking wet towel to dry ( I know this because we also went swimming), so the table probably dried as soon as we finished, but we couldn’t tell, because it was dark by that time.

 The next day, we started painting, and by the time I left last Wednesday, the table and two of the four chairs had their first coat of paint.  It was so satisfying to make so much progress, and my dad was super-motivated to finish it up himself.

Well, that’s the long update.  Now, I’m WAY overdue to be off the computer and setting up Kayla’s Spanish CD-Rom curriculum as well as her online stock market game. After that, it’s over to the dance studio to register her for Hip-Hop class.
Don’t even ask me if I’ve watched today’s theology lecture.
Happy Back-to School!