Sweetly Sent

Today is the day. I’m as nervous as I am excited, and I’d appreciate your prayers so much…

For open doors to gospel conversations and faith sharing. I love the way my friend Christina put it in a text message yesterday: “Praying for unexpected opportunities and conversations with faith-filled responses.”

Yes, that!

Also…the forming of new friendships,

and the encouragement of those who work there full time in anticipation of these things.

A couple of weeks ago, I found this on a stack of checks and notes of encouragement people had sent to help with my trip:
When I opened it, I found a very generous gift from Kayla. It’s not the first time she’s been generous with her hard-earned babysitting money to someone going on mission, but something about her generosity toward me and the country I’ll visit was just so sweet.

While I packed last night, she and Robert cooked me dinner. They prayed over me while we sat at the table. Robert gifted me with a small journal in which he’d written a scripture for me to meditate on each day that I’m away, but left lots of blank pages for me to record the details of the journey. Such sweet moments and gifts from these two whom I’m very sad about leaving, even if it’s only a week.

At the risk of sounding overdramatic about this short mission, which involves slight risk, yes, but not in comparison to what others risk every day, I just wanted to share a couple of things that have encouraged me from the Word recently.

Last week, my seminary lectures were all on the book of Esther. My usually dry and witty professor got very emotional as he taught on Esther’s willingness to risk her life for her people. Through tears, he repeated her famous words, “…and if I perish, I perish,” and urged us to reclaim that attitude in our own lives. “We’re so prone to seek comfort and protection, but the gospel is worth our very lives.”

I believe that, but I certainly fight the desire for not only safety, but also the acceptance of people. Sometimes I won’t even risk speaking the name of Jesus here where it’s still (somewhat) safe, because I fear the loss of approval.

And here’s the other encouraging bit:

 But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Luke 21: 28

Again, not be be overdramatic, but the world does seem an increasingly volatile place. We’re experiencing so much tension and turmoil and disaster these days. Somehow, whether we be near or far from the return of Christ, this verse encourages me not to fear, because my full redemption is drawing near.

Good, sweet news, and I’m feeling very sweetly sent off across the ocean by all of these things.

(And if you would, pray for Allyson, Jordan, Angela, Rob, and Aiden, too.)

The How of Eating (And a Giveaway)

On July 28, 2000 I gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Kayla. It was a scheduled c-section for several reasons, and it just happened to be Kathie Lee Gifford’s very last day on “Live With Regis and Kathie Lee.” Random, I know, but the show was playing on the TV in the surgery prep room, and my OB/GYN, Dr. Elliot Greenberg,  joked about what a landmark day he’d chosen for the birth of my third child. We don’t celebrate Kathie Lee on Kayla’s birthday, but now I’ll forever know how many years she’s been retired from her show with Regis.

(By the way, Dr. Elliot Greenberg at Baystate OB/GYN is awesome.)

Little Kayla had to spend some time in the NICU due to gurgly breathing and fluid that didn’t get properly pushed out of her lungs, but when I finally got her back into my room, I requested an appointment with the lactation consultant. Initially, my nurse said yes to booking an appointment for later that day, but then she reviewed my chart, saw that I’d birthed and breastfed two other babies, and suggested that I didn’t need any help with lactation.

But I really did. Though I’d done it for six months with each of my two boys, I never felt like I was doing it quite right. Not only that, but I wanted to nurse this little girl longer than six months, and I was in need of some expert “how-to’s.”

I love how-to’s.

How to train for a half marathon.

How to better manage time.

How to make buttercream icing.

How to say good morning in Greek.

How to get the pinwheel to stop spinning on my Macbook Pro.

How to best pack a suitcase.

Anyway, that’s a very long introduction to this post, but I’ve been thinking that I didn’t really explain, in my last post, how God’s Word made me well.  How did it work? What were the steps?

I think I mentioned that a few Bible folks – Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and John -were asked (or chose) to eat God’s Word, and though it sounds weird, I think that’s exactly what it requires.

We have to eat it.

Just like actual food, we have to sit down and partake of it regularly. We need everything from a quick breakfast to a four course dinner. Better yet, and I think the argument can be made from Scripture for the exact opposite: a four course breakfast and a late night snack. (See here, here, here, and here!) Either way, we’ve got to ingest and digest it regularly. Just like food to our physical bodies, the nourishing Word makes us well.

So how do you eat it?

It sounds so simple, but the answer is that we’ve got to read it.

And can I say very gently here that Jesus Calling does not count? Nor does My Utmost For His Highest, or Streams in the Desert. And just so I’m stepping on everyone’s toes here, neither do Morning and Evening or Valley of Vision.

Many of those devotional readers are both encouraging and edifying – protein packed snacks that will carry you through the afternoon with your cup of coffee, or send you off to sleep with a satisfied belly. But they just really aren’t a good substitute for reading chunks and chapters and whole books of God’s actual Word.

It would be like eating a Cliff Bar for every meal.

So, how do you read it?

When I was in that season of darkness and despair, I did a couple of things. I read two chapters of the Old Testament and two chapters of the New Testament every day. Depending on how fast you read (and how long those chapters are), it could take as little as 15 minutes or as many as 40. (At that rate you could read the whole thing in a year. Remember this?)

The other thing I did was work through two different Bible study workbooks, both written by Beth Moore: Esther and Living Beyond Yourself. Not at the same time. Just slowly doing a page or two a day until I finished one, and then starting the next one.

And here’s what happened: Since God’s Word is living and active, the chapters I read were relevant to my despair. They taught me something about my situation. They encouraged me that I was not alone. Not only that, but the Scripture I read in say, I Samuel, would often correspond to the Scripture I was reading in Colossians or some other New Testament book. A handful of times, the exact same phrase or principle would be used in both. Occasionally, my workbooks would have me reading some text I had just read in my own Bible ready.

This is how God speaks. This is how He heals. This is how He encourages and nourishes us toward wellness.

Remember Isaiah 55:10-11? It’s a guarantee. Eat His Word, by reading His Word, and it is not possible that you continue in a sick and stunted state. The sustenance will bring growth and healing and maturity.

I think this verse is really helpful in understanding how the Word heals:

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

We believe God’s Word is how He speaks to us, how he instructs us, so we persevere in reading it, and the result is hope. That hope is what heals.

And check the context of v. 4. Paul is encouraging Roman believers to serve their neighbors and be strong for those who are weak, and he’s quoting a Psalm of King David for precedent. In essence, he’s saying, Got a problem? Need some wisdom? Think you’re the only one to ever face this situation? Nope. Check the Scriptures. David struggled with the same thing and came to a conclusion that I really want you to learn from.

One caveat, though: We can’t just check the “read the Bible” box in our bullet journals and mental to-do lists.

Oh, Isaiah 55 will still hold true on some level, but there’s one more “how-to” required, and I think Psalm 1 tells us what that is:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.

Delight in the Word. Meditate on it day and night. That’s the caveat for truly benefitting from the Word.

Delight in it. Meditate on it all day.

It’s like the advice we often hear on how to eat and enjoy a meal.

Sit down.

Give thanks.

Small bites.

Chew 20 times.

Savor the flavors.

Put your fork down after every bite.

I’ve been guilty of shutting my Bible after a morning reading and never once thinking about or re-visiting what I read for the rest of the day. Could that be likened to an eating disorder? Like binging and then unconsciously purging? Because the truths don’t stay in that case. They aren’t properly digested. They neither nourish nor effect wellness.

So, the how of eating?

Read. Meditate. Believe.

I’m still a work in progress on implementing these Bible reading how-to’s. (And please don’t ask about how well I’ve implemented of all I know about time management either) But I’ve come to treasure God’s Word so much via these steps, and He’s granted healing and wholeness in the process.

I ended up having to insist on an appointment with the lactation consultant. While I greatly appreciated the fact that my nurse considered me a seasoned mother, and nursing champ, the truth was that I still needed help. Would you believe that Kayla never took a bottle? Sometime around her first birthday, she transitioned from breastfeeding to a sippy cup, and I was one happy mama. Those lactation how-to’s made all the difference, and it’s my hope that these Bible reading how-to’s will make a difference to you as well.

I’d also love to back these how-to’s up with the gift of a Bible reading tool today. So, leave me a comment here on the blog or on Facebook, and I’ll enter your name into a drawing for either one of the workbooks I mentioned above (Esther or Living Beyond Yourself) or the workbook we used in a women’s small group Bible study this summer – Seamless.  Your choice. I’ll tell you who’s name was chosen on Monday.

Happy Bible Eating – and have a wonderful weekend.

Wellness and His Word

6am morning run. We’d meet at the corner, start up the hill, and she’d open the conversation with, “How are you doing?” It was years ago, but I’m still so grateful for the question, and knew exactly what she was getting at.

My answer often felt unsatisfying.  I wanted to report that I was better, healed, happy, that all was well with my soul. But I couldn’t, because it wasn’t.

But there I was getting out of bed at 5:30am, going for a five mile run, and chatting even….with a person. A good friend, of course, but even seeing people during that time was not so easy.

I keep thinking about that woman I wrote about last week.  The one in Luke 8.  The one who fearfully (I’m assuming) and humbly, yet courageously and expectantly reached out and touched the hem of Jesus’ robe. I’ve been staying in the gospels for reading lately, and she stands out to me, along with several others Jesus touched. Hers, though, may be the only account of someone intentionally seeking, reaching out, and literally touching Him with a specific hope.

This is what I wrote:

Especially precious to me is the story of the woman with the long term issue of bleeding who anonymously reached out and touched the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. She was immediately healed of her chronic illness, and Jesus knew immediately that someone had touched Him even though there were hordes of people pressing in on Him. When He investigates and she comes forward, He says

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

So, I’d run the miles and answer Betsy’s question and tell her that I was okay. Okay, but not well. Okay, but not exactly healed in the way I’d been hoping for. This continued for several years, and oh how badly I wanted to give a different answer each week. To report that the sadness had lifted, that the tears had dried up, that I was hopeful again, that I was free from despair.

Betsy has moved away now, and I miss her, but if we met for an early morning Thursday run this week, I’d be able to give her a different answer.

Here it is: He has made me well.

I wish I could say that it was upon my first effort to reach out and touch Him. (Or do I?) That Jesus and I were both immediately aware that power had gone forth from Him and dramatically into me, but that wasn’t how it worked in my case.

Remember that podcast interview I told you about? Well, this season of depression in my life is one direction that conversation took, and when Bethany asked about how I made it through those years, my answer felt unsatisfactory again. Not to Bethany, of course, but to me – even though the answer I gave is really the only one I know to give to anyone who finds themselves in a season like that:

I prayed and read my Bible.

Yep. That Sunday School answer.  That cliche.

Oh, I also did a lot of distance running, a lot of right eating, a lot of water drinking, some biblical counseling, some vitamin D taking, and some intentional resting. And those things certainly set a good stage, but I know it was the praying and the reading (and the receiving and the meditating and the practicing) that performed the true healing.

In fact, God promises that it will. Just take a look at these verses, which have come to be favorites:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return to it without watering the earth

and making it bud and flourish,

so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire

and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55: 10-11

His Word (now our Bible) accomplishes just what the rain and snow accomplish: growth, good fruit, nourishing food. God gives His Word to accomplish our growth and our healing. He uses it to produce good fruit in our lives. And just as it is a guarantee that things will grow when they are watered, the same guarantee holds for those who take in His Word.

Remember how I mentioned right eating as a part of healing? Well, I did eat literal food. Still do. Good and healthy food. But as you can see, His Word is to be our food, too, and we need it daily.

Both kinds of food – literal and biblical – provide the faith that make us well.

(Did you know that some people were told to eat God’s Word?  Like, literally chew it up and swallow it? It’s true! Those stories are for another post, though.)

But, here’s the deal: It took time.

And here’s the other thing: Reading His Word is not just a recipe we use for healing from depression or anxiety or physical illness or heartache or grief or loneliness. Nor is it a way to bargain with or manipulate God. Neither is prayer. Both are to be our way of life, not tools we whip out when we really want something from God.

Can you imagine if your friends or children only spent time with you when they wanted something?

My daily, hopeful, and expectant reaching out and touching Jesus by reading His Word was how He made me well. Many days that was a choice by faith, an act of my will in obedience…and expectation.

So was the running, the eating, the meeting and more. And He finally met me…with true wellness. I’d say it’s been about two years now.

Word fueled faith in Jesus makes us well, like I wrote last week…safe, kept safe and sound, rescued from danger or destruction – meaning the danger and destruction of sin, and faith also makes us well…thriving, strong, resilient, sane, healthy, hearty, and more.

Hers was a courageous choice in the midst of what must have been a season of great weakness, but her touch displayed a faith that resulted in complete wellness.

And hers is a story I read in His Word.

Very Random Things

Warning: This might be the most random post I’ve ever written.

I’m wearing white jeans and sandals today…after Labor Day. Please don’t tell my dad. At least my sandals are not white, and I do have on a cardigan. (And it is in the 70’s today) At my 8:15am dentist appointment this morning, the hygienist suggested I might be in denial about the current season, but then went on to commiserate over how we were cheated out of a proper summer this year. She and her husband have a boat and didn’t get much time on the water. Water skiing was almost out of the question, because then you’d have to ride around soaking wet in the cool breeze. I kind of hated answering her question about any trips we took this summer, but it made me relive our adventures in Greece all over again. So thankful for those warm and sunny memories, because the pumpkins and mums have now arrived in New England.

Speaking of the dentist, I finally made the whole family appointments, and I was the last to go. Good reports all around.  Would you believe no one in this family has ever had a cavity or needed braces? Dental mercies, I tell ya. (Well, I have several fillings, but those are from my teen years, and I might just be a test case for the fact that improving the diet strengthens the teeth and gums. And God’s mercy, too, of course.)

Moved Cooper into his dorm at Gordon College on August 28th
Izckra and I went to a Beth Moore conference in Springfield, MA August 25-26. Beth wasn’t able to get home to Houston right away due to Harvey’s destruction in Houston. Wonderful teaching by Beth as usual. Wonderful time with this dear friend, too. (And evidently, I really like these white jeans)

Kayla is in her third week of Challenge IV at Classical Conversations. This week she had to lead the Old Testament/Theology discussion on the book of Exodus. She worked really hard on it, got great feedback, and is falling more and more in love with God and His Word. It has been one of my main prayers for her. She’s both applying at a couple of colleges and considering a gap year, too, for which the Lord seems to be opening some interesting doors. We are praying for His continued direction here. In fact, I was literally sitting and praying for her (journaling it all) and asking God to show her what her next steps would be, when she came and found me just a little while later and told me she was pretty sure about the gap year. After that, a few opportunities for gap year activities were presented to us, and I’m learning more and more how much the Lord wants us to come to Him with the smallest and largest of concerns.

We’ve been gearing up for the return of the Five College Students at church. Enjoyed this free cookout last weekend for first-year students who were in town before upperclassmen.

I got to participate in Classical Conversations this week (I’m not teaching this year) by helping to take the Challenge II class on a quick field trip to collect pond water samples and leaves for a future tree identification project. I loved taking my previous classes to do this. There is just something about getting outside and being given time to observe and interact with the natural, created world. It’s just something the classroom and a textbook can’t truly offer.

I’ve hardly told one soul about this, but I was interviewed for a podcast last Friday. The night before the interview I had a dream that when Bethany, the interviewer, arrived at my house, I sent her down to the basement to set up in Robert’s office while I settled some matters with my kids upstairs. (Somehow my kids all reverted to being 12, 10, and 7 in my dream and needed some wrangling before I could meet with Bethany.) When I finally started down the basement stairs, after leaving Bethany to fend for herself down there, I found her mopping up an inch of water that was covering my basement floor. Evidently my washing machine had broken and leaked water everywhere. I was horrified.

This horrifying dream may have been because I was fairly horrified about giving this interview. 3,000 listeners? Yikes. I’m horrified at the sound of my own voice.  I spoke at a women’s breakfast for a church in central Massachusetts in the spring, and still haven’t listened to the recording for which the pastor’s wife (Hi Christina!) sent a link. Every time I happen to hear a recoding of myself, I wonder why anyone wants to sit and talk with me at all. Ever. Seriously. But I’m learning that many people feel this way, and that all this self-horror is really just too. much. self. focus. And I pray God would rid. me. of. that.

I don’t know when the podcast will air, and I’m still not sure why the interview took the directions that it did. All I know is that I prayed…A LOT. Prayed that it would all be led by the Holy Spirit, and that the things recorded would be just the things that some other woman needs to hear. And Bethany prayed. And then we prayed together before we recorded. So, I’m trusting that, as confused as I was about what ended up being talked about, God has a purpose. Here, I’ll give you a hint:

Just don’t make the mistake of listening to the “hey, girl” podcast – with lowercase letters and a comma. That would NOT be the one on which I’ll eventually appear. (Or on which my voice will eventually be heard. Ugh.)

One of my favorite things. This group – a very random assortment – was gathered around my table on Sunday after church. No one moved until 4pm, as we listened to each other’s stories of faith and new jobs and spontaneous proposals and weddings and ultra-marathons and growing up a homeschooled missionary kid in Afghanistan. Sweet fellowship.

Speaking of opportunities to be horrified at the sound of my own voice, I was invited to speak at a women’s retreat the first weekend of November, and have been working with the women there to decide on a topic. Several themes have been on my mind, and I look forward to which one they’ll choose, so I can begin preparing. (Especially since I just discovered it’s one of my heaviest workload weeks for my seminary class. (Old Testament II)  (Good thing we get to drop three quiz grades!) But one theme has been jumping out at me in my own reading lately.

I’ve really only read the gospels this year – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. (With some occasional departures into the Psalms and Colossians in moments of desperation.) My goal was to read all four gospels each month, and I was able to keep up with that until summertime arrived. Since then, I’ve still stayed in the gospels, really wanting to soak in all that Jesus did, all that He was and still is, but I’ve not made it through all four each month. As I’ve read, a few things have jumped out at me, one of them being how often Jesus touched people, and how often they touched Him.

Especially precious to me is the story of the woman with the long term issue of bleeding who anonymously reached out and touched the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. She was immediately healed of her chronic illness, and Jesus knew immediately that someone had touched Him even though there were hordes of people pressing in on Him. When He investigates and she comes forward, He says

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

I just love those words. And I don’t think she was just made physically well. I think she was made wholly well – spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and yes, also physically. That she believed Jesus was powerful to make her well was a choice by faith, and that faith made her well from sin first and foremost. It reminds me of the paralytic man who was taken to Jesus by his friends. His most obvious need, his most presenting symptom, was physical disability, but Jesus forgave his sins first and foremost. His eventual healing of the man’s inability to walk was only a verification of His authority to forgive sin.

Faith in Jesus makes us wellsafe, kept safe and sound, rescued from danger or destruction – meaning the danger and destruction of sin, and faith also makes us well…thriving, strong, resilient, sane, healthy, hearty, and more.

He has done that for me. He has made this daughter of His well, and continues to do so on a daily basis. I’ve been praying for this wellness in one young woman in particular this week. I know the wellness is coming, but right now it doesn’t feel so certain to her.

So, I really don’t know how to transition from the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak to Taylor Swift, but I do hope and pray that Taylor comes to know this healing touch of Jesus by faith. How’s that?

This is from Urban Dictionary, and I have to say that I am in full agreement with this definition. 😉

My family and a few other Swiftie friends had a lot of fun tracking Taylor’s crazy marketing ploys for her new album a couple of weeks ago. The group texts were such a fun source of laughter and ridiculousness, and you know what? Sometimes laughter and ridiculousness are just what the doctor ordered.

For the record (I can never pun on purpose), I like her new songs. To be quite honest and vulnerable here, I think Taylor is a gifted, creative, gracious, strong, generous, humble, compassionate, and beautifully confident. I have a theory that people who love to hate on her, are actually just mad that she is able to embody all of those characteristics. Envy and jealousy are oftentimes obvious in our misplaced outrage. True story.

But I’d like to suggest a few edits to her most recent song, “Ready For It.” She has a couple of other songs that are just as suggestive, and I really wish she’d make a lyrical u-turn in this area. So, Taylor, if you are reading, tell me what you think of these changes:

I-I-I see how this is gonna go,

Propose to me, and we’ll never be alone

I-Island breeze, and we’re takin’ it slow

‘Cuz soon enough we’ll know

***

In the middle of the night, in my dreams

You should see our wedding day, baby

Mmmmm…

I can’t wait to be with you

So I pray and I pray

Are we ready for it?

I’ve got my eyes open for a part-time job for when Kayla goes off on her gap year or to college, and I’m really thinking Taylor might want to hire me. I mean…her songs only need this slight tweaking. And I could do it from home – after an initial meeting, autograph, and selfie, of course. It’s a win-win in my mind.

Here’s something else I haven’t told many of you, which has absolutely no connection to Taylor, well, except for the letter T. I’m going on a mission trip overseas. It will be a first for me. I’ve been on several mission trips – to Mexico a handful of times and to Louisiana to help with hurricane clean up in the early 90’s, but never overseas. I’ll get to work with a team and help with English classes, provide respite care for long term missionaries in the country, and participate in outreach to people on a spiritual (superstitious) pilgrimage during this season.  Here’s my team:

I’ve never had to raise my own support, though I’ve helped my kids do it several times. If you’ve sent me money, thank you so much. It has been so sweet to read the notes you’ve sent along with your gift, and I’m always overwhelmed by the joy with which people give. In many ways, you’ve taught me how to give – with both generosity of resources and encouragement. I’m not quite fully funded, but almost.

I leave in just about two weeks, and I’d really love it if you prayed for us – for many open doors to share the gospel, to bless others, to serve others, to learn about God’s work in a very different context than my own, and for safe travels. It’s still scary to me to cross an ocean in an airplane and leave all of my loved ones behind, but this invitation to mission and service seemed like one the Lord was asking me to take.

How’s that for randomness? Thanks for loving me enough to track right along.  I love sharing it with you.